Hiroshima Memo: A-bomb survivors and air-raid victims must strengthen solidarity to realize state compensation

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

People living in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, are being killed or wounded in large numbers by missile attacks from U.S. unmanned combat aerial vehicles, or “combat drones,” among other attacks. These attacks are targeted at fighters of anti-government forces, including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the militant Islamic group with a global reach, but innocent people, children and the elderly among them, are often victims of the violence.

In villages where residents have been killed, villagers have developed a hatred for the United States. A number of young people have joined the Taliban and other armed groups, been indoctrinated in their ways, and then taken part in suicide attacks.

This is a vicious cycle in which violence begets hatred and hatred spawns more violence. The American soldiers who control the combat drones from the U.S. mainland are engaged in the war as if it were a video game. For the majority of Americans, Afghanistan is a world away. The only Americans in danger of being killed or wounded are U.S. soldiers and other personnel who have been dispatched to the war zone.

The ordinary citizens of Afghanistan, a nation roiled into a battlefield, have no place to turn to appeal for compensation even in the event that family members are killed or wounded. The U.S. government does not listen to the voices of these people, and the Afghan government cannot afford to help them, either. The reality is that these people have no choice but to accept such tragedies with resignation.

By the same token, Japan’s waging of the Asia-Pacific War, brought on by the Japanese government, resulted in air raids which reduced most cities in Japan to ash, not to mention the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 100,000 people fell victim to the Great Tokyo Air Raid and Okinawa bore heavy losses in ground battles there. In locations throughout Japan, scores of citizens experienced suffering as a consequence of the war.

More than ten years after the war ended, the Japanese government, faced with the demand of A-bomb survivors for state compensation, began providing them with medical and financial assistance on the grounds of the “uniqueness” of the A-bomb damage. These measures, though, simply fall within the framework of “social security” services and are not administered as a result of the government’s acknowledgement of its responsibility for the war. Apart from this compensation to A-bomb survivors, the government has maintained the stance that “the war damage must be endured,” making no moves toward providing additional compensation to air-raid victims, their bereaved families, and others who suffered from the war for the past 65 years.

This situation is no different from that of Afghanistan, where the Afghan people are being forced to make similar sacrifices. The Japanese war victims who had no links with the military, have been, for the most part, compelled to accept the consequences of the war. But Japan, a clearly culpable player in the war and now an economically developed nation, bears heavier responsibility for having neglected these people.

“A-bomb survivors will break the impasse over the acquisition of state compensation and that compensation can then be expanded to other victims of the war.” Such a principle was found in the efforts of A-bomb survivors’ organizations, but the principle has not been fully pursued to this day. And now, memories of the war and the atomic bombings are fading among the Japanese people, including political leaders who were born after the war. As if reflecting this situation, voices pursuing “power politics” based on military might, without carefully considering the implications of that course of action, are growing.

Precisely due to such circumstances, A-bomb survivors and victims of air raids, among others, must unite, encourage the involvement of young people, and call for compensation from the state. Such an effort would surely contribute to the fulfillment of a world without war and nuclear weapons, the greater goal underlying the demand for state compensation.

(Originally published on November 8, 2010)

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