Pope in Nagasaki: No to atomic weapons, deterrence doctrine

Nicole Winfield and Haruka Nuga
Associated Press

Nagasaki, Japan – Pope Francis demanded world leaders renounce nuclear weapons and the Cold War-era doctrine of mutual deterrence, saying Sunday the arms race decreases security, wastes resources and threatens humanity with catastrophic destruction.

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Nagasaki, Japan.

Francis made the appeal in Nagasaki at ground zero of the second of the two 1945 U.S. atomic bombings on Japan. After laying a wreath of flowers and praying in the rain at the foot of the memorial to the victims, Francis said the place stands as a stark reminder “of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another.”

“Convinced as I am that a world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary, I ask political leaders not to forget that these weapons cannot protect us from current threats to national and international security,” he said.

The mood was somber and silent, darkened by the downpour that drenched the terraced fields and rice paddies of Nagasaki and the hundreds of Japanese who came out in plastic raincoats to witness the second pope to pay his respects to victims of the bomb.

Francis visited Nagasaki – and later Hiroshima – at the start of his three-day trip to Japan aimed at emphasizing his call for a global ban on atomic weapons.

The Holy See was among the first countries to sign and ratify the new nuclear prohibition treaty, and Francis himself has gone further than any pope before him in saying not only the use, but the mere possession of atomic weapons is “to be condemned.”

Francis didn’t repeat that condemnation on Sunday, but he argued that stockpiling nuclear arsenals provides a false sense of security and actually reduces global peace at a time of heightened concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea.

“Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation,” he said. “They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation.”

The faithful wait for Pope Francis at Nagasaki Prefectural Baseball Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Nagasaki, Japan.

Several years ago, Francis was given a photograph of a Nagasaki boy carrying his dead baby brother on his back en route to a crematorium after the bombing. Francis has since distributed tens of thousands of copies of the photo, with the words “The fruit of war,” printed on them. On Sunday, a poster-sized version of the photo was displayed at the memorial, and Francis was meeting the widow and son of the American military photographer who shot it, Joe O’Donnell.

The first U.S. atomic bombing on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people, and the second one dropped three day later on Nagasaki killed another 74,000 by the end of the same year, according to data from the cities. Many of the survivors have suffered the lasting impact of radiation and developed various forms of cancer.

Under the 1957 government law designed to support A-bomb survivors, or “hibakusha,” more than 370,000 people were recognized as eligible for various types of government support, including medical and welfare assistance depending on how far they were from the ground zero.

As of 2018, the total amount the government had spent on them amounted to nearly 5.6 trillion yen ($53 billion), according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Francis lamented the “climate of distrust” that is eating away at non-proliferation efforts and the arms control framework, a reference to the formal demise this year of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, a landmark Cold War-era arms control agreement. The U.S. formally withdrew from the treaty in August, after accusing Moscow of developing a Russian missile system prohibited under it.

“In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons, are an affront crying out to heaven,” Francis said.

And he urged world powers to recommit to arms control efforts and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.

“We need to ponder the catastrophic impact of their deployment, especially from a humanitarian and environmental standpoint, and reject heightening a climate of fear, mistrust and hostility fomented by nuclear doctrines,” he said.

It was the first of two major messages Francis was delivering Sunday, with the second coming during a stop in Hiroshima. There, he is to hear from survivors of the bombings and celebrate Mass.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.