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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Global Article 9: US Military Buildup in Costa Rica Violates Its Peace Constitution

Global A9 - newsletter 31 (Aug. 31, 2010):
US MILITARY BUILDUP IN COSTA RICA VIOLATES ITS PEACE CONSTITUTION

On July 1, 2010, Costa Rica's legislative assembly granted permission to US warships and military personnel to enter the country in the name of the war on drugs in the region.

The permission is based on a "Cooperation Agreement" between the two countries that expired in October 2009 and authorized US maritime patrols in Costa Rican waters to stop drugs from Panama and Colombia from going north - not the entry of US warships and military personnel onto Costa Rican soil.

Critics have qualified the decision as illegal, as Article 12 of the 1949 Costa Rican Constitution states that "military forces may only be organized under a continental agreement or for the national defense; in either case, they shall always be subordinate to the civil power: they may not deliberate or make statements or representations individually or collectively."

Opposition deputies have announced they will appeal the decision with the Constitutional Court. "The fundamental values of the Costa Rican State are stake, the core values that have distinguished this country- a country of peace, which rejects militarism, where we have a declaration of perpetual neutrality regarding conflicts of war in other countries and now we want to become complicit in a strategy of militarization is taking place in Latin America," said parliamentary leader José María Villalta. According to opposition deputy Luis Fishman, "we cannot support an illegal act, we won't allow the Constitution to be broken."

Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949 and since then has had no national military forces. Recently, the Supreme Court of Justice recognized a Right to Peace that imposes obligations on the State, notably prohibiting any war-related activities, such as the entry of goods and services intended to be used in war.

The move is part of a general US military buildup in Latin America, essentially justified on the grounds of combating drug trafficking. Though the agreement allows US military presence in Costa Rica until December 2010, observers expect it will not end at the end of the year.

US for Okinawa: Eco-Hype event at Favela in Aoyama, Tokyo

From Emilie McGlone and Jonathan Yamauchi of US for Okinawa:

みなさん、

こんにちは!US for OKINAWAのイベントをお知らせします!今回のイベントは音楽&アートイベントで、沖縄ピースプロジェクトのためにやっています!

時間があればぜひさんかしてください!

Hello Everyone,

We are sending you information about the next US for OKINAWA event!

We are now fundraising for our Okinawa Peace Project coming up soon in September! Please join us if you can and invite your friends !

■9/12 Eco Hype event at Favela in Aoyama
■9/22〜26 Okinawa Peace Project, Study Program

9.12 (SUN) ECHO HYPE

Sunday afternoon party at Favela in Aoyama
地図: http://www.favela.jp

DJs

Ryo Tsutsui (Eden / Weekend Warriorz )
Sho-hey (Octagon)
Sam Fitzgerald (P4P)
Bosh (Dial )
DJ Maada
Raha (Ooooze)

+ Live Art & Free Organic food

*Party from 16:00 ~ 24:00 / 2000 yen
*Discount list 1500 yen / email: parties4peace@gmail.com

INFO: http://www.parties4peace.com

Steven Leeper: "We must graduate from a culture of war & violence into a culture of cooperation"



From Hiroshima, an epi-center of the global nuclear abolition movement — insights from Steven Leeper, chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Foundation dialoguing at "“Mr. Truman Meets Hiroshima on the Future of Nuclear Weapons, 1944-2020" — a cross-Pacific dialogue with scholars at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri last night:
We need to get this awareness into our consciousness. That is the key...that we want to be liberated from the threat of nuclear annihilation...

Recently India and North Korea were the only two nations that expressed a desire to keep nuclear weapons in a United Nations conference last year.

How can the voices of ordinary people help to change?

Energizing at the global grassroots level...this is the key right now.

There's something called the "nuclear trance." Our culture has trained us to feel nuclear weapons are a fact of life...

But nuclear abolitionists are not a fringe group. We're the vast majority of people on this planet...

Only a very small group of people are trying to maintain nuclear weapons, but they're very powerful because of their money...

We must graduate from a culture of war and violence into a culture of cooperation.

And we must say we will have a peaceful, sustainable world..

Mayors for Peace are developing this culture at the city level...

How can we apply pressure on our governments to make nuclear abolition happen.

The key is to work on this together. We are being tested on the extent that human beings can start cooperating for survival.

Nuclear weapons are the first test. If we don't pass this one, we won't go on to the next ones.

We must work for the banning, stigmatizing of nuclear weapons.

This involves advancing human consciousness and moving from a war culture to the peace culture that Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King talked about.

Maybe humans can't become nonviolent completely. But we have to become nuclear-nonviolent.
A video replay is available soon at this link.

-- Jean Downey (the transcription of remarks is a loose version from handwritten notes taken during the dialogue)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ralph Nader's tribute to consumer movement advocate Katsuko Nomura

Katsuko Nomura, a pioneer in Japan's NGO and consumer movements, helped establish Consumer's Union of Japan and the Information Center for Public Citizens.

According to the World People's Blog, during a visit to the US in 1970, Katsuko was influenced by American consumer advocate Ralph Nader:
From him, she learned the need for a consumers’ movement operating on both macro and global scales. Consequently, in 1975, she founded the Overseas Citizens’ Activities Information Center to provide information about citizens and consumers movements overseas, and to encourage her constituents to see and understand the connections between their own struggles and those of others globally.

Although she advocated for Japanese consumers’ rights, Katsuko also recognized the contradiction of their position in the world when she became very aware of Japan’s relationship to the Third World. She, therefore, advocated strongly against what Ralph Nader terms ‘violence of complicity’ and ‘violence of silence’.

She wrote: “What is lacking most in Japan’s consumer movement is a consciousness of the possibility of consumers being victims within Japan while being victimizers of the Third World”.
The American consumer champion wrote this wonderful tribute to his Japanese counterpart:
"Katsuko Nomura: Consumer Champion"

by Ralph Nader

Katsuko Nomura—a builder of consumer, labor, cooperative and women’s rights groups for over 55 years in Japan—passed away this month at the age of 99. She was one of the most remarkable civic leaders anywhere in the world. With her range of activities, she could be called a world citizen.

To recognize her indomitable spirit and humanity, one has to understand the conditions with which she had to contend. Born in 1910 in Kyoto, she lost her husband and many relatives and friends during World War II. By August 1945, her country was reduced to rubble. Destitution, hunger, homelessness, inflation were daily experiences.

Mrs. Nomura witnessed crises everywhere, but she also saw vast opportunities for building a just and democratic society. This was no small feat in a male-dominated society under U.S. military occupation.

She started her dynamic career building consumer cooperatives—a banding together that then was critical for families facing drastic shortages of life’s necessities. She took her experience and legislative success with the Cooperative League of Japan to become a founder of the Japan Housewives’ Association whose mass boycotts and marches challenged Japanese companies accustomed to very little government regulation.

During these struggles, she forged a unitary approach to those kept powerless in the economy—organizing consumers, workers and small businesses around their common interests. She became a strong voice, especially for women, in the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan and helped found the Consumers’ Union of Japan, which she directed for over a decade.

All these formal associations cannot do credit to watching her in action. Well into her eighties, she aroused audiences of younger Japanese activists and prodded them to raise expectations for themselves as change-agents. She was often the toughest person at any gathering.

A devourer of information, a prodigious translator into Japanese of what U.S. consumer groups were reporting and doing, she fought for economic, health and safety advances in Japan by publicizing better practices she discovered in other countries.

Neither U.S. food exports to Japan of dubious safety nor the injustices inflicted on less developed countries by Japanese multinationals escaped her pointed criticism and agendas for action.

Of course, the mix of political, economic and cultural factors are quire different in Japan as compared with the U.S., where citizen and labor groups focus heavily on regulatory and judicial tools to achieve their goals. In Japan, more nuanced informal pressures, demands and shame can be used, though the country is moving toward more reliance on agencies and courts.

In 1990, with considerably less than half the population of the U.S., there were 31 national consumer organizations with a combined membership of over eleven million people and 1,267 consumer cooperatives serving roughly 35 million Japanese. Today, with over 300 million people, the comparative U.S. membership figures may not reach that level.

