Special Article for August 6: Japan’s “Peace Constitution” is in Jeopardy

by Akira Tashiro, Appointed Senior Staff Writer of the Chugoku Shimbun

One morning in August, marking the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I stood at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. In my mind, I spoke to the more than 290,000 dead whose names are written in the registry held in the stone chest inside the cenotaph.

“All the souls resting here, please awake, so this evil won’t be repeated.”

The Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims is inscribed with the words: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.” These words are a prayer for the repose of the A-bomb victims as well as a commitment by each person who stands before the monument to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons while not repeating the evil of war.

This summer, however, I am unable to face the many A-bomb victims with the confident vow that “we shall not repeat the evil.” In fact, if it were possible, I would even ask those who perished in the tragedy of the first nuclear attack in human history to help the living continue to honor this pledge.

The reason I feel this way is because a variety of measures putting priority on the Japanese military have been pursued under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office one year and eight months ago. These moves include revising the Defense Program Outline, increasing the military budget, enacting the Secrecy Law, and permitting broader arms exports.

In particular, a cabinet decision made on July 1, which will allow the government to exercise the right of collective self-defense, has reversed the nation’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution. Up to this point, the interpretation was an exclusively defense-oriented posture that had been maintained by successive administrations over the years. The new interpretation, however, will enable Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to be dispatched overseas to engage in wars waged by other nations. This interpretation of the Constitution, which is grossly self-centered and contrary to constitutionalism, is unacceptable.

Article 9 of the Constitution renounces war and prohibits the use of force to resolve international conflicts. This clause is a commitment to the Japanese people themselves, who suffered a death toll of some 3 million in World War II, as well as a commitment to the international community, including our neighbors, which were forced to endure tremendous sacrifices because of Japan.

The philosophy of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, which originated in the ruins wrought by the bombing, then culminated in the Peace Declaration delivered by Hiroshima Mayor Shinso Hamai (1905-1968) at the first Peace Festival (now the Peace Memorial Ceremony). It was held on August 6, 1947, two years after the war. At the venue, located at the northern edge of Peace Memorial Park amid post-war shacks, Mayor Hamai made the following appeal on behalf of Hiroshima citizens, including A-bomb survivors:

“For only those who most bitterly experienced and came to know most completely the misery and the guilt of war can utterly reject war as the most terrible kind of human suffering, and ardently pursue peace. … What we have to do at this moment is to strive with all our might towards peace, becoming forerunners of a new civilization.”

What Mr. Hamai proclaimed in this speech coincides with the philosophy of renouncing war found in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which went into effect on May 3 of that same year.

In this way, Hiroshima was transformed from a military city into a city of peace. Although A-bomb survivors regained some hope as they went on, they also faced the harsh reality of prejudice and discrimination; the loss of family members that had been a source of support; and the onset of various “A-bomb diseases,” including cancers, that were aftereffects of the bomb’s radiation. The survivors have struggled to overcome a great range of obstacles in continuing their lives.

With the passage of time, many A-bomb survivors have managed to overcome their bitterness toward the nation which dropped the bombs. As well as appealing for the abolition of nuclear arms and the rejection of war, they championed the importance of reconciliation among former enemies. They also preached the need to build trust through dialogue, avoiding animosity and violence.

The expressions “No more Hiroshimas” and “No more Nagasakis” embody the deep desire of the A-bomb survivors, who want no others on this earth to suffer the same fate. It can be said that these words portray the mission of A-bomb survivors to humanity, a mission they have been entrusted to pursue by the victims whose lives were tragically cut short by the atomic bombs.

Those who have made this commitment include a philosopher who would lead sit-ins in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims whenever a nuclear test was conducted, saying that human beings cannot coexist with nuclear weapons or nuclear power; A-bombed teachers who were devoted to peace education so their students would never again be sent off to war; A-bomb survivors who diligently recounted their experiences of “hell on earth” and conveyed the preciousness of life to students visiting Hiroshima on school trips; and artists who denounced the atomic bombing through poetry, novels, paintings, music, manga, films, and other artistic expressions.

I know a number of A-bomb survivors who have already passed away. They, too, worked hard to convey to people in Japan and out in the world the spirit of Hiroshima, which embodies the philosophy of the nation’s “peace constitution.”

However, the direction taken by Mr. Abe, proclaiming “a departure from the postwar regime” and seeking to strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance, is heading opposite to the path of peace that has been paved by the A-bomb survivors and others.

Johan Galtung, the former director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, is a leading expert in peace studies and familiar with Japanese society. He once told me, when I interviewed him in Kyoto:

“I hope that the Japanese people, who suffered the atomic bombings, will be more active as mediators in conflicts and contribute to creating a world without nuclear weapons and poverty by holding more pride and confidence in their peace constitution, which can illuminate a peaceful world for humanity.”

