Hiroshima : 70 Years After the A-bombing

Hiroshima Asks: Toward the 70th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing: Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition, Conclusion

by Masakazu Domen, Yumi Kanazaki, Michiko Tanaka, and Keiichiro Yamamoto, Staff Writers

Seventy years have passed since atomic bombs were used in warfare for the first time in human history. The inhumanity of nuclear weapons is now recognized more widely than ever among the international community. This, in part, is the result of long-standing efforts made by the A-bomb survivors. Despite the injuries they suffered, the health concerns that have haunted them, and the loved ones they lost, many survivors have persisted in conveying their experiences to the world.

Still, around 16,000 nuclear warheads remain on this planet today. Some countries maintain them as trump cards when it comes to their national interests.

This series, “Hiroshima Asks,” has focused on the domestic and international “walls” that stand in the way of eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. To conclude the series, this article presents potential ways to clear these hurdles, along with the results of a survey of A-bomb survivors and high school students living inside and outside Japan.

Clarifying “humanitarian consequences” of nuclear weapons

At the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition” held at American University in the United States, a man was standing in front of a painting titled “Death of American Prisoners of War,” one of the paintings from The Hiroshima Panels by the late Iri and Toshi Maruki. Gil Rosenberg, 94, had tears in his eyes as he stood with his face turned downward in front of the painting which depicts crew members of U.S. bombers who were killed in the atomic bombing. They were detained in Hiroshima after their aircraft was shot down in Japan.

Mr. Rosenberg served in a radar unit on the island of Tinian in the Pacific Ocean, where the U.S. fought hard against the Imperial Japanese Army. As he gazed at the painting, Mr. Rosenberg explained that his emotion came from the thought that he could have been caught himself and met the same fate.

Justification for the A-bomb attacks

When asked whether the atomic bombings were right, Mr. Rosenberg’s voice grew stronger and he said that Japan had inflicted great suffering in China. But after listening to an A-bomb survivor’s account, he apparently had mixed feelings. He wondered aloud why the United States had dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, adding that Japan should have surrendered earlier.

“The atomic bombings liberated Asian nations from Japan’s occupation.” “The atomic bombings saved the lives of many people that would have been lost if the United States had invaded Japan.” These positions, which are used to justify the atomic bombings, are “walls” often encountered in our coverage. Support for such arguments is especially strong among U.S. veterans.

But it is not overstating the case to say that this “A-bomb myth” is maintained by turning away from the inhumane consequences of the atomic bombings. Twenty years ago, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum stirred a storm of controversy when it sought to hold an exhibition that included A-bomb artifacts. Amid heated debate, a charred lunch box from the Hiroshima bombing became one of the first items to be removed from the list of exhibits.

The lunch box testifies to the fact that innocent school children were indiscriminately killed by the bomb. According to a source involved in the planned exhibition, this small artifact was removed precisely because it could undermine the “A-bomb myth.” At the current exhibition, a replica of the charred lunch box used by Reiko Watanabe is on display.

The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is an issue that inevitably arises in such gatherings as the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), putting pressure on the nuclear weapon states and nations which depend on nuclear deterrence.

To strengthen this tide, Hiroshima and Nagasaki must convey concrete details of these “humanitarian consequences.”

Nuclear weapons are inhumane not only because they kill a massive number of civilians indiscriminately in an instant, but also because they affect the health of survivors for years to come since the radiation they release can damage human genes. Sadako Sasaki, the girl well known for her paper cranes, began showing symptoms of leukemia a full 10 years after the atomic bombing. As illustrated by the class action lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification that are still being fought in court, the survivors still wrestle with health concerns linked to the bombing even 70 years later. In addition, it is still not known whether the effects of radiation could be passed down across generations.

Even in Japan, some still object to the focus on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when many died in air raids on Tokyo and Osaka. But the unique nature of nuclear weapons must be recognized and taken into account.

Seeing from the perspective of ordinary people

This year’s four-week-long NPT Review Conference was held at United Nations headquarters in New York through May 22. During the conference, Japan proposed that wording which would encourage world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki be included in the final document. But this language was removed as a result of opposition from China.

China argued that the Japanese government was seeking to portray Japan as a victim of World War II. South Korea sided with China’s view. Although Japan’s intention was a call for world leaders to see the inhumane consequences of nuclear weapons first-hand, this devolved into a diplomatic game over historical perceptions. Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot tolerate such posturing when it comes to nuclear arms.