On the occasion of the celebration of Mrs. Nomura’s 88th birthday, I wrote the following words:

“An ancient Greek philosopher said that ‘character is destiny.’ Mrs. Nomura’s life of dedication to the pursuit of justice, to the building of a deeper democracy reflects her many skills but above all her character.

“Her character is a finely textured collection of traits, beyond honesty, which are attentive to the many obstacles, problems and power centers which she and her associates have had to confront. She is always focused on the ultimate objectives while paying close scrutiny to the many paths that must be traveled to reach these objectives. She transcends discouragement and fatigue. She deploys a limitless ability to absorb information, to digest it into many strands for distribution to others. She needs no motivation because she possesses a public philosophy that has given her the Motivator’s role.

“This public philosophy produces a consistency over the years—so much so that she is still the most concrete, grass roots organizer among citizen activists half her age or less. She sees through politicians or anyone who displays insincerity, deception or superficial rhetoric.”

She was nominated as one of “1000 women” for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. But Mrs. Nomura was never interested in honors and resolutions, not to mention endless meetings without action, bureaucratic pomposity or make-work. She always had her focus on results, on helping those in need confront the abuses of the corporate powers.

In her later years, she wanted to write an autobiography. But in failing health, she used her time fighting for rights instead of writing her own story so that future generations could stand on her shoulders and spirit, moving forward.

Perhaps, her friends and admirers can produce a biography and a documentary on her life—one that teaches so well the wisdom of the Chinese saying that “to know and not to do is not to know.”

As she advanced in years, Mrs. Nomura would call herself “an old woman” followed by a short, wistful laugh. It was as if she regretted not having more time to put more forces into motion.

Such regret was not unfounded. A wise person once said that “the only true aging is the erosion of one’s ideals.” Mrs. Nomura was always the most curious, creative and youngest of leaders in this respect, making the most out of small budgets.

May her legacy be a source of self-renewing energy for many seekers of justice in this tormented world of ours. For she was the essence of resilient self-renewal.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What was left unsaid at the atomic bombings commemoration at Hiroshima this year...

Japan Focus has posted Yoshibumi Wakamiya's "What was left unsaid about the atomic bombings: silence and the politics of commemoration" which explores uncomfortable, painful issues left unspoken at the atomic bombings commemoration in Hiroshima this year.

Today, at her Peace Philosophy Center blog, Satoko Norimatsu questions why UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon did not mention a Nuclear Weapons Convention when he spoke in Hiroshima:
I was at the Riverside Church on May 1 to hear Ban's speech, which was powerful, convincing, and inspiring, so this is probably why I was not as excited as the other people at the Hiroshima ceremony were about his speech on August 6. Apparently, Ban avoided talking directly about the Convention idea at the main UN conference in order not to upset the nuclear weapons states too much.

That was understandable, but why did he avoid it again in his speech in the city, which is regarded by many as the international capital for nuclear abolition movements? Was he too considerate to the presence of U.S. Ambassador John Roos at the ceremony? It has been reported that Ban made a phone call to the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at some point when he was in Japan this summer.

Whatever the reason was, we need to be vigilant about the forces that disable Ban from talking about a Nuclear Weapons Convention in the ceremony hosted by Hiroshima City, a co-leader of Mayors for Peace, an organization of 4,000+ mayors around the world committed to the idea of a Nuclear Weapons Convention and the total abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2020.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cluster bomb producers US, Israel, China, S.Korea refuse to sign landmark cluster munitions treaty; 1st meeting in Laos, "most bombed place on earth"

(A constructive explosion: Moldova’s Ministry of Defence destroys cluster munition stocks in a controlled explosion at Bulboaca training ground, 29 July 2010. Photo credit: Asle Huse/NPA)

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) entered into force on August 1, 2010, and became binding international law for the State Parties, with 39 ratifications and 108 signatures. Many former users, producers, and stockpilers of cluster munitions joined, as have many contaminated countries. Japan is among the 37 governments that have ratified the convention. The others are: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, France, Germany, Holy See, Ireland, Laos, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Macedonia FYR, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Samoa, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Seychelles, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Zambia. The European Parliament has urged all member states to join.

Besides China, other Asian countries that will not sign the convention are Singapore, Taiwan (increasingly economically integrated with China), and South Korea. South Korean weapons manufacturers Hanwha and Poongsan are named in the Cluster Munition Coalition's "Hall of Shame" along with Alliant TechSystems (US), Lockheed Martin (US), Norinco (China), Singapore Technologies Engineering (Singapore), Splav (Russia), and Textron (US).

Although the Japanese government has signed the convention, financial institutions from Japan are continuing to invest in cluster munition producers. Other countries allowing investment are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Non-signatory states South Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia and the U.S. are heavy investors in cluster bombs

The CCM prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, which scatter hundreds of small bombs ("bomblets") over a wide area. First produced during the Second World War, the scattered explosives can remain armed for decades, thereby wounding or killing civilians not only during wars, but also long afterwards.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Handicap International estimates that 98% of cluster bomb victims are civilians and nearly one-third are children. Some are unusually shaped or brightly coloured, making them attractive to young children who are unaware they are filled with explosive shrapnel.

Separate articles in the Convention address assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas, and destruction of stockpiles.

Amnesty International reported that "Moldova and Norway destroyed the last of their cluster munition stockpiles, joining Spain, which eradicated its stockpile last year" and "Nearly a dozen other states have begun destruction, including the United Kingdom, a major former user and producer of cluster munitions."

The BBC reported worldwide elation in humanitarian circles:
Campaigners have hailed the treaty as the most significant disarmament and humanitarian treaty for a decade.

"This is a triumph of humanitarian values over a cruel and unjust weapon," Thomas Nash, co-ordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), told the BBC.

"At a time when concern over civilian deaths in conflict is in the news, this treaty stands out as a clear example of what governments must do to protect civilians and redress the harm already caused by cluster bombs."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "This new instrument is a major advance for the global disarmament and humanitarian agendas, and will help us to counter the widespread insecurity and suffering caused by these terrible weapons, particularly among civilians and children."

The agreement "highlights not only the world's collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons, but also the power of collaboration among governments, civil society and the United Nations to change attitudes and policies on a threat faced by all humankind," Mr Ban said.
The First Meeting of States Parties will take place in Vientiane, Laos on November 8-12, 2010.

However, major cluster bomb producing nations such as the U.S., China, Russia, and Israel refused to sign. India, Pakistan, both Koreas, and Brazil also have not signed.

Israel dropped 4 million bomblets (many decorated with white ribbons) in civilian areas in southern Lebanon during the last three days of the war in August 2006, when a ceasefire had already been agreed. This resulted in an international humanitarian outcry that catalyzed the now realized treaty.

Vietnam War-era cluster bombs are still killing and maiming people in Laos, which the U.S. transformed from a beautiful country into the most bombed place on earth.

Legacies of War, an advocacy group that is working to remove left-behind U.S. cluster bombs details the enormity of the task:
From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. The bombing was part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civillians during the nine-year period.

Of the 260 million cluster bombs dropped, up to 30 percent of the cluster bombs dropped by the U.S. in Laos failed to detonate, leaving extensive contamination from unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the countryside. These “bombies,” as the Laotians now call them, have killed or maimed more than 34,000 people since the war’s end—and they continue to claim more innocent victims every day.
Legacies of War has linked to Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jamie Ferrie's "As cluster bomb ban takes effect, the view from Laos" which describes the U.S. failure to take responsibility for clean-up, despite ongoing Laotian deaths from the buried explosive weapons:
...figures show a dramatic contrast between the amount the U.S. spent bombing Laos and the amount spent clearing away the lethal legacy. The U.S. currently contributes about $5 million per year to cleanup efforts. Every single day for nine years, it spent about $17 million (in today's dollars) bombing Laos, according to Legacies of War.
Asian cluster bomb survivors have been a major part of the momentum behind the treaty, according to this report from the Cluster Munition Coalition.

