Editorial: The peace efforts of Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba has announced that he will step down in April, at the expiration of his third term in office. Hiroshima’s efforts for the abolition of nuclear weapons will be taken up by the next mayor of the city.

Mayor Akiba spoke about his wish for nuclear abolition on a video sharing website, but he has declined to hold a press conference in connection with his decision to end his time as mayor. It is regrettable that a summation of his peace efforts has not been offered.

The main forum for Mayor Akiba has been Mayors for Peace, for which he serves as president. He has advocated the vision of achieving the abolition of nuclear arms by the year 2020, and at the United Nations, the venue of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 2010, he passionately called for support for this vision in fluent English.

As of January 1, 2011, the number of member cities in the Mayors for Peace network stands at 4,467. This is nearly a ten-fold increase from ten years ago. City governments holding different positions from their national governments with regard to nuclear arms have joined forces and the organization has grown into an important network which champions Hiroshima’s wish for abolition.

The advent of U.S. President Barack Obama’s leadership has served as a tailwind for furthering international momentum with regard to nuclear abolition. However, the term “Obamajority,” a word coined by the mayor, has not been fully embraced. The word is a blending of “Obama” and “majority,” meaning that the majority of the world’s people support Mr. Obama, who has advocated “a world without nuclear weapons.”

The United States is the nation that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Moreover, President Obama continues to cling to the idea of nuclear deterrence and the United States conducted a subcritical nuclear test last year.

Quite a number of Hiroshima citizens are thought to be feeling uncomfortable about the term “Obamajority,” believing the mayor may be given to following the United States without seeking that nation’s accountability for the atomic bombing.

Other examples can be pointed to with regard to gaps between Mayor Akiba and Hiroshima citizens. Of these, the largest gap involves the issue of a possible bid for the Summer Olympics in 2020. The ideal of achieving nuclear abolition by 2020 and hosting the Olympic Games in that milestone year has the support of a certain portion of the public.

However, such questions as to how the enormously expensive event would be financed and whether Hiroshima citizens might wind up bearing the financial burden have remained unanswered. Even if the public is told that the City of Hiroshima can expect donations close to 100 billion yen, the anxiety of the people, in wondering if that burden may ultimately be passed on to them, will not be allayed.

Effective January 1, 2011, Mayor Akiba increased the number of staff handling the Olympic bid. Meanwhile, the man who advocated the bid will leave office and the outcome will be deferred. By any measure, it cannot be said that Mr. Akiba has fulfilled his obligation to clarify the issue with Hiroshima citizens.

The creation of a “Paper Cranes Museum,” one of Mayor Akiba’s campaign promises and one for which he expended significant effort, has been met with opposition from the city council as well as objections voiced by the very committee charged with studying the idea, a panel of experts.

Strong leadership can devolve into unilateral action if sufficient explanation is not made. To create a persuasive appeal for nuclear abolition from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, that appeal must be supported by as many of our citizens as possible.

Mayor Akiba has left much unfinished business. For instance, couldn’t he have worked harder to sway the Japanese government over to the cause of nuclear abolition?

In the Peace Declaration he delivered last year, the mayor called on the Japanese government to abandon the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, though, remained mired in the position that nuclear deterrence is needed for the nation’s security. Since then, there has been no word whether Mayor Akiba spoke further about this issue with Prime Minister Kan.

The notion of nuclear deterrence is also deeply rooted in the beliefs of the Japanese people. If the myth that nuclear deterrence is needed is not dispelled, the road to nuclear abolition will be long indeed. To deconstruct that myth, the horrific consequences of the atomic bombing, as well as the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, must continue to be persistently conveyed.

The mayor of Hiroshima holds the mission, and the heavy responsibility, of conveying the voice of the city to other parts of Japan and to the world. We call on our next leader to be firmly prepared for that duty.

(Originally published on January 6, 2011)

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