Tadatoshi Akiba remembers sitting in American history class as an AFS exchange student learning about World War II and the decision to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Akiba listened to his classmates, friends and even the teacher talk about the event as a “natural, inevitable outcome” after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the event that drew the United States into the war.
“They talked about how this rectified (Japan’s) past actions and that this was a sense of justice,” he said. “I felt like my classmates needed to know the tragic fate of the survivors. That this was inhumane because of the things these people now have to go through.”
That experience helped to shape Akiba’s future goals of creating a nuclear-weapon free world and helped lead his advocacy of the hibakusha, a term used to describe the surviving victims of the atomic bombings in the two Japanese cities.
Akiba is the recipient of the 19th annual International Peace Award and was recognized Friday at the Community of Christ Temple. The award is the main event of the Community of Christ’s annual Peace Colloquy, which ends Sunday. This year’s theme is “Peacemaking: Engaging Nuclear Questions.” The International Peace Award has been given since 1993 and ranks among the highest of non-governmental international and U.S. peace awards. It includes a $20,000 grant, sponsored by Bank of America, to be donated to the charitable peace, justice or environmental organization of the recipient’s choice. Akiba has chosen to donate the grant to Hiroshima University in Hiroshima, Japan, for ongoing education, research and contribution to society in its pursuit of peace.
“We hope somehow to be a blessing and encouragement to you as you continue your work,” said Stephen Veazey, president of the Community of Christ. “You are certainly a blessing and encouragement to us by offering the world an alternative vision that is a great inspiration for peace building.”
Akiba, an advocate for global nuclear disarmament, is a professor by special appointment at Hiroshima University and serves as the national chair for AFS Intercultural Programs in Japan. He also served for three terms as mayor of Hiroshima, was in the Japanese House of Representatives and served as president of Mayors for Peace. He started the Hibakusha Travel Grant Program in an effort to make sure that no one forgets the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The program brings international journalists to Japan to listen to survivors' stories.
President Harry S. Truman, from Independence, ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs, the only use of nuclear weapons in war.
“You are the last generation that will be able to listen to the hibakusha stories first hand. That carries with it a special responsibility,” Akiba said. “It is hard to understand that struggle between life and death as they lay in the rubble and ruin. But many of these people chose life. Their determination to tell their story to the world, to use nuclear weapons would be to doom the human race, is important. We owe our futures and our children’s futures to them.”
Page 2 of 2 - The atomic bombs killed as many as 250,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki within the first two months. Akiba said the average life span of a survivor is about 78. Emiko Okado, a survivor of the 1945 bombings, will be a keynote speaker later this weekend. The speech is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Community of Christ Temple and is open to the public.
“They have rejected the path of revenge and animosity,” Akiba said. “They have chosen the path of trust, justice and faith in all human kind. They have done this in order to create a future of hope.”