Editorial: Statistical Survey of Atomic Bomb Victims

Make a fresh start at the 70-year mark

The City of Hiroshima has released a new report on its Statistical Survey of Atomic Bomb Victims, which attempts to identify each person who experienced the bombing, where they were at the time and when they died and then analyzes this data. This is the seventh report since the survey began in fiscal year 1979.

The total number of victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was found to be about 15,000 more than was determined in the previous survey. This can be said to be progress, but the number of people who had died by the end of 1945, which is regarded as a direct measure of the human suffering caused by the A-bombing, declined by 961 because some duplication in the records was found.

It is true that there has been little new material to analyze in recent years. The fact that it took 14 years to put together the seventh report is indicative of the impasse the city feels it has reached. But giving up at this stage is unacceptable.

Bearing in mind the significance of these surveys, ways to make a fresh start should be considered.

What must not be forgotten is the importance of identifying the victims not as numbers but as names. The names that are compiled bring into sharp relief the lives that were turned upside down by the atomic bombing. This is why the focus has been on the survey’s data on the number of those who died by the end of 1945.

The figure of 140,000, plus or minus 10,000, is the city’s official estimate, but the latest survey came up with only 88,978 names. Over the past three years, in cooperation with Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, the city has reviewed the applications for A-bomb Survivor Certificates, but they have been unable to close this gap.

The survey has made good progress at times in the past. In 1995, when the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law took effect, many families of those who had died applied for the Special Funeral Benefit, which led to the discovery of the names of more victims. But there has been little progress like this recently.

Some feel that the survey has reached its limit, but it’s only natural to continue the effort to identify as many victims as possible.

Some have pointed out those the survey fails to uncover, such as cases in which entire families were killed. Other examples are those who left Hiroshima to return to the Korean peninsula after the A-bombing and those who returned to their homes throughout Japan after being discharged from the military.

The city has indicated its intention to continue to conduct the survey. If that is the case, we would like the city to consider how it will address issues like these.

In the case of military personnel, for example, can’t better use be made of the information on individuals compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for the payment of pensions? The central government’s active involvement is essential to that effort.

The central government bears some responsibility for the fact that there are gaps in the statistical survey’s data. Although it conducts a survey on the victims of the atomic bombing once every 10 years, it has not demonstrated much enthusiasm for clearing up the facts surrounding those who died. The government has made relief measures for the atomic bomb survivors a form of social security, which is related to its consistently backward-looking posture on state compensation, including that for A-bombing victims.

The city’s statistical survey originally began as an effort to integrate various surveys conducted by the central government, local governments, Hiroshima University and others. Now, as the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing approaches, cooperation must be strengthened to get a complete picture of the atomic bombing’s effects on Japan.

In the past, some in Hiroshima called for the preparation of a white paper on the consequences of the atomic bombing. This idea needs to be reexamined.

For that reason as well, we would like to see the results of the statistical survey put to better use. A summary has been published in pamphlet form, but how many people can digest its specialized content?

If the human suffering resulting from the A-bombing is broken out by area, including the hypocenter, and analyzed in detail, this may be useful in creating more carefully crafted peace education. Some hope that the figures on the number of deaths within five years of the A-bombing will help to elucidate the initial effects of radiation.

This data is also of global importance for telling of the threat posed by nuclear weapons, and we must remind ourselves that Hiroshima has this data.

(Originally published on March 31, 2013)