History of Hiroshima: 1945-1995 (Part 5, Article 2)
Aug. 1, 2012
The Early Days of the A-bomb Survivors’ Movement
by Yoshifumi Fukushima, Staff Writer
Note: This article was originally published in 1995.
There is no catch-phrase on a poster created five years ago by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, a nationwide organization of A-bomb survivors, for the 45th anniversary of the atomic bombing. With the heading “Juyonsai no Tsume,” (“Fingernails of a 14-year-old”), the story of a death due to the atomic bombing, written in both Japanese and English, fills up the poster.
The story involves a boy, a middle school student at the time, who suffered severe burns in the blast. He begs his mother for water, but his mother steels her heart and refuses, afraid that the water will harm him, as it seems to have harmed other victims. When the boy rubs his arms, the skin peels away and his fingernails drop off. Unable to bear his thirst, he sucks at the fluid oozing from his fingertips. The next day, this 14-year-old boy dies.
The A-bomb survivors’ movement was originally sparked by a rage that had no outlet, and that movement has been sustained to this day. In the beginning, suffering from poverty and radiation-induced health concerns, the A-bomb survivors called for medical treatment and support for their livelihoods. They did not ask for charity. The movement has championed their opposition to nuclear arms, which deprived them of their health, their livelihoods, even their humanity. At the same time, the movement has involved a struggle in which the survivors have questioned where the responsibility lies for their loss.
The Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, which organized the A-bomb survivors’ movement, remained unified even in the face of a split in its campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs, and continued to point to the nation’s responsibility in calling for enhancements to the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law. Now, though, the organization faces the new problem of an aging membership. The silent cry from the poster with the story of the 14-year-old boy is: “No more hibakusha.” That cry will linger until the day nuclear weapons are eliminated from the earth.
Co-chair of Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers conveys fervent wish for nuclear abolition to future generations
Growing up, they lived together like brother and sister. The girl, three years younger, was a first-year student at a girl’s junior high school. On the morning of the atomic bombing, she asked the boy to lend her the only canteen in the house. She was on her way to help dismantle houses to create a fire lane in the event of an air raid. “Please lend me the canteen, big brother,” she said. But the boy wouldn’t give it to her. “I’ll need it when the bombs fall,” he replied. That was the last time he ever saw her.
The girl was actually the boy’s niece. Now 65, Takeshi Ito is the co-chair of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers and president of the University of Yamanashi. His niece, Kikuko, would pray in front of the Shinto altar in their home, not for victory in the war, but for her “big brother’s fragile health.” Mr. Ito, who was a third-year student at Hiroshima First Middle School at the time, was fortunate to escape injury in the bombing. Whenever he offers a silent prayer for the A-bomb victims at gatherings of A-bomb survivors, he pictures his niece. The thought goes through his mind: “I’ll abolish atomic bombs for you.”
On August 10, 1956, a declaration was read aloud at the Nagasaki International Cultural Center: “We have reassured our will to save humanity from its crisis through the lessons learned from our experiences, while at the same time saving ourselves.” Eleven years had passed since the atomic bombings and the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations was now born. It was the first nationwide organization of A-bomb survivors, created by survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the second World Conference Against A- & H-Bombs.
“At the time, my heart wasn’t open to it yet,” Mr. Ito said. But two years later he awakened to the A-bomb survivors’ movement after becoming involved in the formation of an association of A-bomb survivors in Tokyo. While working as a teacher at an evening high school, he was invited to take part in organizing the group. In this way he gained insight into the plight of the survivors.
One survivor, unemployed, sat shivering in a drafty room. A mother could only let her baby drink the water used to wash rice. A Korean survivor was struggling in a foreign land. “I couldn’t keep silent,” Mr. Ito said. Until then, he had thought: “Other people will never understand the suffering caused by the atomic bombings.” Mr. Ito, his heart closed until that time, was becoming drawn into the A-bomb survivors’ movement.
Within the movement, Mr. Ito made the appeal: “Let’s not quarrel over our differences; instead, let us find the same purpose in order to preserve our unity.” Mr. Ito began his involvement with the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations in April 1964, serving as secretary general of the Tokyo Federation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations. The situation was improving at the time, with the court ruling on a lawsuit over the atomic bombings declaring the bombings to be a violation of international law and resolutions passed by both the Lower House and Upper House to enhance relief measures for survivors. Meanwhile, A-bomb survivors were preoccupied with preventing a rift in their ranks. Concern was raised that infighting over political positions would leave A-bomb survivors and their hard lives out in the cold and could cause a split in the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations. Such a split would further undermine the A-bomb survivors’ movement. A call for unity proposed that survivors “stand together on the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law.”
