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Why Hiroshima matters more than ever

By Geoffrey Miller
January 30, 2023
2023 looks set to be Hiroshima’s year.
The Japanese city that was all but obliterated by an atomic bomb in 1945 will host the G7 summit in May.
Hiroshima has never lost its importance, but its choice for this year’s main G7 event holds particular significance.
Atomic Bomb Dome
After all, the Hiroshima G7 is being held against the backdrop of a heightened nuclear threat.
This has been driven mostly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also by an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
There are other reasons why Hiroshima seems like a natural choice for this year’s G7 summit.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, has close ties with Hiroshima, his family’s home town. The young Fumio reportedly grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories about the devastation the atomic bomb left behind. Now in the National Diet, Kishida represents the Hiroshima 1st District.
Perhaps because of his personal origins, Kishida has long been an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives and looks set to put these firmly on the G7 agenda in May.
In August last year, Kishida made a special trip to New York to speak to the Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the first Japanese Prime Minister to do so. Kishida told the conference ‘we must take every realistic measure towards a world without nuclear weapons’.
And in September, Kishida organised a meeting of leaders on the sidelines of the UN to push for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Of course, Kishida’s advocacy for nuclear disarmament is not completely straightforward. The former foreign minister is also the architect of the recently-announced $US320 billion military build-up.
The plan will see Japan’s annual defence spending double to two per cent of Japan’s GDP by 2027 and will provide it with an array of new military hardware, including new long-range missile systems.
Kishida said the massive spending increase is ‘my answer to the various security challenges that we face’.
Effectively, the shift means Japan is backing its nuclear-armed ally – the United States – even more strongly and is reinforcing Washington’s more hawkish foreign policy stance towards China and Russia.
Hiroshima will be an appropriate location for G7 leaders to contemplate the merits and downsides of their current strategies.
It is one thing to read about the impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the history books; it is quite another to visit the city in person.
I was privileged enough to visit Hiroshima late in 2022.
A walk to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum passes by the ‘atomic bomb dome’, the name given to the carefully preserved ruins of a building originally used for trade fairs.
The dome, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves as a stark visual reminder of the carnage wrought on August 6, 1945.
Immediately adjacent to the dome is the Aioi Bridge, home of the distinctive ‘T’ shaped intersection that was selected as the target for the bomb, which ended up landing and detonating a few hundred metres away.
At the museum itself, I was given a guided tour by the museum’s deputy director.
The museum was opened in 1955 and has undergone extensive recent refurbishment. Much of the permanent exhibition now focuses heavily on the horrendous personal accounts of victims.
Exhibits of clothing and other personal belongings of the hibakusha – the Japanese word given to the people affected by the atomic bombings – make the experience particularly sobering.
While walking through the exhibition, I felt a weight of emotion.
The history and horrors of Hiroshima simply hit differently when you are there.
G7 leaders will have their own opportunity to feel Hiroshima’s impact in May.
Later this month, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will reveal its latest ‘doomsday clock’ setting.
The current ‘time’, set in January 2022, stands at 100 seconds to midnight.
After events of the past year, it seems almost certain that the clock is now ticking faster.
Hiroshima memorial
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