Taking action to achieve peace

by Kenji Namba, Senior Staff Writer

A call to citizens

Interview with Mika Tsutsumi, author of “Another Nuclear-Free World”

Late last year journalist Mika Tsutsumi published a new book, “Mo Hitotsu no Kaku Naki Sekai” (“Another Nuclear-free World”) on the subject of the abolition of nuclear weapons. Tsutsumi, 39, is well known for an earlier book “Rupo Hinkon Taikoku Amerika” (“America, the Poverty Superpower”). Inspired by the speech delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama in Prague, she interviewed people in various circumstances for her latest book, reversing the usual question to ask, “Do we really want to eliminate nuclear weapons?” Ms. Tsutsumi has called for the realization of a nuclear-free world, with ordinary citizens playing a key role. The Chugoku Shimbun asked about her reasons for including the word “another” in the title of her book and other issues.

What were your thoughts when you came up with the title “Another Nuclear-free World”?
Obama used the expression “a world without nuclear weapons” in his speech in Prague [in April 2009]. When policy-makers adopt slogans, we have to take a look at the related budget. After that speech Obama actually increased the budget for nuclear weapons. Ultimately, no progress will be made toward the abolition of nuclear weapons just by pinning our hopes on someone. I came up with this title in the hope that each person would think about “a world without nuclear weapons” and take action to bring it about.

You have specific ideas about the definition of nuclear weapons.
Clarifying the definition of nuclear weapons will lead to broadening the nuclear abolition movement. Sixty-five years have passed since the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During that time military technology has advanced, and a growing number of people around the world have been exposed to radiation in various ways such as through nuclear tests and the use of depleted uranium shells. Determining the scope of the definition of nuclear weapons is an important point.

I think we must consider them in terms of radiation. We must face the reality that the number of victims of radiation around the world is growing. This includes those exposed in accidents at nuclear power plants. When connecting the nations of the modern world through the issue of radiation, Japan can serve as a unifying force.

And we have to look at whether it is enough to simply eliminate nuclear weapons. Is war acceptable? What kind of world do we want to live in? What is security? We have to discuss these issues thoroughly. We talk about eliminating nuclear weapons, but the Japanese government clings to the nuclear umbrella of the United States. Japan is trying to sell nuclear power and weapons to other countries. I want to ask young people to consider whether or not these things are acceptable.

How should these issues be discussed?
We need materials to discuss. We need impartial historical facts and knowledge of the current global situation. If we present young people with these materials, they will begin to discuss the issues. The process is critical. We absolutely must not force certain conclusions on them. Asking questions that will lead to discussion is also the role of adults.

What do you mean by “impartial historical facts”?
Everything has causes and effects. The atomic bombings were not disasters that just suddenly happened one day. Why did the United States drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? In order to examine the reasons for the bombings we need to present impartial materials. After the war many facts were suppressed under the U.S. press code and were not disclosed in official documents until 50 years later. Nevertheless neither Japan nor the United States has made an effort to teach young people about these facts.

The dropping of the atomic bombs cannot be dispensed with simply by apologizing. Why was the decision made to drop the bombs then? It is important to understand the background behind the decision to drop the bombs based on accurate facts. As long as we fail to do that, people will continue to repeat the same mistakes.

What do you feel the role of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be?
I had a lot of instruction in peace education in elementary school, junior high and high school at a private school in Tokyo [Wako Gakuen]. Our school trips also included a lot of peace education.

The accounts of atomic bomb survivors were scary. I’ve forgotten the details of their stories, but whenever I met victims of radiation in various countries I recalled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Information conveyed by real human beings is qualitatively different from knowledge acquired through data because it stirs the emotions. If I’d gotten information only from textbooks when I was a kid I wouldn’t have the awareness of issues that I have today. The accounts of A-bomb survivors come across through all five senses.

The atomic bombs not only killed and injured many people they also had an impact on the lives of those who survived. How were their lives changed? Even if we convey the facts of the bombings as events, they won’t resonate with the young generation, which doesn’t know war. Our role is to find a way to ensure that we can convey the story of the bombings in a way that meets the needs of the times.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are global issues as well as issues for Japan. History education and peace education based on accurate facts promote debate on the abolition of nuclear weapons but they also reverse that progress.

