Creating Peace through Law: the City of Hiroshima


The Hague’s identity as an international City of Peace and Justice began when the Peace Palace opened on August 28, 1913.  A product of the fierce optimism of Andrew Carnegie who provided 1.5 million dollars to finance its construction, the Peace Palace provided a proper symbolic home to what Carnegie referred to as the “high court of humanity” (the Permanent Court of Arbitration) – the precious jewel of the 1899 Hague Peace Conference.

By Professor Hope Elizabeth May, Central Michigan University

The cusp of the Peace Palace Centenary marked an important moment for The Hague.  May 2012 not only saw the opening of the free visitor’s center at the Peace Palace, but it also occasioned an important change granted by royal decree: the addition of “Vrede en Recht” (Peace and Justice) to the official coat of arms of The Hague. These developments signal a new chapter in The Hague’s evolution as a premier international city of peace and justice.

As The Hague enters its next phase, it is an opportune time to consider the experience of another city that was built, by law, to be a symbol of international peace – that of Hiroshima, Japan. 2014 marks not only the centenary of World War I, but also the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law (“Peace City Law”). Passed by the Japanese Parliament in 1949, the Hiroshima Peace City Law (HPCL) entered into force on the 4th anniversary of the Hiroshima tragedy: August 6, 1949. Article 1 lays out the purpose of the of the HPCL: 

            It shall be the object of the present law to provide for the construction of the city of Hiroshima as a peace memorial city to symbolize the human ideal of sincere pursuit of genuine and lasting peace.

Spearheaded by another fierce optimist, Mayor Shinzo Hamai, the first Mayor of Hiroshima elected after the bombing (in 1947) and a hibakusha (victim of Atomic Bomb), the HPCL does not simply provide for rebuilding the material components of the city (infrastructure, sanitation, etc.).  Even more importantly, the law directs the Mayor – in cooperation with citizens and relevant organizations – to create a city that symbolizes the human ideal of peace.  Article 2 mandates the “planning of facilities to inspire the pursuit of lasting peace and such other cultural facilities as would befit a peace memorial city.” Thus, the HPCL is an expression of the view that the rebuilding of Hiroshima should not simply be about the rebuilding of its infrastructure, but should instead serve a higher end.  Mayor Hamai regarded this higher end as a “revolution of thought” arising out of the crisis of Hiroshima and from which a “new civilization” of true peace could be hewn.  As he said in his first Peace Declaration of 1947, “[t]his revolution in thinking ought to be the basis for an absolute peace, and imply the birth of new life and a new world.”

The HPCL reveals another dimension of the concept of  “Peace through Law” that is at the core of the Hague’s DNA.  We learn from the example of Hiroshima that “Peace through Law” is deeper than the “peaceful settlement of disputes” or “rule of law.”  The HPCL rests on the principle that the physical and material dimension of human experience can and should serve a higher, spiritual function – that of creating an “absolute peace”.  Significantly, Andrew Carnegie shared this philosophy of viewing the material – and wealth – as serving some higher, spiritual value.   Carnegie explicitly acknowledged the preeminence of spiritual goods and noted that material things exist for the sake of the spiritual.  Put differently, the material things are not the end, they are the merely the means to the truly valuable: moral, intellectual and aesthetic goods.  At the rededication of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Institute in 1907, Carnegie noted that “things material, including money itself, should only be the foundation upon which are reared things spiritual.”  He further stated that “mines of coal and iron have not completed their mission when transmuted into articles for use and these into dollars”. In Carnegie’s view, the  “mission of the material” is to “develop those higher things of the moral, intellectual and aesthetic domain.”

In addition to teaching us that the concept of “Peace through Law” rests on a philosophy in which material goods exist for the sake of hewing goods spiritual, the activity of Hiroshima – of this “peace city” - has much to teach us.  In the 65 years since the implementation of the HPCL, Hiroshima has blossomed as a vibrant city of international peace that provides a variety of lessons from which The Hague can learn as it enters its next phase of development. 

The Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Study Course

For instance, The Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation (HPCF) (established in 1976) was created as “a peace culture promotion organization that aims to contribute to world peace and the welfare of human beings.” “Peace culture” here refers not to “peace and culture,” but to “peace culture” as opposed to “the culture of war or violence.” This peace culture derives from Mayor Hamai’s “revolution of thought” and the pervasive belief in Hiroshima that peace is far more than the absence of war.

A quasi-municipal organization that lies just outside of the city of the Hiroshima, the HPCF produces educational resources such as booklets like the Hiroshima Peace Reader.  The HPCF also implements unique educational programs such as the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Study Course – an educational outreach program that assists universities (both in Japan and overseas) in developing curricula to tell the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and explore the concept of peace culture.  The HPCF offers a wealth of assistance to its accredited instructors.  This assistance includes the provision of resources including educational materials (books, DVDs, CDs) as well as access to other instructors, researchers and even hibakusha. Given that public education is integral to the goal of international peace and justice, The Hague, the Carnegie Foundation or even the Peace Palace Library might consider launching a similar program to assist educators in telling the important story of The Hague’s Peace Through Law tradition. 

Mayors for Peace

Also arising out of Hiroshima’s evolution as a peace city is the NGO ‘Mayors for Peace’.  Originally established in 1982 by the then Mayor of Hiroshima, Takeshi Araki – ‘Mayors for Peace’ blossomed under the leadership of Araki’s eventual successor, Tadatoshi Akiba.[1]  Mayor Akiba, who became mayor in 1999, grew the organization into a formidable global network which now connects nearly 6000 city mayors who have declared their support for a genuinely peaceful, nuclear-weapon-free world.  Members of the NGO are urged to sponsor peace and disarmament activities in their communities, and to send statements to the UN Secretary General during disarmament week (October 24-30).  ‘Mayors for Peace’ reminds us of Eleanor Roosevelt’s important insight about the integral role of the local, the “small places close to home”, in creating a world in which peace and human dignity flourish.  ‘Mayors for Peace’ also reminds us that international peace and justice are not just for foreign ambassadors, diplomats, special envoys or international lawyers.  Rather, local leaders also have an important role to play in educating their communities about international peace and justice.   In fact, the importance and power of local leaders to the realization of international peace and justice was well recognized by Andrew Carnegie who formally invited mayors, business leaders, and school superintendents to the National Peace Congress in New York in 1907.   As The Hague enters its new chapter, let it use the example of Hiroshima to return Andrew Carnegie’s vision of international peace and justice as one which calls on mayors, teachers, businessmen and community officials to help grow the vision.

The Genbaku Dome as World Heritage

Hiroshima also teaches us that physical monuments are important to peace cities.  Such monuments provide a symbolic focal point and can educate, remind and connect human beings through a shared story that transcends generations. The Hague has the Peace Palace to serve these functions. Hiroshima’s physical monument is the A-Bomb or Genbaku Dome.  This structure has been preserved as a memorial to the victims of the tragedy, and as symbol of the universal desire for peace. In 1996, the same year that the International Court of Justice issued its advisory opinion on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, the Genbaku Dome was designated as a World Heritage Site. Notably, the Peace Palace does not appear on the World Heritage list. 

Perhaps the next chapter of The Hague can be one in which is enriched with inspiration from its sister city, Hiroshima, teaching us that a  “peace city” is one that supports a global network of educators, works with a global network of locally elected officials that serve those constituencies nearer to “the small places close to home,” and by embracing the “outstanding universal value” of its defining peace monument, invests in projects and programs that share its story as heritage of the world.

*The author wishes to thank Steven Leeper, Professor at Hiroshima Jogakuin University and  Former chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, for his assistance with this article.


[1] Incidentally, Mayor Akiba participated in some of the Peace Palace Centenary activities in The Hague wherein he connected with some of Andrew Carnegie’s descendents and witnessed the unveiling of Ingrid Rollema’s bust of Bertha von Suttner.