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Winners of Peace Poster Contest Pay Visit to ANT-Hiroshima

The winners of a peace poster contest, sponsored by Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, paid a visit to the ANT-Hiroshima office in October. Serving as “Sagamihara City Peace Ambassadors,” Taisei Umezawa and Hiyori Yokoyama came to Hiroshima to learn about the atomic bombing and issues involving nuclear abolition and peace. Tomoko Watanabe, the executive director of ANT-Hiroshima, welcomed the two students and shared the details of her peace-building work with them.

With a desire to advance peace education efforts in the city, Sagamihara’s Citizens’ Peace Forum called for submissions of peace posters from local elementary school and junior high school students. A total of 298 posters were received, with 169 posters created by elementary school students and 129 posters created by junior high school students. One Grand Prize was then given to each of these two groups. The winning posters, along with 30 others that were selected, are being displayed in Sagamihara during the month of November.

The winning poster from the elementary school submissions is titled “For a Peaceful Future” and was made by Taisei Umezawa, a sixth grader at Ono Elementary School. Incorporating the idea of diversity, with people, animals, plants, and the A-bomb Dome in the background, the colorful poster conveys an energetic future of lives lived in peace.

The Grand Prize for the junior high school submissions was awarded to

 Hiyori Yokoyama, a third-year student at Unomori Junior High School. Her poster features a paper crane that bears symbols of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With a message of peace and the lessons learned from the A-bombed cities, the paper crane is flying over the globe and passing on the spirit of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the world. “Spreading the Message of Peace” is the title of her poster.

ANT-Hiroshima congratulates these two students, as well as all the young people who took part in this peace poster contest. With their vision, and their efforts, they will surely help to build stronger and wider peace in the world.

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Book Review: The Radium Girls

People have suffered the harmful, debilitating, and sometimes lethal effects of radiation since its discovery, since before its true destructive power became widely known. In her book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, British author Kate Moore illuminates the lives — and gruesome deaths — of two groups of women who worked with radium in the 1910s-1930s.

Around the turn of the century, radium was thought to be a miracle cure for many ailments. It was used in hospitals to treat tumors, but “radium water” and other fad products were also popular. Radium, mixed with paint, was also used on watches, clock faces, and other dials because it glowed in the dark. This industry boomed during World War I, when demand for soldiers’ watches and dials used in military machinery sharply increased.

In the US, young working-class women, often with immigrant backgrounds, were hired to paint dials. They were instructed to use their lips to shape the brush hairs into a fine point — every time they did so, they ingested the radioactive paint. Once inside a person’s body, radium makes its way to the bones and stays there. With a half-life of 1600 years, radium continuously bombards its victims with radiation from the inside.

After a few years, a number of women who worked or used to work in the radium dial factories began falling ill. They complained of toothaches, but after a tooth was pulled, the wound refused to heal; the infection would spread, leaving women toothless, with fractured jaws and flowing pus. Others had painful backs and eventually required the constant support of a metal brace, as the radium ate away at their spine. Still others developed huge tumors, called sarcoma, on various parts of their bodies. Most victims had a combination of these symptoms and were in constant pain. While many of the women died, others were merely handicapped for life.

A dial-painter at work

Because radium was thought to have only positive health effects, at first the women — and the doctors they consulted — didn’t realize the cause of their illness. Even when they did finally understand that their health problems were due to their work, the radium companies refused to take any responsibility or provide any financial compensation. They did their utmost to discredit the women and their allies. Residents of Ottawa, Illinois, gave the ailing dial-painters in their community no support when the women sued their former employer Radium Dial Company — the radium business brought much-needed jobs to the little town. (Incidentally, radiation that seeped into the ground from the Radium Dial plant in Ottawa still contaminates part of the town, and cleanup efforts are ongoing as of 2015.)