The A-bomb survivors’ movement was affected by the subsequent disarray in the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs. Though this campaign gained momentum in the wake of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on the Bikini Atoll, cracks appeared partly due to political differences in connection with the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960. The following year, members of the Democratic Socialist Party and the Japan Confederation of Labor left the campaign and formed the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons. At the World Conference Against A- & H-Bombs in 1963, members of the Socialist Party and those of the Communist Party suffered a split after vying for leadership of the organization. The Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations was also shaken. In 1962, representatives from 11 prefectures proposed withdrawing from the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and joining the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons. The meeting of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations was cast into confusion. Three years later, its board members announced that, for the time being, the group would not align with any organizations against atomic and hydrogen bombs. However, objections to this policy were also made. In that year, the 20th anniversary of the atomic bombing, the confederation fell into a state of such disarray that it was unable to even hold a regular general meeting.
From the start, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations has appealed for a law to bring relief to atomic and hydrogen bomb sufferers as one of its missions. However, on the whole, the original aim and policy were heavily weighted toward providing medical treatment. At its sixth general meeting in 1961, the organization presented the more definitive idea of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, which called for “national redress.”
Mr. Ito said he believes the atomic bombs were inhuman weapons that were dropped on Japan due to the war it was waging. He said, “Our nation has the responsibility to compensate for the loss of lives and livelihoods, and the emotional trauma, produced by the atomic bomb and do everything in its power to ensure that no more hibakusha are created.” The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, in which the wishes for nuclear abolition and national redress were imbued, would be the manifestation of that spirit. Some A-bomb survivors felt that a revision of the Atomic Bomb Medical Relief Law would be sufficient.
In Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, Mr. Ito and other supporters of the law compiled a booklet called “Characteristics of the A-bomb Damage and the Call for the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law.” Released in 1966, it was called the “Tsuru Brochure” because a folded paper crane was depicted on the cover. The booklet explains the differences between the atomic bombings and other war damage, including radiation sickness, and was used to form the foundation of the campaign for the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations.
From this beginning, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations embarked on a full-blown campaign to enact this law, with A-bomb survivors traveling across Japan to promote the cause, among other efforts. However, in December 1980, a private advisory body to the Ministry of Health and Welfare that was charged with discussing issues involving relief measures for victims of the atomic bombings submitted a report which contended that “All citizens must equally endure the sacrifices of the war.” Seeking to avoid displaying “preferential treatment” to A-bomb survivors over other war sufferers, the ministry virtually rejected the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law.
As secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations at the time, Mr. Ito was helping to spearhead this campaign for the law. He expressed fury at a news conference: “Forcing the whole nation to endure the war damage in this way will lead to more wars being fought.” The warm, mild manner he was known for was overwhelmed by his frustration.
In December 1994, just prior to the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing, the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law was enacted under the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan, brought about by a change in the structure of domestic politics. However, the state compensation sought by A-bomb survivors was not made part of the statute. In the end, the law consisted of relief measures for living A-bomb survivors and admitted neither national responsibility for the war nor individual condolences for the A-bomb victims who had already passed away.
“The law is incongruous; it’s full of inconsistencies,” Mr. Ito said. Particularly due to its historic nature, he feels unhappy about the shape that the law took. However, as he reflected on the campaign, which had been pursued for many years, he said, “I think there’s significance, at least, in the fact that we were able to sustain our campaign, supported only by the untiring efforts of A-bomb survivors and public opinion, and have made inroads for the future. Still, I have mixed feelings about the law itself...” The nation must reflect on its responsibility for what occurred in the past, Mr. Ito argues, and make the law a symbol of Japan’s resolve to help eliminate nuclear weapons from the world. A-bomb survivors are now growing older, though. Mr. Ito wonders if the efforts of the A-bomb survivors and their supporters can be passed on to the next generation.
