Viewpoint: Lives “stripped in a flash of everything”

by Masami Nishimoto, Editor and Senior Staff Writer

The novelist Tamiki Hara was exposed to the atomic bomb at his parents’ home in Nobori-cho, Hiroshima, where he was living after having earlier evacuated from Tokyo. Two years later, he wrote the novel “Summer Flowers.” A passage from this novel resonates anew after the massive earthquake and tsunami that abruptly struck Japan on March 11.

Was all this real? Could it be real?
The universe henceforth, stripped in a flash of everything.

The number of dead and missing as a result of the disaster has exceeded 26,000. The number of displaced, including those who have fled from the ongoing crisis at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, has surged to 250,000. The normal lives that the victims had been leading, lives that seemed so secure, were suddenly stripped of everything in a single helpless moment. Even those that managed to survive must now come to terms with the overwhelming devastation around them. In respect to the magnitude of the disaster on human beings, the areas ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami and the cities destroyed by the atomic bombings of 1945 share grim similarities that transcend time.

The government is mulling a revision of the Act on Support for Reconstructing the Livelihoods of Disaster Victims to put into place a variety of support measures, including offering three million yen, the maximum amount, to each of the families whose homes were completely or partially destroyed. A “reconstruction tax” is also being proposed by some experts. In order to adequately address this disaster, the greatest catastrophe since war's end, innovative policies and measures must be sought outside the bounds of conventional modes of thinking.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law, a special law enacted by the national government four years after the atomic bombing, served as the foundation for Hiroshima's reconstruction and its rise from the ashes. After this law was enacted, the national government substantially increased its support and subsidies in order to reconstruct the devastated city. Hiroshima's former military sites, nationally owned, were ceded to the city at no cost, and a hospital and a high school, among other facilities, were built at these locations. Article 1 of the law states that the act's objective is to construct a city that will “symbolize the human ideal of the sincere pursuit of genuine and lasting peace.”

One viable option would be to efficiently enact a special law which covers all of the disaster-affected areas, with the goal of building cities, regions, and a nation that will better protect human lives by implementing effective disaster prevention measures. This goal can be shared by everyone across Japan.

In 1958, 13 years after the atomic bombing, Hiroshima held a “restoration exposition.” The population of the city had also recovered to its prewar level by that time. History, however, shows us that although cities can be rebuilt, the psychological scars of the people who have lost family members and loved ones can never really be healed. Therefore, efforts to support and reconstruct the lives of the people left “stripped in a flash of everything” are critically required.

(Originally published on March 25, 2011)