It was only in the 1930s, roughly 20 years after some of the women had worked in dial-painting factories, that they finally saw justice under the law. One group of dial painters in New Jersey, led by a woman named Grace Fryer, who spent two years searching for a lawyer to take her case, reached an out-of-court settlement with the United States Radium Corporation. Later, a woman named Catherine Donohue and her former colleagues won their suit against Radium Dial Company in Illinois.

Many women and their families lost all their savings to doctors’ bills and hospital visits. Those with children, like Catherine, sometimes were forced to hire help to take care of their families, despite their already nonexistent funds. For these women, the money gained from suit or settlement meant saving their family from debt or providing for their children’s future. However, it rankles to think of the value of a woman’s life in financial terms; no sum can equal their lost friends, family members, or good health.

Both lawsuits gained nationwide media attention, and the American public’s perception of radium (and radiation) changed forever. The dial-painters’ cases also helped raise federal health and safety standards and improve labor laws. Despite the adversity they faced, the women became champions for workers’ rights.

In 2011, a statue was erected in Ottawa, Illinois, to commemorate the dial-painters. The idea for a statue was put forward by an eighth-grade student named Madeline, who read that the dial-painters had no monument. She thought they deserve to be remembered.

Memorial statue to the Radium Girls in Ottawa, Illinois

In Radium Girls‘ epilogue, Moore mentions that the dial-painters’ experiences even had an impact on the Manhattan Project. Glenn Seaborg, a scientist working on the project, was one day “suddenly struck by a disturbing vision [of] the workers in the radium dial-painting industry.” Seaborg championed high, nonnegotiable safety standards for those working with radioactive materials in the Manhattan Project. Seaborg knew that plutonium, used in the project’s fusion bombs, behaves similarly to radium: It settles in the bones of those exposed to it.

After the end of World War II, the US Atomic Energy Commission called the dial-painters “invaluable,” writing, “If it hadn’t been for those dial-painters, the [Manhattan] Project’s management could have reasonably rejected the extreme precautions that were urged on it and thousands of workers might well have been, and might still be, in great danger.” While the scientists and workers may have been kept safe, no such compunctions were felt for others involved in the production, testing, and use of nuclear weapons in the days, years, and decades that followed the successful completion of the Manhattan Project.

Although Moore is admirable for paying tribute to the dial-painter’s impact, her conclusion whitewashes the US’s (and other nations’) real relationship with radiation. The radium girls may have finally received compensation for the injury done to them by their employers, but to this day people live and die with the effects of nuclear industries and receive little in the way of compensation or assistance.

Everyone should read Radium Girls. Moore brings her subjects to life and does not spare readers horrifying details about the effects of radium poisoning. The book tells a true story of women’s strength and determination to speak truth to power.

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ICAN’s Tim Wright Speaks with Young People in Hiroshima

ICAN Treaty Coordinator Tim Wright visited Hiroshima 20-23 July 2018 at the invitation of the Chugoku Shimbun newspaper, Hiroshima City University, and Nagasaki University’s RECNA as the keynote speaker at their symposium “Opening the Door to Peace: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and Beyond.” In addition to the symposium, Tim spoke at an event organized by HANWA and ANT-Hiroshima for members of the Hiroshima NGO community, as well as at a casual event for youths titled “What’s ICAN?” And there was another, completely unpublicized event during which Tim gave a handful of Hiroshima’s young people an inside look at ICAN’s campaign. With a focus on the latter, I’d like to expand on some of the lessons Tim shared.

Tim offered no less than 15 examples of actions and campaign methods that ICAN and its partners have implemented over the years. Actions included educating the public on the streets about nuclear weapons, making fun videos, civil disobedience, musical performances, branding, generating one’s own media, and positive messaging through demonstrations thanking supportive governments. In addition to actions that build public attention and support, campaigners employ a number of methods for lobbying politicians, including briefings, asking them to sign ICAN’s Parliamentarian Pledge, meeting with diplomats, and always making sure to speak with people from multiple political parties.

