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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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Interview with Anti-Nuclear Activist Mitsuhiro Hayashida

Back in February, members of ANT-Hiroshima participated in a workshop about the current global anti-nuclear movement and Japan’s role therein. The workshop was led by Mitsuhiro Hayashida, activist and campaign leader of the Hibakusha Appeal. I later had the chance to interview Hayashida-san about his activities and some of his thoughts on the anti-nuclear movement. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Hayashida-san!

Hayashida-san speaks at an event for Hibakusha Appeal.

*   *   *

Please introduce yourself.

In Nagasaki, I served on the 10,000 High School Students Signature Campaign executive committee from my third year of middle school until graduating high school. In 2009, I went to the European UN Headquarters in Geneva as a High School Student Peace Ambassador with the same organization, and I also participated in the 2010 NPT Review Conference as a member of [the Nagasaki-based NGO] Global Citizens for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. After entering university, I was interested in learning more about nuclear power and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets and other security-related laws; at that time some friends and I founded the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), Students Against Secret Protection Law (SASPL), and Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs). In 2015, I participated in the NPT Review Conference for a second time as the NPO Peace Depo’s youth representative. I’m currently working with hibakusha to demand a nuclear ban treaty.

Please introduce the activities you’re currently involved in. Why were you interested in them, and how did you start participating?

I’m currently serving as campaign leader of the Hibakusha Appeal, which uses a signature campaign to spread the call for a nuclear ban treaty. To that end, I’m in contact with many partner organizations throughout the country to report on our activities in a bulletin magazine, I put on workshops about nuclear weapons to raise awareness about this issue, and I also make posters and graphics. Since I’m the contact point for individuals and organizations, I do phone, email, and in-person meetings, so I’m in communication with many people every day. It can feel like I’m shouldering all of the public relations for the Appeal.

About how I got started: First of all, my background as a third-generation hibakusha from Nagasaki is definitely part of my identity. But I only started to properly face my identity as such when I moved to Tokyo for university. Until then, I was surrounded by so many first, second, and third generation hibakusha that it didn’t seem like a special characteristic. I started to participate in social activism in my third year of middle school thanks to an invitation from a former elementary school teacher. I enjoyed speaking to people I wouldn’t normally be able to in school and became completely absorbed in those activities.

Have your opinions or feelings changed since the time you began participating in peace activism? Did any particular experiences make a strong impression?

When I was a high school student, I had many chances to meet with students coming to Nagasaki on school trips — that left an impression. Through our exchanges, I realized I had grown up in a unique environment, having connections to hibakusha in my daily life and learning about the atomic bombing every summer. At the time, the problem of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal was often raised, and it was frustrating that I didn’t have a good answer when people would say to me, “Japan needs to have nuclear weapons in order to protect itself from North Korea!” That when I started studying nuclear disarmament.

What do you think about the global nuclear ban movement? Within that movement, what is the role of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

It’s been about 10 years since I became involved in these activities, and back then I wouldn’t have thought that in 2017 UN negotiations would be taking place regarding a nuclear ban treaty. We’ve still got a long way to go down this road, but I feel that just being able to see a path is a big development in itself.

One of the main reasons the UN is holding nuclear ban treaty talks is that since 2010 “the inhumanity of nuclear weapons” was the focal idea of anti-nuclear activism. We gained concrete victories using the “inhumanity” argument, and it was important for hibakusha to share their experiences of the bombings with the world in order for our arguments to be based in reality. In particular, I feel it’s necessary to convey how hibakusha had to live in the postwar period, with regard to the long-term social, mental, and physical damage that comes with experiencing an atomic bomb.

Activism related to peace and a nuclear ban is difficult, and there are no easy solutions to the problems of war and nuclear weapons. Against this background, how do you keep up your motivation and a positive attitude toward your work?

Hayashida-san eating chirashi sushi made by a hibakusha … It’s clearly delicious.

The anti-nuclear movement has been one of the largest social movements in Japan since 1955. For this reason, we have associates and friends all over Japan, as well as through many generations of people. The U.S. and Europe-centered anti-nuclear movement that began after the Cold War also exists throughout the world. Allies of this movement throughout Japan and the rest of the world give me great encouragement.

What’s the role of young people in peace activism?

No matter where they come from, young people inherit history and shoulder the burden of the future. Because we young people are the ones who will create society going forward, I think we need to have a vision of what kind of society we want to live in. I think the same principle applies to a world without nuclear weapons. If we can’t envision a world without nuclear weapons, we won’t be able to realize it.

Global problems are of course not limited to nuclear weapons. We could make an endless list of problems like disparity, poverty, religious intolerance, etc. But I wonder if these various problems all have the same root.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima