Hiroshima and the World: Hiroshima is the Heart of It All

by Diana Roose

Diana Roose
Born in April of 1948 in the U.S. state of Ohio, Diana Roose is author of the book Teach Us to Live: Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She worked as a radio reporter in 1980, when she was selected as a member of the Akiba Project for journalists to travel to Japan to learn about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She was also the research director for SANE Education Fund, part of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and produced a 10-part radio documentary series titled "Shadows of the Nuclear Age." In 2008, Ms. Roose was awarded the International Encouragement Prize from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation for her efforts in publishing her book about hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She lives in Oberlin, Ohio, where she recently retired as Secretary of Oberlin College. Her M.A. in sociology was earned from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977.

Hiroshima is the Heart of It All

I have been involved with Hiroshima for nearly half my life. When I first came to Hiroshima as a radio reporter with the Akiba Project in 1980, I was impressed with the dedication of the hibakusha to creating a world without nuclear weapons.

At that time, it seemed like an impossible dream. President Reagan was waging an unprecedented nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, and it seemed as if the world could blow up at any moment. It was a scary time. My generation was, in the words of MIT professor George Wald, "a generation that is no longer certain it has a future."

When I reported and talked about Hiroshima in the U.S in the 1980s, many people reacted negatively. Japan deserved the atomic bombs, war veterans said. We have to keep up with the Russians, said the President. We need nuclear deterrence to prevent another war, said the generals. We don't want to hear this, nearly everyone said.

How times have changed! Today the Soviet Union does not exist. Japan is one of America's close allies and trading partners. And the total number of nuclear weapons in the world has dropped from over 65,000 in 1983 to about 23,000 in 2009. We still have a long way to go to get to zero nuclear weapons.

I have returned to Hiroshima many times since 1980, and my interviews with hibakusha have been published in a book, titled Teach Us to Live: Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The book has been well received and has gone into a second printing. I often travel around the U.S. to give talks and presentations about Hiroshima and nuclear weapons.

Attitudes have changed. Today, when I talk about Hiroshima in many colleges and communities, the hibakusha stories are received with interest and concern, rather than skepticism and criticism. People ask, how are the survivors doing? How can we teach others about the atomic bombings, especially young people? What can we do?

And now, the U.S. has a new president. Barack Obama just received the Nobel Peace Prize. He has become a symbol, and a creator, of hope for the future.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the most important speech he has given, he said, "for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice…"

President Obama also noted, "Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war."

Of course, U.S. Presidents have made similar statements in the past. But this President is determined to take a dramatically different and more comprehensive approach.

For the first time ever, President Obama recognizes that as the only nuclear power to have used nuclear weapons, the United States has a moral responsibility to act to eliminate them. "We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone," he vowed in Prague last April, "but we can lead it, we can start."

The United States and Russia still possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. President Obama has promised he "will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons," including negotiating a new set of nuclear arms cuts with Russia and reducing the "role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy."

President Obama abandoned a plan to build a "nuclear missile shield" in eastern Europe, which was fiercely opposed by Russia. This act paved the way to an agreement between the U.S. and Russia for a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) that expired this month. The new START-2 treaty will cut each nuclear arsenal to between 1,500 and 1,675 operational warheads. Each side will reduce its nuclear missiles and bombers to between 500 and 1,100. The final number will probably be less than 800. These are the lowest levels we have seen since the beginning of the Soviet-era arms race.

President Obama has asked the U.S. Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an idea that first arose in talks for a limited test ban treaty signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Although signed by 181 nations, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will not go into effect unless it is ratified by the U.S. and at least eight other countries. Ratification of this treaty is a very important step. If nations cannot test nuclear weapons, then they are unlikely to be able to make or redesign them. Debate on this treaty will probably begin next spring in the U.S. Congress. Grassroots organizing activities have already begun, to persuade Senators to vote in favor of this crucial treaty.

Last September, President Obama became the first U.S. president to chair a United Nations Security Council meeting on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. He told the global leaders in New York, "The threat of proliferation is growing in scope and complexity. If we fail to act, we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine."

This is a preview of some of the issues that President Obama will raise in 2010, when world leaders gather for the UN conference on nonproliferation in New York next May. He has promised to support strengthening the non-proliferation treaty in the coming year, so that nations that don't comply will face strong international sanctions.

These are not idle dreams. Although many Americans have been disappointed with some of President Obama's recent actions, such as sending more troops to Afghanistan, and his difficulties in mending the economy, climate protection, and health care, most people think he is making progress on solving some of the most difficult problems of our time.

I am an optimist at heart. Despite the many setbacks and struggles ahead, I believe we are nearer than we have ever been to eliminating nuclear weapons from the earth. This is one more reason why the voices of hibakusha must not fall silent.

The people of Hiroshima have spoken out clearly and strongly, and in doing so, they have shown the effects of nuclear weapons upon humanity and provided a moral basis for global disarmament. Hibakusha have shown courage and compassion, and provided testimony and truth. Without their stories, our ethical views would become abstract and our political actions would be empty. We would feel no sense of moral responsibility to empower us to act.

When I speak with young people now, I tell them that nuclear weapons are real. They are not video games. They cause unimaginable suffering and sadness. Young people all over the world, including China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Korea, and the Middle East, need to hear these stories. They must never be lost.

Hiroshima has been and always will be the heart of the worldwide nuclear disarmament movement. When all nations of the world, in the body of the United Nations, put our brains together to solve the problem of nuclear weapons, we must not lose our heart.

(Originally published on Dec. 28, 2009)

To comment on this article, please click the link below. Comments will be moderated and posted in a timely fashion. Comments may also appear in the Chugoku Shimbun newspaper.