On a beautiful summer's day – Aug. 6, 1945 – I was at Carlyle Lake, Sask., with my mother and father. I was 11 years old. We heard on the radio that a bomb like no other had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The news dribbled in all day. "One bomb flattened the city … killed thousands of people, animals, all living things," we were told by the voice on the radio. Aside from that, no one knew a thing.
The story continued to unfold and three days later, we learned that another bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. News reports described a city and people cloaked in white ash, survivors with their skin melted or burned away by radiation, begging to die. Others were vaporized. No one was there to offer survivors even a sip of water, let alone comfort; 90 per cent of the nurses and doctors were dead and 43 hospitals were gone. Many of the survivors languished for days before succumbing.
We were witnessing the dawning of the nuclear age.
In September of 1945, the Red Cross said atomic weapons should be abolished. Almost 70 years later, we are still trying to accomplish that goal. We have made some progress, but the reality is that there have been more than 2,000 bombs tested – in our atmosphere, underwater and underground – and the madness continues.
In 2010, representatives of United Nations, NATO and the U.S. State Department descended on Ottawa to meet with the leaders of a number of nuclear disarmament organizations and like-minded civil society leaders.
As Douglas Roche wrote at the time: "It was all designed to move the Canadian government to actively support U.S. President Barack Obama's commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free world."
Did it? No, unfortunately. Stephen Harper's government has been missing in action on the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Obama represents a new opportunity to substantially reduce the 17,000-plus nuclear weapons still in existence, but he needs the support of Canada and other allies.
The non-proliferation meeting in Ottawa ended with the following recommendation: "It is urgent that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister find early and prominent opportunities to publicly address nuclear disarmament and reaffirm Canada's commitment to a world without nuclear weapons." It's true today as it was in 2010.
Canada was once looked upon as a progressive country. No more.
I urge Mr. Harper's government to a take a leading role in the worldwide movement to abolish nuclear weapons. Canada should sponsor an international conference to achieve a nuclear weapons convention – a verifiable treaty on the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
The great majority of Canadians are in agreement. Future generations are depending on us to act today.
Actress and activist Shirley Douglas was a participant in Ban the Bomb marches in England in the 1950s. At the height of the Cold War in 1983, she founded the Canadian chapter of Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament. In 2003, she was named an officer of the Order of Canada.