Series "Hiroshima and the World" closes, underscores importance of civil society

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

It has been 19 months since the series of essays titled "Hiroshima and the World" began. These essays have been posted in both English and Japanese on our website and carried in the Chugoku Shimbun in Japanese. During this time, we have added essays roughly twice a month and the number of contributors came to 36 individuals from 19 nations, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Costa Rica, and Argentina.

One of the purposes of the series has been to show how Hiroshima is linked to the people of the world by inviting experts who are actively engaged in such issues as nuclear weapons and peace to share their insights. Another purpose has involved broadening our horizons and deepening our understanding of regional problems, such as nuclear issues, in the parts of the world where the contributors reside.

As this series comes to a close, I would like to look back on the essays and highlight some attributes of these contributions. First, every individual who has had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima was significantly moved by their encounter of the horror of the atomic bombing through such experiences as visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and listening to the testimonies of A-bomb survivors.

Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister, visited Hiroshima at the age of 20, when he was a university student. "I was profoundly moved, as hundreds of thousands of visitors before and after me have been, by the horror of what had occurred on 6 August 1945," he wrote. He continued: "At the same time, however, a determination began to grow in me to ensure, if and when I could, that no such nightmare ever happened again." Today, Gareth Evans is still deeply involved in activities for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Douglas Roche of Canada, who was a Senator and Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, found hope in the story of Hiroshima, which managed to rise again from devastation and hardship. He wrote: "If the people of Hiroshima can have hope, I've often told myself, so can I. This thought has sustained me over the past quarter-century in my roles as a parliamentarian, diplomat and civil society leader dealing with the intractable nuclear weapons problem."

Chung-in Moon, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea, who "used to believe in the logic of nuclear deterrence" when he was a college student, visited Hiroshima for the first time in 1976 and witnessed "the horrible destruction wrought by the atomic bomb." He wrote: "I have maintained a staunch anti-nuclear position ever since."

Experts in India, Pakistan, and Israel described the serious conditions involving nuclear arms and made suggestions that may point to solutions to these problems.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist in Pakistan, indicated that the dependence on nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan has emboldened a culture of violence. J. Sri Raman, a journalist in India, warned that the U.S.-India nuclear deal is leading to "an acceleration of the nuclear arms race" in South Asia.

Both Pervez Hoodbhoy and J. Sri Raman argue that the only way to abolish nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India is the realization of nuclear disarmament in the world at large.

Issam Makhoul, a former member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and now the chairperson of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian & Israeli Studies, wrote: "Israel is a huge warehouse of atomic, biological and chemical weapons that serves as the basis for the nuclear arms race in the Middle East." To bring peace in the Middle East, including Iran, he advises that security be assured for all through such efforts as establishing a nuclear-free zone.

In order for nuclear non-proliferation to proceed effectively, the nuclear weapon states must make sincere efforts for nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition. This idea is common to all the contributors.

What, then, is the most effective means of encouraging people to work for nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition? According to the contributors, the answer lies in grasping the real horror of nuclear war, as they experienced when they visited Hiroshima, and in understanding the wish for peace of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This contention also points up the contributors' high expectations of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the people of Japan, and seems to urge us to reflect on our lack of effort in terms of living up to these expectations.

The importance of civil society is increasingly important in building a world free of nuclear weapons and war. The messages of the contributors, who stressed this point, should be shared widely with the people of the world.

(Originally published on July 26, 2010)