Profits of Peace — Advice from Hiroshima’s A-bomb Mayor Shinso Hamai

By Nassrine Azimi

Hiroshima — With the exception of select nuclear negotiators and diplomats, military planners, journalists, researchers or spies, most people may have never heard of Natanz.

Geographically located in the center of the Iranian plateau, at the foot of the Karkas mountains and outer edges of a vast desert, Natanz is mainly known as the site for Iran’s infamous nuclear program, a key uranium enrichment facility and the flash point for the regime’s hostile relations with the West over many years. These days it is back in the news, as a player in the Iran-Israel theater.

Yet Natanz itself, an ancient oasis city of gardens with a rich culture and long history, is so much more. Its excavated Zoroastrian fire temples date to the Achaemenid dynasty, between the 5th and 3rd century BCE. Its very name, Natanz, is thought to have come from the old Avestan languages, implying a place of abundant water, or blossoms. The province’s handmade tiles and pottery are prized, its saffron considered more precious than gold by weight, its pears, pistachios and pomegranates the delight of gourmet stores in wealthy Gulf States. Two other ancient urban treasures, Isfahan to the south and Kashan to the north, are its closest neighbors, and such is the love of its inhabitants for greenery that they are known in Iran as Baghban — gardeners.

In short, with a minimally competent, caring and peace-focussed government, Natanz could become a world-class tourist destination. And there are many such jewels in Iran, a large and ancient territory, key passage on the Silk Roads and bridge connecting different civilizations for millennia— Chinese and Indian to the East, Levant and Ottoman to the West, Central Asian and Caucasian to the North, Arabian and North African to the South. The country’s diverse landscapes are stunning, and the hospitality of its people legendary.

Yet here in Japan very little of all this is known. When Iran does make the evening news, all that viewers can see is a regime bent on crushing young protestors, imprisoning its women, and exporting drones to Russia and Hamas.

Few Japanese know for example that Iran, roughly 4,5 times the size of Japan, has 27 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and boasts thousands of years of recorded history. Even the wonderfully curious Japanese travelers are simply too scared to go there, and with good reason. The regime’s image of lawlessness, its disregard for international norms compounded in recent years by ad-hoc arrests without due process of dual nationals or foreigners, have all but crushed Iran’s chances of attracting travelers from countries like Japan, or raising desperately needed foreign currency for the upkeep of heritage sites. Crippling US sanctions have done the rest. Hence, while inbound tourism is surging across most of Asia, Iran’s is limping far behind.

Why do so many countries forego their untapped and often vast potential as travel destinations, to instead get mired in endless conflict and violence?

When Hiroshima’s first publicly elected post-war mayor, Shinso Hamai, won the elections in 1947, Hiroshima was still reeling from the catastrophic August 6,1945 atomic bombing by the United States, and the horrendous number of deaths. Schools, hospitals and government offices in the city center lay in ruins, many survivors lived in shacks, and other major infrastructure remained damaged. Worse, the coffers were empty. Had it not been for the ingenuity of Mayor Hamai and others, leading successful negotiations with the American Occupation and national authorities to obtain special status and funds towards the reconstruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it would have been impossible to get the ravaged city back on its feet.

Following upon the vision of his predecessor, Mayor Hamai quickly enacted projects that would transform Hiroshima’s future. The most prominent of these, to which almost two million visitors flocked last year alone (more than a third of them from overseas) is the impressive Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park, dreamt of and designed by architect Kenzo Tange, later a Pritzker Prize winner. But two other far-sighted initiatives were also key, in bringing the broken city back to life. One was the 4-km long Peace Boulevard running East to West, which provided an axis and backbone for the city’s urban development, becoming in the process the main artery for many public parades and civic activities. The other was the greening of Hiroshima’s many river-banks. Built on a delta and known as a ‘city of water’ with six rivers flowing through it into the Seto Inland Sea, Hiroshima’s waterways partly belonged to the Imperial Army until Japan’s defeat in 1945. As the city crawled back from the abyss, its post-war leaders could gradually acquire and transform these riverbanks into public green belts, a superb gift to future generations that only recently, as climate change looms, is being fully appreciated.

Just as significantly, Mayor Hamai and other Hiroshima survivors realized that without a spiritual effort, without the software of peace, it would be impossible to rebuild a destroyed city, and citizenry, by brick and mortar alone. Hence the three philosophical principles silently underpinning Hiroshima’s transformation for almost eight decades: 1) Never Again (to nuclear war); 2) Strive to forgive, but never forget (to rise above the desire for revenge, but not forget the calamity); and 3) Transform Hiroshima from a military city to a city of peace.

Today Hiroshima, and indeed the rest of Japan, continue to reap the benefits of decades of peace and democracy. There are no guarantees that indifferent or misguided leaders, here or abroad, will not squander these treasures someday, but at least for now the peace economy just keeps on giving.

Elsewhere, however, so many leaders seem to ignore this simple premise, that peace pays superb dividends. Be it in the United States or Israel, Iran or North Korea, Russia or China, and far too many places in between — the list sadly is quite long — leaders remain beholden to or even part of an insatiable military-industrial complex, that lusts for and feeds off perpetual wars.

Just imagine if instead of conflict and destruction, the Assad regime in Syria had poured its resources into promoting that splendid country’s ancient cultural assets. Imagine if the Maduro regime in Venezuela had sought prosperity from cultivating the stunning natural assets of the land, instead of turning millions of Venezuelans into homeless nomads. Imagine if the short-sighted and power-hungry generals now fighting in the Sudan, or imprisoning their youth in Myanmar, had instead channelled their energies to enhancing their country's natural and historical treasures. Imagine the cost of each missile that North Korea fires….

What was it that leaders in resource-poor but peaceful and prosperous countries like Singapore or Switzerland figured out, that these many leaders elsewhere don’t seem to get?

As countries fortunate to enjoy the profits of peace can attest, travel and tourism are among pillars of economic growth. According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2024 alone the contribution of this sector is estimated to reach a staggering 11.1 trillion USD worldwide, averaging more than 10% of the global GDP. Its collateral contributions, increasingly within the right framework set by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, could mean ever greater benefits to countries, as they try to improve their infrastructure and environmental governance. By contrast, merely the monetary costs of the weapons sector in 2024 is set to rise to 2.4 trillion USD. And this excludes the more hidden, and far more massive, collateral damages — human, environmental, structural and opportunity costs to society at large. The real toll is vastly higher.

We should do a better job in articulating the true economic value of democracy and peace, by exposing the real costs of tyranny and war. As one of my role models, the late Japanese economist Shigeto Tsuru, had said in an interview with the public broadcaster NHK, the opportunity costs of a war economy are horrendous, but calculating them essential, to enlighten and mobilize us in better defending the precious gifts from the peace economy we so take for granted.


Nassrine Azimi is co-founder and coordinator of the Green Legacy Hiroshima (GLH) Initiative (http://glh.unitar.org), a global campaign she co-founded in 2011 to disseminate and plant worldwide seeds and saplings of the hibakujumoku, trees that survived the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Most of her career was with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), leading numerous new initiatives, programs and offices on three continents. She has been an adjunct professor at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, a visiting professor at Hiroshima Shudo University and a Research Fellow at the San Diego Botanic Garden, where she is part of efforts to bring botanic gardens to post-conflict and least developed countries. She chairs EDEN — Emerging and Developing Economies Network - in Japan ( https://edenfoundation-japan.net/)