We must be fully aware of the role Japan must play. The A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the ones who can tell us about radiation through accounts of their experiences. There should be not an “Obamajority” but a “Hiroshimajority.”

What did you take away from the Prague speech?
Let’s get Obama to make good on his promise to realize “a world without nuclear weapons.” There’s one more important thing. Obama’s statement got people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki excited. They felt that their wishes had finally been acknowledged. But how seriously have nuclear weapons been discussed in schools, in the Diet, in homes over the past 65 years? Obama’s speech made me aware of that issue.

We must take a step forward. In that sense I am grateful to Obama. But making the gift we have been given truly valuable is the task of every citizen.

What do you believe we must bear keep in mind in order to eliminate nuclear weapons?
It will take a long time to completely eliminate nuclear weapons. There is no safe way to dispose of them. It is important that nuclear weapons not be used in the meantime. Why should be get rid of nuclear weapons? We must do it in order to bring about a world without mass killing, a world with the determination and ability to solve every conflict through diplomacy.

Knowledge of modern history is essential in order to accurately understand what is going on in the world today. War is linked to poverty, so it is important for each country to raise its gross national happiness.

I suspect we rely on information provided by the United States in an unquestioning manner and expect too much of the United Nations. I would like to keep an eye on global trends and the nuclear weapon situation in a more detached fashion. We need to investigate matters for ourselves and make our own decisions rather than taking action simply because “someone said so.”

Mika Tsutsumi
Native of Tokyo. After working for the United Nations and the New York office of Amnesty International, worked at the New York branch of Nomura Securities, Inc. where she experienced the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Works as a writer and delivers speeches while traveling between the U.S. and Japan. Books include “Rupo Hinkon Taikoku Amerika” (“America, the Poverty Superpower”) and its sequel, both published by Iwanami Shoten.

Desire to shed prejudices and learn about the global situation

Interview with Takuya Bajo, second-year student at Hiroshima Gakuin Senior High School and joint representative of the No Nuke Network: Students of Hiroshima Against Nuclear Weapons

Mika Tsutsumi has called on young people to discuss the issue of nuclear abolition. The Chugoku Shimbun asked Takuya Bajo, 17, a second-year student at Hiroshima Gakuin Senior High School and joint representative of the No Nuke Network: Students of Hiroshima Against Nuclear Weapons, for his thoughts on that and an outline of the group’s future goals. The following are excerpts from the interview.

When I first began taking part in anti-nuclear activities a year ago I was confronted with the fact that I really knew nothing about nuclear weapons.

I had had many opportunities to hear accounts of A-bomb survivors since I was very young, and I knew how cruel the atomic bombing was. But I hadn’t had many opportunities to think seriously about what nuclear weapons were or to learn about the global situation with regard to nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons.

So we created opportunities to learn about those kinds of things.

Under the broad theme of “Can nuclear weapons be eliminated?” we learned about the definition of nuclear weapons, held debates on nuclear deterrence and looked into the reasons nine nations acquired nuclear weapons, and then gave presentations. As the result of conversations with the instructors, my values have been completely shattered on many occasions, and I struggled with that.

What should we do now to eliminate nuclear weapons? Through my activities I’ve arrived at the conclusion that we must shed our prejudices and preconceived notions and learn about history and the global situation all over again.

A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the only radiation victims in the world. We must look at the situations both in Japan and overseas and learn about many things. You have to think about what sort of world you want to live in. Once your goals are defined you can take specific action.

Holding a lot of discussions makes it possible to come up with new ideas. I believe that by tackling these issues and overcoming them, young people can change the world.

No Nuke Network: Students of Hiroshima Against Nuclear Weapons
Founded in May 2009, with the goal of urging President Obama to come to Hiroshima, the group collected 44,000 paper cranes that year and sent them to the White House. While continuing to learn about nuclear weapons, since last year the group has sent letters to the heads of each of the nine nations that possess nuclear weapons inviting them to Hiroshima. The group’s members are comprised of about 20 students from eight junior and senior high schools in Hiroshima and its suburbs.

(Originally published Feb. 7, 2011)

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