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Comment: A tree story from Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a sobering reminder

A commentary by a Victoria resident. A sapling from Hiroshima will be planted at the new Japanese Pavilion at Gorge Park on Tuesday evening. The mother tree, which ­survived the atomic bombing of Aug. 6, 1945, is thriving in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.
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People enjoy a warm day under a gingko tree in Cornwall Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Esquimalt will plant its own gingko tree next week, a gift from the city of Hiroshima and a reminder of the futility of the use of nuclear weapons. SYLVIE WHINRAY, NEW ZEALAND HERALD VIA AP

This is the story of the mother tree that refused to die. Although 50 per cent of her bark had been burned, her leaves vapourized and most of her fellow trees incinerated, she survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Not only that, but she gave birth to seeds that grew into ­saplings. The human survivors of Hiroshima (the hibakusha) and their children nurtured these Gingko saplings and offered them to the rest of the world as symbols of resilience and a yearning for peace.

The devastation and misery caused by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, were unprecedented in all human history, both before and afterward.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons are still considered by many to be a relic of a bygone era. If only that were true.

Even before the onslaught in Ukraine, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight. At the height of the Cold War, we were never this close to an apocalypse of our own making.

This is not a fanciful sleight of hand — it represents the considered opinion of ­science and policy experts with a ­history rooted in the bombing of ­Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Bulletin of Atomic ­Scientists developed the Clock as a metaphor of global risk. Many of the Bulletin members had been involved in the development of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and were prescient enough to warn of the consequences of an unharnessed nuclear arms race.

The terrible war in Ukraine, with Russia regularly wielding the threat to use nuclear weapons, is an urgent reminder that we are now more vulnerable than ever.

Setsuko Thurlow, a Canadian survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, said: “Whenever I remember Hiroshima, the first image that comes to mind is of my four-year-old nephew, Eiji – his little body transformed into an unrecognizable chunk of flesh. He kept begging for water in a faint voice until his death released him from agony.”

It’s hard to believe that the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons have been ignored by the nuclear weapons states for 77 years. They have failed to act in good faith and have perpetuated the myth that nuclear weapons make the world a safer place to live.

The recent Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) calls for a ban on anything and everything to do with nuclear weapons. Canada has refused to sign the treaty.

We in Victoria have commemorated the victims of the atomic bombings with ceremonies for more than 25 years. We are pleased to have received a sapling from Hiroshima for this year’s special event.

The Gingko tree is lauded as “undoubtedly one of the most distinct and beautiful of all deciduous trees.” It has a unique, fan-shaped leaf that transforms into a gorgeous ­yellow in the fall.

It sometimes reaches a height of 25 metres and provides lots of welcome shade. It lives a long life — up to 3,000 years — with earliest leaf fossils dating from 270 million years ago.

The mother tree is alive and flourishing in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima City.

Our baby Gingko — along with a special message from Hiroshima Mayor Matsui Kazumi — will be planted by Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins at the new Japanese Pavilion in Gorge Park on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 9. All are welcome.

• The evening's events begin at 6 p.m. and include lantern making, a welcome by Elder Bear Sam, and entertainment. The ceremonial tree planting is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. For more information, see the listing on Eventbrite.

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