Opinion: Time for citizens to become major players in peace efforts led by City of Hiroshima

by Shigeru Yamashiro, Chief Editorial Writer

Peace efforts constitute a special endeavor for the A-bombed city of Hiroshima. When the city government puts forth energy into this area, however, it tends to spearhead the efforts. Striking a suitable balance with respect to its citizens is far from a simple task.

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who will leave office next month, has acted by his own lights. For the past 12 years of his three terms as mayor, he has shared the appeal of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima with the world, wielding English with considerable proficiency. The network of other cities pledging support of his efforts has also grown large.

The Peace Declaration of Hiroshima, which is delivered at the Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6, attracts attention to the mayor from home and abroad. Compared to previous mayors of the city, Mr. Akiba has presented his ideas in a fairly clear fashion.

On the other side of the coin, there were cases in which Mr. Akiba's top-down method increased the distance between the public and the local government.

“Bid for Olympic Games” included in Peace Declaration

The Peace Declaration of 2009 included a coined word “Obamajority,” aimed at offering support to U.S. President Barack Obama, who made a speech in Prague in April 2009 in which he appealed for a world without nuclear weapons. The Peace Declaration of last year mentioned the idea of bringing the Summer Olympics to Hiroshima in 2020, in pursuit of peace, with the words “we aspire to host the Olympic Games.”

Both of these ideas were conceived by Mr. Akiba, and comprise a pair. In October 2009, two days after the decision was made to award Mr. Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Akiba announced that he would consider a bid to host the Olympics.

The idea had not gained a stamp of approval from the Hiroshima City Council or a broad range of support from Hiroshima citizens. Strong leadership, when it backfires, ends up failing to win the public’s understanding.

The word “Obamajority,” which conveys appreciation for President Obama, has made many feel even more uncomfortable since last fall, when the United States pressed ahead with a subcritical nuclear experiment.

With regard to the bid for the Olympic Games, financial concerns have lingered. In an opinion poll of Hiroshima citizens conducted by the Chugoku Shimbun last November, 44 percent of the respondents said they were against the idea of bidding for the Games, a number that well exceeded the 27 percent who spoke up in favor of the idea.

Mr. Akiba’s abrupt decision to step down at the end of his current term again created wide repercussions when he refused to hold a press conference to share his thinking. Perhaps the gloomy prospect of winning the understanding of Hiroshima citizens with regard to the Olympic bid gave him pause about pursuing a fourth term.

While making efforts to provide relief measures for A-bomb survivors, Mr. Akiba has focused most intently on transmitting Hiroshima's message to the world. Mayors for Peace, for which Mr. Akiba serves as president, has proposed a vision of nuclear abolition by the year 2020. The number of member cities of the organization has increased almost tenfold, to 4,540, over the past 10 years.

Mr. Akiba's vision of staging the Olympic Games in the A-bombed city in 2020 was intended as a celebration of the abolition of nuclear weapons. If Mr. Akiba had sought to continue serving as mayor to realize the Games, this could have constituted a goal of the Akiba administration's peace efforts.

Support for the idea of hosting the Olympics in Hiroshima has expanded to other cities. However, a fair number of local citizens were puzzled at Mr. Akiba's sudden announcement about the bid for the Olympics. Another side to the story, perhaps, is that citizens have noticed that they “left everything to the leader.”

There are many occasions in which the public can take part in peace efforts led by the city. However, to what extent the citizens of Hiroshima can be involved in the actual decision-making is called into question.

A comparison of the process of writing the Peace Declaration of Hiroshima with that of the City of Nagasaki will help illuminate the situation.

The Peace Declaration that is read aloud at the Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 9 by the mayor of Nagasaki is drawn up by the Peace Declaration Draft Committee. With the mayor serving as committee chair, about 20 committee members, including a scholar, an A-bomb survivor, and a representative of the citizens, engage in discussion and prepare the draft of the declaration.

In Hiroshima, the mayors and the peace-related departments of the city have created the Peace Declarations, taking into consideration the opinions of intellectuals and others.

It is said that the contents of the Peace Declarations delivered by Takeshi Araki, the former Hiroshima mayor, were mostly in line with drafts prepared by the administrative office. Takashi Hiraoka, the former mayor and newspaper reporter who was involved in coverage of the atomic bombing, conveyed such further appeals as calling on the Japanese government to abandon the nuclear umbrella for the first time.

Mr. Hiraoka, and his successor Mr. Akiba, have incorporated their own ideas into the Peace Declaration. Time will tell whether or not the next mayor continues this trend. He or she may return to making use of a draft prepared by the administrative office.

Nagasaki approach as exemplar

At this time, I would like to propose that the City of Hiroshima shift to the process employed by the City of Nagasaki, an approach that better incorporates the will of the people. If citizens' representatives, including A-bomb survivors, can begin to prepare the text of the Peace Declaration through discussion, this would lead to placing citizens as important players in peace efforts led by the local government. It would also naturally raise the consciousness of citizens as concerned parties.

The mayoral election is looming in Hiroshima. I am eager to hear the candidates' ideas on how they would bring the city's peace efforts closer to the public.

I hope, too, that the candidates will speak forthrightly about their views with regard to the Olympic bid. If their ideas on these issues strike the public as vague, the citizens of Hiroshima will have little on which to base their decision in selecting the next mayor.

(Originally published on March 6, 2011)