Editorial: Sixty-eight years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

Time to recognize nuclear weapons as an absolute evil

Hiroshima has once again marked the anniversary of the atomic bombing.

Sixty-eight years ago today, a brilliant flash and thermal rays descended upon schoolhouses, factories, demolition sites, streetcars, and houses lining the streets of the city.

In an instant, people’s lives – the voices of small children that echoed in the lanes, family conversations – were swept away by the blast.

Believing a delta to be effective terrain for determining the power of the atomic bomb, the United States had considered Hiroshima as a target from early on.

At 8:15 a.m. on Monday, August 6, just as people were starting their work week, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb, knowing that it would take the lives of innocent citizens. The menace of radiation still afflicts the survivors.

No matter the reason, we cannot excuse this inhumanity. And until we rid the world of nuclear weapons, we can’t face the victims.

Resolve called into question

There are approximately 17,000 nuclear warheads in the world today. Although this number has greatly declined since the Cold War era, Hiroshima is beset by a feeling of helplessness. But we mustn’t give up. Our determination and our efforts to ensure that the world shares the awareness that nuclear weapons are inhumane must be called into question.

First of all, we must take care to pass down the survivors’ accounts of the A-bombing.

In Hiroshima in August there are a greater number of events at which peace is considered. It is not only out-of-town visitors who are surprised by the vestiges of damage from the A-bombing that remain throughout the city. Last weekend we participated in a tour of A-bomb monuments and heard young residents remark that they had not known about some of the monuments before.

But those who are aware of the situation 10 or 20 years ago know all too well that there are far fewer opportunities to hear A-bomb survivors tell their stories today. Manga artist Keiji Nakazawa, who continued to lecture despite his poor health, died late last year.

But his comic series, “Barefoot Gen,” has been translated into 20 languages and continues to be read. Mr. Nakazawa’s anger at losing his family to the atomic bomb and his survival amid the ruins were depicted by his alter ego, Gen, who continues to captivate young people.

It’s not only anger. If we listen to the accounts of the aged A-bomb survivors, we sense that they have kept their strong feelings bottled up inside.

Feeling of guilt even now

That is because hating the U.S. won’t bring their families back. Some still blame themselves for having survived after leaving their families to perish amid the flames.

That is why most A-bomb survivors say that they don’t want anyone else to experience suffering like theirs and express a desire for a world without nuclear weapons or war. They are engaged in a constant struggle in which they vent their hatred and bitterness and then repress them once again.

Those of us who do not know war or the atomic bomb cannot make the survivors’ experiences our own. All we can do is tell the next generation of their experiences, supplementing the survivors’ memories, fighting against time.

Let us fire our imaginations. We need to read the many accounts that survivors have written and build up our knowledge so as to be able to recreate the events of August 6. If we have opportunities to hear A-bomb survivors tell their stories, we must listen to their innermost feelings. We must read not only “Barefoot Gen” but other A-bomb literature, look at paintings and watch movies and television programs on the subject and absorb the survivors’ anger at nuclear weapons.

These efforts will also serve to strengthen our awareness of the history surrounding the A-bombing.

With regard to its wartime aggression, Japan’s perception of history is once again being called into question. At the same time we cannot accept the deep-rooted belief in the U.S. and Asia that the dropping of the atomic bomb was justified because it hastened the end of the war.

But what is truly alarming is the stance of the Japanese government. At a meeting of the preparatory committee for the review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in April, the government declined to support a joint statement on the non-use of nuclear weapons, citing the inconsistency with Japan’s reliance on the nuclear umbrella of the U.S.

This means that the use of nuclear weapons could be grudgingly accepted in some cases. How does Japan have the right to agree to that?

And the Abe administration is considering completely changing the interpretation of Japan’s Constitution, which has been deemed to prohibit the exercise of the right of collective defense, to allow for the exercise of that right. This means that if the U.S. should be attacked by some country, Japan could retaliate against that nation. If the countries involved have nuclear weapons, Japan could become involved in a nuclear war.

Considering that risk, it would make more sense for the Japanese government to call on the nations of the world to make the elimination of nuclear weapons their top priority.

Will Japan go nuclear?

Meanwhile other nations are increasingly concerned that if Japan ends its reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella it will seek to acquire its own nuclear weapons.

One reason is that Japan continues to store huge quantities of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel from its nuclear power plants. Another reason is that when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was deputy chief cabinet secretary he stated that the Constitution did not necessarily ban the possession of atomic bombs as long as they were small, demonstrating how Japan’s policymakers continue to view nuclear weapons as permissible.

There are also increasing efforts to revise the Constitution so as to transform the Self-Defense Forces into a national defense force. This would mean loosening the restrictions of the current Constitution, which has limited Japan’s military expansion. At the same time it might shatter the trust in Japan as a peaceful nation, which the country has worked so hard to build.

Looking back on the war, for Japan, which lacks resources, securing a supply of energy was an important factor that led to needless conflict. But what about the current situation in which procedures are underway to restart the nation’s nuclear power plants? From the standpoint of Hiroshima, which has known the fear of invisible radiation and suffered on account of harmful rumors, it seems that the victims of the disaster in Fukushima are being abandoned.

In the Peace Declaration he delivered at the Peace Memorial Ceremony today, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui referred to nuclear weapons as an “absolute evil.” We would like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and John Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, to take this to heart. At the threshold of our efforts to pass on the stories of the A-bomb survivors, we also must etch this in our minds.

(Originally published on August 6, 2013)