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Setsuko Thurlow Reminds Harvard Audience Why Nuclear Weapons Must Be Banned

Photo: ICAN / Tim Wright

For many PSR members who advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons, there’s a compelling reason to work to prevent a nuclear attack: our nation, the United States, has already used atomic weapons in an act of war, and we know we must never use them again.

On October 8, Setsuko Thurlow, a hibakusha who survived the Hiroshima bombing as a young girl in 1945, spoke at an event organized by Harvard Law School as part of the university’s Worldwide Week. Thurlow recounted her horrific experience.

“That very morning, I was at the military headquarters, not at the school,” she recounted. The Japanese government mobilized students to provide cheap labor as part of the wartime effort, and on August 6, 1945, Thurlow was reporting to her first day of work. She and about 30 other girls were assigned to help the army decode top-secret messages. They were about a mile from ground zero when the bomb hit Hiroshima.

“Major Yanai was giving a pep talk: ‘This is the day you prove your patriotism to the emperor. Do your best,’ and so on. We said, ‘Yes, sir! We’ll do our best.’ Then at that second, I saw the blinding blueish-white flash in the window, and I had a sensation of floating up in the air.” Then she lost consciousness. Watch the video of Thurlow’s presentation at Harvard below.

Thurlow has retold her story to countless audiences over several decades to emphasize the clear and present need to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.

Thurlow is a leading figure at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN,) where she and others have worked tirelessly to advance support for the historic U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a.k.a. the nuclear ban. ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their work. Right now, the ban treaty is two thirds of the way to entering into force, with 33 ratifications. That is laudable progress, and more nations will soon make history by ratifying the treaty.

In Hiroshima’s Peace Park, a plaque on the cenotaph reads: “Rest in peace, for the evil will not be repeated.” We owe it to survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, victims of nuclear weapons testing, impacted communities that have suffered from exposure to nearby nuclear waste and weapons storage facilities, and others whose health and safety have been threatened by nuclear weapons, to abolish nukes, for good. The ban treaty is more than just a symbolic gesture at disarmament; once it reaches 50 ratifications and enters into force, the treaty’s terms will be binding for any and all nations who have chosen to ratify it.