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Cities must not be targets — Beyond Nuclear International

Bombarding civilians violates international humanitarian law

Cities must not be targets — Beyond Nuclear International

Using nuclear weapons on populations is inherently racist and xenophobic

By Carlos Umaña, MD

The following was a live presentation made by Dr. Umaña inside the basement of the St. Nikolai Church, destroyed during the firebombing of Hamburg during World War II but now housing a museum commemorating the horrors of targeting cities during war.

I am honored speak on such a special occasion, to such a special crowd, and humbled to do so in such a special place. Here, the name of my presentation, “Cities are not targets” takes a special meaning, as in the basement of St. Nikolai’s Memorial Church one cannot help but marvel at the grandeur of human enterprise, while at the same time be appalled by the reaches of human destruction.

“Cities are not targets,” the title of my presentation, is also the name of a campaign launched in 2006 by Mayors for Peace, an organization founded in 1982 by the mayor of Hiroshima with the aim of producing nuclear abolition, an organization that currently has over 8,200 member cities.

Now, when we talk about cities, urban centers of civilian population being targets, we are not talking about peace, we are talking about war, and the bare minimum of humanity that must be followed during war. We are talking about the rules of war, for civilians ‐ innocent noncombatants ‐ must not be a part of war.

During World War II, attacks on civilian structures were justified by “othering”, that is, by objectifying populations, making not the government or the army the enemy, but the people. In popular culture nowadays we see how nuclear weapons are used to fight off evil aliens in scientific action movies. Entire races of evil, ugly aliens who want to destroy humanity are killed off and humanity is saved by the atomic bomb.

In the 1940s, the aliens, in the public eye of many people in the United States, were the Japanese. The Japanese people themselves, who looked and acted so differently, were somehow evil. In the collective mind of many in the United States, all Japanese people were accomplices to their army’s misdeeds. Hence, they deserved the atomic bomb. They had it coming.

Nuclear weapons are inherently racist and xenophobic: they were created and used with the idea of killing off a population of people who are “not like us”. This “othering”, this extreme indifference towards the horrible suffering of those who are somehow different is the reason for being of these weapons and why they are the epitome of cruelty. In this sense, the words of our dear and renowned Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow resonate loudly: “nuclear weapons are not a necessary evil, but the ultimate evil”.

Now, since World War II, International law has evolved. International Humanitarian Law, the law of war, condemns any attack on civilians and thus condemns the use of explosive weapons in urban centers, as it is disproportionate and indiscriminate and harms civilians directly.

Weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, landmines, and cluster munitions, contravene International Humanitarian Law because they do not distinguish between military and civilian targets and attack everything and everyone indiscriminately.

Explosive weapons in cities not only kill and harm innocent people directly ‐ who may require long‐term assistance ‐ they also cause other problems. They cause displacement, the damage and destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, water and sanitation systems, and this worsens the suffering of innocent people in a conflict.

With nuclear weapons, by far the most destructive of all weapons, and the ones that cause the most suffering, civilians are the targets. Cities are the targets. They go beyond affecting the housing, schools, communication and healthcare infrastructure, or the water and sanitation systems. They destroy and contaminate. The city becomes uninhabitable. The food systems of the city ‐ any farming on which the population depends ‐ become unusable. The city’s historical and environmental patrimony are destroyed beyond repair.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, over 200,000 people died in the first few days and many more have suffered and died insidiously over the years. Many of the injured suffered horribly from the blast and the heat, and more so by the effects of radiation, something most people were unaware of at the time. The mysterious disease that people knew nothing about caused many to die and suffer atrociously: their abdomens exploded, their faces melted, they bled to death. Their wounds would not heal. And those apparently healthy would get sick and die years later.

Most of the people who suffered these horrors were noncombatant people: elderly people, women and children. Children. And these people suffered further the stigmatization by other people in Japan. The children were kept apart from other children, for fear of contagion. They would have difficulty finding work, as they were perceived as sickly, or finding partners, as it was feared that they would bear defective children. Therefore, many learned to keep their origins to themselves and lie about where they were from. What was once a source of pride, their city, had become a source of scorn and shame……………………………………

February 20, 2023 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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