Paper crane campaign for nuclear abolition stretches its wings

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

The No Nuke Network: Students of Hiroshima Against Nuclear Weapons, a group calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, has launched a campaign to invite U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima. They plan to collect a larger number of paper cranes than that of nuclear weapons existing on the earth, and deliver them, with their wish for nuclear abolition, to the president of the country which dropped the atomic bombs. If Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima is realized, they hope to have a discussion with him about the abolition of nuclear weapons. Some groups and individuals have been inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and are offering their support and cooperation. The movement is starting to attract a growing number of people.

On August 23, some 30 students took part in the group’s second street campaign around Motoyasu Bridge, located near the hypocenter in downtown Hiroshima. Yuji Kanemori, 17, a second-year student at Hiroshima Gakuin High School, explained the purpose of their campaign, saying, “President Obama is a leader who can change the world. I would like him to know that the youth of Hiroshima seek the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is why we’re hoping to speak with him.”

The inspiration for the campaign was a project launched in November 2008 by “Peace Seeds,” a peace newspaper produced by Japanese teens in Hiroshima and published regularly in the Chugoku Shimbun. Readers were asked to write letters inviting Mr. Obama to visit Hiroshima.

The project drew some junior and senior high school students together to discuss what they could do for the cause. This past May, nine students began holding meetings and study sessions and, since then, the number of students sharing in the group’s aspiration has grown. In the first street campaign, held on August 6, about 30 students from nine schools in Hiroshima took part.

Aiko Teshima, 17, a second-year student at Yasuda Girls’ High School, said, “I believe Mr. Obama will make efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.” When Ms. Teshima was a second-year student in junior high, she started participating in anti-nuclear activities, including a signature drive. She feels the president’s slogan of “Change” is very encouraging and believes that students can convey their voices to him.

In Hiroshima, not only this group of students, but also individual A-bomb survivors and survivors’ organizations, peace organizations, and the municipal government are making efforts to invite President Obama to visit Hiroshima. Some peace activists, though, have voiced criticism of the movement, saying it puts too much stock in Mr. Obama. The students, too, have asked themselves: “What is the significance of inviting Mr. Obama to Hiroshima?”

Hiroshi Oshima, a professor at Hiroshima Shudo University and a specialist in American politics, was invited to speak at their study session at the end of June. He pointed out the challenges of realizing a visit by the president, saying to the students, “To realize Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and the elimination of nuclear weapons, a favorable global environment is essential.” He then added, providing words of encouragement, “You will take part in creating that environment. Even though the power of one individual is small, each and every one of you is an actor on the stage.”

Takuya Nakatsuma, 17, a second-year student at Hiroshima Gakuin High School, has heard about the A-bomb experiences of his grandparents since he was a young boy. “Our definitive goal is the elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said. “It’s a difficult path, but we were born and raised in Hiroshima so we have a responsibility to take action.”

Before settling on the idea of offering paper cranes, the members of the students’ group held a number of discussions on how they could best convey their message to the president. Although some members were skeptical that the paper cranes would provide sufficient impact, the group felt that an activity to which young and old alike could take part was central to their effort. Above all, they hoped that people would fold each paper crane with a wish to remove one nuclear weapon at a time.

The public is gradually sharing the students’ wish. To date, more than ten letters and email messages from people in and out of Hiroshima Prefecture have been sent to the group. One of the letters said, “I would like to lend my support to the young people’s sincere wish.” Another said, “I want to join in your activities.”

In the street campaign of August 6, 11 students from Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, visiting Hiroshima on a school trip, folded paper cranes with the members of the students’ group. Leaflets introducing the group’s campaign and sheets of paper for paper cranes are currently available at four places in Hiroshima, including a downtown café.

The student council of Sagotani Junior High School in Saeki Ward, Hiroshima decided to deliver 1,000 paper cranes to the No Nuke Network. The paper cranes were originally intended to be offered at the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Gen Kato, 14, a third-year student and president of the student council, said, “We wanted to support the efforts by those of our generation.” Tomoko Takamoto, 17, a second-year student at Hiroshima Jogakuin High School, said “These paper cranes mean a lot to us. I would like to take their wishes to heart.”

With the street campaign of August 23, the group has now collected over 4,300 paper cranes.

From September, they will call for more support from the student councils and clubs of other schools. With a common desire to “raise a more powerful voice against nuclear weapons through a network of students,” the No Nuke Network seeks to create a new wave in the nuclear abolition movement.

The number of nuclear warheads held by countries around the world
According to data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), as of January 2009, eight nations hold more than 23,000 nuclear warheads, including those stored and waiting to be dismantled. Approximate numbers of nuclear warheads owned by each nation are: 9,400 by the United States, 13,000 by Russia, 160 by the United Kingdom, 300 by France, 240 by China, between 60 and 70 by India, 60 by Pakistan, and 80 by Israel.

(Originally published on August 24, 2009)

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