This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

January 2001 - Issue No. #41 (p. 16-18)

Working for a Nuclear Free World by John Small

by John Small

Nagasaki Junior College of Foreign Languages, Japan

My Initial Nuclear Weapons Education

When I first came to Nagasaki a few years ago, I had a conversation with a Japanese woman about nuclear weapons. She told of her efforts to inform people of their danger and convince governments to abolish them. I said "Yes, I agree, but aren't bullets and handguns equally heinous?"

I haven't lost my extreme distaste for handguns and wars in general but, like her, I now see the unique problems that nuclear weapons pose. To be honest, I'd also been a little lazy about the issue: it's difficult to become well informed about every problem that besets the world. On the surface, the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction seems logical and potentially effective. And, "How can we trust them?" seems an unanswerable dilemma as long as individuals and governments cling to their need for national identity.

Given the attitude of the governments of nuclear states, the abolition of nuclear weapons in the face of these arguments seems a pipe dream. Yet, listening to individuals like the woman mentioned made me take notice: I feel a responsibility, as a teacher, to understand these issues as deeply as possible. Also, a few fortuitous meetings brought information to my fingertips, deepening and changing my thinking.

First, I became house-mates with a New Zealand couple who, like most of their fellow citizens, are strongly anti-nuclear. Then, I became friends with a student who feels quite passionate about the issue. He loaned me the book The Gift of Time by Jonathan Schell. The book is far from raving anti-nuclear rhetoric; rather it's a primer for the nuclear question and the logic behind abolition. The book largely consists of quotes and explanations from high level individuals -- Robert McNamara, (U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Cold War), Joseph Rotblat (who worked on the Manhattan Project), Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-generals, etc. -- who see the flaws in the argument that nukes are needed for deterrence. The Gift of Time notes that countries have thus far only looked at vertical disarmament - reducing the number of warheads. Horizontal disarmament -- de-alerting nukes, separating warheads from delivery vehicles, etc. -- is a slightly different way of reducing the danger of a nuclear holocaust. "As long as deterrence (by nukes) remains military dogma, abolition is impossible," Schell explains. The book is not only informative, but balanced in that it explains the arguments for nuclear weapons, and goes on to convincingly point out how these arguments are flawed. As the title implies, Schell implores the world to take note that this post cold war era provides the world a chance to find a solution for the problem of nuclear weapons.

The International NGO Conference

My education about nuclear weapons continued the weekend of November 18-19, 2000 when international NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) gathered in Nagasaki for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The arguments ranged from the passionate to the logical, and a range of approaches for solving the nuclear problem was offered. For me, the most inspirational example was that of New Zealand. The speaker explained that 20 years ago New Zealand was not particularly anti-nuclear. Then, through publicity and education by small but vocal groups, public sentiment and eventually government policy began to change against nuclear weapons.

The galvanizing incident was when the French government sank the anti-nuclear Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, killing a crew member in the process. New Zealand decided to stand up for itself. Despite bullying by the United States, the N.Z. government has demanded that U.S. Navy ships either confirm or deny that they are nuclear. Since the U.S. refuses to do so, no American ships are allowed to enter. This has caused diplomatic problems for New Zealand and its allies. New Zealand, unlike most countries, is willing to stand by its convictions despite the problems this causes.

At the NGO Conference, there were also moving photographs documenting the nature of nuclear weapons. Several showed diseased people who lived near a nuclear test site in Russia. Another showed a man born retarded because he was in-utero when the Hiroshima bomb dropped. An A-bomb disease forced doctors to amputate his arm, but the man still smiled cheerfully. A subsequent photo showed him much sicker, in bed, with a gruesome growth on his head. Despite his suffering, his will was undaunted. "I want to live," the photo's caption states. He died a month later.

I think a person can take a strong anti-nuclear stand without addressing the complicated question of whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified or who was truly to blame. I'm comfortable to simply join the rallying cry to assure that Nagasaki is the last city ever bombed by a nuclear weapon. For this, the Olympic torch has been moved from its home in Greece to the Nagasaki Peace Park. How can this lofty goal be accomplished?

