Message of Hibakusha

November 17, 2006 [Rome, Italy]
7th WORLD SUMMIT of Nobel Peace Laureates

Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, President of Mayors for Peace

Thank you very much, Jonathan, for your kind introduction. Mayor Veltroni, Mr. Melandri, Ms. Corrigan Maguire, President Walesa, Father Ximenes Belo, Dr. Levi Montalcino, Under-Secretary Tanaka. And also I would like to represent the voices of the Hiroshima citizens for wishing the speedy recovery of President Gorbachov.

It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be speaking to this august body. I recently visited the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and I came away with even greater respect for the tremendous accomplishments of everyone in this room.

I am standing here feeling quite humble, but I dare to speak to you because of my firm resolve to do everything in my power to bring to fruition the work of our atom bomb survivors or hibakusha in Japanese.

To a great extent, I am here today because of one hibakusha named Akira Ishida. In addition to being a hibakusha, he was a teacher, a poet and a political activist. He personifies the hibakusha message and the meaning of survival.

He was born in 1928 and on that fateful August 6, 1945, he was a 17-year-old draftee on leave when he saw the flash of the A-bomb while riding in a street car. He died in 2003 after suffering for decades with many disorders caused by radiation.

His elder brother, who had been in the train with him, died soon after the bombing. Then Mr. Ishida lay unconscious in bed for three weeks and took him almost a year to recover from acute effects of radiation. He attributes his recovery to his mother’s fierce determination to revive him. We are all deeply indebted to Mr. Ishida and his mother when we think of a future free of nuclear weapons because it was he that focused on the role of love in surviving and in finding the meaning of the experience of the atomic bombing.

His agonizing experience as a radiation patient also teaches us a great deal even today. His hospital record shows typical effects of radiation ranging from cataracts to several forms of cancer. He won a lawsuit against the national government that resulted in having his cataract officially accepted as having been caused by A-bomb radiation. In doing so, he paved the way toward more scientific and objective assessments of hibakusha diseases. I should also mention that the effects of radiation as manifested in Mr. Ishida are still not completely understood. Only in recent years is that research unraveling the mechanism by which radiation received in 1945 is causing cancer even today among the hibakusha. Most experts now believe that stem cells damaged six decades ago are still triggering many disorders that torment hibakusha today, most notably as cancer of different types.

After graduating from college Mr. Ishida became a high school teacher and eventually formed the association of hibakusha teachers, which provided intellectual leadership for the anti-nuclear movement. He served for 19 years as a prefectural legislator, and was also a prolific writer and an award winning poet.

I had the great fortune to work with him for the hibakusha cause and for peace. One memorable project was to help hibakusha living outside of Japan receive proper medical care. He was always a guiding, creative force trying in a variety of ways to send messages of reconciliation and peace from Hiroshima. We owe him a great deal for his contribution to understanding and formulating the message of hibakusha as articulated in the Peace Declaration and elsewhere.

Mr. Ishida was unique in his ability to organize and unify disparate groups of hibakusha. If he were with us today, he would be helping all of us here and vigorously working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. His presence is sorely missed.

Although the average A-bomb survivor or hibakusha is now nearly 74 and their numbers are declining rapidly, they remain powerful individually and collectively because they have actually experienced the hellish end of the world we all fear. They were living in a bustling, relatively prosperous city when suddenly, with a flash of light and a tremendous roar, they were thrust into a scene of unimaginable pain, darkness, fire, black rain and chaos. It is a genuine miracle that so many hibakusha survived this hell with the ability and willingness to tell us what it was like and warn us that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist indefinitely. I firmly believe that many hibakusha survived precisely because they have this mission to accomplish. They certainly did not willingly choose it, but they knew they had to accept the responsibility because no one else could. We should all be grateful that they then consciously and conscientiously turn this responsibility into their life-long mission.

In my Peace Declaration of 1999 I described what I believe to be the three most important gifts the hibakusha have given us. Let me read now from that declaration.

The first is that they were able to transcend the infernal pain and despair that the bombings sowed and to opt for life. I want young people to remember that today’s elderly hibakusha were as young as they are when their families, their schools, and their communities were destroyed in a flash. They hovered between life and death in a corpse-strewn sea of rubble and ruin-circumstances under which none would have blamed them had they chosen death. Yet they chose life. We should never forget the will and courage that made it possible for the hibakusha to continue to be human.

