Nuclear arms spell end of man, warn peace prize winners

(From left) Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen presenting the peace prize to Hiroshima bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow and Ican head Beatrice Fihn in Oslo yesterday.
(From left) Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen presenting the peace prize to Hiroshima bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow and Ican head Beatrice Fihn in Oslo yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

OSLO • The winners of the Nobel Peace Prize warned that mankind's destruction is just one "impulsive tantrum away" as the United States and North Korea exchange war-like threats over Pyongyang's nuclear tests.

"Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?" Ms Beatrice Fihn, head of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican), said in a speech yesterday after receiving the peace prize on behalf of the anti-nuclear group.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have spiralled as Pyongyang has in recent months increased the number of missiles and nuclear tests. It has exchanged warlike threats with US President Donald Trump, who has ordered a military show of force.

"The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away," Ms Fihn added.

Ican, a coalition of hundreds of non-governmental organisations around the world, has worked for a treaty banning nuclear arms that was adopted in July by 122 nations.

The text was weakened by the absence of the nine nuclear powers among the signatories. In an apparent snub to the Ican-backed treaty, the three Western nuclear powers - the US, France and Britain - broke with tradition by sending second-ranking diplomats rather than their ambassadors to yesterday's ceremony.

Supporters of nuclear weapons argue that they serve as a deterrent for starting a major conflict as it would guarantee mutual destruction for the nations involved.

"They are a madman's gun held permanently to our temple," Ms Fihn said. "These weapons were supposed to keep us free, but they deny us our freedoms."

Several survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings, which killed over 220,000 people 72 years ago, attended the ceremony in the Oslo City Hall. One of them, Ms Setsuko Thurlow, received the Nobel on behalf of Ican jointly with Ms Fihn.

Ms Thurlow recalled on stage some of her memories of the attack on Aug 6, 1945. She was rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building about 1.8km from Ground Zero, she said. Most of her classmates, who were in the same room, were burned alive.

"Processions of ghostly figures shuffled by. Grotesquely wounded people, they were bleeding, burnt, blackened and swollen... The foul stench of burnt human flesh filled the air," she said.

The Nobel prizes in literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and economics were to be awarded later yesterday at a separate ceremony in Stockholm. Each prize consists of a diploma, a gold medal and a cheque for nine million Swedish kroner (S$1.4 million).

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2017, with the headline 'Nuclear arms spell end of man, warn peace prize winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe