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75 Years of Nuclear Violence Must End Now

Seventy-five years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs: one on Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. These two detonations unleashed hell on earth for those within both cities, incinerating hundreds of thousands of people, along with plants, animals, and buildings.

Image credit: WILPF
Ray Acheson
6 August 2020

Seventy-five years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs: one on Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. These two detonations unleashed hell on earth for those within both cities, incinerating hundreds of thousands of people, along with plants, animals, and buildings. The heat and fire from the blast melted objects and turned human beings into shadows. The burns and the radiation poising killed many more in the days, months, and years after the bombings. As testimony from the survivors, the hibakusha, tells us, the terror of the bombs impacted the lives of those who survived forever.

For seventy-five years, we have all lived under the threat of radioactive blast and firestorm, the effects of which are immediately devastating and punishingly intergenerational. For seventy-five years, from production to testing to use to storage to disposal, nuclear weapon activities have contaminated land and water — and will continue to do so for thousands of years more. For seventy-five years, corporations like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bechtel have reaped incredible profits from government contracts for bombs and bombers.

Last year, the nine nuclear-armed states spent 73 billion dollars on nuclear weapons. That is more than 138,000 dollars per minute. In the midst of a global pandemic, the US has more nuclear warheads than hospitals. While people of the world have suffered from these economic choices, others have profited. Certain academics, politicians, and bureaucrats have risen through the ranks of think tanks or governments in positions bankrolled by the nuclear profiteers, spinning theories of “nuclear deterrence” and “strategic stability” to justify this massive, unconscionable investment in technologies of massive violence.

The patriarchy of nuclearism

For seventy-five years, we have been told that these weapons are absolutely necessary for certain governments to possess, in order to ensure “international security” or “strategic stability”. This is nuclearism. Nuclearism is the mythology that nuclear weapons are essential for security. It is an epic feat of gaslighting that insists that weapons that can kill everyone on the planet many times over are the only things keeping us safe.

Nuclearism is patriarchy: it is the dominance of a mindset that says violence equals power, that weapons equal security. It is a mentality that comes from the domination of men over women, of white supremacy and wealth, of able-bodiedness and heteronormativity. It comes from the capitalist prioritisation of profit over people, and from the militarism that accumulates wealth through war.

Nuclear weapons are part of the structures of violence that plague so many of our societies. They are weapons meant to assert control, to intimidate, to threaten genocide. The policies of nuclear weapon development, testing, and use are policies of radioactive racism. The same racist ideology that enables certain governments to explode nuclear bombs, dig up radioactive materials, and bury nuclear waste on Indigenous lands and near poor communities also lies within carceral systems, border controls, and treatment of people deemed “other” around the world.

Taking action against the bomb

Right now, there are calls in many countries to defund the police and prison industries and build alternative structures for preventing harm and for transformative justice. This incredible work is crucial toward building the type of communities in which we can all live and thrive. This work is about, among other things, disarming and demilitarising; it is about divesting from weapons and violence and investing in peace and equality instead.

Abolishing nuclear weapons is part of this work.

In 2017, 122 governments voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This landmark agreement completely outlaws the development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons. It recognises the disproportionate impact that nuclear weapon activities have had on Indigenous communities. It recognises the gendered impacts of radiation, and it calls for gender diversity in discussions on nuclear weapons. It includes provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, recognising the harms that have been caused and the needs of communities that have suffered.

The nuclear-armed states—China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — did not participate in the negotiation of this Treaty. Nor did the countries that rely on the fantasy of “extended nuclear deterrence” from the US arsenal for their perceived protection (those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as well as Australia, Japan, and South Korea). By rejecting this Treaty, they are asserting that their “security” is derived from the ability to commit to genocide, to wreak horrific suffering on entire populations, to risk the survival of our entire planet.

The governments supporting the Treaty in 2017, and those that are ratifying it now, are largely those of the Global South. Their support stems from the straightforward understanding that nuclear weapons have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences and must be destroyed. For decades, these countries have been told they had no legitimate say over nuclear weapon policy, because they do not possess these weapons of terror. By banning the bomb, these countries stood up to power and claimed their legitimate stake on this issue.

Divest, demilitarise, disarm

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a feat of collective action by people who came together to do something that had not been tried before. It offers a glimpse of what is possible in this world — including that it is possible to do something that all of the “great powers” in the world collectively forbid. Resistance may take time to have an effect, but it can make a difference.

Right now, actions against nuclear weapons and in support of the Treaty are taking place all over the world. WILPF is organising four days of action against nuclear weapon spending. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has activities related to divesting from nuclear weapons, encouraging local governments to support nuclear disarmament, getting universities out of nuclear weapon work, and elevating the testimony of hibakusha. Many other groups around the world will be holding events online to mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The time to act against the bomb is now. As we face other perils and converging crisis, like COVID-19 and climate change, we need to act cooperatively and turn all of our ingenuity and resources away from weapons and war towards peace, equity, and nonviolence. Otherwise, we will not survive.

On 6 and 9 August, we say Never Again. No more Hiroshimas, no more Nagasakis, no more hibakusha, no more nuclear weapons. And then we work to make that promise a reality.

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Ray Acheson Speaking for Reaching Critical Will at a conference

Ray Acheson

Ray Acheson is the Director of WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, which provides analysis, research, and advocacy across a range of disarmament issues from an antimilitarist feminist perspective. Acheson represents WILPF on the steering committees of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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