Keisaburo Toyonaga, 79, director of the Hiroshima branch of the Association of Citizens for the Support of South Korean Atomic Bomb Victims, works with survivors living in China and Taiwan. He said, “It doesn’t make any sense for this issue to be viewed within the paradigm of nations, such as which country inflicted harm and which country suffered. In war, the victimizers and victims are all mixed up, bringing suffering to ordinary people. It’s important that the consequences brought about by the atomic bombings not be seen from the viewpoint of nations, but from the perspective of ordinary people, and then we move forward.”

Let the world hear the powerful message of the A-bomb survivors. When they say, “I don’t want anyone to experience the same suffering,” this “anyone” does not pertain to one particular nation; it refers to “everyone” in the world.

Expanding circle of “memory keepers” to hand down A-bomb experiences

The first group of 50 “memory keepers” of the A-bomb experiences made their debut this spring. This project was launched by the City of Hiroshima in fiscal 2012 with a view to training younger people to share the memories of A-bomb survivors, because of their advancing age. Some “memory keepers” have begun relating the A-bomb accounts of survivors at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims located in the city center.

Takanori Mizuno, 57, conveyed Keijiro Matsushima’s experience in mid-June. Mr. Mizuno said, “I wish he could hear me share his experience.” Mr. Matsushima died last November at the age of 85. He would talk about seeing lines of survivors who looked like ghosts, feeling that Hiroshima had “died” when he saw the city enveloped in flames, but nevertheless believing that Japan, a “divine country,” would never suffer defeat.

“Mr. Matsushima told me ‘I leave it to you,’” said Mr. Mizuno. He is determined to put his heart into each word when conveying Mr. Matsushima’s experience. Among his audience was Kyoto Nakagawa, 62. She was one of Mr. Matsushima’s students when he taught English at a junior high school. “During my junior high school days, I never heard him talk about his experience of the atomic bombing. It may have been too painful for him to talk about what happened when his memories were still fresh.” Now, through Mr. Mizuno, she hopes to understand her former teacher’s thoughts.

The city government asked 32 survivors to train people to become “memory keepers.” As a general rule, trainees must complete a three-year training program before they can begin to relate their mentor’s experience. But some survivors, including Mr. Matsushima, have died, and others are unable to continue the training because of health concerns.

The average age of survivors in Japan who hold the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate is now over 80. Before too long we won’t have the opportunity to listen directly to their accounts. How can we surmount this “wall” of time and hand down their experiences? This challenge faced by the “memory keepers” should be shared by all human beings who live in the nuclear age. Mr. Mizuno was moved to become a “memory keeper” because of the change he saw in his mother, who he has been caring for at home. “My mother never told us about what happened to her family in the atomic bombing. But recently she started talking about it. She doesn’t want to have regrets, I guess.”

His maternal grandmother was helping to tear down buildings to create a fire lane when the atomic bomb exploded above the city. She was 33. She was seen breathing faintly when placed onto a truck, but her remains were never found. After the war, a medal was sent to her bereaved family, but Mr. Mizuno’s mother kept it hidden away.

His mother is also an A-bomb survivor. “Isn’t this frustrating?” she said to him. “Takanori, would you do something to help?” It was then that she first revealed the existence of the medal.

“There are many survivors who wanted to speak out about their experiences, but couldn’t and buried them deep inside their hearts. So I wanted to help spread those accounts that have already been told,” Mr. Mizuno explained. At the same time, he recognizes that there is a limit to how well, as a “memory keeper,” he can speak for Mr. Matsushima. When he speaks, he also brings in the experiences of his own family.

Before his death, Mr. Matsushima was interviewed by the Chugoku Shimbun and said:

“The A-bomb survivors will eventually all disappear. It’s okay for you to tell others, ‘This is what I heard, that the atomic bombings did this and that, and it was terrible.’ Anyone can be, and must be, a memory keeper.”

During the past 70 years, records of A-bomb experiences have accumulated in written testimonies, videotaped accounts, and other forms. Today, there many places where people can hear the real voices of the survivors, including at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, and libraries in different parts of Japan.

