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Q&A: “I Feel Duty-Bound to Push for a Nuclear-Free World”

Anna Shen interviews TADATOSHI AKIBA, Mayor of Hiroshima

UNITED NATIONS, May 6 2010 (IPS) - Emerging from a U.N. conference addressing the role that the world’s mayors can play on nuclear issues, Hiroshima’s Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba continues to call for a rapid end to nuclear weapons.

Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba Credit: Courtesy of Mayor's Office

Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba Credit: Courtesy of Mayor's Office

He juggles his roles running a city 65 years after nuclear holocaust, and another as president of Mayors for Peace, which counts almost 4,000 cities around the world.

Akiba spoke to IPS correspondent Anna Shen about Hiroshima’s development, his personal duty on the nuclear issue, and the ongoing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review taking place this month at the U.N.

Q: Hiroshima is completely modern and rebuilt. Can you tell me how the city was formed after the bombing? A: Those who came as part of the occupation army were really good city planners. And the city plan reflects the frontier at the time of urban planning, and for instance they brought Kenzo Tange to create the Peace Park.

But there were historical factors, because the destruction was so complete and many citizens had to continue living, and burial rituals were not followed. So all over the city there were people in a sense walking over corpses and that kind of consideration made city planning more delicate.

For example, there was a flower shop and many people died near there. So there is a memorial there. There are thousands of memorials all over the city. For people to build a beautiful city is to create sacredness.

Q: Can you tell us about the Hibakusha, the surviving victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? A: The Hibakusha have to live their pain and suffering when they tell their stories to the outside world. And there are many who cannot tell their stories, as so many who are victims of war and tragedies cannot, and many are lucky enough to have told their stories.

There was one man, Mr. Tanabe, who never told his stories until he became 60 years old, which is the time of renewal of a cycle in Japan. His parents died and his aunt and uncle brought him up. He did not want to cause any emotional trouble to them. How could he bear to go through all those years and have no feelings of retaliation or remorse? All he wanted to do was create a film of the stories of those who used to live in that area and show them what the atom bomb destroyed and how precious those lives were and that it should never happen again.

Q: How do you see your role as a mayor? A: As mayors we have to be the (people’s) voices wherever we can and talk to the government so that they will listen to the voices and when we come to the U.N. to talk so others can understand the experiences.

One thing that proved the point was that two weeks ago, we had the 28th plenary meeting of the InterAction Council, which consists of former heads of states and government. Members came to Hiroshima, including Malcolm Fraser, former prime minister of Australia.

After seeing the museum and talking to survivors, they really understood what it means to suffer from nuclear weapons and there was a sense of urgency gained there that compelled them to recommend that all heads of states should come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were so moved by their visits. These are not ordinary people, these are those who are sympathetic and humanitarian statesmen, and coming to Hiroshima gave them this great impact.

I really invite all the heads of nuclear weapons states to come to Hiroshima this year on the 65th anniversary of the bombing.

The role of the mayor is to represent the Hibakusha and to have a nuclear-free world and they would like to see it with their own eyes, so that they can tell the deceased when they get there that, “Your death was not in vain. There is a nuclear-free world.” I feel duty-bound to make their wish come true.

Q: What do you want to see come out of this Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review? A: This is a great opportunity to mobilise world public opinion and to use it for humanity. Several of the opening statements reflected much of what Mayors for Peace has been trying to accomplish.

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