Push for the Prize: A Response from Professor Martin Hellman

I am pleased to second Mr. Akio Matsumara’s proposal that the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here are some of the reasons:

1. The efforts of the A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) to alert the world to the danger we face from relying on the unproven doctrine of nuclear deterrence is of utmost importance. Most people find it difficult or impossible to comprehend the horror of a nuclear attack, and the hibakusha’s personal experiences are able to overcome that barrier, helping us to conceive the inconceivable.



Dr. Martin Hellman, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University


2. The prize would be a recognition of the role these people have played in improving the prospects for peace. It would not blame either the United States for dropping the bombs or Japan for its own atrocities. Blame is one of the root causes of war and has no place in a Nobel Peace Prize. Efforts, such as those of Mr. Yoshida to bring reconciliation should be highlighted. Mr. Yoshida is a survivor who survived Hiroshima and whose brother died there, yet moved to the Philippines to honor those who died at the hands of the Japanese military.

3. As Mr. Matsumara notes in his proposal, the victims were not just Japanese, but included many nationalities. While it should not matter, this helps illuminate the universal harm wrought by nuclear weapons. To a nuclear weapon, Americans, Japanese, and other nationalities all appear the same — matter to be vaporized, irradiated or otherwise harmed.

4. Recognizing the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not only redeem those who died in those attacks. It would have the potential to redeem those who survived, both in those cities, and around the world. There is an urgent need to wake society to the highly unacceptable risk that it faces, and acting on Mr. Matsumara’s proposal would be an important step in that direction.

5. As noted by the Catholic chaplain who blessed the crews that dropped their bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the latter city was the center of Catholicism in Japan. While it should make no difference whether a victim was a Buddhist or a Catholic, the large number of Christian victims in Nagasaki again helps illuminate the universal genocide that a nuclear war would bring. A powerful statement by that chaplain expresses the spiritual message we have been appealing for:

Father George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Air Force, served as a priest for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and gave them his blessing. Days later he counseled an airman who had flown a low-level reconnaissance flight over the city of Nagasaki shortly after the detonation of “Fat Man.” The man described how thousands of scorched, twisted bodies writhed on the ground in the final throes of death, while those still on their feet wandered aimlessly in shock—flesh seared, melted, and falling off. The crewman’s description raised a stifled cry from the depths of Zabelka’s soul: “My God, what have we done?” Over the next twenty years, he gradually came to believe that he had been terribly wrong, that he had denied the very foundations of his faith by lending moral and religious support to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Zabelka died in 1992, but his message, in this speech given on the 40th anniversary of the bombings, must never be forgotten. He said “ I again asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas present. I asked forgiveness, and they asked forgiveness for Pearl Harbor and some of the horrible deeds of the Japanese military, and there were some, and I knew of them. We embraced. We cried. Tears flowed. That is the first step of reconciliation—admission of guilt and forgiveness. Pray to God that others will find this way to peace”

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