What happens at a campaigners’ meeting? The largest meetings, which can have 500 participants or more, are usually used to motivate rather than plan. Smaller meetings, which can still include representatives from up to 50 nations, are used to generate concrete, practical tasks for campaigners to carry out in their various countries. Discussions, rather than presentations, dominate these meetings, and campaigners will often break into small groups (divided thematically or by region) to generate ideas. The importance of making meetings fun cannot be undervalued, and this can be accomplished through collaborating with artists, holding social events, or involving a celebrity guest.

One participant asked how members of ICAN work through differences of opinion. Tim advised that everyone should have a chance to voice their opinion and that, if possible, decisions should be made through consensus. Avoid voting unless there is literally no other way to move a discussion forward. It’s natural that in any given group, many people are confident that their way is the right way. Differences of opinion are easier to work through, however, when the group has clear goals and a clear division of responsibilities. When the goals and tasks themselves are unclear, personality disputes magnify. 

Another participant asked about the role of intersectionality in ICAN’s campaign. Although ICAN has focused goals — create a nuclear ban treaty, then make it work — Tim said the campaign consciously tries to create a diverse movement. Along with making sure campaigners don’t all come from Western countries, ICAN also highlights the connections been nuclear weapons and other systems of power and oppression, such as patriarchy or colonialism. Bringing in speakers or partners who also work on other issues expands campaigners’ understanding of the complexities of the nuclear abolition movement. (And by the way, don’t forget to check out IQAN.)

According to Tim, the US, UK, and France are actively lobbying countries not to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. France, for example, is pressuring its former colonies not to sign, but Tim wonders whether this might have the opposite effect. He encourages the former French colonies in Africa to sign the treaty as a group to stand in opposition to their one-time colonizer. Nations are sovereign entities and therefore cannot be told what to do by other countries. Tim (almost cheekily) noted that signing the treaty is the best way for a country to put an end to pressure from the nuclear powers.

Tim’s most powerful message was one of empowerment. He began his talk by emphasizing that much of ICAN’s campaign was organized by young people, and he concluded by saying “You don’t need to ask for permission — just do.” Everyone in Hiroshima, including but not limited to hibakusha, is in a powerful position to advocate for nuclear disarmament. And there is no reason to limit the focus of one’s advocacy to one’s own government.

In order to galvanize support for banning nuclear weapons, it is not enough to teach their horrifying reality — it is equally as important to instill a belief in each individual’s power to create change. Trying to abolish nuclear weapons by using all one’s energy to convert firm believers in deterrence isn’t necessarily strategic. Rather, there are a huge number of passive supporters of disarmament who remain quiet because they think that it’s impossible to achieve a nuclear-free world, that their voice, even if raised, would only fall on deaf ears, or that there is an impenetrable divide between themselves and their government. A strategic movement can change all that.

Every step of the process to create the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was said to be impossible. The creation of a UN working group that eventually recommended treaty negotiations, the negotiation process itself, the adoption of the treaty, and now its entry into force. “Don’t believe what people say is impossible,” responds Tim.

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Book Reviews: Rhodes and Dower

Nonfiction isn’t always gripping — but it can be. Seven months ago, I decided to learn more about nuclear weapons in general, rather than simply focus on a single instance of their use. Your average Google searches led me to the following books; all three are worth a read.

The Twilight of the Bombs

Average citizen turned leading nuclear scholar Richard Rhodes chronicles late- and post-Cold War (dis)armament efforts in The Twilight of the Bombs (2010). The book looks at a number of case studies in which nations tried to secretly develop nuclear weapons and were (usually) stymied. He also describes instances when states voluntarily decided to disarm. Rhodes, who has experience as a novelist, has a clear, engaging writing style — it at times feels more like reading an adventure rather than a history, such as when Rhodes describes literal car chases and bus-sieges in Iraq.

