Hiroshima Memo: Hope seen in the efforts of young people for a peaceful, nuclear-free world

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Recently, I had a chance to read 33 essays, written in English, by high school students across Japan, including 12 students in Hiroshima. The essays described the reasons the students wished to participate in the 2010 APEC Junior Conference, to be held in Hiroshima in late February. Reading the applicants' essays, I was impressed by their views of the world and their motivation to help solve society's challenges and make a contribution. I felt encouraged, frankly, by the enthusiasm of their essays.

The students expressed a range of concerns. Some were struck by the extreme gulf in living standards between the developed countries and the developing nations of Zimbabwe and Jamaica, where they had lived with their parents. Others mentioned such things as the gap between the rich and poor in Japan, noted after returning home from Thailand and the United States; the damage to the environment caused by climate change; and conflicts stemming from differences of religion and ethnicity. Most of the applicants from Hiroshima touched upon the importance of passing on the memory of the atomic bombing and nuclear issues.

The official language to be used at the APEC Junior Conference is English. In this context, it would be natural that most applicants have lived or visited abroad and gained some experience of other cultures. Above all, though, they share the awareness of being "global citizens" in addition to being high school students, Japanese nationals and human beings.

"Why can't the human race save children in Africa who are dying of hunger instead of building nuclear weapons with the intention of murdering millions of people in one fell swoop?" "Eliminating nuclear weapons, conflict, and poverty and stopping the destruction of the environment are all linked to one another."

A female student from Tokyo wrote that, to resolve these challenges, human beings must embrace the differences of religion, ethnicity and nationality and "have courage to accept different cultures." A male student in Hiroshima said that "Building mutual trust nurtures friendship, which would lead to a peaceful world."

I would also like to share a passage from a peace declaration, "To the People of the World," issued in late November by junior high and high school students in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who are making efforts on behalf of a world free of nuclear weapons.

"We hope to create peace, not through nuclear weapons and military force, but through dialogue and trust," they state in their peace declaration. "We want to overcome religious, racial and language barriers to join hands with people around the world and take action."

These students are intent on realizing a nuclear-free world while those who applied for the APEC Junior Conference are focused on the conference theme of "Creating a Peaceful and Prosperous Society." Their message, however, is the same. The passion and efforts of these young people to help shape the issues facing their regions and the world at large will mature into a powerful force for change. I would like to support these students wholeheartedly, hoping that their efforts to see a world free of poverty, war and nuclear weapons will spread across Japan and throughout the world.

(Originally published on Dec. 21, 2009)