American journalist shares stories of the hibakusha “Now is the time when the stories of hibakusha are strongly persuasive.”

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer

In 1980, as a journalist working for a radio station, Diana Roose participated in the Akiba Project which invited American reporters to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to interview hibakusha. She has recently published a book, entitled “Teach Us to Live--Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” a compilation of 11 hibakusha accounts. Twenty-eight years have passed since she interviewed hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the first time at age 32. During these years, she has visited Japan four times to continue interviewing hibakusha, and she has held theater events, reading workshops, and photography exhibitions in the United States. Through these activities she has been committed to telling the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the word “war” has been heard on a daily basis. She says, “Now is the time when the voices of hibakusha are very important, as they have suffered the tragedy of war and found another path that humans should walk on.” I spoke with Ms. Roose when she visited Hiroshima at the end of 2007.

Why did you write your book?
Twenty-eight years ago, when I visited Japan as part of the Akiba Project, I heard stories of hibakusha for the first time and they were really powerful. The event totally changed everything: my life, my work, my childrearing, and my perceptions toward the world. I came to see the issue of nuclear weapons as a challenge for individual persons and I wanted to do something to help hibakusha and to abolish nuclear weapons.

However, even now, history textbooks in the U.S. only mention “the U.S. dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” and “the war ended” as passages about the atomic bombing. No personal stories of hibakusha are written.

“Join the military” “Kill terrorists”... The current U.S. administration has glorified war and chants slogans instigating young people to fight. Superficial words advocating patriotism are rampant and everyone ignores the real facts behind “war.” When war starts, a large number of people are killed. In particular, nuclear war would bring tragic consequences.

Through the stories of hibakusha, I wish to convey the reality of war and nuclear weapons. My children who were born in the 1970s and 1980s are now grown. I feel that the time has come to tell the stories of hibakusha to the generations of my children and grandchildren.

In particular, what do you want to express to readers through your book?
I have learned a lot and have been inspired by the lives of hibakusha. Some hibakusha gave up their dreams of getting married and childrearing, and instead have undergone operations many times. Others lost beloved families. Their grieving is deep. However, they have committed to telling their experiences, have written poems and drawn pictures of their memories of the atomic bombing, and so forth. Although their ways of life are all different, all of them have lived courageously and found hope for tomorrow. Part of the importance of the stories is not just what horrible things happened in the bombing, but how the survivors overcame their troubles and created meaningful lives for themselves and their families.

What reactions have you received from U.S. citizens over the past 30 years as you engaged in activities conveying messages from Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
After finishing programs for a radio station in Pennsylvania and moving to Ohio in the Midwest in 1981, I started to hold traveling theater performances, photography exhibitions, and reading workshops for children on the atomic bombing. In the past, many U.S. veterans of World War II would come up to me, saying, “What about Pearl Harbor?” I think I convinced them at that time, saying, “I am not telling about the past. I am not telling about World War II. I am talking about the future. This could happen in the future.”

But now, 28 years later, I find the reactions of people are quite different when I talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the number of people who were born after the war has increased. Quite a number of young people are surprised, saying, “I didn't know anything about the atomic bombing.”

What should be done to convey “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki” to future generations?
The most important thing to learn is that these stories really happened. They are true stories. The stories of hibakusha are not fairy tales. They are an important part of the world today. Children today know nuclear weapons only in video games and novels. It is important to tell them that “the atomic bombs were developed and dropped by the hands of humans and in one flash, many people died.”

And then we should have children learn the history of the atomic bombing and the nuclear issue as challenges facing themselves. Children are guileless. Children in the U.S. could start to fold paper cranes and pray for peace, when they listen to the story of hibakusha just like their grandmas. Their responses, before and after hearing the stories of hibakusha, may be different.

Children are not alone. I want to convey the voices of hibakusha to politicians and the President. We should not have a “nuclear option” in our foreign policy. Even though we face the possibility that terrorists could use nuclear weapons, the use of nuclear weapons should not be justified. My sons have grown up listening to the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki since they were mere children. My second son Kevin, who is 21, wrote an essay about meeting hibakusha for his college application. He wants to become a writer in the future. I am committed to being involved in activities transmitting the voices of hibakusha for the rest of my life. I hope my children will continue these activities.


The Akiba Project
The Akiba Project (officially, the Hibakusha Travel Grant Program) is a project in which American journalists were invited to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to learn firsthand about the bombings and then report their findings in their local media. As the project was proposed by Tadatoshi Akiba when he was an associate professor at Tufts University in the United States--now Mayor of Hiroshima--it came to be known as the Akiba Project. The project was sponsored by the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation, under the auspices of the Chugoku Shimbun and the Chugoku Broadcasting Company. Starting in 1979, the project lasted for 10 years and extended invitations to 34 journalists.

Diana Roose, 59, is a resident of the U.S. state of Ohio. She visited Hiroshima in 1980 as a participant of the Akiba Project, which invited local journalists from the United States. She works as an administrator at Oberlin College.