Comment: The power of young people for promoting nuclear abolition and peace

by Makoto Iwasaki, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Hiroshima is now facing challenging conditions because of the disastrous torrential rain that hit the region recently and the smothering heat wave being experienced across Japan. Under such circumstances, I was concerned about the turnout for a gathering to reflect on issues involving nuclear weapons and peace, but my worry was unwarranted. Around 260 people attended the international symposium held on July 22 that was organized by the Chugoku Shimbun, Hiroshima City University, and others to consider the nuclear weapons ban treaty and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In fact, the venue for the event was nearly full and I feel very grateful to all the participants.

Much of the audience was comprised of A-bomb survivors and those of middle age and older. But compared to previous symposiums that the Hiroshima Peace Media Center helped organize in the past, I believe there were a greater number of younger participants, too. This might be attributed to the drawing power of Tim Wright, one of the core members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), who was invited to the symposium as the keynote speaker.

This is not just the effect of the Nobel Peace Prize won last year by ICAN. Mr. Wright’s youthful influence, which has had some impact on the world, is capturing the attention of Japanese citizens, too. Mr. Wright marked his 33rd birthday on the day of the symposium. He became engaged in lobbying efforts toward representatives of the world’s nations, following the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the United Nations eight years ago, where an idea of de-legitimizing nuclear weapons was mentioned in its final document for the first time.

I heard that the starting point of his antinuclear activities was back in his childhood, when he joined a campaign in Australia which involved sending paper cranes to Hiroshima. When I met him in person, he seemed somewhat quiet but I could certainly sense his passion. During his visit with Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, before the symposium took place, it was impressive to see that he didn’t hesitate in appealing to the mayor to call on the Japanese government to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty in the Peace Declaration that he will read out at the Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6.

How much has the power of young people been growing in the A-bombed city? The peace-related section of the Chugoku Shimbun has run feature articles under the theme “Passing the Baton of Peace to the Next Generation” over the past two-and-a-half years to introduce young people who are actively engaged in pursuing peace activities or are seeking to hand down the stories of A-bomb survivors to younger generations. More recent articles have also focused on young people who live in places outside the A-bombed city, like Tokyo, who sympathize with Hiroshima’s antinuclear message and are promoting a peaceful world in various ways.

Throughout his visit to Hiroshima, Mr. Wright made a point of interacting with young people and stressing the necessity of stirring public opinion on a grassroots level. How should we now take up the challenge that he posed to us?

(Originally published on July 26, 2018)