Thoughts on conveying the A-bomb experiences

Toshiko Tanaka, 76, survivor of Hiroshima atomic bombing: Form bonds of friendships

In May I shared my experience of the atomic bombing with high school students in New York. A local NGO invited me so I could visit New York while the NPT Review Conference was taking place there. It was the tenth time I spoke about my experience in the United States. I was disappointed that the conference collapsed, but I still felt motivated from the trip. It is the citizens of the world that will prevent nuclear warfare and advance the abolition of nuclear weapons.

It’s very important that people have opportunities to meet, speak together, and make friends across national borders. Some might say this is overly optimistic, but this is what I’ve felt through the experiences I’ve had conveying my account. I have met and made friends with the grandson of Harry S. Truman, the U.S. president who ordered the atomic bombings, and the grandson of an American soldier who was a crew member of the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Can you drop a bomb on your friends when you’re able to see their faces in your mind? These feelings are simple, but powerful, and will help prevent war and nuclear weapons from being used.

I began making earnest efforts to share my account overseas in 2008. I visited South America during an around-the-world voyage organized by Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO. When I met a Venezuelan government official and introduced myself as an A-bomb survivor from Hiroshima, that person encouraged me to share my experience because no one else could. I had always wanted to forget what happened, but this felt like an awakening.

I recall an experience I had in the United States five years ago. There was a student from Palestine who had strong feelings against Israel and the United States. The student said to me, “How can you be friends with Americans, after facing such suffering because of the atomic bombing?” And I replied, “We must put an end to the cycle of hatred.” The student didn’t agree with me but said, “I will think about it.”

Younger generations are blessed with the Internet and other tools by which they can communicate across national borders and make friends. I want them to express their views on nuclear weapons and war without reservation. I feel that dialogue between friends will help bring about a nuclear weapons convention.

Toshiko Tanaka
Born in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, in 1938. Exposed to the atomic bomb after moving to Ushita-cho (now part of Higashi Ward), 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter. Expresses her hopes for peace through her work as an enameling artist.

Akiko Naono, 43, associate professor at Graduate School of Kyushu University: Uphold conviction “Never again”

Of course, it’s important to listen directly to the experiences of the survivors. But I feel uncomfortable with the idea of treating the A-bomb experiences as something possessed by the survivors that should be quickly bequeathed. We must understand that there are things that only those who actually experienced the event can comprehend, as well as things that can be learned or expressed only by those without that direct experience. Handing down the A-bomb experiences should be a collaborative effort.

When we talk about handing down the A-bomb experiences, it’s not about the experiences themselves but about the survivors’ conviction of not wanting anyone else to suffer the same experiences. This is something to be created together with other people, too, such as social workers, fellow activists, journalists, and students in the postwar A-bomb survivors’ movement and the ban-the-bomb movement. The survivors have been able to share their accounts only because there are others listening to them, and the conviction from their A-bomb experiences has grown from this interaction.

Also, even if someone has no direct experience of the bombing, the grief of parents who lost their children or children who lost their parents should be considered suffering created by the bombing. The A-bomb survivors’ movement has been based on the experiences of these people, too. It can be said that the A-bomb experiences have been formed together with those who were killed in the bombing. Today the former mobilized students are leading the efforts to convey the A-bomb experiences. They have felt deep guilt over the fact that many of their schoolmates became victims. After many years, and long “dialogues” with the dead, a good number of these former mobilized students have begun sharing their experiences.

If those who succeed the survivors hold the privileged attitude that only they are entitled to speak about peace, they will be rejected. It’s important to convey how the survivors came to attain their state of mind that no one else should have to face the same kind of suffering.

Unfortunately, the nuclear age is not likely to end any time soon. This is precisely why the A-bomb experience, as a conviction, is important to people all over the world. I believe that people across national borders and generational lines can strengthen this conviction together.

Akiko Naono
Born in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1972. Helped hold the 1995 atomic bomb exhibition at American University in the United States while studying there. Took her current post in 2005. Authored Genbaku no e to deau (Encounter with Pictures of the Atomic Bombings).

Hideo Tsuchiyama, 90, former president of Nagasaki University: Both reason and emotion are needed for universal appeals

The “A-bomb myth” appears to be a “wall” when we seek to have the voices of the A-bomb cities heard. Even though historians have discovered materials which deny this myth, war veterans still find this difficult to accept from an emotional standpoint. They feel that the glory of their victory is diminished. But denying the atrocity committed by one’s own nation, due to a sense of guilt, is not unique to the United States.

