Hiroshima Memo: "Peace Declarations" from the A-bombed cities serve as "voice of conscience" to the world

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

The number of worldwide casualties during World War II totaled roughly 50 million, soldiers and civilians combined. In particular, many lives were lost in the former Soviet Union, which fought with Nazi Germany; in Europe, where much of the Holocaust took place in Poland; and in Asia, which saw the Japanese occupation of Asian neighbors like China.

The number of Japanese deaths exceeded 3 million. It is said that the death toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the atomic bombings by the end of 1945 was more than 200,000. Over 230,000 people, including Japanese soldiers, American soldiers, and Japanese civilians, lost their lives in the ground fighting on Okinawa, and more than 100,000 people fell victim to the Great Tokyo Air Raid.

Of course, there is no difference, in terms of the magnitude and preciousness of life, between those killed by the atomic bombs and those killed by conventional weapons. Why, then, with this fact in mind, is it that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are remembered by many as the "top news story of the 20th century," as announced by the U.S. "Newseum," an online museum of news, and hold special significance in human history?

The answer is deeply related to the enormous destructive power of nuclear weapons. The emergence of an atomic bomb served as a supreme warning in the annals of humanity, which has repeatedly waged war. The scientists who were aware of the power of the atomic bomb immediately grasped its significance, while the A-bomb survivors, who actually experienced the bomb, came to know with their bodies what the scientists understood with their minds.

Dr. Albert Einstein, a physicist, who had written a letter advising U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb, raised the following alarm in 1946:

"The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive."

On August 6, 1947, when Hiroshima was already engaged in the struggle toward reconstruction from the ruins of the atomic bombing, Hiroshima Mayor Shinso Hamai, an A-bomb survivor (hibakusha) himself, delivered the first "Peace Declaration" to those at home and abroad at the first Hiroshima Peace Festival.

"The first atomic bomb to be unleashed on a city in the history of mankind fell on Hiroshima; it instantly reduced the city to ashes and claimed the precious lives of more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens. Hiroshima turned into a city of death and darkness... This horrible weapon brought about a 'Revolution of Thought,' which has convinced us of the necessity and the value of lasting peace."

The "new manner of thinking" mentioned by Dr. Einstein, and Mayor Hamai's "Revolution of Thought," though employing different words, suggest the same thing. They both serve as a warning to the world that the extinction of the human species will finally be at hand if we, as people have done in the past, continue to pursue the hegemony and interests of individual nations against the backdrop of military might.

In Hiroshima, since that year, the Peace Declarations have been delivered every year by successive Hiroshima mayors, except in 1950, when the ceremony could not be held due to the outbreak of the Korean War, and in 1951, when the "mayor's greeting" was substituted for the Peace Declaration. From Mayor Hamai to sitting Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, seven Hiroshima mayors have read out 61 Peace Declarations, as of last year.

The contents of each declaration have been different, reflecting the circumstances of the time and the view of each mayor. However, the rejection of war, as well as the passionate appeal from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the realization of a lasting peace in the world, the preservation of Japan's peace constitution, and the rejection of nuclear deterrence, has consistently formed the backbone of the Peace Declarations through the years. The declarations have continued to sound the alarm that we cannot elude the possibility of our species' extinction as long as the security we seek is dependent on nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima, as well as Nagasaki, which has issued its own Peace Declarations since 1948, has maintained a face to the world, to the human family, that looks beyond the differences of nation, race, religion, and other distinctions. The spirit of this view was conveyed by Hiroshima Mayor Setsuo Yamada in the Peace Declaration of 1974 when he said: "We must deeply recognize that all men can live together in one world sharing a common destiny, and that each and all members must endeavor to create a world community founded on world citizenship." What must human beings do to survive? The Peace Declarations have played a symbolic role as a "voice of conscience" from the A-bomb cities.

The Peace Declarations have also made a number of demands of the Japanese government. One of these demands is that the government take initiative in the international community to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons. The other calls involve providing relief measures for hibakusha based on state compensation, enshrining the three non-nuclear principles into law, leaving the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," enhancing peace education rooted in war and the A-bomb experience, apologizing to those in the Asia-Pacific region who suffered damage under the Japanese occupation and colonial rule, and recognizing the expansion of the designated "heavy rain area" of the "black rain."

Even at home, there is a gap between the wishes of the A-bombed cities and the central government's policy. Needless to say, there is a wide divide between the wishes of the A-bombed cities and the international community, especially nuclear powers like the United States and Russia, and potential nuclear powers. Despite the A-bomb cities, which experienced the devastation of the atomic bombings, making such natural appeals as "Humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist" and "Nuclear weapons are inhumane weapons against international law," the leaders of the nuclear powers are not willing to face these appeals squarely.

At the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May, the language "the Conference expresses" its "concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons" and the conference "notes" a proposal to "consider negotiations" on a nuclear weapons convention remained in the final document after more substantive proposals were purged. For many non-nuclear weapon states, nongovernmental organizations (NGO), and hibakusha, among others, the contents were watered down significantly. However, we, by making use of the contents of these resolutions, have to further propagate the norm in the international community that nuclear weapons are against international law and these weapons cannot be used, and carve out a path in pursuit of nuclear abolition at the earliest possible date.

I hope that the Peace Declaration this year will capitalize on the above-mentioned factors and include words with which we can combine the strength of those who have energetically tackled the issue of nuclear abolition, including non-nuclear weapon states, NGOs in the world, hibakusha, and citizens, and words with which we can press nuclear powers and potential nuclear powers to act. We also need to raise our voices clearly against the Japanese government, which is prioritizing the economy and is about to conclude a nuclear energy deal with India, a non-signatory to the NPT which possesses nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki's appeals to the international community are undermined by the mere presence of Japan under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. If Japan, in addition, concludes the energy deal with India, a non-signatory to the NPT, its "moral responsibility" as the A-bombed nation will end up to be mere lip service and the trust of many nations, including Pakistan and Iran, will be lost. This would have a negative impact on all NGOs in Japan, including those in the A-bombed cities, which are working in pursuit of nuclear abolition, alongside hibakusha and other citizens.

Ban Ki-moon, who has been enthusiastic about efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, will attend the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima this year, marking the first time a U.N. Secretary General will be present at the ceremony. I hope that the Peace Declaration will include language that touches the hearts of those in attendance, both from home and abroad, including such leading figures as Mr. Ban, as well as those out in the world, and that the declaration will make a persuasive appeal to the international community for nuclear abolition from Hiroshima, the place which saw the dawn of the nuclear age.

(Originally published on July 19, 2010)

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Peace Declarations for A-bomb anniversaries reflect the times (July 24, 2010)

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