A large anti-nuclear rally in New York calls for global nuclear disarmament ahead of a United Nations meeting to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We speak with the mayor of Hiroshima–where 60 years ago the U.S. dropped one of two atomic bombs. [includes rush transcript]
Representatives of 189 countries are meeting at the United Nations today to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a month-long Review Conference that takes place every five years.
The treaty calls for nations without nuclear weapons to pledge not to pursue them and for those that acknowledge having nuclear weapons to pledge to move toward eliminating them.
But some say the meeting appears deadlocked even before it begins. Tensions rose this weekend between the United States and two countries it has repeatedly accused of illegally pursuing nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, Iran declared that it might end its voluntary halt on enriching uranium and resume producing nuclear fuel. Meanwhile, North Korea apparently launched a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday and lashed out at President Bush calling him a "half-baked man in terms of morality and a philistine whom we can never deal with." The remarks were an apparent response to Bush’s news conference Thursday in which he characterized North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a "tyrant" and "dangerous person."
The New York Times is reporting that a proposal by Mohamed ElBaradei–the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency–to impose a five-year moratorium on all new enrichment of uranium is virtually dead.
This past weekend, a large anti-nuclear demonstration was held in New York ahead of the UN meeting. A coalition of over 2,000 organizations around the world, teamed up with United for Peace and Justice to organize a march and rally Sunday to demand global nuclear disarmament. Tens of thousands of protesters marched past the UN building to Central Park.
Among those present were the mayors of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 60 years ago the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the cities killing hundreds of thousands of people.
- Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima.
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us in our studio today, here in New York is the Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba. Welcome to Democracy Now!
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Good Morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you talk about the significance of the meetings that are taking place at the United Nations?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is the only international treaty that binds the hands of the nuclear weapon powers. In Article VI, although it is a very mild clause, that’s the only international document which says that these countries must work very hard toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. And therefore, it is very significant, and we would like to strengthen this treaty so that by the year 2020 all nuclear weapons will be abolished. And that’s the wish of hibakusha, Japanese word for the survivors of the atomic bomb. And that’s why we’re here. Oh, by the way, the mayors — international mayors are here. At least a hundred mayors and city representatives are here to press the United Nations, representing the voices of millions of citizens around the world, and we are here to represent their voices, because that’s the majority opinion in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this latest news? On Saturday, Iran declaring it might end its voluntary halt on enriching uranium and resuming producing nuclear fuel, and then what happened with North Korea?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Okay, I’m glad that you bring that subject up, because we don’t want to be taken as simply criticizing the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and India, Pakistan. Those countries possess nuclear weapons. Those countries have done all those things, and we have been opposing this because our aim is to eliminate all nuclear weapons, and according to the hibakusha, as long as there are nuclear weapons, that there will be a nuclear war, and then some people will have to suffer the way they did. And that’s exactly what they wanted to avoid. Therefore, what we are calling for is that all countries should not be allowed to do that, and I think the leaders of the world should show to the rest of the world by example that these are not the kinds of things which civilized society should be engaged in. And therefore, we are calling for a universal nuclear weapons convention which prohibits all those activities, and not by just Iran, North Korea, or a few other countries, but all of the countries, including the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the significance of North Korea launching a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday? You’re from Japan.
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, I think that people will be voicing some alarm, because it’s Japan Sea, but then again, there are — well, I don’t know exactly how many, but numerous number of missiles all over the world, which are on 'Launch on Warning' status, with nuclear warheads, and we are concerned about that because once that is shot, then the entire human race is at jeopardy, and we have been calling that all those systems should be dismantled, and I believe that as part of that picture, showing that one can shoot missiles with or without nuclear weapons and trying to threaten the world with that is just intolerable. But I think that we should look at the whole picture. There are missiles which are aimed at, you know, just many, many cities in the world with nuclear warheads right now, and a false warning at this moment could make those missiles be shot at any moment.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking with the Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, who is here in New York for the meetings that are taking place at the United Nations this week, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and was a part of a large demonstration in Central Park on Sunday. What about the US attitude to enroll in these nuclear non-proliferation talks?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, just we are hoping that, you know, just as a democratic country, and US democracy being emulated by the rest of the world, I hope that the United States will start heeding to the majority opinion of the Americans. In a recent poll, 66% of Americans felt that no nations should have nuclear weapons for the safety of the world, and therefore, just as a democratic country, if the government starts listening to this voice and to the rest of the world, which overwhelmingly want nuclear weapons eliminated, I think that the world would be a much safer place and happier place.
