75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Peace Cranes Events Review

You-Ri Yamanaka in The Mistake

The Mistake, The Priest’s Tale, The Doctor’s Tale

Review by Annie Mae Milburn

This month marks 75 years since the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan on the 6th and 9th of August 1945. To mark the respective anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two recent plays by Michael Mears have beautifully brought to life survivor accounts from each city, exploring the real depth of human suffering caused by the bombings. Recorded at Sands Films studio in London, the plays are now available to view online for free with the option to give a donation to support the performers, venue and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Performed on August 6th, The Priest’s Tale explores the story of a German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima and his experience of the bombing and its subsequent repercussions. An adaptation of one of the survivor accounts in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima, Michael Mears gives an excellent and heartfelt portrayal of Father Wilhelm, accompanied with live violin music by Chihiro Ono.

Following this on August 9th was a production of The Doctor’s Tale, adapted from the book Nagasaki 1945 by Tatsuichiro Akizuki. Performed by Leo Ashizawa with support from Michael Mears and again music from Chihiro Ono, the play follows Akizuki’s experience working in a small hospital when the bomb hit Nagasaki and trying to carry out his duty of care during the aftermath with a small team and extremely limited supplies. 

The simple staging of these two plays emphasizes the narrative itself, allowing the audience to truly focus on the characters at hand and engage with the weight of their trauma. Chihiro Ono’s violin interludes add a beautiful musical backdrop, interspersing the story and periodically allowing the viewer a moment of melancholy pause to sit with and digest the complexity and struggle of the narrative. Mears succeeds in bringing to life the experience of everyday citizens in the face of such unimaginable horror, forcing us to reckon with the awful human cost of the bombings.

Alongside the unspeakable tragedy that forms the basis of both performances, however, is a hopeful note in how the characters and their communities organise themselves after the bomb hits to try and help in any way that they can. Dealing not only with the immediate aftermath of the bombings but also Japan’s subsequent surrender, ending the war, and the burgeoning mystery of radiation sickness, the performances are effective at conveying the full gravity of the attacks and their enduring consequences. 

As part of the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre’s Peace Cranes project, The Mistake is a new play chronicling several people – ‘the survivor, the scientist and the soldier’ – and their experience with the bombing of Hiroshima. Directed by Jatinda Vermer and performed by Michael Mears and You-Ri Yamanaka, the play uses testimonies and eye witness accounts to entwine the stories of these three characters and their different roles in the tragedy. 

Unfortunately delayed due to COVID-19, The Mistake is now planned to open in August 2021 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, on August 22nd as part of Just Festival’s 2020 programme, an online event provided a sneak preview of the play through a video collage of rehearsal film and images. The video was followed by a post-show Q&A session featuring Michael Mears, You-Ri Yamanaka and Peace Cranes exhibition curator Iliyana Nedkova. Watch the entire event on the Just Festival YouTube channel here. 

Moving away from the single survivor story format of The Priest’s Tale and The Doctor’s Tale, The Mistake embraces multiple character perspectives to give a broader flavour of the different experiences and political undertones surrounding the terrible events in Hiroshima. 

The video montage provided an introduction to each of the characters: Shigeko Nomura, a Japanese woman living in Hiroshima during the war, Leo Szilard, a physicist integral to the discovery of nuclear chain reaction and the subsequent commencement of the Manhattan Project, and the American pilot tasked with dropping the bomb, Paul Tibbets. 

The addition of the Q&A session allowed Mears to go into detail about his thought processes and research behind the script, setting up an excellent background for the play. Some may be unfamiliar with less well-known actors involved in the making and deployment of the bomb, such as Leo Szilard, so the event also provided a deeper discussion of the historical context surrounding Hiroshima. 

Whilst Mears himself has not visited Hiroshima, Yamanaka discussed her first trip to the city earlier this year and how it affected her. She provided poignant insight by describing her thoughts as she disembarked the train and walked around the city, marveling at the extent of what has been rebuilt in only 75 years. 

The session ends on a thoughtful note as Nedkova queries how contemporary art and theatre might be able to contribute to uncovering more about the cultural legacy of Hiroshima and the bombing. This prompts a thoughtful discussion about the relative merits of theatre versus television and film, and whether or not reaching as many people as possible is really the ultimate true measure of success. 

As the future of in-person theatre remains somewhat uncertain for the time being, these three events have creatively shown how projects can adapt and evolve with the help of technology. Here’s hoping that The Mistake will be able to reach its intended audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and beyond next year. 

Click here to Watch The Priest’s Tale on Vimeo. 

Click here to watch The Doctor’s Tale on Vimeo, anytime.

Click here to watch The Mistake event on Just Festival’s YouTube channel.

Annie Mae Milburn is a graduate on a work placement with the P&J and is currently Editor of Peace & Justice News.

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Peace & Justice Joins Call on Boris Johnson to Ban Nuclear Weapons

We’ve joined with 29 other civil society organisations in a letter to Boris Johnson calling on the UK to Sign the nuclear ban treaty. If chemical weapons are banned so must nuclear weapons be. The possession and use of nuclear weapons, like chemical weapons, will be explicitly banned under international law. Thus far the UK, the US and other states that possess nuclear weapons, are  actively opposing the process to ban nuclear weapons.  

The letter has been delivered to the Foreign Secretary In advance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee which meets in Geneva from April 23rd, challenging the government to take its disarmament responsibilities seriously and in particular to participate in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Fifty eight countries have now signed the treaty. When it is ratified by 50 countries the Ban Treaty will be the law.

