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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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Roundup: ICAN Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo at the Award Ceremony on 10 December. ANT-Hiroshima, a longtime supporter of ICAN, organized or participated in a number of activities over the weekend to celebrate ICAN being awarded the Prize. But more than a celebration, the events were a chance to reflect on the decades of work by hibakusha and others — work that, in partnership with ICAN’s campaign, culminated in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — and to reaffirm our commitment to continuing to work for nuclear abolition.

Messages of support at the Hiroshima Joint Action event (photo by Takao Nakaoku)

The following are resources for those looking to learn more about ICAN and its campaign, as well as a short introduction to the activities of Hiroshima citizens held in conjunction with the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.

About ICAN, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

  • ICAN recently released this document, which outlines the history of the organization and the steps leading up to the creation of the Treaty.
  • ICAN’s page on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons outlines the Treaty’s content and provides links to its full text and signatories.
  • Watch ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn’s and anti-nuclear activist and hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow’s speeches at the ceremony.

In Hiroshima

Emiko Okada speaks at the Hibakusha Voices event. (photo by Takeo Nakaoku)

Hibakusha Voices: On 9 December, Hibakusha Voices, an event organized by ANT-Hiroshima and held at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, gave Hiroshima citizens, and youth in particular, an opportunity to hear six hibakusha voice their thoughts on ICAN being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The speakers shared some of their experiences as hibakusha, as well as called on younger generations to take on their stories and continue working for a nuclear-free world. Although they were pleased with ICAN’s Peace Prize and the creation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the majority of the speakers emphasized that the prize and the treaty represent the rebirth of their cause, not its ending.

Candle message to ICAN (photo by Takeo Nakaoku)

Candle Message: People of all ages from various organizations joined forces to send a candle message of support to ICAN. The event organizers, young people of Hiroshima (with financial support from ANT), intended the message of “ICAN with you” to convey both partnership with hibakusha and a call for everyone to join the international anti-nuclear movement. Participants and speakers from the Hibakusha Voices event also took part in the candle message group photo. Photos were shared on social media with the hashtag #YesICAN, and the event was also given both local and national media coverage. NHK World broadcast and posted online a news story about the event.

Hiroshima Joint Action: Representatives from a number of civil society organizations gathered in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome on 10 December to congratulate ICAN on its Peace Prize and affirm their continued support. The group took photos with three banners, which read “United with global people, let’s achieve a nuke-free world with nuclear ban treaty!” “Setsuko Thurlow, many thanks and cheers!” and “Congrats, ICAN, for nuclear ban treaty & receiving Nobel Peace Prize!” Speakers included students and members of civil society organizations.

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Hiroshima Citizens Collect Signatures for Nuclear Ban Treaty

ANT-Hiroshima supports the Hibakusha Appeal, an international signature campaign calling for the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by all nations.

However, rather than always focusing on the activities of NGOs, activists, or international organizations, today we would like to highlight the work of individual Hiroshima citizens who contribute to the campaign.

Kyōko Fujitaka

Kyōko Fujitaka works at an apparel shop in the Mitsukoshi department store. Two years ago, she began talking with Takako Morii, a regular customer and ANT-Hiroshima volunteer. Inspired by Morii-san’s stories of her work with The Clouds in Summer Won’t ForgetFujitaka-san felt she too wanted to do something for Hiroshima and peace.

Fujitaka-san (left) with Morii-san

Around the beginning of 2017, the two spoke about another peace activity Morii-san was participating in, the Hibakusha Appeal signature campaign. Fujitaka-san agreed to lend a hand. She asked family members, friends, coworkers, and regular customers to sign, as well as acquaintances from her job at a cosmetics company and people she met at work parties. When others wanted to participate, Fujitaka-san gave them blank forms so they could go collect signatures themselves.

Until then, Fujitaka-san had never participated in peace- or disarmament-related activities. She was born and raised in Hiroshima, and her mother and grandmother are hibakusha. Her grandfather, who worked near what is now the Atomic Bomb Dome, died the day of the bombing. Although her grandmother took her to ring the Peace Bell in Peace Memorial Park every summer, Fujitaka-san didn’t think seriously about the atomic bombing or her own connection to it until she was an adult.

Fujitaka-san said the vast majority of people she talks to about the Hibakusha Appeal agree to sign. To her, the strong point of a signature campaign is its simplicity. Everyone can participate. Fujitaka-san asks for signatures without going into too much detail about the campaign and without being part of any official group. She began her work because of her connection to Morii-san, and she believes people agree to sign from similarly simple motives — they are from Hiroshima, and they support nuclear disarmament.

Currently, Fujitaka-san has collected over 200 signatures. She humbly said she is not satisfied with that number, and she will continue doing what she can to support the campaign.

