Michael Youngborg: Reflections from Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Tour

mayors for peace

“Hibakusha Testimony and Mayors for Peace

As we traveled through Japan and attended seminars as well as the official ceremonies marking
the anniversaries of the bombings, one thing became absolutely clear and was repeated as often
as the desire to end war. In order for humanity to continue, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons
must be abolished. Nuclear power plants present the same threats as nuclear weapons whether
they are targeted in attacks or when accidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl happen. Ridding
the world of nuclear weapons is simply not enough. Former Mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi
Akiba brought this point sharply into perspective. As president of Mayors for Peace, former
Mayor Akiba seeks this very result. The organization now has a worldwide membership of over
5,300 cities, all pledging their support for nuclear abolition. Some 195 U.S. cities are members,
among them Philadelphia, San Francisco and Baltimore.

Mr. Akiba looks toward Hibakusha testimony as the most powerful way to make people
understand the absolute devastation of atomic bombings and the potential catastrophes of nuclear
power plant accidents. The Hibakusha know first-hand the effects of nuclear weapons. They
alone fully understand the terrible consequences of those August days in 1945 and they alone can
explain to the rest of the world why we must rid ourselves of nuclear weapons and energy if we
want to continue to live. The reality, however, is that the Hibakusha are dying and will soon no
longer be able to tell their stories firsthand. As Mr. Akiba pointed out, their stories are only so
effective when they are heard first-hand. When the events are filtered through secondary persons
or texts they lose the urgent and persuasive quality that only comes from hearing the Hibakusha
themselves. Efforts to digitize their stories would be a step toward preserving these accounts in
their original format and passing on the message of nuclear abolition from the voices of those
who most fully grasp the destructive capabilities of an atomic world.

The peace tour, if nothing else, is an antidote to apathy. The idea of nuclear abolition still seems
far off, but the need for action at every level seems much more apparent after visiting Japan and
meeting the Hibakusha and other activists. I still have trouble explaining to people why this trip
was so important and so moving and so I have just one piece of advice – go to Japan, and see for
yourselves. I left with a new voice that I hope to add to the cause of nuclear abolition.”

Michael Youngborg is a PhD candidate in History at American University, Washington, DC.

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