Comment: An A-bomb survivor’s extraordinary journey

by Makoto Iwasaki, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

We received an email from the grandson of a Hiroshima A-bomb survivor, requesting copies of a series of articles his grandfather contributed to our newspaper in 1970. This series, titled “Peace Pilgrimage: 180,000 Kilometers,” was written by Masashi Nii, who died on August 1 at the age of 96.

Articles related to the atomic bombing which appeared in our newspaper have been posted to the website of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center. Knowing that his grandfather was involved in peace activities, he searched for Mr. Nii’s name on the Internet and found that he had written these articles. I’m ashamed to admit that I myself was unable to recall them. But when I searched for them in our data room, I was intrigued and impressed.

The series described Mr. Nii’s visits to 46 countries in Asia, Europe, and North and South America to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons. He spent three and a half years traveling, alone, by car. An A-bomb survivor, Mr. Nii experienced the Hiroshima bombing at the former office of the Army signal corps. He must have felt confident in his ability to communicate in English because he was born in California and came back to Japan before the outbreak of the war.

But how did he become so passionate about nuclear abolition? It seems he closed his factory and left the port of Yokohama in October 1966, carrying a trove of photos and printed materials that showed the devastation wrought by the atomic bombing. He was welcomed in India and even met with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But this was the time of the Cold War. He faced a tense situation in Eastern Europe when the former Soviet Union staged a military intervention in Czechoslovakia.

This was before the reunification of East and West Germany. During meetings in West Germany, heated debates were held between supporters and opponents of nuclear weapons. Graffiti on his car said, “Go home, Japanese.” On the other hand, he wrote that he felt a favorable response to his A-bomb account in the United Kingdom and France, both of which possess nuclear arms.

The World Peace Pilgrimage of 1962 and 1964, by Barbara Reynolds, an American peace activist, and some A-bomb survivors, is well known. Though Mr. Nii invested his own money and shared his experience 1,500 times, in places around the world, this extraordinary journey by an obscure citizen has been forgotten with the passage of time.

Concluding his series of articles, Mr. Nii wrote that more appeals need to be made. This must be what the people of Hiroshima are now feelings. After I sent copies of Mr. Nii’s articles to his grandson, he sent us an encouraging response, saying that he will cherish his grandfather’s desire for nuclear abolition and be active in efforts for peace as a third-generation survivor.

(Originally published on August 31, 2017)