Skip to main content

Setsuko Thurlow is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and an advocate for nuclear weapons abolition living in Toronto.

This month marks the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The calendar never fails to bring me the special reminder each year of the unforgettable day, August 6, 1945, that changed my life and the entire world.

As I attempt to ponder the meaning of my survival from that hell on Earth, I remember Einstein's words: "The splitting of the atom has changed everything except our way of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe." His words have been ringing in our ears for the past 71 years, but with more intensity in recent years. The world we live in is getting more dangerous with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, far more destructive than those that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while the majority of the world's people continue to live in denial, blissfully ignorant and complacent of the reality.

Having lived through such an unprecedented catastrophe, we survivors, called Hibakusha, became convinced of our mission to warn the world about the reality of those indiscriminate, inhumane, and cruel nuclear weapons, and their utter unacceptability. We have been calling for the total abolition of such devices of mass murder. We believe that as long as nuclear weapons exist, there is no guarantee of security.

Related: Nuclear disarmament back on centre stage

This condition was conducive to the birth of a rapidly growing global movement, The Humanitarian Initiative, involving 127 non-nuclear weapon states and more than 440 non-governmental organizations in 98 countries and the United Nations and its agencies, works together to outlaw nuclear weapons. Over several years, with three successful conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons hosted consecutively by the governments of Norway, Mexico and Austria, this movement refocused attention from the military doctrine of deterrence to the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons. The result has been a strong push for a legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

This year the United Nations established the Open Ended Working Group to "substantively address" and make recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly about "concrete, effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms" to attain and maintain a nuclear weapons-free world. Now, the working group is in its final, crucial phase. A growing number of non-nuclear weapon states are expressing support for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, despite strong opposition from the nuclear weapon states. The General Assembly will vote on this report in October. We are on the verge of a breakthrough for a path for this most significant chance in our lifetime for nuclear disarmament. We must seize this opportunity.

Where does our Canadian government stand in the fast developing international negotiations for a legally binding instrument for the prohibition of nuclear weapons? Regrettably, Canada presents itself as a subservient defender of the nuclear weapons superstar country south of the border, and its allies with their heavy reliance on the doctrine of deterrence.

For many of us working for nuclear disarmament, we rejoiced at the arrival of the Trudeau government too soon because this government seemed to have inherited the same retrograde nuclear policies from the previous government. Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion's letters to Canadian peace groups are full of retrograde ideas and leave me chilled; it feels as if we are on different planets. He is rigidly maintaining the nuclear status quo and has a seeming unwillingness to consider different perspectives of disarmament initiatives. Sadly, his opposition to the Humanitarian Initiative leaves Canada out of step with the majority of the world.

We must wake up the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the entire Parliament. Otherwise, as Einstein said, this beautiful country of Canada, together with the rest of the world, will drift toward "unparalleled catastrophe."

Let's join the historic initiative for nuclear disarmament. This action of hope will be the best way to honour those annihilated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 71 years ago.