Non-proliferation of nuclear Weapons: Should the youth care?

By Muhd Amir Ruzain

77 years ago on August 6th, American forces dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, and then another bomb on Nagasaki on August 9th subsequently forcing the Japanese government to an unconditional surrender which the Japanese accepted marking the end of World War 2. Most school history textbooks would conclude here and move on to the next chapter of history i.e the Cold war with the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

However, what most history books in our school tend to overlook is the human cost of these bombings. In December 1945, experts estimated the death toll to be about 200,000. This number is disputed as many hospitals and governmental facilities had been destroyed leaving no records on this statistic. In the aftermath of the horrific bombing, there were survivors known as Hibakusha, which means “bomb-affected people”. Those who survived the bombings sadly did not have a better fate as they had later developed cancer and other chronic diseases as a result of radiation exposure. Pregnant women had greater rates of miscarriage and infant mortality, as well as children who were more likely to have physical disabilities, intellectual impairments, and cancer.

Seven decades later, diseases linked to radiation exposure continue to plague the hibakushas and their descendants. Additionally, the hibakushas were excluded from Japanese society because of radioactive concerns, preventing them from finding jobs and marriages. Despite having faced enormous adversities throughout their lives, the Hibakuchas have made it their life goal to advocate against the use of nuclear weapons and to share their experiences with the world so that no one has to go through their pain ever again. The Hibakusha, as survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have a tremendous burden as witnesses to the catastrophe wrought by the use of nuclear bombs. Hence, let us not look away at the detrimental impacts of nuclear weapons on mankind. Among the few living witnesses of nuclear weapons’ horrors, their accounts are essential to use in the campaigns against their spread and abolition.

Nowadays, the youth are bolder than ever, standing up against injustice in their communities, or around the world, time and time again showing just how powerful they are and that they won’t be silenced. A recent resolution by the United Nations (UN) acknowledged the significant role that the youth played in promoting international peace and security. There is no question about the significance of youth engagement in effecting change since the youth of today are extremely involved in bringing about social reforms that emphasise equality, inclusion and collaboration and peace. They have proven that they have what it takes to make a difference when given the right opportunity. Subsequently, the UN had shown support by encouraging the government of the world to act and to engage with the youth on disarmament and non-proliferation issues. 

The youth of today has, for the most part, been fortunate in that it has not had to deal with the devastation of war, at least not to the same extent as it did during the world wars, nor has it had to worry of nuclear threats  as the older generation did during the Cold War. The majority of young people are able to grow and live in a world without that kind of hardship. Some claim that nuclear weapons have helped to avoid the devastation of war for many years and yet with nine states having acquired nuclear weapons they served as the only arbiter of where such peace and security may exist. If one of these states engages in conflict with another, the rest of the globe is held hostage as it anticipates a nuclear war. It is apparent that these deadly weapons of mass destruction, which are capable of erasing all traces of mankind, have not been able to diminish or avoid international violence; rather, they have only prevented nuclear-armed states from destroying one another and igniting a nuclear war. Therefore, it may be said that nuclear weapon nations can only establish an artificially constructed peace as long as nuclear bombs exist and are targeted towards other nations.

Treaties were signed, and charters were written to remind the world that nuclear disarmament is the only way to achieve long-term global peace. The most significant was the Non-proliferation treaty signed by the five big powers on the security council in 1970. The general goal was to encourage cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, and advance the pursuit of full and universal disarmament. The Treaty is the first multilateral agreement that establishes the disarmament of nuclear-armed states as a legal binding agreement among these nuclear states and was hailed as a breakthrough. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, however, showed how fragile and easily the treaty can be violated. Additionally, the current conflict has shown that nations with nuclear weapons are easily susceptible to threatening the rest of the world with nuclear war if any nation dares to stand in its way. Threats of this sort,  endanger the entire world and jeopardise the whole effort of nuclear weapons disarmament.

Having said that, that is why the youth ought to take a stand against such weapons. In the event that one nuclear warhead is detonated over a populated city someday. Everyone and  everything will instantly be vaporised in its vicinity and a lot of land would become radioactive, leaving the environment devastated for many decades to come. Those that survived will be unable to feed themselves, resulting in famine and other crises. These hypothetical situations are not meant to incite dread, but rather to caution about the risks inherent in choosing ignorance. But rather than placing the blame on the youth for their lack of interest in these issues. it was the educational system that had let down the younger generation in this case. The repercussions of nuclear bombs on the victims were not included in either our science or history textbooks. Without a proper introduction to these topics, one may initially view them with apathy because they aren’t perceived as having much of an impact on the lives of young people. 

The main obstacle to encouraging young people to oppose the use of nuclear weapons today is their lack of awareness of how to do it. thus,  it is critical to share the experiences of the hibakushas with the next generation in order to foster empathy and a sense of mutual understanding. After hearing about the hardships and fortitude that the Hibakusha had to face, young people might make better decisions if they base them on how they feel rather than what they learn from history. This would be the first step in making sure that education for youth  remains current and prepares them for the effort to rid the world of all nuclear weapons in future. Nevertheless, nuclear weapons proliferation has sucessfully decreased by the significant efforts made by the global community over the years, but more work has to be done before the world can be free of nuclear weapons. Therefore, in recent years, several platforms have been established to promote youth involvement, cooperation, and offering an international forum for discussions regarding nuclear weapon non-proliferation policy, such as ICAN and youth4disarmament.

Today’s youth have realised that achieving global peace and security does not have to come from any parliament, governmental institution, or even the UN. Hence,  the youth on their own are striving tirelessly to achieve the ultimate goal of ensuring long-term peace and stability for the world they will inherit one day. Thus, it is the primary reason why today’s youth should act and make efforts toward the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Today’s youth are not only environmental activists, but they are also diplomats and peacemakers. Thus, opposing nuclear proliferation should be treated as a universal change like any other social movement that today’s youth are involved in. Let not the loss and suffering of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims and survivors be reduced to a number or nameless figure in a textbook. Let it represent something, perhaps the promise of a better future without nuclear weapons.***

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