by Ellen Thomas,
Proposition One Committee


On November 3, 1994 I had the pleasure of being the only foreigner invited to speak to 1,500 Japanese peace activists at the 9th annual Japan Peace Conference, which was held in Misawa City, 500 kilometers north of Tokyo.

The conference was organized by some 70 peace and progressive national organizations, including the Japan Peace Committee, Zenroren ("National Federation of Trade Unions"), Zenkyo ("National Teacher's Union"), and many other associates of Gensuikyo ("Council Against A&H Bombs").

Gensuikyo is an umbrella coalition of associations, including students, women, pensioners, teachers, scientists, physicians, "religionists," artists, scholars, trade unionists, and even some politicians, who all agree, amid their various other concerns, that global nuclear disarmament is their first priority.

Japan Peace Committee (membership 20,000) publishes Peace Journal (Heiwa Shimbun) three times a month, and a monthly magazine (Heiwa Undo).

Among these organizations are the New Japan Women's Association (200,000 members have collected 6 million signatures on the Hiroshima Appeal); Zenkyo (the National Teacher's Union, which has been an important resource for educational materials as well as signature campaigns); and the scholarly Japan Association for a Non-Nuclear Government, which represents 50 national organizations whose members help distribute information and provide useful skills and contacts.

Mainly the members "are GOOD lawyers, physicians, and particularly university professors," says Hiroshe Ide, one of its founders, at a very informative lunch in Tokyo during my stopover between Misawa and Hiroshima. "Some of the lawyers help the World Court Project, and physicians belong to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The Association has three main principles about nuclear weapons: don't bring them in, don't produce and don't possess them. We encourage people to always press their local and prefectural governments, asking them to adopt a resolution against the use, manufacture, testing, storage, stockpiling, and deploying of nuclear weapons."

I was treated like royalty in Misawa, Hiroshima, Kobe, and (briefly) Tokyo, with guides, wonderful interpreters, transportation, meals and hotels provided as I traveled 2,000 kilometers back and forth through Japan by modern, comfortable Shinkansen trains. Japan is a string of islands, the largest Honshu, which I traversed nearly from tip to tip. I was occasionally nervous about catching the train, but my guides were always confident that if we left the hotel 15 minutes before departure, we couldn't miss the train, which was always precisely on time. Their trust that taxis and traffic would behave according to plan was awe-inspiring.

I was asked to speak at the Conference as a member of Proposition One Committee, the non-profit, all-volunteer group based in Washington, DC, which was responsible for bringing a successful voter initiative to the people of DC in September 1993 ("Initiative 37"), and the resulting bill proposed into U.S. Congress by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton in January 1994 as HR-3750, the "Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act." (In 1995 it was re-introduced as HR-1647, and in 1997 as HR-827.)

Over and over during my week in Japan, when I was able to visit with peace people in Misawa, Hiroshima, and Kobe, I was told that DC Initiative 37 and the resulting Congressional bill give people hope, proving that in America a few patient people can accomplish a great deal.

My hosts seemed to understand the significance of our work, and its frustrations. I discovered that their 50-year struggle for nuclear disarmament has faced similar obstacles of government repression, media silence or misinformation, and public misunderstanding.

I was struck by the coincidence between our effort to amend the U.S. Constitution with Proposition One, and the Japanese people's struggle to retain their Peace Constitution of 1947, a unique and courageous document that was opposed and undermined by General MacArthur and subsequent U.S. policymakers.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution reads, "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

"In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

Japanese Prime Minister Shidehara first proposed this language to General MacArthur, who replied in a letter that he was "astonished" at the proposal. Shidehara later wrote that MacArthur was at first hesitant to approve the idea, but was moved by Shidehara's plea that this was "a matter of the highest importance to the future of mankind, transcending any national interests." The Japanese, sick of war and terrified of nuclear weapons, got their Peace Constitution, but MacArthur had other plans.

In 1950, MacArthur ordered the establishment of a "National Police Reserve" of 75,000 to "fill the gap" created by the dispatch of Occupation forces to Korea with the outbreak of the Korean War. In 1952 it was renamed "National Safety Forces," and in 1954 "Self Defense Forces" with three branches: Ground, Maritime, and Air. For years the government argued that the Defense Forces were necessary to help the U.S. defend Japan against a Soviet threat. Now the government claims Korea is the reason for maintaining the Japan Defense Forces and for allowing nuclear weapons and military bases to remain in Japan.