For more information, see the Cluster Munition Coalition's great website which provides accessible, comprehensive info and stories from cluster bombed communities.

* Updates from Cluster Munition Coalition: • "Cluster Munition Coalition Calls On Governments to Ban Investments in Cluster Munition Producers: Cluster bombs are banned under international law but more states need to ban investment (May 25, 2011):
A new report by Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) members IKV Pax Christi and Netwerk Vlaanderen  shows that worldwide, 166 private and public financial institutions from 15 countries continue to invest in companies that produce cluster munitions. Since the treaty that bans the weapon – the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions – was adopted in May 2008, the amount invested in companies that still produce these weapons totals US$39 billion...Although some countries, including Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and New Zealand, have taken the lead in banning investment in these illegal weapons by passing national legislation, many countries and financial institutions are lagging behind...The majority of these financial institutions (128) are from five countries that have not yet joined the Convention: China, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States, plus Taiwan...However, 38 financial institutions are from countries that have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and are continuing to invest in cluster munition producers. These nine countries are: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
• "Landmark conference on Convention ends with hope for future progress" (July 1, 2011)

• Update from The Independent: "UK banks fund deadly cluster-bomb industry"(), (Jerome Taylor, Aug. 16, 2011):
British high-street banks, including two institutions that were bailed out by taxpayers, are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in companies that manufacture cluster bombs – despite a growing global ban outlawing the production and trade of the weapons.


The Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, Barclays and HSBC have all provided funding to the makers of cluster bombs, even as international opinion turns against a weapons system that is inherently indiscriminate and routinely maims or kills civilians.

• Update from The Independent, "UK backs bid to overturn ban on cluster bombs" (Nov. 9, 2011):
he Independent has learnt that the UK Government is supporting a Washington-led proposal that would permit the use of cluster bombs as long as they were manufactured after 1980 and had a failure rate of less than one per cent. Arms campaigners say the 1980 cut-off point is arbitrary, and that many modern cluster bombs have far higher failure rates on the field of battle than manufacturers claim.

The international community is gathering in Geneva next week to discuss the proposal, which will be tabled as a new protocol for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – a UN treaty from the early 1980s that forbids the use of "excessively injurious" weapons such as mines, booby traps, incendiary devices and blinding lasers.

The world's major cluster bomb manufacturers – which include the US, Israel, Russia, China, South Korea, India and Pakistan – have all refused to sign up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. They plan to push through a less restrictive treaty in Geneva next week.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Richard Rhodes's The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World without Nuclear Weapons

Richard Rhode's latest book, The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World without Nuclear Weapons, was published today.

In time to provide hopeful background to the latest nuclear news: The UN is asking Israel for openness about its secretive nuclear weapons program. Iran began loading fuel in its first nuclear power plant (under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an arm of the UN). Sudan has announced plans to build four nuclear power plants. The Obama administration is working to persuade reluctant Republican senators to ratify the US-Russia New START treaty. Japan admonished India over possible future nuclear test bombings, as the former competes with the U.S. France, and Russia for Indian nuclear plant contracts. The U.S. renamed the Nevada Test Site (the Rhode Island (or Okinawa-sized) tract of land where it detonated over 1,000 nuclear bombs) the Nevada National Security Site.

The Twilight of the Bombs is the last volume in Rhodes's quartet of histories about nuclear bombs:
The book examines the post-Cold War years after 1991, securing the former Soviet nuclear arsenal, the first Iraq War, nuclear proliferation, North Korea, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the run-up to the second Iraq War and the prospects for nuclear abolition. With the completion of this last volume, my quartet of nuclear histories, The Making of the Nuclear Age, will comprehend the story of the introduction of a historic new technology across more than one hundred years.

Arsenals of Folly, a third volume of nuclear history that follows my The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986) and Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (1995), was published by Alfred A. Knopf in October 2007. It carries the story of the superpower nuclear arms race and the dangers and challenges of the Cold War from 1949 up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, focusing especially on the Reagan-Gorbachev decade of the 1980s.
The Twilight of the Bombs charts the roller coaster movement towards nuclear weapons disarmament from the collapse of the Soviet Union to Obama's Prague speech on April 5, 2010 in which he promised U.S. commitment to a "world without nuclear weapons." His words energized nuclear abolitionists preparing for the NPT Review Conference held in New York in May.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the center of international efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Ireland and Finland first proposed the treaty which came into force in 1970. The treaty allows the use of nuclear production of energy in return for controls of the importation/exportation of nuclear technologies and materials and imposes a legal obligation upon member states to eliminate their nuclear weapons arsenals through negotiations. 189 nations are party to the treaty, including the five major nuclear weapon states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council). Four nations that possess nuclear weapons are not NPT members: India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. The last joined the treaty, but withdrew in 2003.

Related to the NPT are treaties prohibiting nuclear weapons testing. The Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963) outlaws atmospheric, space, and underwating testing. The Threshold Test Ban Treaty (1974) outlaws underground tests over 150 kilotans. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for both military or civilian purposes. The U.N. General Assembly endorsed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. The U.S. and China have signed, but not ratified the CTBT. After these countries ratify, and North Korea, India, and Pakistan sign and ratify the CTBT—it will go into force.

George Bush, who spoke of "World War III," seemed determined to destroy decades of movement towards nuclear weapons nonproliferation. The militaristic president withdrew the U.S. from the U.S.-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missle (ABM) treaty, the NPT (the 2005 Review Conference ended without an agreement), and the CTBT. The neocon's 2006 deal with India initiating nuclear energy cooperation overlooked its nuclear weapons proliferation and damaged the NPT regime. The Bush administration also championed the "nuclear renaissance," resurrected Cold War threats, revived the idea of tactical nuclear weapons, and continued to use the same depleted uranium weapons deployed during his father's and Clinton's administrations, by which time the adverse health effects of depleted uranium on U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians were well known.

Despite initial promise, President Obama's nuclear weapons policies have turned out to be a mixed bag. He proposed massive spending ($80 billion) to "modernize" the U.S. nuclear arsenal, but is also working to reverse Bush's legacy by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and supporting the U.S.-Russia New START treaty which the Senate will vote upon in September. While disappointing nuclear abolitionists when his policies failed to match his flights of rhetoric, Obama did participate in the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Historian Lawrence Wittner, author of Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Disarmament Movement covered the ups and downs of this event in "What's Next for the Nuclear Disarmament Movement," posted at Foreign Policy in Focus:
Reflecting on the contrast between the Obama administration's nuclear abolition rhetoric and its record, Kevin Martin, executive director of America's largest peace organization, Peace Action, concluded that supporters of a nuclear-free world needed to wake up to the reality that the administration's nuclear disarmament activities were going to be quite limited without very substantial movement pressure.

"Obama is in a way being held accountable to expectations he himself raised," Martin remarked, "when in fact it appears all he ever had in mind was a return to the modest, incremental arms reduction treaties of the 1980s and 1990s, not a serious push toward eliminating nuclear weapons."

In this context, peace and disarmament groups would have to take a more proactive role, endorsing incremental measures while, at the same time, keeping the idea of nuclear abolition at the forefront of public discussion...

In specific terms, this approach will probably mean that the nuclear disarmament movement will back U.S. Senate ratification of the New START Treaty and of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and oppose congressional funding of the administration's nuclear "modernization" plan, while steadfastly championing the opening of negotiations for a nuclear abolition treaty. If the conference on a Middle East nuclear-free zone gets off the ground — and it might not, given strong Israeli government resistance — the movement will almost certainly support that venture as well.

Can this mixture of somewhat mundane incremental steps and a dazzling long-range vision — the vision of a nuclear-free world — be sustained?  It will require activists willing to put significant efforts into securing immediate gains on the road to their long-term goal, and vigorously champion their long-term goal as they engage in immediate struggles. Over the course of history, this has always been a tricky balancing act for social change movements. But with wise leadership and a committed following, there is no reason that the nuclear disarmament movement — which, after all, has campaigned against the bomb, with some effectiveness, for 65 years — cannot manage it in the future.
Rhodes shares Wittner's measured optimism and explores successes in nuclear abolition in Twilight of the Bombs: The collapse of the Soviet Union transformed one single nuclear state into four: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan; however effective diplomacy resulted in the new nations surrendering their nuclear weapons to Russia. South Africa voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal.

