Reblogged from: Herald Magazine’s “Connect | Engage | Inspire”
Brad Martell of Peace and Justice Ministries recently visited with Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba, recipient of this year’s Community of Christ International Peace Award. Their discussion focused on nuclear issues and how groups are seeking to Pursue Peace on Earth.
Martell: You were about 3 years old when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What was it like growing up?
Akiba: I was born in Tokyo, and then my family moved to Chiba, not far from Tokyo. I experienced firebombings in Chiba during the summer of 1945. The firebombs were terrifying and—from the eyes of a child—the sparks brightening the night were beautiful. I didn’t understand as a 2½-year-old what the bombs were, but I understood people around me were concerned. It was a mixture of terror and excitement, something unusual. Only later did I understand it as a glimpse of war, connecting it with seeing a movie about the atomic bombings and aftermath of the victims. That was my first experience of an act of war.
Martell: You became a peace activist early in your life, coming to the US in 1969 to earn your doctorate at MIT and joining the anti-nuclear movement. What were those years like?
Akiba: Actually I came to the US for the first time as an exchange student in 1959. I lived with a family near Chicago and graduated from Elmwood Park High School in 1960. Two years ago we had the 50th reunion. I’ve missed only one reunion.
They’ve been a great deal of fun and extremely good experiences for me.
But one thing that was striking when I was in high school was the difference between Japanese and American teaching of history. In Japan we don’t learn modern history. What I learned was new and surprising because I didn’t know anything about Pearl Harbor or much about President Truman’s or America’s stance on the A-bomb.
My American high school history class taught that Japan started the war and the A-bomb ended it, quickly reducing considerably the war deaths—like a quarter million American soldiers and the same number of Japanese lives. I was taught the atomic bombings saved lives and were good things.
I tried to explain to my class that it may be so, but lots of people died, and the A-bomb was a terrible thing for Japan. But I was outnumbered by my classmates, plus the teacher. My English and knowledge weren’t good enough to explain what I wanted to tell them about realities of the bombings.
So in a sense I interpreted the experience later as a “homework” assignment given to me from AFS (American Field Service). AFS was the organization that sent me to the US. It will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014. The organization was started in 1914 during WWI by a group of ambulance drivers. After WWII they started a global exchange program for high school students. That’s the beginning and my history class experience. Without that experience I probably wouldn’t have become the mayor of Hiroshima.
Martell: It would seem you have spent your life working on that “homework” assignment.
Akiba: Right. I feel I’ve kind of half finished it. I gave a lecture at DePaul University in Chicago over 10 years ago. Ten to 15 of my high school classmates came. I was able to explain, as the mayor of Hiroshima, what happened to Hiroshima, what the hibakusha (survivors) have been doing, and what Mayors for Peace was accomplishing. But I don’t believe my homework is done. When we abolish all nuclear weapons, then my homework will be done.
Martell: While mayor of Hiroshima, you also served as president of Mayors for Peace. Tell us about its mission to abolish nuclear weapons.
Akiba: Mayors for Peace was created in 1982. It held meetings every four years, held exhibitions to educate citizens, and protested against nuclear-weapons testing. In 2001, after 9/11, the war against terrorism was declared, and there was a call for using nuclear weapons to counter terrorism. The hibakusha in Hiroshima became hugely concerned. They are quite sensitive to nuclear issues because of their experiences with atomic bombs. They often use the expression “no one else should suffer as we did.” Literally this means everyone, even those labeled as enemies.
It’s a message of reconciliation. Using nuclear weapons against terrorists is not a good alternative because it won’t deter them. Many people realized that, but in the beginning harsh words from leaders advocated for nuclear weapons. The hibakusha asked leaders in Japan to do something. Mayors for Peace responded by creating the 2020 Vision Campaign. We started an aggressive worldwide campaign to abolish nuclear weapons by 2020, sending a positive message for a future world.
Simply opposing something has been done many times, but quite often it’s just a counterforce to be ignored or marginalized.That’s how the media usually treats such a movement. Instead we wanted to be a builder of a future world. We approach cities around the world to join together. With enough cities calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020, our voices will be heard by those people who make decisions at the national and international levels.
We now have more than 5,000 member cities. One reason why cities join is because they have memories of war and other tragedies. It’s the cities that remember, not necessarily nations. Remembering is very important. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Life of Reason).
Cities from around the world also are saying, “Never again” to war and tragedies they’ve experienced. They understand why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are calling for the 2020 abolition of nuclear weapons. Cities are joining in droves. That’s encouraging.
One example is the city of Ypres, Belgium. Ypres was where chemical weapons were first used during WWI by Germans. And the entire city was devastated by conventional bombs. Today, Ypres holds a daily ceremony to remember. Cities remembering their tragedies are the basis for the increase in the number of cities joining Mayors for Peace.
Martell: What has been your experience in returning to the classroom as a professor at Hiroshima University (HU)?