Mayors for Peace Plaque, Chester, August 2009. Photo by Frances Laing

Peace Plaque, Chester, August 2009. Photo by Frances Laing.

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I knew there were some images missing in the series of recent blog posts about Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial ceremonies.  I deliberately held these pictures back. They are a story yet to be told. The story of our children and their future. 

In 2004,  the ritual of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki flower memorial in Chester changed and a third stage was added to the ceremony. The crowd now crosses the bridge over the River Dee and gathers in front of a young oak tree marked by a plaque. Cestrians refer to it as the ‘Peace Tree’ – or ‘the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tree’. The tree was planted by Minister Kishino of the Japanese Embassy (see report and pictures on the Japanese Embassy site here).

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Tree. August 2009

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Tree. August 2009

The Quaker Testimony in Action Committee have been co-ordinating the Flower Memorial for a few years now, but they have drawn on the work of campaigners and activists across the city (of many faiths and none) who came before them, most notably, perhaps, those who campaigned hard for more than three years to secure Chester City Council’s affiliation to Mayors for Peace in 2003. I was there and together with Joan Meredith made one of the  speeches on Mayors for Peace to Chester City Council – which resulted in a unanimous vote in favour of affiliation.

My analysis, activism and writing on nuclear issues though, stretches back in time for more than twenty-five years. News comes together in human lives. The campaign to secure Chester City Council’s affiliation to Mayors for Peace was conducted on a tiny fraction of a shoestring with minimal resources – although I do remember late one night at Alexanders Jazz Club – how the co-owner of the club thrust a hundred pounds or so into my hand – I’d just made a speech about the campaign and they wanted to help. The money was used  to cover some of the postage, photocopying and publicity costs – a drop in the ocean really – looking back it was  all such a big investment in terms of time and effort. Unlike our city councillors we had no organisation behind us who might pay train fares or refund our expenses.

Now that Chester City Council has been transformed into West Cheshire and Chester Unitary Authority the question arises: Did the campaign achieve anything at all? I remember some of what I said to our elected representatives back in October, 2004:

  “We are asking our councillors and the Mayor and Deputy Mayors of Chester to pass by majority vote a decision to support an international initiative to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Councillors in Chester according to the constitution, ‘act as ambassadors on behalf of the City both in a regional, national and international context’.

We are asking you to put aside your party loyalties and differences and take action in support of this initiative which is upheld by the European Parliament. Over 613 cities worldwide and in the U.K. including Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Lincoln are now members. Many of you (as members of the public and as elected representatives) have already signalled your support in signing the petition.

There are many good reasons for supporting the initiative driven forward by Lord Mayor Mr Tadatoshi Akibha, the Lord Mayor of Hiroshima and the Lord Mayor of Nagasaki.

We are aware that conflicts which occur across the planet may have serious consequences for our own everyday life and well-being. Since 9/11 the profile of international visitors to Chester has changed dramatically and some parts of the City have lost income. Tourism and international links are important to us. They are the bread and butter of many people living in the city. It makes economic sense to strengthen our international links and uphold our friendship across the globe as best we can.

As citizens of Chester and elected representatives, we declare our respect for the law. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been consistently violated and undermined by secret nuclear deals and the illegal trade in fissile materials continues, all over the world without the checks which should be in place. There can be little doubt that we need to uphold, renew and strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which is due to be renewed in the year 2005.

Article six of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as it is called, clearly states that states ‘shall negotiate in good faith in matters relating to nuclear disarmament’.

But states are not doing this effectively. Power politics and human weakness have meant that negotiations frequently stall and the treaty is currently ‘in a coma’.

(The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is a rare treaty in that it has an end date built into the treaty text. Twenty-five years after its entry into force the signatories agreed to meet and decide whether and how to extend the treaty. This will happen in 2005. If we fail to inject it with new life in 2005 – it’s gone.)

I met Lord Mayor Mr. Tadatoshi Akibha and United Nations representatives when they visited Manchester to discuss the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the way forward for the world following the executive planning meeting of Mayors for Peace in Manchester last year. At this meeting in a shockingly frank statement Mr. Aaron Tovish of the United Nations explained that the comprehensive test ban treaty was being held to ransom by the United States and France and that was vitally important to confront the whole reasons why the U.S. says it won’t negotiate.

It seems that what is needed to save negotiations is leadership with integrity – people who can cut through power struggles with an honest voice – Lord Mayor Mr. Tadatoshi Akibha is one of these people.

Mr. Akibha recalled his visit to the non-proliferation preparatory meeting held in 2003 in Geneva, where he had the opportunity to speak to the delegates. He said he had received a standing ovation from the NGO representatives and the delegates present. When asked why the thought his words were upheld by all, he replied:

‘I was surprised at first at first by this reaction, but I soon realised its meaning. Most of the world feels the threat and sincerely wishes to abolish nuclear weapons. At the same time, I was more keenly aware that Hiroshima is expected to lead the struggle to achieve this shared goal.’

We have a moral duty to ensure the survival of our families and our children. Standing on the cross in the Centre of Chester several months ago, I was approached by a lady with teenage children who wanted to sign our petition. She said to me that her children did not know what ‘Hiroshima’ was.

However you may feel about war and peace, in your hearts there can be little doubt that people should be offered the opportunity to educate themselves about what it really means to drop an atomic bomb.

I feel that we, as citizens need to do all we can to make sure that this education takes place. Mayors for Peace aims to encourage all of its members to take part in activities which further this understanding:

  1. As a first and simple step, all cities which have affiliated have formulated and published a peace declaration. The nature of this declaration varies according to the character and country of the member.
  2. Cities may then network with each other, and decide to hold an event or take part in an educational intiative to raise awareness of the importance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
  3. One practical idea might be for the city to introduce an essay writing competition, for students (of particular interest to law students) with a prize to attend the nuclear non-proliferation negotiations next year in 2005.
  4. In Chester for the past twenty five years, concerned citizens have held a flower memorial service by the river (The Groves) on August 6th. every year to commemorate the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. There is therefore a tradition which is already established in Chester which may be supported and expanded by city councillors and the Lord Mayor.

 May I now hand officially hand over the petition (addressing the councillors) which many of you have already signed – to Lord Mayor Terry Ralph.

Please fill in the form to join Mayors for Peace we have brought with us and send it to our international friends and colleagues at Mayors for Peace care of the Lord Mayor of Hiroshima and holder of the World Citizenship award, Lord Mayor Mr. Tadatoshi Akibha. Thank you.

To read Joan Meredith’s speech click here.