Young people today are increasingly concerned about nuclear weapons. Given the current turbulent geopolitical climate where nuclear powers tweet about escalating the arms race, the threat and use of nuclear weapons is on the rise and the no use taboo is in danger. Not since the 1980s have young people in the US, and in many countries across the globe been so engaged in proactive conversations and demonstrations. Hibakusha Stories has worked over the last decade to elevate a dialogue about disarmament, empowering teachers to develop curriculum and students to take action.
In 1982, over one million people gathered in New York City’s Central Park to call for nuclear disarmament. This was the time of the US television film The Day After which depicted a fictitious Kansas city under nuclear attack, the bomb exploding and its aftermath. This film and other cultural responses to the nuclear arms race had a profound effect on public opinion. All over the world, countries were taking the nuclear issue to popular culture too, through a host of films, plays, comic books, curricula and TV programs. In the 1980s, nuclear fear was real.
When the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down, so too fell an awareness of nuclear dangers. Still these dangers continued to grow. Although there are far fewer nuclear weapons on the planet, there are still an estimated 15,000, enough to destroy our world many times over. And unlike the superpower arms race, dominated by the US and former Soviet Union, nuclear proliferation has long-since spread from the original five (US, Russia, UK, China and France) to India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
To address the still escalating problem of nuclear proliferation, an unofficial alliance between Non Nuclear Weapon States and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working together to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons has gathered momentum over the last five years. After three successful state sponsored conferences in Norway, Mexico and Austria focusing on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, in December 2014, the Austrian Government unveiled the “Austrian Pledge” to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Now referred to as the Humanitarian Pledge, it is supported by 127 nations, united in a call to Nuclear Weapon States — and those who stand with them — to begin a real-time process for nuclear disarmament.
The Humanitarian Initiative is the most significant advance for nuclear disarmament in a generation.
This movement has properly reframed the issue of nuclear weapons. National posturing based on classes of weapons, deployment and deterrence credibility is being rightly replaced by the issues of humanitarian and environmental consequences. The dawn of a nuclear weapons prohibition has finally arrived, as most recently evidenced through Resolution L.41 in the UN General Assembly, with 113 States Parties voting in favor of a ban treaty process to begin in 2017.
Author, activist and Hibakusha Stories educator Joanna Macy argues that “the danger constituted by nuclear weapons is greater now than at any time in our history. We do an immense disservice to young people and their future, unless we provide them with a confident understanding of nuclear issues.”
Where disarmament education and nuclear studies are missing in the curriculum, Hibakusha Stories fills that gap. Following the basic guidelines of NYS Standards-based education and the Common Core Curriculum, we introduce disarmament education so it will become a mainstay in standard curriculum for secondary school students, better providing young people with a ‘confident understanding’ of the nuclear threat. We call it Reading, Writing and Radiation.
Hibakusha Stories has provided programming in high schools and universities in the New York Metro area and beyond reaching more than 32,000 students; has facilitated staff development for NYC high school teachers in disarmament education in collaboration with UN Office for Disarmament Affairs; has organized testimony sessions for UN guides to augment their knowledge, as well as produce community wide events that include play readings, concerts, film screenings and art exhibitions and other cultural fora that infuse the hibakusha testimony with the arts.
We live on a planet in peril. Our survival in the 21st century will be dependent upon knowing the nuclear threat and finding the power to abolish these planet-destroying weapons before they are used again. Support the ban treaty. Get involved.