Hiroshima and the World: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Heart of Abolition

by Steven Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation

Steven Leeper
Steven Leeper was appointed chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation in April 2007. He first arrived in Hiroshima in December 1984. In 1986 he co-founded Transnet, a management consulting, translation and interpretation company. In 1998 he co-founded Global Peacemakers Association, a peace activist organization which trained people from Hiroshima to go out into the world to speak about Hiroshima, nuclear weapons and peace in English. He began working for Mayors for Peace in 2001, becoming the full-time U.S. representative in 2002. He earned a BA in experimental psychology from Eckerd College in 1969, did four years of alternative service as a conscientious objector, taught English in Japan from 1973 to 1976, and obtained a masters degree in clinical psychology in 1978 from West Georgia College. He was born on November 20, 1947 in Urbana, Illinois, USA and first came to Japan in December 1948.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Heart of Abolition

I've watched it happen over and over. Americans come in looking tense, even angry. They have come to hear an A-bomb survivor, and they're a little nervous. Some are thinking, "These people probably hate us."

Then, the survivor starts talking. First, he talks about the militarist education he received and what it was like living in a country at all-out war. Then, he talks about his experience on August 6, a simple story of pain and suffering so intense that some in the audience shed tears. Miraculously, he was found and nursed back to health through the love of someone who refused to let him die. He recovered, but people died all around him and are still dying today from the aftereffects. Now, his mission in life is to tell people the facts about the atomic bombings in hopes that no one else will ever have to suffer as he did. He ends by saying, "As long as I have breath left, I'll keep telling my story. Let's all join hands together and do everything we can to build a peaceful world free from nuclear weapons where everyone can live safe and happy lives."

By this time, the guarded faces have grown soft and warm. The survivor's openness about pain, grief, and ongoing fear of aftereffects, as well as the family or neighborly love that saved his life, has melted all but the hardest hearts. Nearly everyone in the room is suddenly eager to live in peace and avoid any repetition of the nuclear holocaust. At this point, my task is to introduce the idea of campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons without destroying the atmosphere of openness, love and unity. I am still working on this.

Having now participated in hundreds of hibakusha presentations, I am more impressed than ever by the power of their simple message and the beautiful dignity with which they deliver it. And I am more frustrated than ever that for sixty-five years the leaders of the nuclear-weapon states have steadfastly refused to hear the message and liberate us from the nuclear threat.

The hibakusha message is strong, and they are more than able to convey it to their audiences. The challenge is for the rest of us around the world who have heard their stories to actually do something at the international level to spread their message. Last May in New York, and in the months leading up to the NPT Review Conference, I saw excellent examples of what we need to do.

On May 1 and 3 in Union Square, a short taxi ride from UN Headquarters, some young people organized a candlelight vigil that featured music, prayer and hibakusha stories. They gave each of us two candles, then told us to find someone to give one of the candles to. We were supposed to go out among the commuters and give one of our candles to a passer-by with no idea who we were or what we were doing or why.

I was embarrassed. I had no idea how to get a perfect stranger to join our event, but I had to do something. I took my candle over to a couple strolling through the park. "Will you take one of my candles and come listen to a story? Those people over there," I said pointing, "are A-bomb survivors. They're here from Japan to talk to us."

The woman said, "Really?" She looked at her partner, who was obviously interested, so they took my candle and joined our event. Afterwards they happened to find me in the crowd and said, "That was amazing! Thank you." At that event, hundreds of people with no interest in the NPT Review Conference ended up hearing hibakusha testimony in an atmosphere of warmth and generosity.

The Union Square events were born of Skype conferences and hundreds of emails between the "Yes! Campaign" in Hiroshima and the "Pikadon Project" in New York. These young people were simply trying to help the hibakusha have an impact in New York. In doing so, they entertained, educated, and warmed the hearts of hundreds of people.

In April 2008, Mayors for Peace announced the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol, the process the international community should follow to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2020. Mayors for Peace immediately began campaigning for its adoption. In January 2009, the well-known Japanese illustrator Seitaro Kuroda came to my office and said, "I can help you generate a popular campaign for the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol. Let me create a picture book that will make the Protocol understandable to anyone."

The next day, a hibakusha named Hiroo Iso came in saying, "I just came back from a trip around the world on the Peace Boat. Now I want to take a trip around Japan telling everyone about the atomic bombing and the Mayors for Peace campaign." Two great ideas in two days, but our budget for the year was set. How could we move quickly enough?

I took both ideas to some local Hiroshima peace activists. They formed a committee and by July 2009, they had published a fun, informative, inexpensive book by Mr. Kuroda. In September, Mr. Iso and his friend, Yoshihiko Yagi, climbed into a borrowed car and took off from Peace Memorial Park to travel around Shimane Prefecture. The Peace Caravan was on its way.

By the time of the NPT Review Conference in May 2010, the "Yes! Campaign" had sold 17,000 copies of a book not available in bookstores. The Peace Caravan had obtained statements strongly supporting the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol directly from 533 mayors of Japanese municipalities, bringing the campaign total to 1166 or 65% of the cities, towns and villages in Japan.

They did this simply by getting into cars, driving 45,000 kilometers, showing up at city halls and asking to meet the mayor. In addition to obtaining the statements, they persuaded many cities to join Mayors for Peace. As of July 1, 2010, Japan has 772 members, more than twice as many as the number-two country. This broad new movement came about because a handful of people acted with passion and courage to help the hibakusha get their message out.

Mayor Akiba's desire to help spread the hibakusha message led to Hiroshima's A-bomb exhibitions implemented by the Peace Culture Foundation in 2007-2008. Among the many positive results of these exhibitions, I would like to point out that Candidate Barack Obama waited in a room with our A-bomb panels at DePaul University before making his very first appeal for a nuclear-weapon-free world in the speech he gave there in October 2007. And several Americans I met at the Review Conference in New York introduced themselves to me saying they had attended one of our A-bomb exhibitions.

Campaigning is not an exact science, but it produces results. Mayors for Peace campaigned hard to get the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol adopted at the Review Conference. It wasn't, but the analysis that it was useless just because it wasn't adopted is disappointing. Even without being adopted, the Protocol was a highly successful tool. Through the "Yes! Campaign," working closely with Mayors for Peace, the YMCA and the Consumer Coop, the Protocol did influence the Review Conference. I know from personal communication that many of the thousands of Japanese who played such a vital role in New York were inspired by the Protocol campaign. State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tetsuro Fukuyama mentioned the Protocol in Japan's opening remarks. For the first time ever, the final document that emerged from that review mentions a "Nuclear Weapons Convention" (Article II-2 of the Protocol). It also admits the advisability of setting a timetable and end point for negotiations (Article II-3 of the Protocol), and its Action Item #1 says that the policies of all States Parties must be compatible with the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world (Preamble of the Protocol). The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol pushed hard for all of these elements, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself thanked Mayors for Peace for setting a date (2020) and fostering a sense of urgency.

Nuclear weapons are on their way out. The vast majority of countries, cities and people on this planet want them gone. What we need now to achieve our common goal is to work together to help the hibakusha. We need to spread their message into every home in every country around the world. To do that, we need to be more like them and actually, as Gandhi expressed, "be the change we want to see in the world." If we, too, can be open about our suffering and express our pure love for humanity while manifesting our passion for peace and a nuclear-weapon-free world, we will surely rise above our differences, build a global campaign, touch billions of hearts and move our leaders to give us the world we want and need. This is the goal of the Mayors for Peace Hiroshima Conference to be held July 27 to 29. Please join us. You might find a candle you can give to someone else.

(Originally published on July 13, 2010)

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