Rhodes also examines failures, such as the Clinton's administration's inability to secure Senate ratification for the CTBT. The historian details the Clinton's and Bush's negotiations with North Korea that resulted in the isolated nation's withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, followed by its first nuclear test in 2006. (North Korea subsequently shut down plutonium production in 2007 and destroyed the cooling tower at its nuclear weapons plant in 2008.)

Rhodes explores how Iraq, initially a nonproliferation success story after U.N. inspectors and Saddam Hussein himself dismantled Iraq's uranium enrichment program, was followed by Bush's 2003 invasion based on false claims of Iraqi WMD.

Despite the glacial pace towards nuclear weapons disarmament; the gap between U.S. rhetoric and policies; the proliferation of nuclear power as a source of energy; and the stubborn refusal of several nations (including volatile Israel, Pakistan, North Korea) to join the NPT, Rhodes believes that the world is moving in the right direction.

In a recent interview, Rhodes explains the universal scale of his soul-searching:
I've always felt that these four books that I've written are kind of a tragic epic of the 20th century. In the epigraph of my book it says, "Mankind invents the means of its own destruction."

And where does the human race go from that? We're still mixed in with all of that…Nuclear weapons are vast destructive forces encompassed in this small, portable mechanism. They have no earthly use that I can see except to destroy whole cities full of human beings.
The chronicler of this macabre history points to the U.S., the creator of nuclear weapons and apocalyptic policies such as MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) that fueled the nuclear arms race, as the only nation able to change the tragic direction of history it unleashed:
We’ve led the way in nuclear weapons, and now we have to figure out a way to lead in the other direction.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ban Ki Moon: "...the real fantasies are the claims that nuclear weapons guarantee security or increase a country's status & prestige."

Photo of people walking a street in Nagasaki, unaware of the plutonium bomb explosion about to hit them.
"Nuclear disarmament is often dismissed as a dream, when the real fantasies are the claims that nuclear weapons guarantee security or increase a country's status and prestige.

"Let us be clear: The only guarantee of safety, and the only sure protection against the use of such weapons, is their elimination."

- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Hiroshima Conference for the Total Abolition of Nuclear Weapons by 2020
(The "Bravo" thermonuclear hydrogen bombing of Bikini Atoll in 1954 rendered what was left of the islands unfit for human life. Senator Tomaki Juda describes the devastation ("equal to 1,000 Hiroshima bombs) in "Bikini and the Hydrogen Bomb.")

(First of 456 Soviet nuclear bombings in Semipalatinsk, in northeastern Kazakhstan in 1949. Photo: Nevada Semipalatinsk movement, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Togzhan Kassenova's "The lasting toll of Semipalatinsk's nuclear testing" published in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists describes the legacy of these bombings which continued until 1989.)

Photo of one of the above-ground nuclear bombings at the Nevada Test Site between 1946 and 1962 to which 250,000 American troops were exposed. In early 1953, the U.S. Department of Defense took control of the nuclear experiments from the Atomic Energy Commission, and moved soldiers even closer to ground zero.

The U.S. detonated nuclear and  thermonuclear bombs from July 16, 1945 ( the “Trinity” bombing at Alamogordo, New Mexico ) to September 23, 1992 ( the last bombing in the “Julin” series at the Nevada Test Site). The number of U.S. nuclear bombings in North America and the Pacific: over 1,000.

The website of National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV), an advocacy group for atomic veterans, provides newsletter updates that includes coverage on depleted uranium.)

See also Joseph Gerson's "Abolition: The Only Path to Nuclear Security," and Hiroshi Taka's "Nuclear Abolition: It's Time to Get Serious."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mayors for Peace: U.S. Conference of Mayors calls to slash spending on nuclear weapons & redirect funds to needs of cities

New York, May 2nd 2010 - Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with delegation from Mayors for Peace at head of a rally of 20,000 people marching to UN headquarters. (Photo: Mayors for Peace )

On June 14, Hiroshima-based Mayors for Peace congratulated the U.S. Conference for Mayors (USCM) for unanimously adopting a groundbreaking resolution, Supporting U.S. Participation in Global Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and Redirection of Nuclear Weapons Spending to Meet the Needs of Cities, at the conclusion of its 78th annual meeting in Oklahoma City
Noting that “cities have been hard hit by the recent recession which has left them with rapidly rising unemployment and declining revenues, forcing them to make severe cuts in critical public services such as police officers, fire fighters, teachers, medical and emergency workers and bus drivers,” the resolution provides that: “The U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to terminate funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and nuclear weapons systems, to reduce spending on nuclear weapons programs well below Cold War levels, and to redirect funds to meet the urgent needs of cities.”

The resolution also “calls on the U.S. Senate to ratify the new START treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without conditions and without delay,” and “calls on President Obama to work with the leaders of the other nuclear weapon states to implement the U.N. Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament forthwith, so that a Nuclear Weapons Convention, or a related set of mutually reinforcing legal instruments, can be agreed upon and implemented by the year 2020, as urged by Mayors for Peace.”

Noting that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “has announced that he will visit Hiroshima on August 6, 2010, the anniversary of the day the first atomic bomb was dropped, stating: ‘There I will say, once again, we stand for a world free of nuclear weapons’,” the resolution additionally “encourages President Obama, members of the Cabinet and Congress to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the earliest possible date.

“This resolution is significant because it comes on the eve of Senate consideration of ratification of the new START treaty, as well as Congressional consideration of President Obama’s FY 2011 $7 billion nuclear weapons budget request,” said Jackie Cabasso, North American Coordinator for Mayors for Peace. “It also restates, in no uncertain terms, the commitment of America’s mayors to the global elimination of nuclear weapons at an early date, and for the first time calls on Congress to make deep cuts in nuclear weapons spending as a concrete measure of that commitment.”

The resolution notes that at the midpoint of the month-long May 2010 Nuclear Nonproflieration Treaty Review Conference “in connection with submission of the new START treaty to the Senate, President Obama submitted a classified report on a Congressionally-mandated plan to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces for the foreseeable future,” at a projected cost of “well over” $180 billion by the year 2020. It further notes that: “Under this plan funding for the nuclear weapons research and production programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration will increase by more than 40%, from $6.4 billion in FY 2010 to $9 billion by 2018. In turn, $9 billion is 43% above the Cold War annual average of $5.1 billion for analogous Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs.”

The resolution recognizes that as we approach 65th anniversaries of the United States atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, “eight nations still possess a total of nearly 23,000 nuclear warheads – 95% of them held by the U.S. and Russia.”

The resolution cites a recent declaration by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that because of the “unique destructive power” and “unspeakable human suffering” inflicted by nuclear weapons, “preventing [their use] requires fulfillment of existing obligations to pursue negotiations aimed at prohibiting and completely eliminating such weapons through a legally binding international treaty.” It recalls President Obama’s April 2009 acknowledgement in Prague, that “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act” for the achievement of the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. And it notes the USCM’s history of support for the abolition of nuclear weapons, including its 2009 resolution “call[ing] on President Obama to announce at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference the initiation of good faith multilateral negotiations on an international agreement to abolish nuclear weapons by the year 2020,”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,204 such cities in the country today. The final package of resolutions adopted at their recently-concluded annual meeting will be forwarded to Congress and the Administration in the hopes of shaping federal legislation.

