Nagasaki is a beautiful city with mountains, rivers, tidal canals, streetcars, a vibrant, funky Chinatown neighborhood, and much more. It always (it’s my third time here) reminds me bit of San Francisco and Pittsburgh. The city and the commemoration of the second atomic bombing always feel more soulful and intimate than Hiroshima and its commemoration do to me (Hiroshima is also a terrific city but it feels more bustling and regimented).
At yesterday’s official ceremony, Nagasaki Mayor Taue issued a strong call for global elimination of nuclear weapons, as well as calling on all the heads of nuclear-armed states to visit Nagasaki. They’d do well to make such a visit in order to learn from the stories of the cities 40,000 Hibakusha (H-bomb survivors).
Between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki opening rallies at large municipal gymnasia, I spoke to nearly 10,000 people! Most were from the trade union federation Rengo, which has a close alliance with our sister peace group GENSUIKIN. I also presented two workshops, spoke at an international conference with colleagues from China and South Korea as well as Japan, and did two press conferences and several media interviews (I had a picture and quote saying I want nuclear weapons abolished in my lifetime in the Nagasaki Shimbun newspaper yesterday).
I learned so much more on this trip than on my previous two in 2002 and 2004. I‘m especially more clear on the priorities of Japanese peace and disarmament groups (which are not exactly the same as in the US but it’s important to know that) and how we can work together in the future on shared interests (not just with Japanese but also Korean and European colleagues). Part of this may be my growth as an activist and the increase in international work we‘ve been doing the last few years, but it’s also because of the new political climate and possible openings for progress, especially on nuclear disarmament (the election of Barack Obama but also the Japanese elections later this month, which should kick out the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party in favor of the much more progressive Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ which GENSUIKIN works with and supports).
In addition to planning joint work on our international petition drive to eliminate nuclear weapons and plans for events around the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York next May, I dialogued with Japanese colleagues a great deal about US-Japan nuclear relations, which are in quite a bit of flux. Japanese activists are quite concerned that the current government has been pushing the Obama Administration to go slow on arms reductions with Russia and other forward-leaning policies. The Japanese groups, while of course supporting abolition and the steps toward it that we concentrate on in the US, want the Japanese government to push the US to declare a No First Use (of nuclear weapons) policy and pursue a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone for Northeast Asia.
A new DPJ government, which would take office soon after the August 30 elections in Japan should it win as most people believe it will, could be a partner in pushing the US government for better disarmament and non-proliferation policies in the region and the world. It’s an interesting and exciting time, and I’m glad Peace Action is able to collaborate with international partners, as well as doing the hard work we need to do in the U.S.