Two weeks ago, I returned from a truly unparalleled experience in Hiroshima, Japan. It was my second trip to Japan this year (I had embarked on a solo adventure to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo in January), but this particular time was a trip unlike any I have ever had before and probably ever will.
To my great surprise, I was selected as one of 15 international participants for the inaugural Hiroshima-ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) Academy on Nuclear Weapons and Global Security, a 10-day intensive for young professionals ages 25 and under. The Academy ran from July 30 through August 8 and included eight participants from nuclear-weapons states (e.g. USA, Russia, China, France, and England) and seven from non-nuclear-weapons states (e.g. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia). Throughout our 10 days in Hiroshima City, we heard testimonies by atom bomb survivors; learned about global trends on nuclear weapons and global security through exchanges with UN officials, diplomats, and NGO members (including members of ICAN and Peace Boat); and brainstormed concrete plans on how to engage young people in the realization toward a more peaceful world. Most humbling of all, we had the opportunity to participate in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6th and honor the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing.
How did this all come about? It all started back in May when the Academy’s application came across my Twitter feed. I had been following the ICAN organization for several months as I worked on my thesis, so when ICAN shared this opportunity online, I knew that I had to apply—not only to research for my novel, but to become the global citizen I want to be. And there’s really no greater opportunity than to engage in nuclear disarmament and peace education in one of the two cities to ever experience nuclear warfare. For the application, I wrote a 700-word essay which assessed the current situation on nuclear disarmament, the priority agenda for action, as well as my personal involvement and interest in nuclear issues. I’m quite proud of that essay, and still, I never expected to be selected.
The majority of the other participants—my brilliant new friends—were hardcore students in the nuclear policy field. In contrast, I came to the Academy as “the artist” whose goal was to learn as much as she could about the technical elements of nuclear policy and international law, and translate that information into meaningful articles and texts for the masses. As someone who is usually a vocal presence in the classroom, it was at first difficult for me to take a step back and realize that I was not an expert on this topic and THAT’S OKAY! I quickly learned that one of the greatest tasks I could do at the academy was to listen, record, and absorb.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned at the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy was that when it comes to the abolition of nuclear weapons, we need everyone to put the specific skills that they have to good use. I remembered what Sasamori-san told the audience at the University of Vermont Hibakusha Stories event in 2018. She said that we must do whatever we could to ensure that no one suffers as the people did—as she did—on August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945. Education is the first step: We must tell the stories of how nuclear weapons have affected people since 1945, provide information on the dangerous health effects of nuclear weapons, and explain why we should be extremely concerned that the Doomsday Clock is once again at two minutes before midnight. The humanitarian aspect of nuclear weapons is a key part of bringing awareness to the masses. In many ways, this humanitarian education is synonymous with storytelling.
I’ve already begun that work with my thesis, which attempts to reignite empathy and remembrance for the nuclear tragedies of the past. My hope is that, through my fiction, the curious will be inspired to read the personal accounts of the hibakusha and explore how you too can join in the movement for a peaceful world.
Be on the lookout for more blog posts coming soon, including specific highlights of the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy, a guide to the vocabulary of nuclear weapons, and supplemental books and films for continued education on the nuclear issue!