The nuclear disarmament resolution was sponsored by Mayors Jennifer Hosterman of Pleasanton, California; Frank Cownie of Des Moines, Iowa; Tony Santos of San Leandro, California; Andre Pierre of North Miami, Florida; Frank Ortis of Pembroke Pines, Florida; Laurel Prussing of Urbana, Illinois; Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio, and Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Oregon. The full text of the resolution, submitted by the USCM International Affairs Committee, is on pps. 137 - 139 at:
http://www.usmayors.org/resolutions/78th_Conference/adoptedresolutionsfull.pdf

Mayors for Peace is a rapidly growing international association, headed by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, campaigning for the global elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020. As of June 1, membership stood at 3,965 cities in 143 countries and regions. Members include more than half of the world’s 100 largest cities and nearly half of the world’s capital cities, with 157 U.S. members in 37 states. Past-President of the USCM, Akron Ohio Mayor Donald Plusquellic serves as a Vice-President of Mayors for Peace. Mayors for Peace has “Special Consultative Status” with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Patrick Cockburn: "Toxic Legacy of US Assault on Fallujah Worse than Hiroshima"

Military radioactive assaults on human beings and our planet did not stop after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the thousands of experimental nuclear bombings throughout the world over sixty decades. They continue today with the use of depleted uranium weapons.

Patrick Cockburn, Middle East Correspondent for The Independent, reported "the shocking rates of infant mortality and cancer in Iraqi city raise new questions" in "Toxic Legacy of US Assault on Fallujah 'Worse Than Hiroshima'" published July 26 :
Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new study.

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened".

US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions...

The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout".

Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.

Of particular significance was the finding that the sex ratio between newborn boys and girls had changed. In a normal population this is 1,050 boys born to 1,000 girls, but for those born from 2005 there was an 18 per cent drop in male births, so the ratio was 850 males to 1,000 females. The sex-ratio is an indicator of genetic damage that affects boys more than girls. A similar change in the sex-ratio was discovered after Hiroshima.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct created when enriched uranium is separated for use in nuclear power and atomic weapons. The U.S. Department of Energy gives it to weapons manufacturers which use the radioactive heavy metal for the manufacture of armor and casings. The U.N. passed a resolution opposing its use because of discovery of health problems after its use during the first Gulf War between 1990 and 1991. The US, UK, and Israel have used depleted uranium weapons in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

Read the rest of Cockburn's report here and see the Democracy Now! interview with him, "Missing Billions in Iraq and Soaring Cancer & Infant Mortality Rates in Fallujah," here.

See also Dave Lindorff's 2009 "Depleted Uranium Weapons: Dead Babies in Iraq and Afghanistan are no joke," Don Monkerud's 2006 "The Case Against Depleted Uranium," and Kevin Zeese's 2005 "Depleted Uranium: States Take Action to Protect Their Soldiers and Veterans: An Interview with Bob Smith," all posted at CounterPunch.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Michael Lujan Bevacqua on the U.S., British, & French nuclear bombings throughout the Pacific: "So Our Children May Live in Peace"

"Operation Grapple," British nuclear bombing of Christmas Island that exposed 300 indigenous people to nuclear radiation, 1958.  (Image: Pacificnukes.wordpress.com

After the Second World War, the United States, France, and the UK detonated hundreds of nuclear bombs in a series of experiments that continued for decades in the Pacific region. 

The U.S. vaporized one of the islands in the Bikini atoll and forced the indigenous inhabitants of Bikini off their islands after thermonuclear bombings rendered them unfit for human life. Bikinians were brought back to their home briefly, thereby exposed to dangerous levels of nuclear radiation, resulting in cancers, before they were relocated off the island a second time.

France continued its nuclear bombings of French Polynesia until 1995, sparking international outrage and condemnation. In 2006, the colonial power was confronted with evidence that its 210 nuclear bombings of its territorial possessions in the Pacific gave cancer to the indigenous inhabitants.

 Masahide Kato, professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, called these nuclear test bombings on the sovereign territory of Indigenous Nations (including the 1,000 bombings of Shoshone homeland in the American Southwest) “undeclared nuclear warfare."

A sensitive essay from Chamorro scholar, writer, and visual artist Michael Lujan Bevacqua reminds us of the many nuclear bombing radiation survivors (and their descendants) who live throughout the Pacific. Originally published Aug. 17th in his Marianas Variety column, "When The Moon Waxes," and reposted at Guamology.com:
One of the reasons why I haven’t been posting much on Guamology lately is because I’ve been writing a regular weekly column titled “When the Moon Waxes” for the Marianas Variety. It runs every Wednesday right across from Dave Davis’ “The Outsider Perspective” column, which makes the Wednesday issue of Marianas Variety the most schizophrenic issue of the week.

The title of my column comes from the song Dalai Nene, which is the song from which I first heard the word “sumahi” which is my daughter’s name. The first line of the song states that I pilan yanggen sumahi, or when the moon waxes. Often times when I’m driving around with Sumahi, I’ll sing that first line from the song and then make up the subsequent lyrics, often times incorporating dragons, dogs and frogs who do hilarious and ridiculous things which Sumahi knows they aren’t supposed to do.

The column covers anything and everything. Since starting it last month I’ve written about decolonization, art on Guam, Chamorro dancing, nuclear weapons, Native Americans getting their land back, and even last week about puking on Liberation Day and the deep meanings involved with that.

This Wednesday my column will be about my recent trip to Japan where I attended the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, and gave many speeches in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on current events in Guam, especially surrounding the US military buildups here. While at this conference I got to hear so many stories from so many different countries, especially those from places which have been negatively affected by the use, storage or testing of nulcear weapons. My column tells the story of Paul Ahpoy, an elderly man from Fiji who was a sailor in the British Navy, who along with hundreds of other sailors, witnessed numerous nuclear tests in Kiribati. Like all other communities damaged by nuclear weapons, Paul and other veterans were beset by numerous invisible and unknown diseases, which would riddle their body with cancer, make them sterile, and even be passed down to their children.

I’m pasting a preview of my column below for people to check out. If you have any suggestions for future columns, please let me know!

*****************************

“So Our Children May Live in Peace”

We on Guam should all know about the US testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands and its deadly and tragic legacy. It is something that this entire region should take seriously, and teach to students of all levels, alongside Columbus sailing blue oceans, Americans and their independence or Chamorros suffering in Manengon waiting for liberation. It is critical because that history of nuclear testing speaks volumes to the relationship Micronesia has to the United States, by making clear this region’s strategic value.

But, one thing that we should always keep in mind is that the Marshall Island weren’t the only place where nuclear weapons were tested in the Pacific. There were US tests in the Aleutians, French tests in French Polynesia and British tests in Kiribati and Australia.

At the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs that I attended last week in Japan, I got the chance to hear the story of Paul Ahpoy who is a member of an association for veterans from Fiji who were adversely affected by the testing at Christmas Island in Kiribati. Paul, who was a sailor in the British Navy and witnessed 7 tests, described a test day as follows: “…we would line up on the beach and were told to obey orders from a loud speaker on poles nearby. With our groups of about 400 servicemen, none of us wore any special protective clothing or monitoring devices.

An airburst weapon would be dropped over the ocean about 12 miles away…, we would follow the drills, sit down, close your eyes, this would be followed by a searing heat flash, then sound waves enough to bust your eardrums. We would be ordered to stand up and turn around to see the huge moonlike object in the sky which then turned into a huge mushroom, blotting out the sun. We would then be yelled at to run for cover as strong winds blew in from the seas and black rain would pour down from the sky.”

A British veteran of those tests, Ken McGinley wrote in his book No Risks Involved, that when the bomb exploded “…there was a flash. At that instant I was able to see straight through my hands. I could see the veins. I could see the blood, I could see all the skin tissue, I could see the bones, and worst of all, I could see the flash itself. It was like looking into a white-hot diamond, a second sun.”

Paul and other sailors were not warned about the radioactive materials they were transporting, nor the dangerous effects of the testing and were in fact being fed fish from the very waters which were being poisoned by the testing. For the past 50 years, these sailors and their families have struggled with unknown, horrible diseases, which have claimed the lives of their children in mysterious shocking ways or made them and their children sterile. It was common for them to kiss their children goodnight and find them dead in the morning having choked to death on their own blood. Paul summed up his own tragedies as follows: “Personally I have had 59 lumps removed from my body. I lost my daughter when she was 3 ½ years old. My son is sterile and I fully understand that I will never have a grandchild. “

Through their organization, the Fiji veterans won the right to sue the British Government for compensation last year. Despite this victory, they recently had to close their office, and as in all cases such as this, the more time passes, the more pass on and the heavier the burden is for those who remain.

