Editorial: Dialogue is the starting point for peace

Many messages were conveyed at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6, which marked the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing. It is hard to say how these messages were received at home and abroad, but if Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui had truly wished for his message to be heard, he could have spoken out more strongly.

Why did Mr. Matsui not directly stress the significance of the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which more than 10 countries have ratified in his Peace Declaration? Why did he not urge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was seated in front of him, to sign this treaty?

The nuclear weapons ban treaty is the long-sought fruit of the efforts of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Matsui should have been a little more courageous instead of asking the leaders of the world’s nations and the Japanese government to “play a role” in advancing the treaty. His words left us dissatisfied, and it’s not hard to imagine the disappointment of those who pushed themselves to attend the ceremony in scorching heat, even risking heat stroke.

Eight years ago, the mayor began the practice of soliciting essays from A-bomb survivors and selecting quotes from them for his annual Peace Declaration. Then, after consulting closely with advisers, he completes the final draft of the speech. But his appeals are not forceful enough for a mayor of the A-bombed city. It is time to change this process and pursue a fresh approach.

This was the seventh Peace Memorial Ceremony that Mr. Abe had attended. His speech, though, was dry and dull. Though he declared that Japan, “the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack during wartime,” would serve as a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations, his words have not been accompanied by action.

Japan has said repeatedly that it will lead the international community on this issue, yet it has turned its back on the nuclear weapons ban treaty. The contradiction between the nation’s words and actions earns no respect from either side of the divide. This is like the fable from Aesop in which a bat uses deceit to get on the good side of both the birds and the beasts…but, in the end, is dismissed by both.

On the other hand, the speech made by Hidehiko Yuzaki, the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, was more thoughtfully composed. Mr. Yuzaki made use of simple language, like a parent speaking to a child, in comparing the theory of nuclear deterrence with the relationship between one family and their neighbors next door.

“We don’t get along well with our next-door neighbor,” he said. “So we have set a bomb that can blow up their house with all the family inside, just in case. Our neighbor, on the other hand, has also set a bomb to blow up our house. Of course, neither family wants both families to end up dead, we will never go into battle against each other. And the bombs will probably not malfunction. So, you don’t have to worry.”

The governor is questioning the reasoning of adults and pointing out the shameful absurdity of such logic. The attitude of the Japanese government, in continuing to blindly follow the lead of the nuclear superpower, is far from the “reason” sought by Mr. Matsui.

The Commitment to Peace, read out by the two representatives of children, was hopeful. They declared that they would help hand down the feelings of the A-bomb survivors and the things they learn and feel to future generations. We hope that they fulfill this desire, though peace studies in its current form may not necessarily be the key to their aim.

The City of Hiroshima has imposed on students a one-way learning process for too long in its desire to hand down the A-bomb accounts. Several years ago, Hiroshima’s Board of Education created the “Hiroshima Peace Notes,” which are grade-appropriate teaching materials to stimulate the interest of students, and has encouraged schools to make use of them. Nagasaki’s Board of Education has also embarked on a new effort this fiscal year which focuses on generating dialogue between children, and dialogue between children and A-bomb survivors.

The basic desire of educators will not change: They will continue to seek effective ways of supporting students so that they will personally identify with this issue, consider what they can do to help address the problem, and take prompt action for a world without nuclear weapons.

In short, peace is cultivated through continuing dialogue. The classroom is not the only setting for such learning. Homes, workplaces, and local communities can also be places for this dialogue. And communication can take place, too, through hobbies and sports. In this way, we can certainly achieve the kind of dialogue we seek for advancing nuclear abolition and building peace.

(Originally published on August 7, 2018)