As in the U.S., much of Japan's focus is on its economy. Natural disasters don't help. Crime and homelessness are on the rise. The enormous costs of the U.S. and Japanese military are contributors.

I saw a homeless man sleeping on a bench in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (bicycle locked at his head).

I was shown the underground city in Kobe and the parks in Tokyo where homeless people slept at night.

I saw dozens of shops boarded up in Misawa, particularly near the air base, victims of a recession which drives down the yen-to-dollar exchange rate and keeps military personnel on base, buying from the cheap PX.

GATT is feared in Japan. According to Mr. Ide, within 5 years of GATT's ratification, "the import of rice will be fully liberalized. Compared with other developed countries, Japanese people have been heavily dependent on imported foods. Now even rice, our main staple food, which was for many years self-sufficient, has to be imported. The government program anticipates that only 10% of farms will stand the foreign competition in the near future."

No doubt the politicians in Japan are as divided about how to correct these problems as U.S. politicians.

Humans being human, there's also division in the peace movement itself. Gensuikyo is a grassroots organization, calling for immediate elimination of nuclear weapons. Gensuiken is another, more conservative organization, nearer the government position of "gradual reductions."

Nor are all religious groups in agreement. "The largest Buddhist sect is not so concerned for peace," Reverend Okawa said.

Mitsuo Sato, the keynote speaker at the Misawa peace conference, and Vice President of the Japan Federation of Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union (Jichiroren), called for unity of purpose.

"The tasks and movement for peace, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the end of the war and the atomic bombing," he said, "must be to:
  1. eradicate the damages caused by bases, remove the U.S. bases, and abrogate the Japan-U.S. military alliance;

  2. defend Article 9 of the Constitution and develop a big drive for prevention of Japan becoming a big military power;

  3. see that Japan and the world are free from nuclear weapons; and

  4. link our struggle to protection of the people's living."

Proposition One addresses numbers (3) and (4), of course, by calling for global nuclear disarmament and conversion to human needs.

Much can be learned from Gensuikyo about mobilizing diverse groups toward the common goal of a nuclear-weapons-free future for our children. Automobile and computer industries have benefited by adapting to Japanese methods. So, perhaps can we.

Of course, the exchange will not be one-sided. Although the Japanese build computers and VCR's, and regularly use fax machines, most of the activists I met are not yet involved with computer networking via e-mail, nor do they yet have public access television stations. When these tools are made available, the Peace Wave should take on a whole new dimension.

We have told Gensuikyo that all signatures on Proposition One petitions (official or unofficial) may be counted toward their newly proclaimed goal: to collect signatures on their Appeal from over half the population of Earth.

Volunteering with Proposition One thus aids the global Hiroshima Appeal. It also might have more immediate U.S. results. HR-3750 of 1994 is to be re-proposed in 1995, a promise made by Eleanor Holmes Norton recently. The number will change, but the name will remain "Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act."

U.S. citizens can write their Congresspeople for bipartisan support. Citizens of all nations can write their United Nations Ambassador, c/o U.N. Plaza, New York, NY 10017 USA, and ask, "Convince all countries with nuclear weapons to promise, 'Yes, we will eliminate our nuclear weapons if everyone else does.'"

Do help, won't you?

Ellen Thomas, for
PO Box 27217,
Washington, DC 20038 USA
202-682-4282, phone, fax
et@uujobs.com (e-mail)

[A personal note: Deepest thanks are due all the wonderful people I met during my tour, especially the skillful, patient (and fun!) women who guided and translated for me in Misawa (Rieko Asato and Myumi Kogure), Hiroshima (Itsuko Yoshioka and Mrs. Minami) and Kobe (Nobue Kugimaya), and the honorable gentlemen who escorted me from Tokyo to Misawa and back (Mr. Fukuyama) and through Kobe (Mssrs. Okawa, Kajimoto, Nishioka, and Haino). I pray we may all meet again.]