On November 8, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and Hibakusha Stories, an initiative of Youth Arts New York held its fifth annual “Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Creating Curriculum for nuclear disarmament” workshop for 29 New York City high school teachers from 13 different schools at UN Headquarters. The session is offered on a day the New York City Department of Education sets aside for teachers to further their professional skills while their schools are used as polling places. The day began with a tour of the disarmament exhibit and the General Assembly. Teachers were struck by the statue of St. Agnes from Urakami Cathedral that survived atomic bombing on Nagasaki in August 1945, by the innocent appearance of deadly land mines, by the guitar made of guns that will no longer be used to kill, and by the amount of money diverted to weaponry that could be used to fund human needs and protect the environment.
A briefing was provided followed by Q and A on the history of nuclear weapons, the UN General Assembly’s mandate from 1946 to eliminate “atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction” , the history of disarmament mechanisms, the renewed humanitarian focus on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, and the current efforts to negotiate a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
Hibakusha Stories Program Director Kathleen Sullivan modeled a “Bee Bee” demonstration with instructions on how to replicate the demonstration in the classroom. Developed in the 1980s by Educators for Social Responsibility, the sound of one bee bee pellet dropping into an empty tin represents 3 megatons of TNT, the total firepower unleashed in the Second World War. Participants are asked to close their eyes as they listen to 1,300 pellets gradually filling the tin. This sound is meant to represent the firepower of today’s nuclear arsenals.
Mitchie Takeuchi, a second generation Hiroshima hibakusha, shared the story of her grandfather Ken Takeuchi, founding president of the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital, and her mother Takako Takeuchi, both of whom survived the atomic bomb. She told how her grandfather, a renowned military surgeon specializing in traumatic injuries, was cared for by her mother for two weeks until he was able to resume his duties at the hospital, an “oasis in an atomic desert”. In 1946, a year after the dropping of the bomb Ken Takeuchi wrote this haiku:
Summer grass is
Standing in the
Mike Otterman spoke of his family foundation, The Bernard and Sandra Otterman Foundation, which last August brought teachers from the Middle East and the US to Japan to study the history of nuclear weapons and the movement for their abolition. The Foundation’s Oleander Initiative, named after the first flowers to bloom in Hiroshima after the bomb, serves to awaken participants to the horrors of nuclear war and to inspire them to create powerful themed lesson plans for their schools back home. Co-organized with the University of the Middle East Project, the Oleander Initiative shares the lessons of Hiroshima with Middle Eastern and North African educators to promote awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.
Text and Photo by Robert Cronquist