Paul concluded his speech by recounting what these veterans were told prior to these tests; namely that what they were doing with these bombs was a great service to humanity so that all their children could live in peace. Prior to the US conducting their testing in the Marshall Islands, they told the people of Bikini a similar thing, that because of the tests their islands, there would be no more wars.

This is why, these tragic stories are so crucial for all of us in the Pacific. These tests were not conducted on the mall in Washington D.C., in Piccadilly Square in London or Les Champs Elysees in Paris. They were conducted in faraway, isolated islands where even if things went horribly wrong, who would really be affected? A few thousand people which as Henry Kissinger noted, no one gives a damn about anyways? Some sea turtles and some coral and coconut trees? In other words, these were places which matter precisely because they do not matter. The lesson here is that while geography is strategically important in today’s globalized world, so is smallness and invisibility.

While Paul was giving his speech, I had a copy of his prepared remarks in front of me. After remembering those words about the great service for humanity those tests meant, he choked up and he quickly ended his speech. I looked down at the text to see what he had left to say. It was just a single sentence, but perhaps the most important one considering his tragic tale. The last line of his speech was: “I now thank you all for sharing with me and hope that our combined efforts to remove forever all nuclear weapons from our planet becomes a reality, so our children may live in peace.”
For more info on the Britain's nuclear bombings of islands inhabited by indigenous peoples in the Pacific, see Britain's Pacific Nukes. This TTT post covers Vancouver-based film director Fabienne Lips-Dumas' 2009 documentary film Children of Armageddon/May the Bomb Be With You which explores interrelated contexts of the legacy of the thousands of worldwide nuclear experimental bombings of remote places and peoples, focusing on the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Cycling Duo Inspire Dreams Across Globe

When Singaporean thirtysomethings Tay and Val took a 2007 vacation to Taiwan, neither had the slightest clue that events there would lead to both of them quitting their jobs and setting off on a five-year adventure around the world.

At the time, both were working in television production—a field so fast-paced and stressful that they were lucky if they were able to sit down during the approximate five-minute breaks that they were able to squeeze in for meals (which usually involved inhaling down a sandwich).

Following several years of direct employment with television companies, the pair—tired of industry demands—opened their own business in order to work as freelancers. Still, however, they found themselves at the mercy of managers who wanted nothing but a juicy story. “We were filming a show we had produced ourselves about a son reconciling with his parents—and the TV company actually chastised us for failing to follow him with our cameras when he finally took that courageous step back inside his family home,” recalled Val when I met the pair last month in Tokyo. “They had absolutely no respect for human dignity.”

Fast-forward to the Taiwan vacation, where the two had the misfortunate of arriving just as an unexpected typhoon hurled onto the island. As a result, nearly every accommodation option was closed, and they literally had nowhere to go. “We had basically lost hope of having a roof over our heads that night, when the tourist agency clerk pulled a final business card out of her file,” recalled Tay. “The encounter that ensued later that night changed both of our lives.”

“It was surreal,” explained Val. “We went from being stranded and afraid to suddenly finding ourselves on the shore of a beach, sitting inside an old train car that had been converted into a sort of motel, and being served hot, delicious food by the lone staffperson: an older man who looked like there was nothing he would rather be doing than taking care of our needs.

“He told us he had loved trains ever since he was a little kid, and after retiring, he decided it was time to fulfill his lifelong dream of turning abandoned train cars into overnight inns,” she continued. “When I heard his story, and saw how passionate and fulfilled he looked, for some reason something moved deep inside of me and I just started weeping. I knew right then that I needed to make some dramatic changes in my own life.”

The pair first decided to take an extended break from their exhausting lives in Singapore and accompany the man—whom they affectionately call Luo Papa—while he fulfilled his second dream: cycling across the whole of Taiwan to visit every train station in the entire nation. Just days after setting off, however, the plan had to be abandoned following the sudden death of his mother.

After thinking through their options, the pair decided to close down their company, sell all of their belongings, and revise their five-year business plan to do what they loved best: travel the world and share others’ stories through media such as blogs and video—thereby helping them to realize their own dreams. Thus, a new project was born: I Believe That Dreams Can Come True.


Hilarious, heartwarming video of Vay and Tal’s mishaps 
while setting off on their first cycling trip in Taiwan

While short on cash, the girls were rich in terms of creative thinking and strong existing networks within the Singapore business community. They determinedly set out—successfully—to secure sponsorship, for everything from cycling gear to video equipment to airplane tickets. “We created a website explaining our project, and a Singaporean guy who had previously done something similar got in touch with us and offered to help get us ready for the trip,” recalled Val. “He wanted to pay back some of the kindness he had received while on the road, and so he stuffed our packs full of gear and made sure our bikes were road-ready. We thought we were prepared, but in reality we were clueless! Truly, he turned out to be our lifesaver.”

For their projected five-year tour, the pair began in Taiwan, moved on to Japan where they will stay until the end of August, and will then head across the Pacific for a ride throughout North and South America. While the core theme of their project is realizing dreams, the focus and method differ from country to country depending upon factors such as language, interest, and access to support from volunteer sponsors.

“We are at a serious disadvantage in Japan because of the language barrier, and so we decided to make Project Japan focus on a segment of the community for whom words are not as important; the children,” Val told me while I was hosting the girls at my home for five nights as a small effort to help support their project. “They are just so intuitive, and so much can be communicated just through gestures and smiles.”


Val and Tay’s first sharing session at a Japanese nursery

“In our first sharing session, we asked the children to tell us where their dreams were hidden, and several of them answered "kokoro no naka " (“inside your heart”)—proving that children are a lot more aware than we may think,” continued Tay. “We chose to work with disadvantaged children wherever possible, in order to help them express and work toward realizing their own dreams, despite whatever challenges they may be facing from the outside.”

Val and Tay’s stay in Japan has included several visits to nurseries, several sharing sessions at a summer camp for orphaned children living in special facilities, and presentations for business representatives to help secure sponsorship (as well as help adults to realize their own dreams as well).

“I was touched when I heard how Val and Tay’s encounter with the gentleman in Taiwan changed both of their lives, and the way their eyes shone when they told the story,” said one woman who attended a presentation given by the pair in Yokohama. “I am a middle-aged woman myself, but I still have hope of one day being able to realize my own dreams. I am also happy that know that the girls plan to continue traveling to other countries to help inspire more people to do what they really want to be doing in their lives.”

Val and Tay will share stories about their journey on Saturday, August 21st from 4 to 6 p.m. at Asante Sana organic café in Tokyo’s Meguro neighborhood. The following day, from 10AM to 6PM, they will be in the central square of Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park displaying an exhibition of messages that they have collected throughout Japanese cities to help inspire children here to reach their own dreams.

More information about Tay and Val’s project, and how to help provide sponsorship and support, is available on their website.

Message affixed to Tay and Val's bikes: "We are two Singaporeans on a world trip to make videos aimed at helping people realize their own dreams. While in Japan, we would like to focus on children: helping them to believe in the power of dreams, and to realize that they can do whatever they set out to accomplish!"

--Kimberly Hughes

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ainu Youth in Action: Exchange at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington


Seattle’s Burke Museum just recently saw off their two Ainu interns, Akira Kikuchi, 24, and Masashi Kawakami, 27, who participated in a first cultural exchange between the indigenous Ainu people and Native American communities in Washington state. (Click here for a previous post on the year-long exchange "to support the revival of cultural heritage of the indigenous Ainu people of Japan") The two interns developed an educational kit about Ainu heritage (available through the "Burke Box" program), curated a small exhibit of cultural artifacts and contribute to a documentary film about Ainu culture produced through the Native Voices film program at the University of Washington.

The interns' stay at the museum culminated in an exchange between 7 members of the Ainu community joined Tulalip Tribes in the Paddle to Makah through the Tribal Journey 2010. A video of the journey can be seen in below and exquisite photos of the canoe landing at Neah Bay and the Ainu's performance during the protocol ceremonies can be viewed at the Burke Museum Blog.

