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Peace and Planet: The Wind and Rain of Nuclear Weapons Abolition

For Bikini Day, commemorating hydrogen-bomb testing in 1954, Gerson sets the stage for a April 26 NYC rally.

Wrecked framework of the Museum of Science and Industry in Hiroshima, Japan, shortly after the dropping of an atomic bomb on August 6th, 1945. (Photo: Everett Historical /

In this address commemorating Bikini Day, March 1, 1954, the author lays out the strategy that will lead to the Peace and Planet Mobilization for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World, to be held April 26 in New York, on the eve and first days of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

Bikini Day Commemoration – Japan Council Against A- & H-Bombs (Gensuikyo)

The 70th anniversary of the still-indescribable and unaccounted for crimes of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombings, and the 61st anniversary of the Bikini H-bomb test – 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs – provide opportunities for reflection. Equally important, they encourage us to redouble our commitments to eliminate these abominable weapons whose detonation – intentional or accidental – would inflict hell in its many forms and could end all life as we know it. This is a time to mourn the Bravo H-bomb’s victims, and to rededicate ourselves to life and to human survival.

For three decades it has been my unique privilege to return to Shizuoka, Yaizu City, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo to make my small contributions to the Japanese and international movements for nuclear weapons abolition. I have learned from you in ways that have helped to build consciousness and the antinuclear, peace justice and freedom movements in the United States.

Here in Japan, I have been touched by the extraordinary courage and steadfastness of people like Oishi Mataschchi, who survived Bravo; Watanabe Chieko, Yamaguchi Senji, Tainaguchi Sumiteru, and Hibakusha [A-bomb survivors] like my good friend Kayashige Junko. I’ve also learned from the steadfastness of the Japanese nuclear abolitionists, anti-bases and peace activists, making your courage and steadfastness my own. So, as I begin, may I greet you with a most profound Arigatou gozaimasu [Thank you].

We face renewed nuclear arms races among all of the world’s nuclear powers, and most dangerously, renewed US-Russian tensions – including the exercising of their nuclear arsenals in the struggle over Ukraine’s future, a conflict instigated by NATO and European Union expansion.

I have painful words to speak today, so let me begin by honoring some of our victories. They remind us that people’s movements can and do prevail. With the help of the Japanese peace movement and international allies, Hibakusha, who feared to show their faces, have become a powerful force in the world, speaking in the halls of the United Nations, from the podium in the UN General Assembly and being repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Our movement halted the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, whose fallout poisoned down-winders near and far, even thousands of miles away. In the 1980s, our movements forced what we now know was a temporary freeze in the US-Soviet arms race that had brought human survival within a hair’s breadth of extinction. That movement played a major role in ending the Cold War. And in Kobe, Boston, New York, San Francisco and other cities, we prevented our harbors from being transformed into nuclear weapons bases. Since then, we have changed the international debate and discourse from politically safe but potentially omnicidal arms control to focus on the ifs, hows and whens of completely eliminating the world’s nuclear weapons.

Friends, we again find ourselves living and struggling in perilous times. Warning of the increasingly imminent dangers of nuclear war and climate change, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight. We face renewed nuclear arms races among all of the world’s nuclear powers, and most dangerously, renewed US-Russian tensions – including the exercising of their nuclear arsenals in the struggle over Ukraine’s future, a conflict instigated by NATO and European Union expansion. And recent studies demonstrate that a relatively small nuclear exchange of 50 to 100 nuclear weapons, say in a war between India and Pakistan, could result in global cooling, famine and the deaths of up to 2 billion people across the Northern Hemisphere.

Against the massive, evil and seemingly unresponsive power of our so-called national security states, and here I include the Abe government as well as the nuclear powers, what is the ultimate source of our hope? Certainly, the vision of a nuclear weapons- and bases-free world, which we know is possible and which can serve as a foundation of true human security. Certainly, the history of our victories. And certainly, people’s instinctual drive for our species’ survival.

I take hope from our movements’ victories, including those of the Civil Rights- and Vietnam-era peace movements. And over the decades, I have come to more fully understand the truth of an Italian antifascist novel I read as a high school student. In Bread and Wine, Ignazio Silone wrote:

In the Land of Propaganda . . . a man, any man, any little man who goes on thinking with his own head, imperils the public order . . . it is enough for one little man to say ‘No! to murmur ‘No!’ in his neighbor’s ear, or write ‘No!’ on the wall at night and public order is endangered.

And if they catch him and kill him . . .

Killing a man who says ‘No!’ is a risky business . . . because even a corpse can go on whispering “No! No! No! with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of. And how can you silence a corpse?

Think of the power of Koboyama Aikichi’s, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru’s radioman, words that reverberate to this day across Japan and the world: “May I be the last victim of nuclear weapons.” Or those of Watanabe Chieko, Yamaguchi Senji, and so many other Hibakusha, whose vision, courage and contributions have been beacons to a nuclear-free future.

