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Hiroshima never again

Protesters gathered in Hyde Park North on Sunday August 6 to mark the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The Ban the Bomb rally and march to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Bligh Street was organised by Hiroshima Day Sydney. Organiser and speaker Denis Doherty expressed support for the United Nations global treaty on nuclear disarmament (involving 130 countries but none of the nine nuclear powers), set to be ratified on September 20. While more than 100 Australian parliamentarians, including speaker Matt Thistlethwaite MP, have signed an International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons appeal, Australia did not take part in the UN treaty talks.

Protesters on their way to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Bligh Street on August 6 Photo: Andrew Collis
Protesters on their way to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Bligh Street on August 6 Photo: Andrew Collis

Supporters describe the treaty as an historic achievement and hope it will increase pressure on nuclear states to take disarmament more seriously. “This will be an historic moment,” said Costa Rica’s ambassador, Elayne Whyte Gomez, the president of the UN conference on the treaty. “The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years,” she said, calling it a “response for humanity”.

Disarmament campaigners say the treaty will go a long way to increasing the stigma associated with nuclear weapons and will have an impact on public opinion. “The key thing is that it changes the legal landscape,” said Richard Moyes, director of the British-based organisation Article 36. “It stops states with nuclear weapons from being able to hide behind the idea that they are not illegal.”

Japan – the only country to have suffered atomic attacks – boycotted the talks, as did most NATO countries. Nuclear powers argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent against a nuclear attack and say they remain committed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The decades-old NPT seeks to prevent the spread of atomic weapons but also puts the onus on nuclear states to reduce their stockpiles.

Indigenous leaders say our government is ignoring Australia’s dark history with nuclear testing.

The United Kingdom conducted 12 major nuclear weapons tests in Australia between 1952 and 1963 at Monte Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga. The United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, including the 15-megaton Castle Bravo test at Bikini Atoll, which was 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and exposed thousands of people to radioactive fallout.

Rose Lester, an anti-nuclear campaigner, suffers from an autoimmune disease she claims was caused by nuclear tests conducted in South Australia where she grew up. Her father, Yami Lester, went blind as a result of atomic fallout from those tests. Her sister, Karina Lester, was a speaker at the UN negotiations in New York.

In a recent interview with NITV Ms Lester said the government is blind to the suffering of people in their own backyard. “The First Nations are very disappointed that Australia has got amnesia again about their nuclear history in Australia,” the Yankunutjatjara and Anangu woman said. “We kind of feel abandoned again because there’s no recognition and we don’t seem to be moving forward with positive changes. We should be able to learn from the mistakes of the past.”

In related news National Security Agency documents (from the archive leaked by Edward Snowden) obtained by Radio National’s Background Briefing reveal the extent to which Australia is assisting the United States military. Reporter Peter Cronau said: “Australia has stepped into a brave new era of global war-fighting. Support for US military operations is taking Australia and our personnel into a murky legal area of extrajudicial killings and military campaigns that have not been sanctioned by the UN. And all this is happening with little parliamentary oversight or public debate.”

The documents, together with the stories of people intimately involved in wars, uncover the crucial role the US-Australian satellite surveillance base at Pine Gap in Central Australia has in battlefield operations around the world. Professor Richard Tanter from the University of Melbourne said: “The documents show us that Pine Gap is definitely involved in American military operations in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in fact around the world where necessary. So these documents are confirmation of what we understood Pine Gap to be capable of, and we now know for sure that this is what Pine Gap does.”

Convenor of Pax Christi Australia, Claude Mostowik MSC, was the guest preacher at South Sydney Uniting Church for a service to mark both Hiroshima Day and the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Fr Claude said: “Seventy-two years ago today, an atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, and Nagasaki three days later – being frightening symbols of the power of atomic weapons and the horrible destruction they unleash. Disfiguration continues. We just heard how Jesus’ face shone like the sun when he was transfigured on Mount Tabor. Peter, James and John hear a voice, ‘This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.’

“When [disciples] James and John want to use ‘shock and awe’ tactics on the Samaritans by calling down fire upon them, Jesus says something else …

“What were the 122 nations listening to when they banned nuclear weapons in July, whereas the nine nuclear powers failed? The bombing of Hiroshima saw a bombed city like many destructive suns shining. The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Hiroshima was a turning point in human history. Both involved light. One was the light of love, life and hope and the other a deadly light, the death of everything for generations. One event was loving and life-giving, the other was mass murder and ongoing threat …

“Let us not repeat the past but do something new, working on the things that make for peace in our homes and communities.”

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