Their third achievement lies in their representing the new worldview as engraved on the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims and articulated in the Japanese Constitution. They have rejected the path of revenge and animosity that leads to extinction for all humankind. [This ends the quote.]

The worldview I just mentioned is the new way of thinking that Albert Einstein was wishing for when he said, “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking.” This new way of thinking manifests most commonly among the hibakusha in the phrase, “No one else should ever suffer as we did.” This phrase does not sound particularly revolutionary until you understand that the “no one” they were referring to included Harry Truman and those who decided to drop the bomb, Robert Oppenheimer and the scientists who built it, as well as Paul Tibbets and the crew that actually dropped it. This phrase and their desire to prevent any repetition of the nuclear tragedy actually rule out the possibility of revenge. It is a form of hibakusha philosophy of nonviolence and humanity that was born from an experience that they immediately recognized as a threat to the entire human species. Thus, the hibakusha message is so revolutionary that it has yet to be fully understood and digested by most of the human family.

And yet, this is the spirit of Hiroshima, the conviction that the survival of the human race is more important than any personal suffering, injustice, hatred or desire for retaliation. To me, the most significant point is that this is the only possible conclusion that does justice to the pain and horror the hibakusha suffered. The invention of nuclear weapons means that we human beings can no longer solve our problems by killing each other. We must find ways to resolve conflicts through dialogue, agreements, treaties and the rule of law. This is what the hibakusha have been telling us.

To do so, they have traveled to almost every nation on our planet to speak to any group that invites them. In Hiroshima, they speak nearly every day. I know that one of our more active hibakusha has for many years averaged 33 A-bomb testimonies per month. And somehow, she manages to keep her story powerful, emotionally moving, and directly related to current events. If any of you have had truly traumatic experiences and have talked about those experiences, you will understand what a superhuman feat I am describing. Not many people are capable of this level of emotional control and sacrifice. I do believe it is indeed a miracle that we have as many as we do.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the hibakusha, the human family has yet to absorb their message. In fact, it seems we have reached a point in history when the winds of war and violence are again sowing disaster around our planet. Our hibakusha are frightened for us. Many believe the probability that a nuclear weapon will be used again in the near future is greater now than at any time during the Cold War. Deterrence means nothing in the so-called war on terror. Thus, the nuclear weapons industry in the US is working hard to make nuclear weapons more “useable.” Many countries have tried to acquire nuclear weapons, such as North Korea, Iran and others. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and perhaps other non-state actors are seeking to acquire or, by some accounts, have already acquired a nuclear device. How does one deter a suicide bomber?

In response to what we saw as a worsening crisis, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, working through the NGO that these two cities created in 1982 called Mayors for Peace, launched in 2003 the Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons. In 2004, we took a delegation of 27, including 19 mayors and deputy mayors, to the NPT PrepCom at UN Headquarters in New York. In 2005, we took 51 mayors and a delegation of 167 to the NPT review conference, where we held our own Mayors Conference, which Secretary General Annan honored with his presence. We have received tremendous support for our 2020 Vision, that is, our campaign to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention by 2010 and physically eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2020.

This past July, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion which stated that,

“There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

In a civilized world, this would have meant the end of nuclear weapons. What part of this legal obligation did the nuclear weapon states not understand? And why have the rest of us allowed them to ignore it? The nuclear-weapon states are in obvious contempt of court. Where is the outrage?

To make sure that these questions are answered in good faith, Mayors for Peace launched Phase II of the 2020 Vision Campaign.

We call it the Good Faith Challenge, challenging everyone, but especially nations, to do everything in their power to abide by the ICJ finding that all nations are legally obligated to negotiate in good faith and to achieve complete nuclear disarmament.

The Mayors for Peace are taking up this Good Faith Challenge by launching an Urban Centers Are Not Targets or UCANT project. In the course of this project, we will be helping cities to mutiny against the idea that nations can hold them hostage. We are demanding positive assurance from all nuclear weapon states that no city is targeted for nuclear obliteration. In doing so, we are reminding mayors, citizens, and decision-makers at the national level that cities ARE, in fact, targets of nuclear weapons and, according to the ICJ, even this threat is a war crime.