In addition to recounting the post-Gulf War inspection of Iraq’s nuclear facilities, The Twilight of the Bombs delves into how nuclear weapons positioned in former Soviet states were collected after the fall of the Soviet Union, South Africa’s development then abandonment of nuclear weapons, diplomatic negotiations with North Korea over nuclear technology, and the creation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, among other subjects. The book is a great starting point for anyone looking to understand the current global context surrounding nuclear weapons.

The Twilight of the Bombs ends on a hopeful note, with Rhodes asserting, “In time, possession of a nuclear weapon will be judged a crime against humanity. Such a judgement would only codify what is already an evident fact.”

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

The Making of the Atomic Bomb is the first volume of Rhodes’ landmark trilogy on nuclear weapons. It was published in 1986 and earned Rhodes the Pulitzer Prize. As one Amazon reviewer put it, the 900-page door-stopper is really two books in one. The first half chronicles prominent physicists and their research, starting around the turn of the century. Rhodes painstakingly weaves together every scientific breakthrough that led to humans splitting and harnessing the atom. The second half of the book follows the development and use of the first nuclear weapons, as many of the scientists readers get to know in part one join the Manhattan Project.

Through the eyes of the scientists — both those involved in the Manhattan Project and those who were shut out — Rhodes presents a multi-faceted look at the basic questions and contradictions surrounding nuclear weapons.

Despite the scientific focus of the book, Rhodes makes sure not to present the development of nuclear weapons in a vacuum. Along with discussing the political and military aspects of the Manhattan Project, Rhodes carefully lays out how warfare itself evolved over the first half of the 20th century, including how the mass bombing of civilians became acceptable and even desirable to military leaders.

As I mentioned earlier, Rhodes has formidable chops as a writer, and in The Making of the Atomic Bomb his symbolic turns of phrase aren’t common but never fail pack a punch. For example, the book begins with Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard describing how he realized nuclear fission was possible as he crossed a London street. Szilard only mentions the green cross light, but Rhodes closes the chapter by saying “the light changed to red.”

Cultures of War

At last, a book written by someone other than Rhodes. John Dower’s Cultures of War (2010), subtitled Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq, is the author’s response to the Bush administration’s repeated and surface-level use of references to WWII-era Japan after 9-11 and during the Iraq War. Dower reminds readers of the real circumstances surrounding these coded words and phrases (“Pearl Harbor,” “ground zero,” “democratization,” etc.) and posits real lessons to be gleaned from them. He examines the common themes of strategic imbecility, underestimating one’s enemy (often due to racism), and the U.S.’s alternating condemnation and use of air bombing and terror. Dower presents the U.S.’s eponymous culture of war as its belief in the infallible nature of overwhelming military force — a culture that came to maturity during World War II.

Although I had high hopes for this book — Dower’s Embracing Defeat was the first time I had thoroughly enjoyed nonfiction — the analysis ultimately felt shallow. It’s a common problem: attempting to compare two similar things and getting to the heart of neither. Cultures of War also had a fair bit of overlap with The Making of the Atomic Bomb, particularly in chapters describing the air war against Japan, so it sometimes felt like new information was in short supply.

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ANT-Hiroshima’s Hibakusha Study Course

One of ANT-Hiroshima’s newest projects is the Hibakusha Study Course, a 12-session class that took place from April 2017 to March 2018. Former Hiroshima Hibakusha Relief Foundation Director and Hiroshima University Professor Emeritus Dr. Nanao Kamada, a specialist in the biological effects of radiation, collaborated with ANT-Hiroshima to teach the course.

The Hibakusha Study Course aims to give its participants extensive knowledge of the effects of radiation on people, with a focus on hibakusha experiences both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and globally. The second half of the course also delved into local and global disarmament activities. The ability to draw upon such knowledge — to combine facts with personal stories — can be relevant to anyone, but it is particularly essential for those working for nuclear abolition. The course connects scientific and historical facts with the ongoing dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, bridging past and present. Much of its content is the result of years of research by dedicated individuals in ongoing cooperation with hibakusha.

