Walking along beside the river in Hiroshima on the evening before the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing. An amazing experience. It is a warm, still night following a scorching hot day. There must be thousands of people around the area of the memorial park. The city is full tonight. All the hotels are packed apparently. Groups of people form round small exhibitions, displays, memories. Some are encouraged to snapshot their thoughts and impressions on a rice-paper stretched across a section of bamboo and leave them hanging from a tree or installation for others to share. People gather to hear talks, watch the dancers, listen to music. The messages are all the same – peace and a world free from nuclear weapons. The music (‘Where have all the flowers gone’ in Japanese) floats over a sign lit up with the words “One Dream”, over the still, reflective river. The same river that will carry hundreds of lanterns tomorrow night in remembrance of the many thousands of burnt, scarred and mortally injured who tried to seek out that same river 70 years ago.
You can’t help but be moved and try to imagine what it must have been like. But I can’t do it – having just come from a restaurant where I had dinner with some great friends – a beer, good food, great conversation. How can I?
My imagination is not that good and I have never experienced anything anywhere near as horrible, hopeless and devastating as the stories that the Hibakusha (a-bomb survivors) tell or as the Peace Memorial Museum shows. I hope I never do. I hope no-one ever does, ever again. How can we still, even now, knowing all these things, still threaten to inflict that kind of suffering on millions of people? How can we still think we have a right to possess weapons with that kind of inhumane destructive power? Of course, the vast majority of people don’t want this and that’s why representatives of peace and human rights movements from around the world arrived here a few days ago to remember the past and discuss ideas and plans for building a peaceful future, forever free from such fears.
These events are always a mixture of passion, compassion and hope. Despite the bad news that seems to arrive from all corners, most are managing to maintain a constructive manner. The Japanese people (and especially the few remaining Hibakusha) are, as always, staunchly resolute in their desire to see a nuclear free world. During this visit so far I have seen protests against military bases around the country. The people in Okinawa have much to protest about, their small island is host to nearly 74% of total US military bases in Japan and another large base extension is underway into Henoko Bay to replace the closure of Futenma air base which is closing (some good news here though – construction has been stopped for a while because of the protest from local people, supported by the governor of the island).
Their protests are extremely well organised people turn out every day at the gates of bases around the island to protest and blockade. We joined a protest at Henoko Beach which had been going on continuously for over 4,000 days and another at nearby Camp Schwab which involved over 300 people sitting for several hours in the hot morning sun to block the main gate.
Despite the huge challenges they are up against they remain undaunted, cheerful and positive.
The US has pushed hard on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to force through a law through parliament to allow Japanese armed forces to fight alongside its allies. This is a reversal of Japan’s renunciation of war and the preparations for war as laid out in Article 9 of the constitution and is made against the fervent wishes of the Japanese people. It is a terrible betrayal and has seen Abe’s ratings sink – the majority of Japanese people feel very strongly about the ‘peace clause’ in their constitution and are fighting to defend it.
The international gathering here bring messages of solidarity and determination alongside stories of their own difficulties with governments moving to the right, increasing military spending and the growing beat of war drums. All are saying more or less the same thing – that we need to build a huge international movement that links nuclear weapons and military spending with campaigns on climate change, poverty and human rights to demand an alternative to austerity, militarism and war. It is extremely unlikely that we can survive another 70 years of existence with nuclear weapons on the Earth so we have to do it – and of course we can make a start by scrapping Trident!