Mie Higashi and Yoshiko Tanaka

Higashi-san and Tanaka-san began collecting signatures two months ago, after ANT-Hiroshima Executive Director Tomoko Watanabe encouraged them participate in the campaign.

The pair run a hair salon in Hiroshima’s Misasa neighborhood, and Tomoko-san has been their client for the past 30 years. As one does at a salon, the three chatted whenever Tomoko-san would come for a haircut, and naturally the conversation would turn to work. After sharing that ANT-Hiroshima was supporting the Hibakusha Appeal campaign, Tomoko-san asked Higashi-san and Tanaka-san if they would participate too.

(From right to left) Higashi-san and Tanaka-san with Tomoko-san

Wishing to do more than just collect family members’ signatures, the two placed blank forms on the front counter of their salon. They ask regular customers, people they already have established relationships with, to sign. So far, no one has refused. Some offer to write the names of their family members as well, while others take home a form to share with acquaintances.

Like Fujitaka-san, this is the first time Higashi-san and Tanaka-san have participated in peace activities. When I asked, “Why now?” Higashi-san responded, “Because of Tomoko-san. We trust her.”

The two also think most people living in Hiroshima, no matter where they were born, would be willing to sign because peace-related issues are part of Hiroshima daily life. Whether or not to actively engage is up to the individual, but there’s no denying that peace education in schools, news coverage around August 6, and a host of other events and institutions have an impact on citizens’ consciousness and identity.

When asked whether they had anything else they wished to convey, Higashi-san and Tanaka-san looked pensive, then simply stated, “We don’t want war.”

 *    *   *

A signature campaign is largely built on trust. As Higashi-san and Tanaka-san pointed out, without it, no one would write their address on the petition form.

A simple act with simple motives is the heart of these citizens’ work. Any attempt there might have been on the part of the interviewer to fish for a more complex story or a hot take on activism was rebuffed. Trust built on personal relationships and the potential for cooperation therein was the message, loud and clear.

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Asian Health Institute Trainees Visit Hiroshima

For the past eight years, ANT-Hiroshima has marked the beginning of autumn with the Asian Health Institute‘s three-day workshop in Hiroshima. This year, 12 trainees from 10 Asian countries participated in the 28-30 October workshop, which is part of a six-week “International Course on Leadership for Community Health and Development” that took place at AHI’s training facility in Aichi Prefecture. The trainees, mainly representing NGOs that work for public health, come together in Japan to share expertise with each other in order to improve their capacity as community leaders and increase local participation in public health initiates across multiple sectors.

The portion of the training coordinated by ANT-Hiroshima began by teaching participants about Hiroshima’s history and then introduced them to a number of social welfare or peace-related initiatives in the city, which function as case studies for the trainees.

The AHI trainees offered 1,000 paper cranes at the Peace Park.

On the first day, ANT-Hiroshima Executive Director Tomoko Watanabe shared with participants how the experiences of Hiroshima inspire her work. After lunch, participants visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park to deepen their knowledge of the city’s history. Finally, Tomoko-san’s mother, Teruko Ueno, shared her experience of the atomic bombing with the group. A thorough knowledge of the past is a necessary foundation for understanding how and why many organizations in Hiroshima work, and perhaps trainees reflected on the relationship between their own organizations and the history of their communities.

The next day, the group visited Motomachi Elementary school, then split into two groups to see either the welfare corporation Hagukumi no Sato or Tabete Karō Kai and retired social worker Chikako Nakamoto. Please read last year’s blog post about that portion of the training for more details.

The third day began with a guest lecture from Masae Yuasa, a professor in the Hiroshima City University Faculty of International Studies. Professor Yuasa presented trainees with a critical view of peace and anti-nuclear activism in Hiroshima and included some of her own experiences of intellectually grappling with mass human tragedy.

The group then had lunch at the recently opened Social Book Cafe Hachidori-sha and listened to a talk by owner Erika Abiko. Abiko-san explained that her motivation for opening the cafe was to create a space where people felt comfortable having open, productive discussions about peace and other social issues. She also detailed the practical side of how she gathered funds and volunteers to help build Hachidori-sha.

AHI trainees and staff with Abiko-san at Hachidori-sha

For the final sessions of the workshop, the group adjourned to the ANT-Hiroshima office, where trainees discussed ANT’s work through a question and answer session with ANT staff and three participants in ANT’s Hibaku Taiken Keishō Juku, a class aimed to give participants a thorough knowledge of the atomic bombing and raise their capacity as memory keepers of Hiroshima’s experience. The three Juku participants are also trained by Hiroshima City to work as official memory keepers. The group was particularly interested in the memory keepers’ work, as well as their three-year training process.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima