The Key to a World Without Nuclear Weapons: Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition, Part 5

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

Inspiring young people to make efforts for peace education and nuclear abolition

The awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that made a significant contribution to the establishment of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, has provided inspiration for young people in Japan. Haruna Watanabe, 20, a third-year student at Meiji University who took part in a gathering about the nuclear weapons ban treaty on November 11 in Tokyo, said with delight, “I’m very happy that ICAN received the award.” Terumi Tanaka, 85, the co-chair of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) also attended the gathering in Tokyo. Ms. Watanabe helped distribute handouts to the participants with two fellow students and listened attentively to the speeches made at the event.

Ms. Watanabe, who is from Saitama Prefecture, has been attending an international law seminar since April. She visited the United Nations headquarters in New York in July with Toshinori Yamada, a lecturer and a teacher at the seminar, and with some other students. She also traveled to the U.N. conference where the nuclear weapons ban treaty was negotiated and witnessed the treaty being adopted. In addition, she observed some of ICAN’s activities, in which it works together with A-bomb survivors to appeal for a legal ban on all nuclear arms.

Before joining the seminar, Ms. Watanabe had only learned about the atomic bombings in a history class. Until that time, she was unaware that discussions about the nuclear weapons ban treaty were taking place. Prior to her visit to the United States, she read up on topics related to the treaty as well as an interview with Fumio Kishida, who was then the Japanese foreign minister, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. From what she read, she was inclined to believe in the Japanese government’s stance of not participating in the negotiations because “Japan’s security would be jeopardized if nuclear weapons were banned.”

However, when she listened to a speech given by Toshiki Fujimori, 73, the assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, who lost his sister in the atomic bombing, at United Nations headquarters, her feelings changed completely and she began to question why all nations don’t ban these inhumane weapons. In August, she visited the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the first time. As she came to know the innermost feelings of the A-bomb survivors, who have continued to share their experiences of that time while appealing for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, she became much more determined to take action herself.

But when Ms. Watanabe returned to Tokyo, she found there wasn’t as much media attention on the nuclear weapons ban treaty as there was in the A-bombed cities. Although she talked about her visit to the United Nations, most of those in her generation were not even aware the treaty existed. Reflecting on this, she said, “Many people aren’t really aware of the horror of nuclear weapons or the thoughts and feelings of the A-bomb survivors, and so they never even considered questioning the Japanese government’s position on the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which might have contributed to Japan’s decision not to join the treaty. It is the citizens of this nation that have determined, and will continue to determine, the government’s stance.” While she wonders how much impact her efforts can actually have, she feels that it’s her duty to be involved in peace education activities at a grassroots level and convey what she has learned to her family and her friends.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons specifies the importance of “peace and disarmament education” in its charter to promote participation in the treaty. Although understanding of the inhumane nature of the atomic bombings has been deepened among those in the governments of non-nuclear countries and NGOs, which helped bring about the establishment of the treaty, citizens on the whole have not yet shown sufficient interest in this agreeement. Compared to newspapers in Japan, major newspapers in Western nations, as well as China and South Korea, offered fewer reports related to the treaty when it was adopted, and there were many newspapers that made no mention of the treaty at all.

The Japanese government, which represents the only nation in the world to have experienced the use of nuclear weapons, has urged all countries to promote disarmament and non-proliferation education, leading to the abolition of all such weapons. However, because it has refused to become part of the nuclear weapons ban treaty, it is very likely that Japan will now come to lose a persuasive role within the international community. Kazumi Mizumoto, the vice president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University and an expert on nuclear disarmament, points out the growing importance of citizens increasing the intensity of their objection to nuclear weapons by branding them “evil” in order to help sway the nuclear weapon states and their allies, like Japan, which continue to support the possession of nuclear arms as an acceptable framework for security.

Seven years ago, Mitsuo Kodama, 85, an A-bomb survivor and resident of Minami Ward, took part in a voyage organized by Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO and an ICAN partner organization, and he talked about his A-bomb experience in the countries he visited. Mr. Kodama, who has suffered from stomach cancer and skin cancer, believes that the lifelong effects of radiation on human health are still not well understood.

This past September, 72 years after the atomic bombing, Mr. Kodama was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease which has recently been on the rise among A-bomb survivors. Before a series of international conferences begin on November 27 in Hiroshima, he reaffirmed his determination to convey the inhumane reality of nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on November 25, 2017)