Recently, we have begun to take our UCANT project even further. In talking to cities about not being targeted by nuclear weapons, we have come to the realization that the bombing of any city with any weapon for any purpose whatsoever is probably a war crime. We are beginning to believe that the time has come for cities to tell national governments and militaries as well as terrorists that, like children and unruly bar patrons, they can take their battles outside. Perhaps we can find some uninhabited islands or deserts where warriors can test each other. The truth we need to recognize once more is that cities are overwhelmingly populated by noncombatants who want nothing to do with war and violence. Anyone who bombs or contaminates a city with poison or radiation or cluster bombs should be charged with a war crime in the International Court of Justice. Cities these days are simply too fragile to accept that level of atavistic barbarism.

We feel confident that this city campaign will change the global political climate. I would like to mention just three reasons among many more why we are so sure. One is that mayors around the world are joining our efforts. Our membership count when we started our campaign in 2003 was just about 500. In three years, the membership has tripled to more than 1500, as Jonathan just mentioned. Second, many organizations, NGOs which are represented here and elsewhere, and governments are also working with us. That includes some of the mayors’ organizations in the world. As one example, our project was endorsed definitively by a resolution unanimously adopted last June at the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors, consisting of 1139 US cities with population larger than 30,000.

The resolution demands assurances from China and Russia that no city in the US is targeted. The resolution also demands that the US government give similar assurance to cities in those countries. Some wonder about the efficacy of cities weighing in on matters of national defense, but that is precisely our point.

It is the responsibility of mayors to protect the lives and property of the citizens they serve and when national governments interfere with that sacred responsibility, mayors cannot help but raise their voices. Supported by our citizens, we will succeed.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Mayors for Peace are doing what we can, but it is not enough. We are not sufficiently penetrating public consciousness. We are not succeeding rapidly enough in stigmatizing nuclear weapons, and we do not feel we have had the desired effect on the leaders of the nuclear weapon states.

This is where I need to make a request of you. Many of the people in this room have tremendous human networks, access to the media, and other resources far beyond anything Mayors for Peace can offer. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that we need your help, and we need it now. I believe we must, in the next year or two, create a political climate in which no politician would dare to use a nuclear weapon. If any of you share this concern, I hope you will contact me for a discussion of how best to involve you in the campaign.

In 2003, when we issued the Peace Declaration in Hiroshima, actually we were thinking of people like you in this room for political leaders, and leaders in other fields as well as people like Peter Gabriel, who are leaders in culture, music and other areas. So, let me just quote from that Declaration.

Hiroshima calls on politicians, religious professionals, academics, writers, journalists, teachers, artists, athletes and other leaders with influence. We must establish a climate that immediately confronts even casual comments that appear to approve of nuclear weapons or war. To prevent war and to abolish the absolute evil of nuclear weapons, we must pray, speak, and act to that effect in our daily lives.

Allow me to make one final point. The struggle against nuclear weapons is a struggle the people can win. In fact, I believe it is the easiest global struggle we face. Eliminating nuclear weapons will be far easier than eliminating poverty, racism, social injustice or war. It is far easier than stopping global warming or pollution. Nuclear weapons are so obviously wrong; they are supported only by a tiny minority. The rest of us want them gone.

At the UN, nuclear weapons lose every vote by super-majorities like 177 to 2. In opinion polls, they lose even in the US, where 66% said in March 200 that no nation should have nuclear weapons – including the United States. Imagine what could happen if all the nations and citizens who would like to be rid of nuclear weapons were inspired and determined to make that happen. The streets of every capital city would be full of people carrying signs saying, “Think Outside the Bomb” or “Nuclear Free in 2020.”

The abolition of nuclear weapons is a relatively simple test of human unity and rationality, global cooperation, and transnational common sense. If human beings cannot cooperate enough to eliminate these completely unnecessary, illegal, and obscenely dangerous threats to our own existence, how can we solve the more subtle global problems we face?

I am convinced that if even a few of the people in this room take up this cause, we can help the human family pass this test with ease. We have the votes. We have the power. We can choose a brighter future. We can make the world safer for our children and their children. We can live in a nuclear-weapon-free world by 2020. Thank you.