The concepts of “negative peace” and “positive peace” that Dr. Galtung devised are terms that have taken root in the world at large, not only in the area of peace studies. The former defines a state without war. The latter indicates a situation where not only war but also structural violence such as poverty, oppression, and discrimination do not exist. I expect that Dr. Galtung would no doubt criticize the term “positive pacifism,” a pet phrase of Mr. Abe which makes the military a higher priority, as a “distortion.”

Japan continues to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security policy. Due to the tangled political interests among the nuclear powers, the process of reducing the number of nuclear weapons on earth has reached an impasse.

To try to break this stalemate, a strong trend toward the abolition of nuclear weapons has emerged among the international community in recent years. The number of nations which seek a nuclear weapons convention focused on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons is growing because the tragic consequences of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are being made known more widely than before. This is thanks to the efforts made by a range of people including A-bomb survivors and citizens in and out of Japan as well as those involved in the local governments of the A-bombed cities, international NGOs, and other international organizations.

The proposed nuclear weapons convention would prohibit the development, testing, manufacturing, stockpiling, transfer, threats, and use of nuclear weapons by any nation, organization, or individual, including the five nuclear powers--the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China--which are allowed to possess nuclear arms under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Because the Japanese government has stated that it would permit the use of nuclear weapons in “extreme situations,” it has not joined the efforts made by other nations to conclude a nuclear weapons convention.

The Japanese government has been implementing a diplomacy of “double standards” by relying on nuclear weapons while appealing for their abolition. At this point, the A-bombed nation of Japan has been deemed an element of “opposition,” a drag on progress, by the non-nuclear powers and NGOs that are striving to effect an early conclusion to a nuclear weapons convention.

In the spring of 2015, which will mark the 70th year since the atomic bombing, the Review Conference for the NPT, which is held every five years, will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Even now, nearly 17,000 nuclear warheads, held mainly by the United States and Russia, still lurk in the world and the dangers of accidental nuclear warfare and nuclear terrorism could become a reality.

Current concerns include the confrontation between the nations in the west and Russia over eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula; conflicts in the Middle East involving Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Palestine; ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan; the military buildup by China; and the efforts to develop missiles and nuclear arms by North Korea. 

Nuclear disarmament and abolition can advance only if there is overwhelming international pressure on the nuclear powers as well as deeper mutual trust among these nuclear nations. With the state of the world as it is, however, it is difficult to be optimistic about the prospects of an encouraging outcome at next year’s NPT Review Conference.

In this impasse, the A-bombed nation of Japan can exert a persuasive impact on this trend toward the disarmament and abolition of nuclear weapons. It is mere illusion to believe that the United States will defend Japan by using its nuclear weapons if an emergency should arise. In the first place, nuclear arms are weapons that must not be used at all. It is high time for Japan to get out from under the curse of nuclear deterrence theory and join the circle composed of an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations and citizens, now seeking to start negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention.

With the A-bomb survivors standing at the forefront, the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have continued to make steady efforts, disseminating their desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the end to war, and the realization of lasting peace in the world. The appeals from Hiroshima and Nagasaki have received strong support from the international community and given courage to a great number of people. If the Japanese government would join hands with the two A-bombed cities in their efforts, global recognition of Japan as a “peace nation” would undoubtedly grow to a significant degree.

When we see the state of affairs in such nations as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, it becomes clear that military force can never resolve these dilemmas. Japan already has one of the strongest militaries in the world. Even if this nation strengthens its military buildup and joins the United States in waging war, I don’t believe it will contribute to the world’s “peace and stability,” as Mr. Abe claims.

It is vital that Japan engage in diligent dialogue with China, South Korea, and North Korea to build better relations with our neighbors while playing a positive role as mediator in places of conflicts, like in the Middle East. Japan should also strengthen its diplomatic efforts for peace by joining hands with JICA and its Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, NGOs taking action in conflict areas, and private companies.

Based on the lessons learned from World War II and the atomic bombings, in this way we would contribute to the betterment of humankind, Japan’s postwar aim. Mayor Hamai articulated this spirit clearly in 1947 with the words “to strive with all our might towards peace, becoming forerunners of a new civilization.”

Taking a far different path, the Abe administration is essentially trying to kill the peace constitution by exercising the right of collective self-defense without engaging in a proper legal process and debate with the public.

When the pacifism of Article 9 of the Constitution is lost, the appeals from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are grounded on this pacifism, will lose their power to resonate in the hearts of the people of the world. The current crisis involving Article 9 is also a crisis involving the spiritual legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which has been nurtured by A-bomb survivors and the people of these cities.


Akira Tashiro
Akira Tashiro, Appointed Senior Staff Writer of the Chugoku Shimbun, started his work for the newspaper in 1972. In 2003, he became a Distinguished Senior Staff Writer, also serving as Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center from 2008 to February 2014. His major writings include Nuclear Age: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Chugoku Shimbun Publishing), Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium (Daigaku Kyoiku Shuppan), and The 21st Century--The Negative Legacy of the Nuclear Age (Iwanami Shoten Publishers). He has also received such awards as the Vaughn-Ueda International Writer Prize and the Japan National Press Club Award.