The work of Akira and Masashi, along with the support of the Burke Museum, is a testament to the vitality and renewal of the Ainu people.

- Posted by Jen Teeter

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War: Inconsistencies in Seoul's Cheonan narrative; UN urges calm dialogue

On March 26, 2010, the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, sank in the Yellow Sea near the North Korean coast. The first reactions from the South Korean government and international media labeled the sinking an accident.

A month later, at the same time the U.S. was exerting intense pressure on former Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama to accept an upgraded U.S. military base in Okinawa, Seoul changed its response, claiming the sinking was the result of a North Korean attack. Hatoyama, arguing that a new base was necessary to thwart a N. Korean attack on Japan, seized upon this as an excuse to renege on his campaign promise to Okinawans to cease building U.S. bases on their island.

The questionable timing of S. Korea's switch; evidentiary inconsistencies; prior staged military incidents in Asia (Gulf of Tonkin); and the general oddness of the situation resulted in widespread skepticism over Seoul's new official narrative. Japan Focus published Sakai Tanaka's "Who Sank the South Korean Warship Cheonan? A New Stage in the US-Korean War and US-China Relations" and Mark E. Caprio's "Plausible Denial? Reviewing the Evidence of DPRK Culpability for the Cheonan Warship Incident." A South Korean NGO, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, and Korean-American scholars, Lee Seung-Hun,a professor of physics at the University of Virginia and Suh Jae-Jung, an associate professor in international politics at Johns Hopkins University, publicly questioned the changed official response.

The Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War has issued a comprehensive report:
On July 9, 2010, the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement on the Naval Vessel Cheonan condemning the attack and "stressing the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in north-east Asia as a whole."

Acknowledging that "such an incident endangers peace and security in the region and beyond", the Council's statement "encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels as early as possible, with a view to avoiding conflicts and averting escalation."

South Korean and Asian NGOs have welcomed such statement, notably for it echoes their concerns, as expressed in earlier communications to the Council.

Following such civil society's submissions to the UN, Seoul has issued inflammatory comments and exerted political, legal and financial reprisals against local NGOs for questioning Seoul's official line that blames North Korea for the Cheonan Incident.

In light of the situation, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) sent an open letter to the UN Secretary General denouncing the pressure brought to bear against dissenting voices.

The letter, dated June 25, commanded remarks made by UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue who expressed concerns at Seoul's National Security Act and called for "a culture of tolerance" to replace current defamation laws. Further, the AHRC called for "the abolition of the National Security Act and the decriminalization of defamation in the Criminal Code, as such provisions clearly run contrary to international human rights law and standards. "

In addition, the AHRC urged the UN Secretary General "to take all necessary steps to ensure that the reprisals, either directly or indirectly attributable to the government of the Republic of Korea, are immediately halted against civil society groups that have communicated with the UN" and called on the UN Security Council to request that Seoul "provide full explanations to clarify the substantive questions posed by the NGOs concerning the sinking of the Cheonan."

While the UN Security Council's statement does not go as far as answering the questions left open (notably identifying who was behind the attack), it does condemn it and acknowledges the gravity of the situation created by the Cheonan Incident and its significant repercussions on the security of the Korean Peninsula and the whole region.

Indeed, according to Wooksik Cheong of Peace Network, "the Cheonan Incident has the danger to trigger a new Cold War in Northeast Asia" with Washington and Tokyo actively supporting Seoul, while Pyongyang's long term's allies Beijing and Moscow are distancing themselves from the results of the Republic of Korea's investigation and warning against pushing North Korea into a corner.

He suggests not only re-opening the investigation to clarify the cause of the sinking and responsibilities in the incident, but also immediately resuming the Six Party Talks. "The Cheonan sinking demonstrates the necessity of building a peace regime and resuming the Six Party Talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Now is the time to find the way to prevent a conflict on Korean peninsula and a new Cold War in Northeast Asia."

On 26 March 2010 an attack led to the sinking of a Republic of Korea naval ship, the Cheonan that resulted in the loss of 46 lives among the 104 personnel onboard. A joint civilian-military investigation conducted by the Republic of Korea with the participation of international experts from the US, UK, Australia and Sweden concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship. North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack and many observers from within the Republic of Korea and internationally have questioned the conclusions of the investigation.

Indeed, several voices have been challenging the official version of events. In addition to South Korean opposition politicians, former military officials and civil society groups, some US-based Korean-born scientists are now questioning the conclusions of the Cheonan report by the Joint Investigation Group (JIG).

In a press conference held in Tokyo on July 9, Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia Lee Seung-Hun and Associate Professor in International Politics at Johns Hopkins University Suh Jae-Jung described how they have carried out their own careful examination of the JIG's report and concluded its findings were contradictory, inconsistent and unsustainable, stating there is "a very high chance" that some of the findings had been fabricated.

Lee and Suh joined their voice to international calls for a new investigation that would be objective and thorough and that would " reiterat[e] its commitment to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."

Read the Asian Human Rights Commission's Open Letter to the UN Secretary General (June 25) here.

Find the full Investigation Result (June 4) on the Sinking of Republic of Korea Ship Cheonan here.

Read the UNSC Presidential Statement (July 9) on the Sinking of the ROK Naval Vessel Cheonan here.

Read PSPD's Stance on the UNSC Presidential Statement  (July 15) here.

Read Wooksik Cheong's analysis, "The Cheonan Sinking and a New Cold War in Asia," here.

Read the summary of the press conference on the Cheonan Inconsistencies by Lee Seung-Hun and Suh Jae-Jung here

Satoko Norimatsu: Peace Action (largest American peace group) ready to act for Okinawa

Peace Philosophy Centre's Satoko Norimatsu reports on the American University Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Study Tour:
Our trip was featured in the NHK World program "Japan 7 Days." Can be viewed online: http://www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/tv/japan7/recent.html

I ran into Peace Action's Paul Martin at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. His visit was reported in Ryukyu Shimpo, "The largest peace group in the U.S. is ready to act for Okinawa." (http://ryukyushimpo.jp/news/storyid-166301-storytopic-53.html)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kenzaburo Oe's "Hiroshima and the Art of Outrage" illuminates interconnections between Hiroshima bombing, Okinawa bases, & nuclear "umbrella"

Kenzaburo Oe has been a principal voice in public soul-searching in Japan in matters of war and peace since his emergence as a literary wunderkind during the late 1950's. Scholar John Nathan described the novelist as a "spokesman for the postwar generation" whose novels explored the lives of "young Japanese struggling to survive with dignity in desecrated society." Oe said the three seminal influences on his personal and creative development were the birth of his handicapped son, Hikari, and his visits to Hiroshima and Okinawa.


Concerned about the accelerated remilitarization of Japan during the Koizumi-Bush era, Oe joined with prominent Japanese thinkers in founding 9-Jo No Kai (The Article 9 Association) in 2004. In 2008, Oe prevailed in a lawsuit challenging his essay, Okinawa Notes in which the author adhered to the widely accepted assertion that the Japanese military forced civilians to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa. Earlier this summer, speaking an Article 9 Association meeting in Tokyo on June 19 (the 50th anniversary of the automatic enactment of the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty on June 19, 1960), Oe called for a reduction in military bases on Okinawa in accordance with the Peace Constitution.

In "Hiroshima and the Art of Outrage," published by the New York Times, Oe articulates the interconnections between atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the 60-year U.S.-Japan military occupation of Okinawa; and ongoing attempts by military industrialists to undermine Japan's non-nuclear principles:
THE Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa, one of the largest United States military bases in East Asia, is in the center of a crowded city. The American and Japanese governments acknowledge the dangers of this situation, and they agreed nearly 15 years ago that the base should be moved; however, no move has yet been made.

In 2009 a new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, tantalized Okinawans with the prospect of moving the despised base off the island, but he was recently forced to resign, in part because of his failure to keep that promise. Mr. Hatoyama’s successor, Naoto Kan, has made it clear that he intends to respect the United States-Japan security treaty — a position that, while not directly related to the issue of dialing down the United States military presence in Japan, may indicate which way the wind is blowing.

