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Friday, Aug. 22, 2003

Osaka forum focuses on ignorance of arms issues


Staff writer

OSAKA -- The need for effective education on disarmament issues is vital if individuals are to be able to evaluate claims by political leaders regarding weapons of mass destruction, delegates to an international disarmament gathering said Thursday.

Those who attended the third day of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues in Osaka agreed that, internationally speaking, education of this kind is still in its infancy and must be expanded.

During the day's discussions, educators, politicians and ambassadors from around the world discussed the importance of disarmament education with Japanese schoolteachers and nongovernmental organizations.

"The greatest challenges to achieving disarmament are complacency and ignorance at all levels of international society," remarked William Potter, director of the U.S.-based Monterey Institute of International Studies, one of only a handful of institutions worldwide offering disarmament classes.

"In August last year, a report on disarmament education was submitted to the U.N. General Assembly by a group of experts convened to study the issue. The report concluded that additional education was needed at all academic levels."

The result of such ignorance, added Malcolm Savidge, who serves as a British member of Parliament and as a representative for Parliamentarians for Global Action, leads to world leaders like U.S. President George W. Bush and his supporters waging war instead of peace.

"U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz claimed that intelligence surrounding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was 'murky,' " he said. "Well, no weapons have been found, which shows that what's 'murky' is the intelligence of the neoconservatives in Washington D.C."

The subject of Iraq and disarmament education was also raised by several of the nearly two dozen teachers and NGO members who participated in Thursday's session.

During the Iraq war, the teachers noted, many elementary school children saw photos or television coverage featuring Iraqi children who had been injured by U.S. bombs.

"We had lots of questions from students about why, if disarmament was so important, such terrible things were happening, questions that were extremely difficult to answer," said one Osaka elementary school teacher.

Other teachers complained that the Japanese government is not doing enough to promote the importance of the issue.

To boost international awareness of disarmament issues, Potter suggested that the Monterey Institute would be interested in working with Japanese high schools to participate in a program the institute runs for high school students from the U.S., Britain and Russia.



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