Column: Afghanistan, Hiroshima, and 9/11

Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, 64, has said that people everywhere, even deep in the mountains of Afghanistan, have heard of Hiroshima. Dr. Nakamura has long been involved in supporting the welfare of the people in the eastern part of that nation, where the residents have suffered from a series of wars and conflicts. He said they once wore a respectful look on their faces when they spoke about the A-bombed city, as Hiroshima is seen as a symbol of Japan's rise from the ashes of World War II.

Japan's vow not to wage war again had also won their trust. The flag of Japan was a banner of security for Japanese personnel in the country. However, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed everything. Dr. Nakamura had been working on a project to construct an irrigation canal for a patch of drought-dried land. But he was now seen as a man from an enemy nation lending support to the U.S. war on terrorism, and his project was put in jeopardy.

Public security deteriorated sharply, and a Japanese member of the project staff lost his life to violence. U.S. helicopters flew missions above their heads. There must have been times when Dr. Nakamura himself wanted to flee such conditions. However, the medical doctor took up the task of operating a heavy machine, and the 25-kilometer canal was completed last year. The dry wasteland was transformed into a green field, producing a bumper crop of wheat this year that will feed hundreds of thousands of people.

One young man from Afghanistan is now trying to forge a new bond with Hiroshima. Shamsul Hadi Shams, 27, who experienced the horror of air raids in his homeland, is now a post-graduate student in the peace studies program at Hiroshima University. He said, with enthusiasm, that he had found hope in grasping the spirit of Hiroshima, whose people put their energy not into retaliation, but into reconstruction.

But people will be unable to escape from the quagmire of prolonged war as long as they face the hardships of hunger and poverty. Ten years have now passed since that fateful day when terrorism struck the United States. The weighty words of Dr. Nakamura should give us pause: “Weapons cannot bring solutions.”

(Originally published on September 11, 2011)