It was recently reported here that a government panel is about to submit a policy paper to Prime Minister Kan, suggesting that regarding Japan’s “three nonnuclear principles” — prohibiting the production, possession and introduction of nuclear weapons — it was not wise to “limit the helping hand of the United States,” and recommending that we allow the transport of nuclear arms through our territory to improve the so-called nuclear umbrella.

When I read about this in the newspaper last week, I felt a great sense of outrage. (I’ll explain later why that word has such deep significance for me.) I felt the same way when another outrageous bit of news came to light this year: the decades-old, Okinawa-related secret agreement entered into by the United States and Japan in contravention of the third of the three nonnuclear principles, which forbids bringing nuclear weapons into Japan.

At the annual Hiroshima Peace Ceremony on Friday, this year marking the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb, representatives from Britain, France and the United States planned to be in attendance, for the first time. This is a public event at which government leaders give speeches, but it also has a more profound and private aspect, as the atomic bomb survivors offer ritual consolation to the spirits of their dead relatives. Of all the official events that have been created during the past 200 years of modernization, the peace ceremony has the greatest degree of moral seriousness... In Edward W. Said’s last book, “On Late Style,” he gives many examples of artists (composers, musicians, poets, writers) whose work as they grew older contained a peculiar sort of concentrated tension, hovering on the brink of catastrophe, and who, in their later years, used that tension to express their epochs, their worlds, their societies, themselves.

As for me, on the day last week when I learned about the revival of the nuclear-umbrella ideology, I looked at myself sitting alone in my study in the dead of night . . . . . . and what I saw was an aged, powerless human being, motionless under the weight of this great outrage, just feeling the peculiarly concentrated tension, as if doing so (while doing nothing) were an art form in itself. And for that old Japanese man, perhaps sitting there alone in silent protest will be his own “late work.”
Read the entire essay here.

(See also:  Kenzaburo Oe's "Misreading, Espionage and 'Beautiful Martyrdom': On Hearing the Okinawa ‘Mass Suicides’ Suit Court Verdict," published at Japan Focus in 2008.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dr. Takashi Nagai: "If the atom explodes, what happens?"

Dr. Takashi Nagai, a radiologist transformed into peace witness after he and his family experienced the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, described the radical destructive force of uranium weapons in The Bells of Nagasaki:
"If the atom explodes, what happens?

...Four topics came to my mind for consideration: the enormous power of the atom, the elementary particles, the heat, the electromagnetic waves. Let me say a word about each of these.

First, the enormous power.

By enormous power, I mean the force that exists in the atom from the very moment of its creation, especially the force in the atomic nucleus. This is the force which maintains the form of the atom and is the source of tis activity. It is tremendous energy compared with the volume of the atom, and is the motive power behind the changes and movements of everything in the universe. Some scientists even hold that the gigantic quantity of energy emanating constantly, day and night, from the sun is nothing other than atomic energy from the constant explosion of the sun's atoms. If this is true, we could call the atom bomb a man-made, or artificial, sun.

When this enormous atomic force is released, it immediately and simulataneously exerts pressure on everything within a certain radius. The phenomenon, however, probably differs according to whether the explosion takes place in a vacuum, on earth, or in water.

In Nagasaki, the explosion took place in the air. The energy emitted pushed the molecules of air in all directions, and a tremendously powerful outward wind pressure spread over the surrounding area. In this way a vacuum was created at the center. And after the great wind pressure came negative pressure.

Since the explosion took place over Urakami which lies in a valley, the spherical blasts of wind collided with the walls of the valley, creating a tumultuous situation. To put it briefly: the principal pressure came frist to the ground, pushing down, crushing, breaking in pieces and blowing asunder everything that was there. There then followed the negative pressure which pulled everything in the opposite direction and sucked things up. Light rubble and debris were carried up in the sky forming a black cloud of dust. After that, complex wind pressures mingled with one another and raged for some time. It is not surprising, then, that people found themselves torn this way and that, without knowing where they were being pulled. The velocity of this atomic pressure was more or less the same as that of sound waves...

My next consideration was elementary particles.

The elements that fly about as initial particles are atomic constitutive particles such as neutrons, protons, alpha particicles, negative electrons, new atoms created by the fission of the atomic nucleus and original atoms that did not split...

Since enormous changes like this take place in an instant, great heat is naturally generated. All objects close to the enter of the explosion were burned. For example, the signpost at the entrance to the pharmaceutical department building still stands with the side facing the center of the explosion burned black. Black objects, which attract heat, were particularly badly burned. Let me give some examples of this.

The iris region of Inoue's eyes was pierced. The surface of black tiles became foamy. Some patients skin was badly burned only on those parts of the body covered by black clothing. And black parts of stones were most affected...

As a result of the sudden change in position of the electrified particles within the atom, there are distortions in the electric and magnetic fields, and these are radiated as electromagnetic waves. If we place them in order, beginning with the shortest wavelength, they are: gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet rays, visible light, infrared rays. There may exist electric waves with still longer wavelengths. The velocity of each of them is amazing: 299,790 kilometers per second. The moment they struck the eyes with a flash—that was the moment of the atomic explosion. Instantly terrible gamma rays pierced human bodies, and infrared rays badly burned the exposed parts.

Letter to Obama from sansei Soji Kashiwagi reflects tensions of Japanese North Americans over nuclear bombings in Japan

Last year, after President Obama's now-famous April 5, 2009 speech in Prague promising that the U.S. would take concrete steps to creating a world without nuclear weapons, many people and organizations wrote letters, urging him to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Published on August 15 last year at Discover Nikkei, the web project of the Japanese American National Museum, this eloquent letter to Obama from third-generation Japanese American Soji Kashiwagi to President Obama reflects the intimate tensions that many Japanese North Americans feel about their government using weapons of mass destruction against people (who may have been grandmothers or cousins) in Japan.
Two things, for me, made matters much worse, and truly brought it home:  One, that our country, the United States of America, was responsible for this and the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki; and two, that members of my own family were there to suffer through it all.  Seeing the devastation is one thing.  Knowing that it happened to my own family makes this very personal.
Kashiwagi challenges advocates of nuclear weapons who cite the rebuildings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to support the use of more nuclear bombings. The survivor of the Japanese-American wartime incarceration reminded President Obama that the severe emotional trauma of the nuclear bombings and the physical aftereffects of radiation do not "go away."
Today, Hiroshima, by all outside appearances, looks to be a thriving city, rebuilt and reborn.  However, to use Hiroshima as a shining example of how a city can recover from an atomic bomb attack is misguided and simply untrue.  When told of a conservative talk radio host in Los Angeles saying on the air, “Look at Hiroshima, they’ve gotten over the bomb” as if to suggest the use of nuclear weapons is somehow acceptable, both Takeshi and his younger brother, Katsuzo, both reacted in anger and became very emotional.

“This is the kind of attitude that will allow this to happen again,” said Takeshi.

“There is no compassion in this attitude,” said Katsuzo.

Having visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I have concluded that there is absolutely no way to “get over” an atomic bombing. Yes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have “recovered.”  But not far from the surface, the suffering and aftereffects of the atomic bomb continue to this day.  Hibakusha, or A-Bomb survivors, currently live in all parts of Japan and around the world, and continue to suffer debilitating aftereffects of radiation poisoning.  In our friend’s family, a baby girl born two generations after the bombing is disabled with severe birth defects, due to radiation in her mother, passed onto her from her mother who survived the bomb.  And as Takeshi said, it took him 40 years to recover—40 years!

These are the stories most Americans know nothing about.  But if we’re going to prevent a nuclear holocaust, these are the stories Americans need to know, and constantly be reminded of so that what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never happen again to anyone, anywhere.
Kashiwagi and his family emphatically repeat the message that hibakusha peace activists have proclaimed worldwide for sixty-five years: "Never again."

Read Soji Kashiwagi's entire letter and see his photos of Hiroshima here.