A-bomb survivors and citizens express worry after missile launch by North Korea

On February 7, in response to North Korea’s test launch of a ballistic missile, the people of the Chugoku region in western Japan, which includes the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, spoke out in anger and fear. “They did it again” and “This launch could lead to them mounting nuclear warheads on their missiles” were some of the comments. Meanwhile, many sought a measured response from the Japanese government, concerned that tighter sanctions could potentially make Japan the target of a North Korean missile attack.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, 73, the vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), said, “It seems there is no remedy for North Korea.” He then paused, at a loss for words. Just one month ago, his group staged a sit-in in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, to protest the announcement by North Korea that it had conducted another nuclear test. “If North Korea is hoping to mount nuclear weapons onto its missiles, this is dreadful. As an A-bomb survivor, I find this unconscionable,” he said emphatically.

Kunihiko Sakuma, 71, chair of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, denounced North Korea for its actions, saying, “It is wrong to use military might to threaten the international community. First, I believe Japan, as the A-bombed nation, should make clear that we will not cling to the U.S. nuclear umbrella any longer. I hope the government will then actively appeal to North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui commented: “This act tramples on the A-bomb survivors’ wish for a peaceful world, a desire rooted in their sad, painful experiences.” And Hidehiko Yuzaki, the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture; Akira Hada, the mayor of Fukuyama; and Kazutoshi Komura, the mayor of Kure, responded with such statements as “I feel strong indignation” and “This is a very unfortunate act that threatens our peace and security.”

At the same time, many citizens expressed concern and sought a careful reaction to North Korea’s provocations. Kazumi Kato, 44, a resident of Fukuyama, said, “I’ve been worried about this launch for the past several days.” She added, conveying mixed feelings, “I think the Japanese government should condemn North Korea for its behavior, but it’s frightening to think that Japan could become a target for attack if it angers North Korea by pursuing tighter sanctions.”

Takenao Hamamoto, 33, a resident of Onomichi, received news of the missile launch from a special edition of the Chugoku Shimbun in Naka Ward, Hiroshima. Holding in mind the fact that France became the target of a terrorist attack after it carried out air strikes against the militant group known as the Islamic State, he contended, “If sanctions are tightened against North Korea, it may take an even harder line. I don’t think the Japanese government should aggravate North Korea right now.”

Some people argued for more cooperation within the international community. Atsunori Shimada, 75, a resident of Yasugi, said that sanctions would not be effective if they were only pursued by Japan. Yukio Matsumoto, a resident of Iwakuni, where the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is located, spoke out to the international community, saying, “I would like the world to be united and undertake consistent action against North Korea so that our city won’t become the target of a missile.”

Others said that the people of the A-bombed cities should make a stronger appeal for nuclear abolition and seek peaceful solutions. Yuko Wada, 38, a resident of Miyoshi, said, “I’m worried that conditions in this region could become unstable. North Korea would feel more persuaded to abandon its military efforts only if the nuclear nations set a course toward eliminating their own nuclear arms.” And Hirokazu Sugita, 68, a resident of Onomichi, said with conviction, “It’s important to resolve these issue through dialogue. The people of Hiroshima should appeal to all nations to abolish nuclear weapons from the earth.”

(Originally published on February 8, 2016)