Education to Action: Understanding Hiroshima & Nagasaki Today

On September 27, 2016, the Bernard & Sandra Otterman Foundation, in collaboration with Hibakusha Stories, hosted an event in New York City on the human costs of nuclear war and how to take action for disarmament. The program, "Education to Action: Understanding Hiroshima & Nagasaki Today," was moderated by Otterman Foundation Executive Director Michael Otterman and featured interactive presentations from:

Pictured, clockwise, from top-left: Bernard Otterman, Susan Southard, Kathleen Sullivan and Ray Matsumiya

The event took place at Studio Art Loft NYC and welcomed more than forty activists, artists, and staff from UN Permanent Missions and New York-based NGOs. Susan Southard described to the audience in vivid detail the humanitarian impact of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the subject of her award-winning book. Ray Matsumiya explained how his grandfather became a hibakusha when he rushed into the devastated city of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped, and how his grandfather's legacy inspired his career in conflict resolution and work with the Oleander Initiative today. Kathleen Sullivan led the audience in two interactive exercises; the first used the power of sound conjure for the audience the total firepower of current nuclear stockpiles, while the second shined a light on what we stand to lose if we don't work for disarmament today.

Bernard Otterman, in his remarks, provided context for his foundation's work in non-proliferation education and stressed the importance of citizen-led leadership on nuclear disarmament. Bernard recalled: 

In my youth, one of my heroes was Noble Peace Prize winner, Andrei Sakharov, who after heading the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, became an outspoken dissident. At great sacrifice and expense to his personal life, he urged the Soviet Union and the United States to destroy their stockpile of nuclear weapons and cooperate in non-military areas. With the arrival of Gorbachev on the Soviet national scene, this started to take place.

Here in the States, the non-proliferation and disarmament groups were very disappointed when President Reagan at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit, at the very last minute, turned down Gorbachev’s proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, at the present, there is no Gorbachev on the horizon, and it is we who must work to achieve non-proliferation in the near term, nuclear disarmament in the long run, and a more peaceful world in the future.

Oleander Media Coverage

The Oleander Initiative has garnered media coverage across the US and Japan. Below are some excerpts:

Finding Hope and Resilience in Hiroshima, Japan

For the hibakusha whom we met, the only way to live through the aftermath was to rise above the ashes, envision a more peaceful future and work towards it. This ethos drove Hiroshima’s post-war revitalization and reconstruction, and Oleander teachers will now share this example of resilience with their students. One teacher will host a speech-writing contest on this theme. Another will stage a theatrical performance in her school to highlight survivor testimony. In this way, Hiroshima’s lessons will spread from teachers to students across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Read More

Teachers from Middle East and North Africa Undergo Training in Hiroshima

Based on such experiences as listening to the “Commitment to Peace” presented by two children’s representatives at the Peace Memorial Ceremony, Leila Ben Said, 43, who teaches English at a junior high school in Tunisia, commented, “It’s important that we keep telling this story to pass on the memory of the atomic bombing. I will invite surviving family members to our school to tell their own stories to show the importance of peace.” Read More

Teachers from Nine Countries and Regions in the Middle East and North Africa are Currently Studying Peace Education in Hiroshima

Twelve teachers from nine countries and regions in the Middle East and North Africa like Tunisia and Palestine are currently in Hiroshima. They are studying how this city was affected by the A-bombing and how it was reconstructed. A Japanese-American, Ray Matsumiya (42), who has a hibakusha grandfather, organized this program so that the teachers would make use of what they learned back home to resolve regional conflicts and bring peace in the area. Read More

I Would Like to Send a Message About the Evil of Nuclear Weapons to the Middle East

The Middle Eastern teachers promised to transmit their experience of visiting Hiroshima to their students. They felt that when this transmission occurs, peace in the world would advance a step. Matsumiya’s program has received a very positive response and said that he intends to continue this project. Read More

War and Peace: Searching for a Nuclear-Free World

Oleander Initiative participants will meet atomic bomb survivors and disarmament thinkers from around the globe. The educators will then incorporate the lessons they learn into their curricula at home, while also training colleagues about nuclear war’s myriad dangers. “It’s up to the teacher to absorb what’s important to them, to create a lesson plan that is appropriate for their country,” Michael said. Read More

Hiroshima Taught Me to Look to the Future

At this time, it is crucial for groups of educators and community leaders not only from the Middle East region, but from throughout the world to travel to Hiroshima and draw their own lessons from the atomic bombing. Some of these efforts are already underway in this country, which is something I’ve personally advocated for. As I hope President Obama will experience, there is no substitute for hearing the first-hand testimonies of hibakusha nuclear survivors, witnessing the charred skeleton of the genbaku dome and feeling the sincere wishes of peace from the people of Hiroshima. Read More