Marking the anniversaries of war, especially World War One or Two, is a major educational opportunity: a way to tie in current issues of our time with our collective histories. Yet this is often one-sided, at least in the UK, with an emphasis on victory, glory, heroism, militarism and nationalism. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s (CND) Peace Education programme offers a way for teachers to engage differently, whether by inviting our trained volunteers to work with their students directly, or by providing free resources to enrich their teaching and provide balance in the classroom.
This week marks 75 years since the end of the Second World War, yet many students in the UK aren’t given the chance to fully understand the multiple experiences and sufferings involved in bringing war to an end. Some, for example, have become accustomed to believing that the use of nuclear weapons was necessary in order to bring about Japan's surrender, despite what many historians argue. Having such a pre-given understanding of the past reinforces the idea in the UK that nuclear weapons, regardless of their destructive potential, are essential for securing the lives of British citizens – if ‘nukes’ could end the war previously, then they can deter war in future. Our workshops don’t aim to reject this idea, or shame young people for supporting nuclear weapon possession, rather we aim to provide alternatives, and help students think critically about these assumptions by providing multiple perspectives on the issue and encouraging dialogue.
History and RE teachers welcome our ‘Truman On Trial’ workshop, which gets students role-playing different witnesses and lawyers in a mock criminal trial of President Harry Truman, who dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima (6 August 1945) and Nagasaki (9 August 1945). Classes hear about how nuclear weapons work, how many there are in the world today, that together the bombings are responsible for upwards of 340,000 deaths (mainly Japanese civilians), and they hear from six fictional stakeholders on both sides of the issue. This kind of educational approach simply provides the facts and balances an argument that, in the context of a militarised version of Remembrance, is otherwise skewed towards a pro-nuclear stance. Students might still find the atomic bombings to be justified in their view, but not without reckoning with their consequences. Others are surprised by the destruction brought by the bombs, as well as their multi-generational impacts. Did you know for example, that women are 50 per cent more likely to die or develop cancer from radiation, whilst only men have used nuclear weapons?
For younger students, our ‘Sadako’s Cranes for Peace’ workshop follows the story of an inspirational Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor), Sadako Sasaki. She folded paper cranes whilst in hospital battling radiation-caused leukaemia. She tried to fold 1,000 ‘orizuru’ (paper cranes) in order to be granted a wish, as promised by a Japanese myth. Amazingly, she managed to fold 1,600 cranes before she sadly passed away as a result of the atomic bomb. Her story has inspired young people and adults the world over, and students in the UK – whether 10 or 18 – enjoy making their own paper crane in solidarity with her story.
‘I enjoyed it when we had to make our own ‘peace’ signs and learned about them… I thought it was fun and entertaining and we got a chance to make origami cranes.’
– Year 6 student, Rockliffe Manor School (London).
Whilst our programme might be seen as a niche issue, nuclear weapons education is a vital part of building a sense of global citizenship and humanitarianism in young people, who will go on to be the change makers of the future. By asking students to voice their opinions, and to engage in respectful discussion, we help them think for themselves, reach their own conclusions and challenge others’ opinions constructively. Thinking about peace as an alternative to violence is a skill every human stands to benefit from, yet this is not frequently addressed in schools curricula.
Even as we see World War Two still circulating in the media, at careers fairs, and national holidays, the lens of nuclear weapons is useful to help students connect the militarism of the past, with the militarism of today. CND Peace Education runs workshops on the Cuban Missile Crisis, showing how close the world can come to nuclear escalation, and on the gendered and colonial impacts of nuclear weapons. In an educational landscape that is so geared towards modular learning and examination, it’s undeniably helpful to show students how the issues they learn about are connected not just to each other, but to students’ own lives.
The Green Party has long opposed nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear power. Whilst CND Peace Education teaches nuclear weapons issues primarily, we also have lesson plans on uranium mining in Northern Australia and the Chernobyl disaster. The latter, which may seem an increasingly historic case study can still engage students today, as the triple BAFTA award-winning show Chernobyl demonstrates. Not just the domain of History, Politics and Citizenship, nuclear weapons education can engage Geography, Physics and Maths teachers too.
‘I thoroughly enjoyed it… very interactive and I learnt a lot about nuclear weapons in regards to global politics… It was a great experience’
– Year 13 Politics student, Westminster Kingsway College
It’s rewarding to speak with older students about the state of the world today, whether through assemblies, seminars or workshops. So few know about NATO and other nuclear alliances, or the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted by 122 states at the United Nations in 2017. The Green Party understands that military alliances like NATO hinder peace by preparing for war, and it supports the TPNW. But how might it change young people’s understanding of their own country to know that the UK is one of only nine countries to possess nuclear weapons, and that the majority of the world stands against them?
It’s never our aim to convert young people to believing in the views of CND, but we believe it’s crucial to provide a balanced education about nuclear weapons and peace. In order to do this, we must also believe that young people are capable of thinking critically and for themselves about these issues. Our workshops are testament to this, and show that students and teachers alike enjoy the sessions for their engagement, balance, and fun-factor. 90 per cent of students would like us to return to their school so that they can learn more, and 98 per cent of teachers would recommend us to colleagues.
CND Peace Education is the non-campaigning wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We provide schools and teacher training programmes in England with free, interactive workshops and assemblies on nuclear weapons and peace issues. Around 7,000 students each year benefit from our programming, as well as some 450 trainee teachers.