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World Conference against A & H Bombs


International Meeting - Joseph Gerson

World Conference Against A- & H- Bombs, Hiroshima, August, 2015

Dr. Joseph Gerson*


    I am honored to return to the World Conference on the 70th anniversary of the United States' criminal and indiscriminate A-bombings. As you know, they were targeted against "densely packed workers homes"(i) and the Soviet Union.  With the development and use of nuclear weapons, humankind crossed the threshold in which all life is held hostage to those willing to risk omnicide to protect their power and privilege. Since then, in addition to our campaigning to prevent nuclear war and to rid the world of these weapons, luck has also played its part in our survival of nuclear blackmail, reckless dependence on deterrence, miscalculations and nuclear accidents.

    Hibakusha, who have channeled their excruciating physical and emotional pain into the most powerful force for the abolition of these weapons of mass murder warn us that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist. And the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, like the poet Toge, instructs us to remember our humanity and forget the rest.

    I want to celebrate the courage of politically engaged Hibakusha, who have found and exercised remarkable inner strength to share their searing testimonies, who have travelled the world ? sometimes rising from their hospital beds to do so ? and who have appealed to humanity and governments to turn back from the path of nuclear annihilation.  I am among the world's most privileged people, having known and been transformed by Hibakusha including  Yamaguchi Senji, Watanabe Chieko, Taniguchi Sumiteru, Tanaka Terumi, Kodama Michiko, Kayashige Junko, and global Hibakusha including Dorothy Purley, Claudia Peterson, Nelson Anjain and Paul Ahpoy to name just a few.

    The powerful influence of Hibakusha was demonstrated again in April, when they travelled to New York on the eve of the NPT Review Conference and joined our Peace and Planet Mobilization.  Many of our conference participants reported that our opening ceremony, with talks by Yamaguchi-san and Thurlow-san, was a transformational high point for them. And the Hibakusha in wheelchairs who led and navigated the obstacles of our two mile march to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, where eight million abolition petition signatures were delivered to the Review Conference, demonstrated inspiring commitment and courage.

    This 70th anniversary is a moment of contradictions.  Together, we have avoided nuclear war for seven decades, and we did much of the work that led 113 governments to sign the Humanitarian Pledge “to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, states, international organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” Recall Ambassador Kmentt’s participation in this conference last year, and appreciate the profound impacts it had on him, and thus on the Austrian government.  With our work and the Pledge, we have widened the gap between the majority of the world's nations and the nuclear powers - providing a stronger foundation and new opportunities to achieve a nuclear-weapons free world.

    BUT, even as we support the diplomacy that prevailed in the nuclear deal with Iran, the promised "good faith" negotiations for nuclear weapons abolition have yet to begin. The double standard remains, with Washington and Moscow still having more than 90% of the world's nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons. The US and Russia are again exchanging nuclear threats, increasing the  dangers of miscalculations like those that ignited WWI one hundred years ago  We’re faced with a new era of U.S./NATO-Russia Cold War, increasingly militarized U.S./Japanese-Chinese competitive interdependence, Abe's campaign to remilitarize Japan, and the modernization of the nuclear arsenals and their delivery systems. And now we know that a small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could lead to global cooling, famine and the loss of two billion lives,

    With the relative decline of US power and influence, the challenges posed by China's rise to the post-WW II dis-order imposed and enforced by the US, and the collapse of the neo-colonial order in the Middle East, we face a host of uncertainties and potential dangers analogous to - but much more dangerous than - the 19th century mercantile capitalist and colonial competition. America’s grand strategy is in "disarray"(ii)  with the Obama Administration and most Democrats focused on China as the greatest threat to U.S. hegemony. Meanwhile the Pentagon, John McCain and the right-wing  fanatics competing for the Republicans Party’s presidential nomination, who are blind to the ways NATO’s and the EU’s aggressive expansion sparked the Ukraine War and the new era of confrontation, cry that Moscow poses the greatest threat to the US.  And, the U.S. is at war with Jihadist forces generated by decades of U.S. suppression of Arab nationalism and Washington’s Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

    The one point of agreement among these war hawks is doubling down on militarism ? including plans to spend $1 trillion for new nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

    The Abe government is also doubling down on militarism. Despite the opposition of most Japanese, Abe is following in the footsteps of his war criminal and CIA ?backed grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who brutally and undemocratically rammed through AMPO extension in 1960. Let me ask, is a government normal or legitimate when it mangles its constitution, democratic process and values, and prepares for war? This is compounded by the government’s denial of the history of Japan’s aggressions and sexual slavery, its disregard of popular will in Okinawa, and its campaign to trash Article 9.

    Gensuikyo’s resolute protests,  Shinfujin’s red cards, the opposition of constitutional scholars and of many others to Abe’s war laws have been essential. They are in the tradition of those who resisted Japanese militarism in the 1930s and 40s. They require all of the support that those committed to democracy and peace can provide.


    There are also dangerous denials and continuities of history in my country, where the widespread belief continues that the atomic bombings were needed to end the war with Japan. There is still also broad acceptance of Truman's propaganda lie that the A-bombs saved the lives of half a million US troops.  These myths serve as the ideological foundations for continuing U.S. preparations for nuclear war.  It was to prevent U.S. and other people from learning that many senior U.S. wartime military leaders opposed the A-bombings and from seeing photographs, including  of Taniguchi-san’s seared body, that the US. Air Force Association and right-wing members of Congress forced the cancellation of the Smithsonian Museum’s exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the A-bombings.