Friends, in a recent statement written by Jayantha Dhanapala, the president of the 1995 NPT Review Conference, and Sergio Duarte, the former UN High Commissioner for Disarmament, they warn that many nations “are concerned with the growing risks to the integrity and credibility of the [NPT – Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] Treaty.” They warn that this “lynchpin of international peace and security,” which requires good faith negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, is now under “a great shadow” with some of the nuclear powers disavowing the 13 steps agreed to during the 2000 Review conference, with the failure to implement the 64 steps of the 2010 Action Plan, and especially with the “lack of decisive progress on the implementation of the 2010 recommendations on the Middle East, as well as deterioration in the international situation.”

All of these realities point to the seminal importance of our having as powerful an impact on April’s NPT Review Conference as we can and to using the occasion as a unique opportunity to build our movements for nuclear weapons abolition.

They have reason for concern. Confronted by NATO’s expansion to its borders and its conventional and high-tech weapons inferiority, Putin’s Russia relies increasingly on its nuclear arsenal. Despite the recent reaffirmation of the Obama administration’s commitment to work for a nuclear weapons-free world, the US is on track to spend at least a trillion dollars – a million millions – over the next 30 years to modernize its omnicidal nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. Tensions in East Asia are among the most likely triggers for 21st century great power war. And who among us has complete confidence that India-Pakistani tensions, Israeli arrogance, and terrorist threats will be contained. As Eric Schlosser reports, there have been so many nuclear weapons accidents that our survival is more a result of luck than of considered policy decisions.

All of these realities point to the seminal importance of our having as powerful an impact on April’s NPT Review Conference as we can, and to using the occasion as a unique opportunity to build our movements for nuclear weapons abolition, for peace, justice and environmental sustainability for the longer term.

It is critically important that inside and outside the halls of power, we make our demands in inspiring ways that communicate our vision and commitment; engage diplomats, ordinary citizens and the world’s press; and carry the world’s hopes and expectations for a nuclear free world with our millions of petition signatures and omnipresence.

Friends, as Japanese society struggles with the legacies of its Fifteen Year War, now 70 years past, in the United States we are still in the midst of what is now our Fourteen Year War, begun with the Bush and Cheney exploitation of the murderous crimes of September 11, 2001. The US movement has grown older. Not unlike George Orwell’s 1984, we now have a younger generation who have known – and often ignored – war on the empire’s periphery for all of their conscious lives. For many of them, war and the existence of nuclear weapons are as constant and natural as the ocean’s tides and the turning of the seasons.

This helps to explain why we are also using what we call the Peace and Planet mobilization for the NPT Review Conference to build new foundations and to create new vitality for our movement. New movement formations have been created at the state and national levels, older networks are being revitalized, and with our inspired social media Fact Countdown – using Facebook and Twitter technologies that I’ll confess not to fully understand – we are reaching and engaging the rising generation, without whose energies we cannot prevail. To broaden and to increase our collective power, we are working to create more issue-integrated movements, engaging and joining with economic, social and racial justice activists and those committed to reversing climate change.

I wish that all of you could join our actions, which will include the International Peace & Planet Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World at the historic Cooper Union in New York. Our speakers will engage us from podiums once used by the former slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglas, President Lincoln, and others who have played critical roles in the struggles for human security and justice.

We’ll be rallying and marching – with Hibakusha in the lead – to the United Nations, where our millions of petitions will be presented. Religious leaders will hold an interfaith service for nuclear weapons abolition. We will launch a global peace wave for nuclear weapons abolition that will move from time zone to time zone around the world. There will be presentations and demonstrations at the sites of the nuclear powers’ delegations to the United Nations, and lobbying inside the UN Many members of Gensuikyo’s delegation will be hosted in communities from Boston to San Francisco, where you will meet, inspire and encourage our grassroots activists and local organizations.

Friends, it is heartening to know that our efforts are already having their impacts. When I spoke with a political officer in UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane’s office a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the Hibakusha Tainiguchi Sumeteru and Thurlow Setsuko will be honored and speaking at the beginning of our conference. The officer responded almost immediately that she knew that they have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Our analyses, actions and commitments are already reverberating in the halls of power.

In our organizing, we are also looking beyond the NPT Review, to our struggles which we know must be longer-term. All of the organizing, petition circulating, educational forums, media interviews and articles, social media campaigns, conversations and network building needed to impact the NPT Review Conference, will also forge our relationships, skills, local and international organizations for the future. And, as has been the case since the petition campaign that followed the Bikini H-Bomb and the first World Conference against A- & H-Bombs, Gensuikyo will serve as a beacon and driving force for the creation of a nuclear-weapons free world.

Let me conclude by serving as a small bridge from one abolitionist movement to another. When he played his major political and inspirational roles in building the abolitionist movement that ended slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglas taught that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” He also taught that “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

Friends, on to New York and to the nuclear-free world that we and all future generations deserve!

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