Abolition 2000

The group Abolition 2000 is dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Abolition 2000 is actually a network of organizations all working for the same cause: a stable peace through the phasing out and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. To this end, 1,450 citizen groups in 91 countries have supported a proposal for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons. Abolition 2000 is five years old and targeted the year 2000 in hopes that that would be the year countries could reach an agreement. Momentum is gathering as people all over the world unite for this unprecedented movement. The group's six reasons for abolishing nuclear weapons are:

  1. Nuclear weapons endanger civilization and the existence of life on earth.
  2. Nuclear weapons are immoral by any spiritual reckoning.
  3. Nuclear weapons are a drain on resources.
  4. Nuclear weapons are illegal and their use would be a war crime against humanity.
  5. Nuclear weapons are anti-democratic, concentrating power in the hands of a small number of people.
  6. Continued research, testing, maintenance and production of nuclear weapons pollutes the environment and threatens our health and that of our children, our grandchildren and all future generations.

Each argument alone is enough to convince me to join the anti-nuclear cause. When I consider (5), for example, I feel deep frustration. How many people can feel comfortable knowing that the power to destroy the whole world is in the hands of the U.S. president--be it Clinton, Bush or Gore--and a few of his advisors? I find that not only frightening, but outrageous.

Abolition 2000 believes it's essential to gain the support of every possible individual. The example of New Zealand shows that the collective opinion of individuals does matter and can change a government's policy.

One Abolition 2000 organization, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, publishes an impressive journal, Waging Peace Worldwide, that gives updates on nuclear and peace-related issues. They offer a number of resources including Sunflower Seeds of Peace--actual sunflower seeds for sowing and nurturing; t-shirts; videos and back issues of the journal that focus on particular themes. They can be contacted through the Abolition 2000 address below.

I have never been stopped in the street by people collecting funds for nuclear weapons. Because this has been well taken care of by governments. But I have seen many collections for children.

- Peter Ustinov

In Japan, for obvious reasons, the nuclear issue is particularly sensitive. If there's one completely consistent and strong opinion I hear from my students it's their hatred of nuclear weapons and of war. I sense true conviction in their words, rather than parroting what teachers have told them. They say--in most ways rightfully--that Japan is a peaceful, nuclear free country. I think, however, they'd be disturbed if they stopped to consider that their government gives tacit approval to nuclear weapons. The Japanese government accepts the premise that they are under protection of the nuclear umbrella of the United States and its allies. The Peace Depot Newsletter explains that Japan, through its support of the U.S., in fact relies on nuclear weapons. Japan has lost the moral authority to condemn India and Pakistan--who have recently tested their own nuclear weapons--by insisting on the necessity of nukes for Japan's national security. The newsletter proposes a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, which is a reality in Australasia and South America. The Peace Depot Newsletter, in English, is very useful for teachers to understand the present situation in Japan.

Teaching about the Nuclear Issue

What can language teachers do? I introduced this theme to my Current Topics students even though it was very challenging for them. Throughout our readings and discussions, I tried to present both sides of the issue fairly and let them decide for themselves. I invited them to speak and write Japanese as needed - not my usual policy.

First, I gave them an informal quiz about the nuclear bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. Some students shared about relatives or family friends that survived the blast (these survivors are known as hibakusha). However, the degree to which this horrible incident hadn't been discussed at home surprised me.

The next class, a guest came as an anti-nuclear activist; I role played the pro-nuclear position. Later, students commented on which they agreed with. Then, they wrote letters to the U.S. president explaining their feelings about the issue. They wrote the first draft in Japanese, then, with some help, translated to English and rewrote. I'll send the letters to the new U.S. president and plan to return to this issue as I now have information more relevant to Japan.

At the NGO conference I received a six- page account, in English, of a survivor's story. The woman, Tami Tashima, tells her story of when the bomb struck, the injuries she sustained and how she was saved. Her sister describes her, "She (Tashima) looked miserably pitiful. Her hair was disheveled, her face burned black and inflamed, and her eyes and nose were not distinct as if they had converged...So miserable was her appearance that I could hardly look at her. Even now after 26 years as I write...I can't keep back my tears." This text could be read by students, perhaps after some shortening or simplifying.

Teachers can circulate the Abolition 2000 International Petition, available from the address below. Students might also be asked to prepare short presentations about their trips to the Nagasaki or Hiroshima Peace Museums or Peace Parks. Simply sharing materials in Japanese is another option for a Current Topics classes. As one speaker at the NGO conference noted, the world will be free of nuclear weapons when every person dares to imagine that it is a true, realizable dream.

Nuclear Issues: Reference Books

John Small, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, 3-8-1 Harumi-cho, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo 183-0057
E-mail: * Website:


Please note that the most recent issues of the newsletter are available to subscribers only. Please check our subcription page at for more details about subscribing.

You can search the site by using the above tabs or click on the links below.

Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650