The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The Geneva-based organization, which has drawn support from Nigeria to Australia, made headlines this year when it spearheaded a United Nations effort to ban nuclear weapons.
Among those who celebrated the news was Ari Beser, an anti-nuclear activist with a personal connection to the story. His grandfather, Jacob Beser, was the only man in the world to fly on both planes that dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. PRI featured his story earlier this year, as part of our series about people who have kept the world safe from nuclear weapons.
“I woke up this morning, and I checked my Facebook,” said Ari Beser, who felt energized and optimistic when he learned the news. “There it was.”
Beser attended the UN meeting where 122 nations signed a treaty that could ban nuclear weapons worldwide. It currently awaits ratification. Still, the noted absence of nuclear-armed powers at the meeting led to widespread skepticism about the ban’s effectiveness.
“What I believe it is doing is creating this international pressure,” Beser said. He hopes the Nobel Peace Prize could lend legitimacy to the ban and force nuclear-armed nations to enter a dialogue with ICAN.
The award, he added, could create a “new stigma” around nuclear arms, similar to the stigma attached to biological and chemical weapons.
Beser recalled learning, in 2015, that a group of atomic bomb survivors had been nominated for the prize. At the time, he was interviewing survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki while writing a book called, "The Nuclear Family."
He asked Sumiteru Taniguchi, a famous survivor and activist, what he would say if he were to win the prize. Beser remembers Taniguchi saying, “We have to heed the warning of atomic bomb survivors. Because if we don’t, there could be entire countries left uninhabitable by a nuclear war.” Taniguchi was instrumental in the effort to ban nuclear weapons, but he never learned that his fellow activists had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in August.
Beser said that his own generation of activists now feel energized to carry on the work. “This award doesn’t abolish any of the nuclear weapons,” he said. “This is the rallying call, but it’s not the end of the chapter.”