The full text of the letter (with signatories) is below.

The Rt Hon. Boris Johnson MP


Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to urge the UK to use the imminent Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee meeting to recognise and act upon the UK’s international obligation to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.

As you will be aware, disarmament is a fundamental pillar of the NPT regime. However, the widespread feeling that the NPT’s Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) are neglecting their disarmament obligations recently led the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs to link the lack of visible progress on disarmament to the declining health of the NPT regime. Izumi Nakamitsu stated in a recent meeting at Parliament that only demonstrable progress towards nuclear weapons states’ implementing their obligation under Article 6 to negotiate in good faith towards disarmament can “ensure the long-term viability of the Treaty.”1

Little progress has been demonstrated to the international community on the steps towards disarmament agreed in the NPT’s 2000 and 2010 Action Plans. At the same time, the NWS have been taking steps to modernise their arsenals – tolerating the risks of global devastation through accident, mistake or cyber-attack – with Russia and the US also adopting more aggressive nuclear postures. For example, both states have rejected ICBM de-alerting, and have placed emphasis on ‘lower yield’ nuclear weaponsand their ‘usability’ in recent policy announcements. These represent not only a dangerous development but also a set of policies that are clearly opposed to NPT commitments. We were therefore deeply disappointed to see the UK government “welcome” the recent US Nuclear Posture Review,and we ask what steps the government will take to ensure that our close ally steps back from policies that will undermine the NPT regime.

There is clearly an urgent need for states to build common ground on disarmament. Steps should be taken by the UK to build bridges with Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS), which must include signalling unmistakable progress towards the UK’s obligation to disarm. They must also include acceptance of, and engagement with, the new realities in the international non-proliferation and disarmament architecture.

As a country whose National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review links the UK’s future security and prosperity to the health of the rules-based international system, the UK needs to ensure it acts to strengthen, not undermine, this system. Irrespective of the UK’s position, the rules-based international system now unquestionably includes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In that context we would point out that the TPNW, as is made clear in its Preamble, is firmly anchored within international humanitarian law. Consequently, the UK should announce its intention to start constructively engaging with the TPNW, including through a commitment to attend future Meetings of States Parties as an observer.

Such a participatory policy could minimise misconceptions about the TPNW and the continued importance of the NPT to states. Many UK allies will now be pursuing additional and mutually reinforcing work under the TPNW, towards common goals on non-proliferation and disarmament that are described within the NPT and other treaties.

Participation would also provide an opportunity for the UK to contribute towards these goals by offering expertise to discussions and processes on subjects such as verification, and measures to assist individuals and remediate environments affected by nuclear weapons – given our history of nuclear testing, which continues to carry a legacy of harm.

Such an approach would send an important signal to NNWS that the UK is taking seriously their legitimate concerns about the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the urgent need for disarmament, which led to the negotiation of the TPNW. Within the UK, the Scottish Government and Parliament share the views of the UN member states that adopted the TPNW. The Scottish Government and Parliament’s constructive participation in the UK’s engagement with these allies should be welcomed by the UK Government.

An additional opportunity to cooperate with states on efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament, the UN High Level International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, takes place in May 2018. We urge the UK to attend this meeting at ministerial level or above and to use the opportunity to develop relations with NNWS and make progress on the UK’s disarmament obligations.

If the UK is to live up to its aspirations of a Global Britain, the UK cannot cherry-pick those forums for multilateralism that the government is most comfortable dealing with and ignore others. By adopting a policy of engagement and supporting the system as a whole, the UK can strengthen international cooperation at a time when the risks posed by nuclear weapons are considerable and arguably growing. We urge the UK to take all opportunities to work constructively towards the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Austin, Coordinator, Northern Friends Peace Board

Chris Butler, Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), United Reformed Church

Arthur Chapman, Chair, and Brian Larkin, Coordinator Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

Tim Devereux, Chair, Movement for the Abolition of War

Ben Donaldson, Head of Campaigns, United Nations Association – UK

Dr Gari Donn, Convenor, UNA Scotland and Executive Director, UN House Scotland

Janet Fenton, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – Scotland

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Cllr Ernie Galsworthy, Chair and Cllr David Blackburn, English Forum Chair, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, UK and Ireland

Robert Harrap, General Director, Soka Gakkai International – UK

Dr Stephen Herman, Director, Multifaith Committee on Shared Security, Religions for Peace (UK) Andy Hinton, Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser (International Affairs), The Methodist Church

Dr Rebecca E. Johnson, Executive Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Brian Jones, Vice Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Cymru

Bill Kidd MSP, Convenor, Scottish Parliament CPG Nuclear Disarmament

Gina Langton, 80,000 Voices

Fiona MacGregor, Hastings Against War

David Mackenzie, Trident Ploughshares in Scotland

Dr Judith McDonald, Coordinator, Medact Scotland

Anne Milne, Edinburgh Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Elizabeth Minor, Advisor, Article 36

Dr Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain

Oliver Robertson, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Paula Shaw, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, UK

Martin Tiller, Co-Chair, Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Dave Webb, Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Dr Philip Webber, Scientists for Global Responsibility

Arthur West, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

1 UNA UK, ‘UN disarmament chief urges states to build common ground on nuclear disarmament,’ 5 February 2018https://www.una.org.uk/news/un-disarmament-chief-urges-states-build-common-ground-nuclear-disarmament?page=3

2 These weapons are in fact similar in size to those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

3 USA: Nuclear Weapons: Written question – HL6250, https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2018-03-12/HL6250

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