Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors Visit World Trade Center Site with Peaceful Tomorrows

This past winter, Peaceful Tomorrows was contacted by Steve Leeper, an American liaison for the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA). Steve grew up in Hiroshima (where his father was a Christian missionary) and lived in the city for 15 years; today, he lives in Atlanta, speaks fluent Japanese and runs a translation business. From Steve, we learned that HANWA is an umbrella organization that includes members of all the major organizations working for peace in Hiroshima. It was founded on March 20, 2001, in an effort to unify Hiroshima’s peace movement and facilitate peace actions on a scale larger than any of the groups could accomplish alone. The stated purpose of HANWA is to eliminate all nuclear weapons. The membership currently stands at approximately 400 people.

Steve was contacted by HANWA after Japanese television coverage brought the work of Peaceful Tomorrows to the group’s attention. HANWA recognized in Peaceful Tomorrows a group of like-minded individuals seeking alternatives to war, and honored us by requesting a meeting and joint speaking event as part of their 10-day visit to the United States, with stops in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Members of HANWA were joined on the trip by members of NANWA, the Nagasaki Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, which mirrors their goals.

HANWA’s mission derived from the sense of crisis being felt now in Hiroshima and Nagasaki regarding nuclear weapons, war, and the progressive militarization of the world. The mission included nine atomic bomb survivors who were willing to tell their stories in the effort to awaken all who listen to the very real horrors of nuclear weapons. It also included experienced Japanese peace activists, including former city officials, who have long supported the survivors and worked to promote peace consciousness in Japan. The goals of the mission were to:

1) Express outrage and horror with respect to America’s current nuclear policies

2) Beg American people and decision-makers to rethink these policies and move quickly and urgently to eliminate all nuclear weapons

3) Forge new links and working relationships with peace activists in the US such that the energy and resources of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be utilized where they are most needed.

On April 25, Peaceful Tomorrows members Barry Amundson, Kelly Campbell, Colleen Kelly, Rita Lasar, and David Potorti exchanged introductions with members the delegation at their New York hotel. As Japanese television crews and newspaper reporters watched, we told our personal stories of September 11, and were generously given gifts from the delegation, including small origami peace cranes. The following morning, David Potorti joined Mitsuo Okamoto, Co-Director of HANWA and a professor at Hiroshima Shudo University, in a radio appearance on WBAI’s ‘Wake-Up Call’ program. Later that day, Peaceful Tomorrows joined the Japanese delegation on the viewing platform at the World Trade Center site, where Reverend T. Kenjitus Nakagaki, head of the New York Buddhist Church, led us in silent meditation.

The delegation was then given a tour of Saint Paul’s Church, adjoining the viewing area, which has served as a food, rest and recovery center for WTC rescue crews since last fall. St. Paul’s is the oldest continuously operating church in the United States – George Washington visited there after his inauguration as president. While touring the equally-old cemetery on the church grounds, we looked up to see birds nests in trees, and were told that debris from the World Trade Center – papers, a piece of a Venetian blind – had been used by the birds to make them.

Just outside of St. Paul’s, the group gathered to make public statements about their missions, unveiling a banner reading, ‘No Terrorism! No War! No Nukes!’ Peaceful Tomorrows members expressed their appreciation by giving members of the delegation small pewter hearts, as well as buttons, created by the American Friends Service Committee, showing the World Trade Center towers as the vertical element of a ‘peace’ sign. We received more peace cranes–in the form of long, colorful paper cascades–made by students in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We wore them draped over our shoulders as we walked just north of the World Trade Center site to take in another view: four towers, with ornamental domes on their roofs made up of open metal wire, which duplicated almost exactly the top of the single remaining building in Hiroshima following the August 6, 1945 bombing. This synchronicity was immediately apparent to all of the delegation’s members.

That evening, the delegation traveled to the Buddhist Church of New York (103rd Street and Riverside Drive) for an interfaith prayer offering and spoken testimony by members of Peaceful Tomorrows and their Japanese compatriots. The service took place in front of the statue of Shinan at the church’s entrance, the only statue in Hiroshima to survive the bombing, which in another remarkable bit of synchronicity was installed in New York in a ceremony held on September 11, 1955. Remarks were offered by Reverend Nakagaki as well as representatives of three faiths: Tiokasin Veaux (Native American), The Very Reverend James P. Morton (Christianity), and Imam Muhammad Hatim (Islam). Then, Peaceful Tomorrows accepted oleander tree seedlings from Hiroshima–the first vegetation to grow in that city following the bombing– on behalf of all of the victims of September 11. To the Japanese, the plant symbolizes hope, renewal and new life. They are currently alive and well at the Bronx Greenhouse, and we hope that some day they will figure into plan for a World Trade Center Memorial.

Members of the delegation, as well as members of the public, entered the church, each member ringing a gong as they entered. Members of the Japanese delegation joined members of Peaceful Tomorrows in bearing witness to their days of tragedy and loss.

Hidenori Yamaoka recalled being orphaned by the bombing, and having to move tothe already-crowded home of family friends who had children of their own. The children bullied him and resented his presence. This painful childhood situation was the prism through which he remembered the bombing, and was the cause of his hatred of the United States for thirty years. Others spoke of the horror of being one of the few living people in a sea of corpses following the bombing of Nagasaki. One woman’s sister was not killed by the bombing, but her wounds were so excruciatingly painful that she committed suicide days later. She recalled having to eat grass to survive, as well as her happiness at finding an abundance of lucky four-leaf clovers. She learned later that their presence was a result of radiation mutation.

Colleen Kelly, who lost her brother, Bill, at the World Trade Center, remembered the smoke and ash-filled air that New Yorkers breathed following the collapse of the towers, poignantly realizing that she was, in fact, breathing in the remains of her brother and the other victims. David Potorti spoke about his father–a Marine veteran of World War II who was preparing to invade Japan at the time the bombs were dropped–and pondered the remarkable connections shared by Peaceful Tomorrows and the Japanese delegation. After a short reception at the church, members of the delegation returned to their hotel. The next morning, they continued their mission with a visit to Washington, DC, and then on to Atlanta, conducting lobbying, public speaking and education along the way. They returned to Japan on May 4.

In an email, Mitsuo Okamoto reported that a press conference following the mission’s return was televised widely in Japan, and both local and national newspapers ran coverage. In particular, he added, the joint New York events featuring HANWA and Peaceful Tomorrows, “caught maximum and favorable attention of the media.”

We acknowledge the groundwork and preparation so ably done by Steve Leeper and Colleen Kelly. For the members of Peaceful Tomorrows, it is difficult to put into words how deeply moved and tremendously grateful we were for the delegationÌs visit; for their generosity of spirit towards us, and by extension, for all the victims and family members of September 11; for their fellowship with our organization; and for their insistence that life is both precious and persistent. And we continue to support their mission, which is shared by Japanese peace groups, as well as other peace groups all over the world: “to ring alarm over the possible use of nuclear weapons.

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