As expected, my last week in Hiroshima was a whirlwind of international conferences, peace events,
and new faces. At the Mayor’s for PeaceConference, I learned a great deal about the organization’s involvement in increasing global awareness of the urgent need to abolish nuclear weapons. In fact, Mayors for Peace now represents 1/7th of the global population. In the belief that no one has the right to impose nuclear risks on humanity, Mayors for Peace is working to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2020. 134 American cities, including Philadelphia, have signed on to Mayors for Peace. New York and Washington D.C. still haven’t gotten the memo.
Perhaps the most memorable conference I attended was the World Conference Against A & H Bombs. A refreshing addition to the line-up, this conference included several speakers who covered nuclear energy. For example, Fukushima Prefectural Assembly member Etsuko Kamiyama spoke about the actual damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident. Julia Pippig of the INES Executive Committee gave my favorite lecture, which focused on Germany’s experiences with nuclear energy. Amazingly, Germany has created a plan to phase out nuclear energy and switch to 100% renewable sources. Germany is proof that the energy transition could be possible, a very hopeful thought indeed.
The culmination of my stay in Hiroshima was the Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6th, the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing. Every year, this ceremony draws people from all over the world and is the most important day on Hiroshima’s calendar. This year’s ceremony was both moving and controversial. At 8:15am, the exact time when the bomb detonated over Hiroshima, there was a mokutou or moment of silence. The event featured speeches by UNGA President Vuc Jeremic and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. To be honest, I was surprised to see Abe, and was even more surprised after listening to what he had to say.
According to my interviewees, the Abe administration supports the remilitarization of Japan, the revision of Article 9, and the reactivation of Japan’s nuclear generators. His representatives have publicly stated that the plutonium from these nuclear generators could be used to produce nuclear weapons, should Japan ever feel the need. During the ceremony, Abe stated that he was committed to a world without nuclear weapons. He repeated this statement in a private meeting with Hiroshima’s hibakusha. At an event held after the Ceremony, Hiroshima’s knowledgeable citizens expressed outrage at Abe’s comments, calling him a “liar” and a “snake.”
While in Hiroshima, I spent most of my time with dedicated peace activists, who inspired me and gave me hope that nuclear abolition—in it’s broadest sense—will one day be realized. However, as in America, the majority of Hiroshima’s citizens seem indifferent to or unknowingly support the nuclear industry, an industry of war. Although the Fukushima nuclear disaster was a wake up call, it is easy to forget. The connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy has not been made. In a recent Diet election, Abe’s representatives won an overwhelming majority, both in Japan as a whole and in Hiroshima.
If Hiroshima were to take a stand against the government’s policies, there would most definitely be ripples. Years after WWII, Japan still hasn’t granted an apology to its neighbors for the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. Despite being the only country to experience the atomic bomb, Japan continues to depend on America’s nuclear umbrella. Furthermore, Japan is, in many ways, the center of the nuclear industry. Without parts made in Japan, no nuclear generator could be constructed anywhere in the world. By supporting the Abe administration and ignoring certain facets of the nuclear industry, Hiroshima’s message of peace is not reaching it’s full potential. Even Kazumi Matsui, Mayor of Hiroshima, and Hidehiko Yuzaki, Governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, refrain from speaking out on nuclear energy. I worry that Hiroshima’s relevancy as an international model for peace is at stake.
It didn’t occur to me until my first night on American soil. After all that I’ve learned, I thought I understood the horror of nuclear weapons, the complexity of the nuclear industry, and the urgency of nuclear abolition. However, it wasn’t until I collapsed onto my own bed, with its familiar lumps and textures, that it hit me: what happened to Hiroshima could happen to my home. This thought, more than anything I’d learned in Japan, utterly terrified me.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that a strong, emotional response was so long in coming. The past two months have been a bit unreal. Being alone in a country half way around the world, navigating a relatively new culture and language, and seeing the results of the atomic bombing first hand lent my trip a dream-like quality. Back in the context of my normal life, my brain has finally made the connection. Nuclear issues aren’t only pertinent to Japan. Both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy have repercussions that disregard political boundaries. Radiation could and has harmed countless communities around the globe.
That being said, the promotion of peace culture is the responsibility of each and every human being, particularly of the youth. The hibakushahave reached an average age of 78. Although they endured such a horrific tragedy at the hands of Americans, they came to the conclusion that Hiroshima must work for peace. They do not seek revenge or harbor hatred. Their conclusion is truly astonishing and can be applied to all issues of war and peace. It is time that new leaders emerged to continue spreading Hiroshima’s legacy. In my time leading the Hiroshima YMCA’s International Youth Peace Conference, the young participants gave me hope that Hiroshima’s message will not end with the hibakusha. I watched these students, from differing backgrounds and cultures, build lasting friendships, the foundation for stable global peace. Students from Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, and India joined their voices together in one harmonious prayer: No more Hiroshimas. No more Nagasakis. No more Fukushimas.