Editorial: Hiroshima memories underscore need for nuclear treaties
On a winter day in 1942, a group of scientists created the world's first artificial nuclear reaction under the stands of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field, now the site of the Regenstein Library.
On Aug. 6, 1945, that technological achievement was set loose with horrifying results: A 15 kiloton nuclear blast detonated at an altitude of 1,900 feet virtually obliterated the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing some instantly, some after hours or days of agony in a city where rescuers no longer existed, some months or years later from the effects of radiation.
Sachiko Masuoka survived. She recounted her memories to reporter Lauren Rohr for a story in today's Daily Herald, telling how she had no choice but to step around many people lying on the ground groaning and crying out in pain as she went in search of her family after the bomb struck near her school.
Three days later, on Aug. 9, the U.S. bombed Nagasaki. Between the two cities, 110,000 to 210,000 people died.
The terrible carnage ended World War II, with Japan announcing its unconditional surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. It forestalled a U.S. military invasion of Japan with potentially great loss of life.
It ushered in the Cold War, nuclear proliferation, the concept of mutually assured destruction and the Doomsday Clock, created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and now set at 100 seconds to midnight, the staunchest warning yet of an impending obliteration of humanity.
An international taboo against using nuclear weapons in war has held to this day. Nine nations have nuclear capability, but none have used it.
That seems like a tenuous bright spot, and it underscores the urgency of working toward treaties against nuclear weapons.
Kazumi Matsui, mayor of Hiroshima, last year called on world leaders to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, approved by a United Nations conference in 2017.
A Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996 and signed by the U.S., but did not win the required approval in the Senate in 1999.
Seventy-five years after Hiroshima, Japan is one of our nation's closest allies and trade partners, with the U.S.-Japan Alliance considered vital to U.S. interests in Asia.
Masuoka's sister and brother died in the bombing. She eventually moved to Chicago and did not speak of her experiences in Hiroshima until the last 10 or 15 years, her daughter says. At 93, she advocates for peace and for keeping memories of those terrible days in Hiroshima and Nagasaki fresh, goals we echo in the hope something so terrible will never happen again.