AMY GOODMAN: How concretely is the US lobbying?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: I don’t know. I’m not in the diplomatic circle, so I have no knowledge. You’d better ask those people who have the direct knowledge of that.
AMY GOODMAN: But the effect that you are seeing then, of the lobbying, of the pressure?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, the United States still has the most numerous number of nuclear weapons, missiles and so forth, technological capabilities far superior to anything else, and as the leader in the international arena, I think the United States should take the initiative in eliminating nuclear weapons. The first step is to start a negotiation with other countries toward that goal.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you specifically calling for?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, we are saying that nuclear weapons should be eliminated by the year 2020, some hibakusha say that that’s too far. Some — very few of them would be alive. That’s what they’ve been telling me. But that’s just about the amount of time I think will be necessary for the elimination, but as an interim goal, we would like to have a nuclear weapons convention signed by the year 2010. And that’s basically to prohibit nuclear weapons in the form of a treaty and that should be abided by all the nations. This year, as the beginning step of all of these, we would like to have the United Nations adopt a resolution or some kind of decision by which they declare that they will get into a serious, good faith negotiation toward that goal.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor, how is Hiroshima planning for the sixtieth anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: We have various events this year: symposium, concerts, and other events, but we are aiming at achieving three things. One is the consolation of the souls of the deceased hibakusha, and we would like to also sort of increase the amount of support we give to the living hibakusha. The second one is our efforts toward the abolition of nuclear weapons and international cooperation. And the third aim we are making in the sixtieth anniversary is that we would like to make this year the beginning of a creative and prosperous future for the city and the world. So all these things will be combined in the effort of the Mayors For Peace. That’s the organization created in 1982, which now has 1000 membership.
AMY GOODMAN: What year were you born?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: 1942
AMY GOODMAN: In Hiroshima?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: No, I was born in Tokyo.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is your earliest recollection of that period?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well actually, I moved to an outskirt of Tokyo, but when I was two and a half, actually that city was air raided. And one of my first memories was that of an air raid. That experience tied into a movie I saw about Hiroshima when I was in the elementary school. That movie was so shocking, I stayed away from school for a couple days. And that became the basis of my, you know, just concern for Hiroshima and for the future of humankind.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you first come to Hiroshima?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: In 1963, as part of a team of interpreters working for the world conference against A and H bombs. I met hibakusha then, and they were impressive.
AMY GOODMAN: Hibakusha being the survivors of Hiroshima.
TADATOSHI AKIBA: The survivors, and I learned their message, and since then I’ve been trying to spread the message. The message is very simple. It’s, "No one else should suffer the way we did." Therefore, they have been advocating that no nuclear weapons should exist in this world, because as long as there are any of them, then a nuclear war will inevitably occur at some point. It may not be tomorrow, but maybe the day after tomorrow.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to those who say if the bomb hadn’t been dropped, then the war would not have ended, and from the US military point of view, tens of thousands of US soldiers would have died?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, that question has been settled by the research of American historians a long time ago, and also there has been a study by the Strategic Bombing Survey, that entered Japan right after the end of war in 1945, and their findings clearly tell you that that’s false. Japan would have surrendered anyway. I remember as a child that materialistically, Japan really did not have anything when I was growing up, and during the war it was worse. So without doing anything, their prediction was that at the latest, Japan would have surrendered by November.
AMY GOODMAN: So then what is your understanding of why the bombs were dropped?
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, again, that there are just good research by American scholars, including Marty Sherwin, a good friend of mine, as to why. But I think it is important to understand that, but I believe that what we do about that kind of information for the future is more important, and that’s contained in the simple expression of the hibakusha: "No one else should suffer the way I did or we did." Then that leads naturally to the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, The Independent of London is reporting today that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has secretly decided that Britain will build a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace the aging Trident submarine fleet. Your response.
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Well, I think that’s crazy. I think that the leaders of the world should pay attention, at least humbly listen to the voices of the hibakusha, who actually went through this. They are the only ones who know what it is like when a nuclear war actually occurs. And if we don’t listen to them, if we don’t remember what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the same thing will happen on the human beings again. That will easily lead to the extinction of the human race. As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And Mr. Blair or other people who are trying to increase the nuclear arsenal is saying that they don’t care about the memory, they don’t care about the human race. Hibakusha do, and I think that during the sixtieth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at least the people should start to listen to their voices.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, as we speak with the Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba. Thank you for joining us.
TADATOSHI AKIBA: Thank you.