In Asia, the idea that the atomic bombings liberated Asian nations from Japanese occupation is deeply rooted, a belief the survivors have always faced. I recall a researcher from Singapore saying at a symposium that there are always people in Japan who deny that this nation invaded its neighbors in Asia, adding that Japan cannot win the hearts of Asian people simply by describing the suffering of the Japanese. This is the same context. 

As an A-bomb survivor, I have told people this: The survivors experienced a terrible tragedy, and some of them felt bitterness toward the United States and wanted to retaliate. But as they came to understand what Japan did in other countries of Asia, they were shocked that they were not merely victims. Precisely because of their own terrible experiences, they were sensitive toward other people’s pain.

As they went through the internal conflict of being both victim and victimizer, their desire for vengeance was transformed into a universal appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons. I believe this change in the survivors’ mindset has contributed to strengthening the force of their appeal and stirring people’s sympathy internationally.

To make the survivors’ experiences more widely known, neither reason nor emotion is enough on its own. They must go together. In this way, their appeal can be conveyed to others as a universal message.

I hope that the younger generations will inherit the wishes of the survivors. If young Japanese people engage in discussion with young people of other Asian countries, they may face strong words over historical issues. It’s important, though, for people of differing views to meet and listen to one another.

Hideo Tsuchiyama
Born in Nagasaki in 1925. Exposed to radiation when entering an area near the hypocenter shortly after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Served as president of Nagasaki University from 1988 to 1992. Currently serves as a member of the Committee of Seven for World Peace and a member of a committee involved in drafting the Nagasaki Peace Declaration. Specializes in pathology.


Survey results of A-bomb survivors and high school students

Three articles in this series reported on surveys, including a survey of survivors living in Japan (January 1, 2015), a survey of survivors living overseas (April 11), and a survey of high school students in Japan and the United States (May 9). The main theme of all three surveys was handing down the A-bomb accounts. By comparing the results of these surveys, we can focus on the current state of affairs and the challenges to address in this 70th year since the atomic bombings.

“What methods do you think are most effective for conveying A-bomb experiences?”

Both survivors in Japan and overseas were given nearly the same choices and could select up to three responses. The largest number of respondents chose “Enhance peace education in schools,” which was selected by 45.7 and 44.5 percent of domestic and overseas survivors, respectively. This percentage was higher than the percentages for the responses “Children and grandchildren of survivors should hand down their memories” or “Enrich the collections of A-bomb materials at museums and make good use of them.” This may reflect the survivors’ wish that A-bomb experiences be handed down to as many children as possible in order to foster a peaceful world.

The survey of high school students showed that teenagers share the survivors’ views. Asked whether they think the experiences of the atomic bombings have had an impact on nurturing peace in the world or preventing nuclear warfare, 90.4 and 72.1 percent of the respondents in Japan and the United States, respectively, responded favorably. These figures were even higher than in the surveys of survivors. Positive answers were given by 80.4 percent of Japanese survivors and 70.9 percent of survivors living overseas. Though the survey of high school students targeted specific schools, the data show that these students are well aware of the importance of listening to survivors’ accounts directly.

“What about the occasions for survivors to share their experiences?”

The percentage of those who have related their experience of the atomic bombing to others in one way or another was 74.4 percent of survivors living in Japan and 63.7 percent of those living abroad. Asked who they told their stories to, 70.0 percent (Japan) and 76.6 percent (overseas) of respondents chose “Told my children/grandchildren,” greatly outnumbering other choices. “Shared my account at survivors’ meetings or peace gatherings” was chosen by 35.7 percent and “Told my experience at schools or to students on school trips” by 30.8 percent of Japanese survivors. As for survivors living overseas, these answers were chosen by 18.5 and 11.7 percent of respondents, respectively.

But 22.7 percent and 34.4 percent of survivors living in Japan and abroad, respectively, have not shared their experiences with others. As reasons, 23.9 percent of Japanese survivors chose “Had no opportunities to share my experience,” 21.6 percent responded “It is impossible to tell my experience to others,” and 20.5 percent “It is painful to remember.” As for survivors living overseas, 31.5 percent chose “It is painful to remember,” followed by “It is impossible to tell my experience to others,” chosen by 22.4 percent, and “Afraid of making myself/my family a target of discrimination” by 19.6 percent.

