Editorial: 69 years after the atomic bombing, memories must be handed down

People in the A-bombed cities have long expressed frustration over the lack of progress made in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. Even 69 years after the end of the war, there are still thousands of nuclear weapons. But just like the fact that not a single day has passed without a war being waged somewhere on this earth, it seems as if a world without nuclear arms has become so elusive that it may never be realized.

Perhaps this is because people’s awareness of what really happened on the ground in Hiroshima, the tragedy beneath that mushroom cloud, continues to shrink. Most people hold no memories of the war, and the A-bomb survivors are growing old.

Hiroshima has been feeling increasing puzzlement and helplessness when it comes to handing down and disseminating the A-bomb experiences and calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Look around and you will see signs of resignation that have settled here and there, like a layer of sediment. These are the “fading memories” brought about by the passing of nearly 70 long years since that day.

There are many, though, who have not given up. The people who gathered yesterday in Hiroshima for the inaugural meeting of the National Liaison of the In-Utero Survivors of the Atomic Bombings expressed feelings of urgency. Of course, because they were still in their mothers’ wombs at the time, they are unable to share any personal experiences. Still, these “youngest A-bomb survivors” are determined to convey what their parents experienced and what they themselves endured after the war. Their mission, as they see it, is to serve as a link to the next generation.

Every survivor has had a uniquely individual experience. But their basic message can be put simply: “We never want anyone else to suffer what we ourselves have experienced.” This powerful message pushes listeners to ask themselves: Will I, too, work to help realize a world without nuclear arms?

Minimum condition for human survival

In this year’s Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui will share accounts of some survivors, as he has done in his past three speeches. We hope that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, and other leaders will reflect seriously on these sentiments. We hope they will give deep pause to the failings of human beings, particularly the policymakers and scientists who have been swayed by the destructive power of nuclear weapons. Nuclear abolition is the minimum condition for the survival of our species, and we must fulfill this demand. The leaders of our world must appreciate this and begin showing, today, their understanding through action.

But, to our regret, we cannot help but feel a sense of crisis, rather than hope, as a result of the moves made by the governments of Japan and the nuclear powers.

At a cabinet meeting, the administration of the A-bombed nation approved a reinterpretation of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense, though a majority of the Japanese people are opposed to this change.

Past administrations have interpreted Article 9 of the Constitution in a way that left Japan with the right to collective self-defense, but not the ability to exercise it. The Abe administration, though, has made an about-face, a hasty action that is beyond our understanding. It would be far more just to pursue a change to the text of the Constitution than to offer clumsy excuses, one after the other, for this reinterpretation.

Of course, Mr. Abe does not believe that military preparedness alone can bring peace to East Asia. But an arms race without limit will easily lead to a reliance on weapons of greater and greater power--in other words, nuclear arms, which can annihilate the enemy with a single strike.

Contradiction of nuclear umbrella

Fundamentally, though, Japan is mired in a contradiction as it calls for nuclear abolition while relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella to defend the homeland. The government’s approval of exercising the right to collective self-defense will bring Japan closer to nuclear deterrence. This is what concerns the people of Hiroshima. Mr. Abe must not disregard this concern.

Needless to say, the attitudes of China, as it builds up its nuclear arsenal, and North Korea, which seeks to arm itself with nuclear weapons to protect its regime, are unacceptable. But precisely because of these attitudes, Japan and the Korean Peninsula must not become involved in nuclear arms development and should secure a promise from China and other neighboring nations that they will not launch a nuclear attack. This is the idea of a nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty. Japan, as the A-bombed nation, should take the initiative and act to advance such a pact.

In the pursuit of disarmament diplomacy, Japan’s pacifist constitution should serve as a polestar for others. We can never accept the idea that the renunciation of war is just a naïve notion that should be done away with to suit the reality of today’s world.

Bowing to pressure from A-bomb survivors and others, the Japanese government has finally endorsed a joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. It is only natural, then, that the government drop the idea of nuclear deterrence, which is a threat based on the assumption that such weapons will be used.

Israel, which is believed to possess nuclear arms, has been engaged in a string of fierce battles with Gaza, an autonomous area of the Palestinians. Bloodshed continues in eastern Ukraine, with the backing of Russia, which is a nuclear superpower along with the United States. It is clear that nuclear deterrence does not contribute to regional stability.

Conclude a nuclear weapons convention

If we yield to the logic of the nuclear weapons states, nuclear disarmament will make little headway and more and more nations will seek to become nuclear powers, too. Meanwhile, there is a global trend toward a nuclear weapons convention, with a growing number of people sharing the belief that the sufferings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must not be forgotten. The Japanese government, however, has been reluctant to take proactive steps toward this goal, arguing that the time is not right for such a move.

Given this situation, hearing Japan call itself “the only nation to have suffered atomic bombings” is disconcerting.

Roughly 140,000 people are believed to have died by the end of 1945 as a result of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. But this number is only an estimate. To date, the city government has identified less than 90,000 victims.

This gap in the death toll is due to missing information. In some cases, entire families perished, and in others, service members left Hiroshima shortly after they were exposed to the bombing. In the blink of an eye, the atomic bomb destroyed evidence of those who lived and died. In this way, in their assault against humanity, nuclear weapons merit the term “absolute evil.”

This missing information remains buried in the ground of Hiroshima. The land also holds more stories than will ever be brought to light. Our efforts, though, to uncover what still remains untold should lend momentum to efforts to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons. Hiroshima must reject the notion of nuclear deterrence and persist as a beacon of hope in building greater peace in the world.

To hand down the memories of that fateful day, each and every one of us must help tell the story.

(Originally published on August 6, 2014)