I am mayor of a small village in northern Hiroshima. Our village is located in the Chugoku Mountains, in the midst of a deep forest. Farmlands and houses are dotted about in a ravine and form our community. Our village used to be a calm and quiet place.
17 years ago, in 1994, splitting sounds previously unknown to the villagers started to strike them. They did not understand what was happening. The sounds were soon confirmed to be those created by the low altitude flight training of U.S. aircraft over the region. The villagers had no means to stop them and complained to us village officers, who then had to turn to the prefectural government for help. We were at a loss, not knowing what measures could be taken. But neither did the prefecture have any ideas for solving the matter. We were unable to do anything, and the villagers had to endure the sound. U.S. forces conducted the training during school hours, and the sounds made our children nervous and unable to concentrate. They made our cows go dangerously on a rampage and small children jump out of bed at night as the U.S. started to do the exercises during the night too. The people had to sleep with fear and with the danger of possible accidents.
In 1997, local labor unions organized a symposium against the flight training in our region, in which I was requested to take part as a panelist. The symposium was participated in by about 160 people. I learned about and was moved by the peoplefs deep concern on the issue and the strong demand that the training be stopped at once. This gathering led to the organization of the Northern Hiroshima Liaison for Immediate Cancellation of U.S. Aircraft Low-Altitude Flight Training. I have served as the representative of the liaison since.
Regardless of thought, creed or political beliefs, we are united in securing our peoplefs safety, and thus working against the training. Local governments, trade unions, social organizations and individuals have taken part in and developed the campaign to date.
We have asked people to sign a petition calling for the cancellation of the flight training. We have met national government officials and handed them the petition. In doing so, we explained how the training had been conducted and caused damage by showing facts and evidence, because we thought this was essential in compelling the government to take action. You can learn about them in our leaflet "No More Sky Gangsh, which also explains about our campaign. We have since revised the pamphlet and it is now available. We have met the Hiroshima Governor several times. We showed him the pamphlet and pressed him that he himself should report the problem to the national government.
There had been growing concern about the U.S. military exercises being conducted throughout Japan. So we decided to hold national meetings on the issue. The first one was held in Hiroshima and the second one in Kochi Prefecture. A number of people who were concerned about the issue came from across the country. They were very keen to learn about our campaign.
Every time accidents happen, such as an airplane crash or aircraft parts being dropped on the ground from the air, we have staged a protest and demanded that responsible agencies take preventive measures. We were deeply shocked when we learned about the terrible cable accident in Kavalege, Italy caused by a U.S. military airplane. We sent our deepest sympathy to victims and the city for the horrible accident. We sent letters of protest to many people who are responsible for the accident in Italy and for preventative measures (because the same could happen in Japan), from the U.S. president, to the U.S. Forces in Japan, the U.S. Iwakuni Air Force, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Japan and the director general of the Defense Agency. We demanded that such dangerous low altitude flights be stopped at once. Following the accident, we lobbied our local governments and urged them to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate stop to such flight training. As a result, so far 28 governments, including the Hiroshima Prefecture, have adopted such a resolution. We have also conducted a survey in Sakugi Village, Hiroshima, in order to grasp the real situation of the training. The result confirmed that most of the villagers fear the training and want the training stopped. As part of our international activities, we have sent a delegate to attend symposiums on the issue held in Italy and in Boston.
Since the start of our activity, it had been found that there are 7 major flying routes for such training in the Japanese skies. Along every one of the flying routes, people faced the same kind of problems, so we thought that there needed to be a coordinated effort, if we were to really stop them from flying over us. The participants of the two national conferences all agreed to the idea of coordinating our efforts and united them into a single nation-wide network.
According to agreements between the Japanese and U.S. governments, the two governments are required to ensure the safest kind of training of U.S. forces done in Japan and to minimize the damage to people of the area. But the agreements have not been observed in many areas. Given the fact that the governments breach rules they themselves agreed on, we know our challenge is not an easy one. Recently, we have seen some changes in their flying pattern. U.S. aircrafts seem to be flying at higher altitudes and less often. We do not know whether this is because of our protest or simply a change in their flying schedule. Today, Japan seemed to be at peace. But as long as we have U.S. military forces in our country, the peace remains very fragile.
For the past half a century, we have managed to keep peace in Japan. If we want to achieve a world with eternal peace, I believe that each of us must work for the abolition of nuclear weapons for all countries. I wish the 2001 World Conference against A & H Bombs a great success.