By Nikos Stergiou*
Saturday morning. You can afford to lie in bed for a few more minutes, or maybe not. The weekend could be exciting! You may have friends to see, you could spend time with your children, or read that book you bought yesterday. You could go for a walk in the countryside, or you could just stay home watching your favourite movies. In any case, you have the whole weekend ahead of you!
No one waking up on a Saturday morning believes that at 08:07am and then for a further 38 excruciating minutes, the only thing for sure is that the end has come for everyone and everything. 38 minutes to talk, if you manage it, with as many of your loved ones as possible. 38 minutes to thank whoever you believe in for the life you have lived so far, to ask why? to grieve, to be angry, to repent, to forgive, to be forgiven and to be reconciled. Your whole life, in 38 minutes.
In 2017, North Korea’s relations with the rest of the world, and especially with the United States, were on a tightrope due to the evolution of its nuclear program. There were rumours that they had developed a ballistic missile that could hit the island of Hawaii, among other targets. As a result, for reasons of readiness, the sirens on this island sounded in December 2017, after more than 30 years of silence.
Then, on the morning of Saturday, January 13, 2018, almost all the residents of the island of Hawaii received the following message on their mobile phones:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
After the first few minutes of reasonable questioning as to whether this is another exercise, and without a new message coming, but instead instructions appearing on all the TV programs and radios stations, there was only one image in everyone’s mind: a mushroom cloud over the island… There are many testimonies and videos on the internet, of people trying to find a way to react, to protect themselves if possible and to say goodbye to the people closest to them.
On the occasion of this incident, ICAN published the testimony of one of the residents (Cynthia Lazaroff) who experienced it: “Remembering 4 years ago today, when this message lit up my cell phone and my life changed forever. Even with everything I knew about nuclear weapons, nuclear war was unimaginable to me until I went through those #38minutes. The moment it became most real for me was when I called my daughter to say good-bye and “I love you” for what I thought might be the last time. I wondered if I would ever hear her voice again, if this was the beginning of the end of life as we know it, of everything and everyone we know and love and cherish on this Earth. Now this experience lives inside of me, as a mother, as a human being, and it’s never going to go away until we eliminate nuclear weapons”.
In 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force. Under the Treaty, which now includes all but five UN member states, five states have been recognized as possessing nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China (N5), which agreed to pursue nuclear disarmament in exchange for all other states agreeing to not acquire nuclear weapons. The 10th NPT Review Conference was scheduled to begin on January 4 this year in New York. This latest attempt to convene the conference, unfortunately, has also failed due to the Omicron variant that is raging around the world today. On the eve of the conference on January 3, the N5 issued a statement reiterating the statement by Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan on November 21, 1985 in Geneva that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Despite these positive sounding words, Abolition 2000 among many other anti-nuclear organizations have pointed out the reality that all countries with nuclear weapons continue to modernize, upgrade and in some cases expand their nuclear arsenals.
It is immoral and inhumane to introduce into the public sphere issues of “upgrading” a country’s strategic military role by possessing nuclear weapons on their territory. The only ones making a profit are companies that invest in nuclear weapons technology and nuclear energy, as nuclear reactor technology is the pre-requisite for the development of nuclear weapons technology and the supply of the raw materials plutonium and tritium.
The international community, all of us, now have in our hands the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which on January 22, will complete one year in force. It’s a way to get rid of nuclear weapons and stop the threat of extinction of almost every form of life on our planet.
* President of the Greek section of the organization “World without Wars and Violence”.