A-bomb survivor conveys the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to the G8 Speakers

by Staff Writers of the Chugoku Shimbun

Legislative leaders gathered for the G8 Summit of Lower House Speakers to discuss peace and disarmament on September 2. In the host city of Hiroshima, mixed sentiments emerged. Some expressed hope that the consequences of the atomic bombing would be grasped by the participants, while others revealed frustration that the real voices of the speakers were not heard. The question remains whether the appeal of Hiroshima has reached the leaders of the four nuclear powers, including the United States, nations which possess most of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Just after 9:00 am, sitting before a display in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Akihiro Takahashi, 77, an A-bomb survivor and former director of the museum, told the summit participants, “I despise the atomic bombs from the depth of my heart. But hate cannot be eliminated with more hate.” He recounted his experience of the atomic bombing as drawings depicting the horror of that day were shown to the speakers.

At Mr. Takahashi’s side were a school uniform which had been worn by a classmate who fled with him through the fire but died, and his own black fingernails, which grew deformed after the bombing. Mr. Takahashi appealed to the speakers, saying, “I first call on the United States and Russia to demonstrate their commitment to nuclear weapons abolition to the international community.” With somber expressions, the summit participants listened to Mr. Takahashi’s experience of the bombing 63 years ago as well as the hardships he then faced in his life.

Among the speakers was Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States. Speaker Pelosi’s words and actions drew special attention since she is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the A-bombed city to date. Though she did not mention the atomic bombing on occasions open to the public, Koichi Maeda, director of the museum and the speakers’ guide for their tour of the facility, revealed that Speaker Pelosi told him she found Mr. Takahashi “beautiful,” indicating she was touched by his account.

All the summit participants, with the exception of Yohei Kono, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Japan, were paying their first visit to Hiroshima. Before entering Peace Memorial Museum, one spontaneous moment unfolded at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, where people pay their respects to the many victims of the atomic bombing. After each speaker had offered a bouquet of flowers, they turned to face the Cenotaph and unexpectedly joined hands.

To welcome the speakers to Hiroshima, a number of children were standing along the walkway leading to the Cenotaph. Sunao Tsuboi, 83, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, watched from behind as the speakers laid down their flowers. “I feel many emotions,” he remarked in a positive tone. “Facing the Cenotaph must be done solemnly, especially by the United States.” Kazushi Kaneko, 82, chairman of another faction of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, seemed frustrated as he was unable to gauge the participants’ reactions and said, “I have no idea to what extent our thoughts are reaching them.”

On the evening of September 2, after the discussion by the speakers had concluded, the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA), a Hiroshima citizens’ group, held a forum at Aster Plaza in downtown Hiroshima. The forum adopted a special resolution calling for the disclosure of the meeting’s deliberations, which were conducted behind closed doors. Goro Kawai, co-chair of HANWA, argued, “It does little good if the summit discussions and their ideas for moving forward with the abolition of nuclear weapons are not made explicit.”

One day prior to the summit, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his intention to resign. Though this development has roiled domestic politics, the summit in Hiroshima proceeded as planned.

While some voiced disappointment over the timing of Mr. Fukuda’s announcement, believing it “watered down interest in the historic meeting in Hiroshima,” Director Maeda of Peace Memorial Museum stressed, “It might be true domestically. But the significance of this visit to Hiroshima by the speakers of these important countries surely wasn’t undermined.”

(Originally published on September 3, 2008)