    In fact, the consensus among US historians is that the A-bombings were NOT needed to end the war. U.S. Secretary of War Stimson had advised Truman that Japan’s surrender could be negotiated on terms acceptable to the United States; and military leaders, including General ? later President - Eisenhower and Admiral Leahy, thought, “It wasn’t necessary to hit [Japanese] with that awful thing.”

    Numerous factors, including Truman’s election calculations, vengeance, racism, and institutional inertia contributed to the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, as General Groves told Joseph Rotblat in 1944, the bomb was designed to deal with the Soviet Union. The determinative reasons for the nuclear attacks were to bring the war to an immediate end, so that the U.S. could avoid sharing influence with the Soviet Union in Northern China, Manchuria and Korea and to intimidate Soviet leaders by demonstrating the apocalyptic power of nuclear weapons and Washington’s willingness to use them ? even against civilians.

    Since then, the U.S., and to a lesser degree the other nuclear powers, have repeatedly used their nuclear arsenals. Daniel Ellsberg explains that the US has repeatedly used nuclear weapons “in the way that you use a gun when you point it at someone’s head in a confrontation….whether or not you pull the trigger...[and] You're also using it when you have it on your hip ostentatiously.”  During wars and international crises, the US has prepared and/or threatened to initiate nuclear war on at least thirty occasions - at least 15 times during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and crises with China and at least 10 times to reinforce US Middle East hegemony.  And the grim truth is that each of the other eight nuclear powers has made such threats or preparations at least once.


    Friends, going into this year’s NPT Review Conference our expectations were not high, and you know the outcome.  The P-5 resisted all efforts by non-nuclear weapons states to draft a final statement that would have required meaningful progress toward negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention, as required by Article VI of the NPT. The Review Conference collapsed in failure when the U.S., Britain and Canada refused to accept language requiring the convening of the long-promised conference for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD- Free Zone.  The US even said that the twenty-year old promise is now null and void.

    The Review Conference’s one achievement was widening the gap between the non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear powers, codified in the Humanitarian Pledge, which will be a foundation for future nuclear disarmament initiatives, including the anticipated mandate this fall from the U.N. General Assembly for a new Open Ended Working Group.

    While not wanting to overstate our contributions to this achievement, we should celebrate decades of dedicated organizing and action by Gensuikyo and our movements that helped to build the growing international pressure for nuclear weapons abolition. Building on our movement’s history and Ban Ki-moon’s admonition in 2010 that governments alone will not eliminate nuclear weapons, and that  nuclear weapons abolition cannot be won without broad and intense pressure from below ? we created the Peace & Planet mobilization to reassert people’s power for a nuclear-free world.

    We had two goals: First, to press the Review Conference to take meaningful action toward fulfilling the promise of Article VI. Second, to support, revitalize, and expand the bases of the US and other nations' abolition movements for the longer-term. Gensuikyo's leading roles in the mobilization were critical to our successes.  Your strong presence and the spirit you brought to New York inspired the thousands of people we gathered.  Angela Kane, the U.N. High Representative for Disarmament and Ambassador Taous Feroukhi, the President of the Review Conference, were both deeply moved by their experiences with us. So much so that during the opening days of the Review Conference they instructed the hundreds of diplomats gathered at the U.N. that our events and the nearly eight million abolition petition signatures we presented to them, represented the expectations and demands of worldwide civil society.

    Many of you here were among the roughly 600 people from 20 nations together for the Peace & Planet International Conference, which provided a unique opportunity to learn from one another and from experts, to explore the connection between issues and our movements, and to develop plans for the future.  Nudged by Rev. Mori of Japan Religionists for Peace, we organized an International Interfaith Convocation that drew a standing room audience and which has received unstinting praise, including from the World Council of Churches. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people participated in our international rally, march and festival, with Angela Kane and Ambassador Feroukhi receiving the petition signatures from Gensuikyo, Mayors for Peace (whose petitions were presented by the Mayor of Hiroshima,) and by Peace & Planet’s Co-Conveners. Deeply moving was the launch of the Global Peace Wave by a second-generation Kazakh Hibakusha. Imagine seeing all of our more than 100 Peace Wave actions in more than 50 countries.

    Essential to our mobilization were our social and mainstream media campaigns. Via social media, we reached thousands of young people with our messaging.  Nearly 20 articles appeared in the US press, including one that appeared in 250 media outlets. And we were inundated by Japanese media.

    As we say at conferences like this, we’re glad that you're here, but most important is the work that we will all do when we return home. With Peace and Planet we revitalized community-based nuclear disarmament and peace movement organizing in the US and elsewhere. We created, identified and popularized a number of strategies for future nuclear weapons abolition advocacy, brought young activists into the movement, and made connections to other issues and movements.

    As we meet here, Peace and Planet activists are holding commemorative and organizing events across the US and internationally. Our next major push, led by Unfold Zero, will be a Global Peace Wave in September between the International Day of Peace and the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

    Friends, as Daniel Ellsberg said during the Peace & Planet conference, we are living on borrowed time in which human survival still hangs in the balance. On this anniversary, here in Hiroshima and in the presence of Hibakusha, let us deepen our resolve that we will do all in our power to ensure Never Again to Anyone, that there are No More Hiroshimas. No More Nagasakis. No More Nuclear Weapons. And No More War.

*Dr. Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and Director of the Peace & Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee, Northeast Region. He is Co-Convener of the Peace & Planet Network and Convener of the Working Group for Peace and Demilitarization in Asia and the Pacific.

i Joseph Gerson. With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1995, p. 15
ii Michael T. Klare. "The next Cold War is here: China, Russia and the ghosts of Dwight Eisenhower"