The survivors who responded to our surveys are likely to be more active in this arena since they responded at all. This means that the actual percentage of survivors who do not or cannot share their experiences is likely much higher than the surveys show. The high hopes expressed for peace education could be interpreted as their desire to tell what happened on August 6 and their belief that the tragedy should not be repeated. This makes it all the more significant that we exercise our imagination to discover and understand untold accounts.

Surveys timed for the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings

Responses were collected from 1,526 survivors living in Japan, 416 survivors living overseas, and 749 high school students living in Japan and the United States.

The breakdown of survivors living overseas by country is: 191 in South Korean, 170 in America, 11 in Canada, 38 in Brazil, 5 in Argentina, and 1 in Paraguay.

As for high school students, the respondents included 350 students from Motomachi High School (Naka Ward, Hiroshima), 227 from Hosei University Senior High School (Mitaka, Tokyo) and 172 from Stuyvesant High School (New York City).


Interview with Yasuyoshi Komizo, chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation

Among its functions, the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation oversees the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Yasuyoshi Komizo, chairperson of the foundation, is a former diplomat with considerable experience working at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Chugoku Shimbun asked Mr. Komizo for his thoughts on how to spread the call for the abolition of nuclear arms around the world and hand down the A-bomb experiences to future generations.

This is your third year as chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. What is your perspective as you seek to send out messages from Hiroshima?
Hiroshima’s appeal was born from unimaginable tragedy and has come to fruition in the wish that no others should have to experience the same suffering. This is a precious message for the future. If nuclear deterrence is explained without any disguise, it involves security through threats of indiscriminate genocide. Only the elimination of nuclear weapons is consistent with the common sense of civil society, which must be made the common sense of the world as a whole.

But this message isn’t easily reaching the international community. What is preventing this message from being spread more widely?
There are powerful interests at work behind nuclear weapons. It isn’t easy to raise objections with the nuclear weapon states, which wield enormous power among the international community.

But things are changing. For example, an A-bomb exhibition was held in the lobby of U.N. headquarters when the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was held in April and May. This time photos were displayed which show severe injuries to human beings. These shocking photos would have been rejected at the time of the last exhibition, five years ago. Also, artifacts related to the atomic bombings and The Hiroshima Panels [a series of paintings on the theme of the atomic bombing] were exhibited in the capital of the United States, where the “A-bomb myth” which justifies the atomic bombings is still firmly believed. Our message has been spreading not rapidly but steadily.

Did you have some connections to the A-bombed cities while serving as a diplomat?
I first worked for the IAEA between 1987 and 1991. Before I took that position, I visited Hiroshima and heard the accounts of A-bomb survivors. But talking about Hiroshima or Nagasaki at the IAEA was unthinkable in those days. This was during the closing days of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which controlled the world’s nuclear arms.

I worked for the IAEA again between 1997 and 2002. I served as the Special Assistant to Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA. He visited Hiroshima in 1999 and came away with strong impressions. He said that the IAEA should organize an A-bomb exhibition in Vienna. I worked hard as his assistant and the exhibition was realized. But in order not to elicit negative reactions from the nuclear powers, the pretext for holding the exhibition was education about nuclear non-proliferation.

What do you think the challenges are in handing down the A-bomb experiences?
The survivors are inexorably aging, but you don’t have to be a survivor to hand down an A-bomb experience. One example is Hiroshima written by John Hersey in 1946. The American people had thought it didn’t really matter how many Japanese were killed, but his book made them feel that they did something terrible from a humanitarian standpoint.

The accounts of A-bomb survivors have a very unique power. But non-survivors can convey the core of the survivors’ message that the suffering from the atomic bombing is too terrible to allow it to happen again. The important thing is how you deliver the message so it will reach the hearts of others.

You also serve as the secretary general of Mayors for Peace. What plans do you have for this organization?
Mayors for Peace now has a membership of 6,700 cities in 160 countries and regions. It is an inclusive movement and we welcome cities in the nuclear weapon states, too. I think this is a superb framework for countering the beliefs of nuclear arms in human terms, regardless of which side of the issue you support. I would like to make the most of these ties between the member cities to spread Hiroshima’s message.

Yasuyoshi Komizo
Born in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, in 1948. Joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 1970. Served for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) twice. Received award for outstanding achievements by the IAEA. Served as Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna and Ambassador to Kuwait. Took his current post in 2013.

(Originally published on June 20, 2015)