In 1985, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations held its first gathering for A-bomb survivors and bereaved family member of survivors who had passed away. At the gathering, the organization sought to clarify the remaining challenges facing its campaign for the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law. Still, there was no way to hide the graying of the survivors in attendance. Since then, ten years have passed and the average age of the A-bomb survivors is now over 65.
By the middle of the 21st century, those who directly experienced the atomic bombing will be mostly gone. Maintaining the movement begun by the A-bomb survivors will be a more difficult task. But the knowhow to sustain the movement, in which frail survivors and their supporters have doggedly summoned the strength to carry on, will persist. At the same time, Mr. Ito cautions: “Particularly from this point forward, the A-bomb survivors’ movement must not be complacent.”
To become a significant force, the movement will require A-bomb survivors joining hands more widely with other war sufferers and victims of colonial aggression, as well as family members of A-bomb survivors and victims. “To what extent the efforts that A-bomb survivors have pursued are making the people of Japan and other nations happier is something I want to ponder,” Mr. Ito said. He is confident that the greatest aim of the A-bomb survivors’ movement remains “eliminating nuclear weapons and war,” he added.
“A-bomb survivors are extremely sensitive to any hint of the use of nuclear weapons. Even if we speak of handing down the A-bomb experience, it would be difficult to pass on the true horror that the survivors experienced with their five senses. So I would like the next generation to assume the same sensitivity to nuclear weapons that the A-bomb survivors feel and adopt the indomitable attitude with which they have devoted themselves to the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons,” Mr. Ito said.
The atomic bombing was a great rupture in Mr. Ito’s life. In an instant, he lost friends and the house where he grew up, as well as the school he attended. These things are lost forever and the deep void he feels can never be filled. In response to this loss, he has led a life of vigorous protest against the atomic bombing, which deprived him of these precious things.
“Kikuko’s voice has never changed,” Mr. Ito said. “I still hear her calling me ‘big brother.’ It was for her that I’ve devoted my life since the war to the A-bomb survivors’ movement.” After working as a high school teacher, he has been serving the University of Yamanashi for the past 30 years. Three years have now passed since he took office as president of the university. It may be expected that the president of a national university would withdraw from the A-bomb survivors’ movement. However, as Mr. Ito wrote in an essay: “For every human being, there is something essential to his or her way of life. Such things cannot be abandoned under any condition.”
Council on Relief Measures for A-bomb Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki exerts pressure on movement in 1960s
The A-bomb survivors’ movement, which has sought a ban on atomic and hydrogen bombs as well as relief measures for A-bomb survivors, was at times subjected to political pressures. The conflict between the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations and the Council on Relief Measures for A-bomb Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one example. In March of 1960, Hiroshima Prefecture, in its budget for fiscal 1960, appropriated a subsidy of 300,000 yen for the Council on Relief Measures for A-bomb Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but turned down the application for a subsidy of 1.5 million yen that was submitted by the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations. The Council on Relief Measures for A-bomb Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was formed in October of the previous year, spearheaded by the chairs of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Prefectural Assemblies. The organization, which was mainly comprised of members of the Liberal Democratic Party, carried overtones of disapproval toward groups opposed to atomic and hydrogen bombs. It also called for A-bomb survivors to refrain from getting involved in political battles.
When its application for the subsidy was turned down, the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations lodged a strong protest against Hiroshima Prefecture. It argued: “The prefecture is under the misapprehension that the confederation, because it is engaged in the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs, is a progressive organization. But our organization is a group campaigning to protect the lives of A-bomb survivors with no affiliation to political parties or groups. We are indignant that our application was rejected due to this misperception.”
In response, the prefecture said, “The Council on Relief Measures for A-bomb Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an impartial organization, different from a private group, primarily seeking medical assistance for A-bomb survivors. It is a prefecture-wide organization, with mayors and village leaders commissioned to serve as the heads of branch offices.”
In an article dated April 1, 1960, the Chugoku Shimbun then depicted the behind-the-scenes story at a round table talk of journalists in this way: “Hiroshima Prefecture seemed to have been at its wit’s end, unable to say anything even though it viewed the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations as a left-leaning group. At the same time, it felt threatened by the LDP, which said, ‘We will voice our objection if you seek to grant a subsidy to the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations.'"
The year 1960 was a political season which saw conservative and progressive forces clashing over the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. This incident is a stark example of how the A-bomb survivors’ movement was buffeted by these opposing forces.
(Originally published on February 19, 1995)