A participant shares her thoughts.

The Hibakusha Study Course is the first project of its kind for ANT-Hiroshima. Staff, volunteers, and partners keenly felt the urgency of the aging hibakusha community and decided to make concrete preparations for the day when Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s hibakusha are no longer with us. To course participants and organizers, gaining a detailed factual understanding of nuclear issues is one way to make the realities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki their own story.

Three of the participants work or are currently being trained as official memory keepers of Hiroshima’s experience; they’re taking part in ANT-Hiroshima’s course in addition to the three years of training they receive from Hiroshima City. Other participants include a Buddhist priest, a teacher, a nurse, a university student, and others who have been involved in ANT-Hiroshima’s activities. ANT-Hiroshima capped eligible participants’ age at 60, as the course is aimed at people without firsthand experience of its subject matter.

Dr. Kamada explains genetic damage.

The group became fast friends who learned from each other over the year-long course. Along with a lecture from Dr. Kamada, each session included time for participants to ask questions, reflect on previous sessions, and share their opinions; members’ diverse backgrounds and experiences contributed to lively discussions with a range of viewpoints. And in their own ways, everyone put what they learned into action outside the course.

The first two sessions focused on the effects of radiation on people. Dr. Kamada introduced major research in the field, then guided participants through an activity in which they cut out 46 paper chromosomes and arranged them by size. Chromosomes’ abnormality can be examined to estimate the amount of radiation they have been exposed to, although in reality one needs to examine about 100 chromosomes before abnormality becomes apparent. The group also got hands-on experience using a scintillation detector, borrowed from the Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed (HICARE). Particpants discussed differences between victims of atomic bombings and victims of radiation exposure through other means, such as nuclear accidents or nuclear testing.

The third and fourth sessions covered data collection methods and differences between visible effects of the atomic bombings and the initially invisible effects of exposure to radiation, respectively. During the latter session, discussion delved into how government policies toward visible and invisible effects vary.

Two participants use the scintillation detector.

The course’s fifth session, held in late August, included an extra assignment for participants to write a reflection about their thoughts on the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that year. Along with sharing their reflections, participants analyzed the messages from representatives of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during that year’s memorial ceremonies.

The seventh session focused on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and 2017’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Participants studied the historical steps that led up to the creation of both treaties and Japan’s position therein, including its refusal to participate in talks for or sign the latter. In a similar vein, the eighth session focused on two organizations that won Nobel Peace Prizes for their work advocating for nuclear disarmament:  International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Following sessions focused on nuclear power and nuclear accidents, as well as the psychological effects of experiencing an atomic bombing or being exposed to radiation. The second to last session covered how Japan is currently reprocessing its nuclear waste. Discussion focused on not only the feasibility of the government’s current plan (or perhaps lack thereof), but also how average citizens can make their voices heard on these issues.

The year-long course came to an end with a final session spent reflecting on how participants’ opinions and attitudes have been changed by what they learned.

Dr. Kamada lectures during the 28 October session.

ANT-Hiroshima is grateful to Dr. Kamada for offering his time and expertise throughout the course. He unfailingly read all of the participants’ written work and would follow up in subsequent sessions if he realized there were points the class hadn’t completely understood.

After reflecting on the 2017-18 course with Dr. Kamada, ANT-Hiroshima staff decided to hold a second cycle for 2018-19. This year’s course will streamline its contents to cover roughly the same amount of material in six sessions instead of 12. Applicants can request specific topics on the course application form. The participant age limit is now capped at 50, and ANT-Hiroshima is specifically hoping that young people, teachers, and individuals working in media apply.

The application deadline for the 2018-19 course is May 12 — so please contact ANT-Hiroshima if you are interested!

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Green Legacy Hiroshima