By Adam Proveaux
Live from the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York City
“Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”
– Inscription at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
“We need a ‘bottom-up approach’ to successfully abolish nuclear weapons,” said a Japanese high school student at a side conference of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York.
For these young students, the 1945 atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are long in the distant past, but nowhere near to being forgotten. “My grandmother was nine years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima,” the student told the audience.
The Hibakusha (Japanese survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) are aging, and it is up to their children and grandchildren to carry on their stories and to reinvigorate the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons once and for all.
One thing I’ve learned from these Japanese students: disarmament education is the key.
One Japanese man surprised me with his knowledge on disarmament. He laid out four steps that need to be accomplished in order to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.
He mentioned the need for greater transparency over nuclear weapons, a goal toward which Secretary of State John Kerry took a small step in his speech at the NPT RevCon on Monday.
The man also called for reductions to the bloated arsenals of the world’s nuclear powers, and for greater international unity in working toward the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. The NPT is a good start, he seemed to suggest, but much more can and must be done.
The Japanese man’s fourth point was chilling. He extended an open invitation to international leaders and to the world’s youth to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the world could simply witness first-hand the horrifying humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use, perhaps that would inspire stronger efforts toward ensuring they would never be used again.
Here in New York, the Japanese students at the NPT Review Conference are taking this issue very seriously. They facilitate tours of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (photo above), they maintain the Hiroshima Archive (http://www.hiroshima.mapping.jp) website where one can virtually re-live the bombing on Hiroshima, and they initiate many signature collection campaigns.
In watching these students, it’s impossible not to imagine the progress that the United States could make toward the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons if our youth were equally as inspired, driven, and ambitious as our Japanese counterparts.
It’s clear that in Japan, educating the youth about the dangerous humanitarian consequences posed by nuclear weapons has created a young generation dedicated to preventing the nuclear catastrophes suffered by their ancestors. In the United States, our parents and grandparents pass on stories of duck-and-cover drills and bomb shelters, but which fail to resonate with American youth. Unlike the Japanese, we can’t help but think of nuclear weapons as a “thing of the past.”
The irony, of course, is that while Japan’s youth are arguably the world’s most active on this issue, Japan does not possess any nuclear weapons–whereas the U.S. maintains a stockpile of thousands, with plans to modernize and extend our arsenal far into the future.
I’m grateful for the lessons learned today by the Japanese students here at the NPT RevCon. It’s never been more clear to me that the fulfillment of global disarmament, a pillar of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, rests on educating the next generation.
Remember, today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders.