The A-bomb Survivors’ Movement: The Past 50 Years, Dialogue 1 [2]

Hiroshima’s philosophy of peace

What challenges are posed to us by the A-bombed city of Hiroshima? How widely have the appeals from Hiroshima been conveyed across generations and national borders? This series of articles has been exploring the prospects for peace championed by Hiroshima through the eyes of the 50th anniversary of the A-bomb survivors’ movement. The issue will now be considered from the perspective of four experts with strong links to the city. This article will continue a discussion with two of these experts, Takashi Hiraoka, 78, former mayor of Hiroshima, and Satoru Ubuki, 59, a professor at Hiroshima Jogakuin University.

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

How do you perceive the philosophy of peace of the A-bombed city?
Hiraoka: I believe that the inscription on the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims [built in 1952], which says “For we shall not repeat the evil,” serves as the basis for Hiroshima’s view of peace. Because of the enormous suffering people faced as a consequence of the atomic bombing, the idea is that citizens themselves are determined to bring about peace in the world, even rising above the whole concept of the nation-state. The idea is the same as that of global citizenship. The movement triggered by the radiation of exposure of the fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru (The Lucky Dragon No. 5) spread into a nationwide movement of the people. But then the movement got caught up in a feeling of nationalism, citing Japan as “the only A-bombed nation.”

Before long, the movement revealed a contradiction since Japan relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security. And following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Japan has been struggling with the issues of the presence of U.S. forces in the country and the Japan-U.S. alliance. So Hiroshima’s philosophy of peace has now encountered a crucial stage. As long as we continue to be trapped by the paradigm of the nation-state, nuclear weapons will never be eliminated. We must regain the sense of global citizenship. I suspect, however, that another sense of global citizenship has been growing, a product of the environmental issue and other global concerns.

How can that philosophy of peace be sensed from the Peace Declarations delivered every August 6?
Ubuki: The Peace Declarations, with the first declaration initiated by Mayor Shinso Hamai [in 1947], share an important appeal in that they have all squarely raised the possibility of humanity’s extinction. I see this message as a significant reason why people overseas have long listened to the declaration from Hiroshima on that day. When you served as mayor of Hiroshima, Mr. Hiraoka, did you view the Peace Declaration as a means of communicating your political perspective?

Hiraoka: The main points of the Peace Declaration each year have been established. One part involves nuclear abolition and a peaceful world. Another part concerns the repose of the souls of the A-bomb victims. But it’s natural that the personal philosophy of each mayor dictates how international conditions are assessed in the speech. And the views of the city council and the national governments must inevitably be taken into consideration as well. I felt strongly about the first Peace Declaration I made [in 1991] (Note 9). I believed that I wouldn’t be able to hold the Asian Games in Hiroshima [in 1994] unless I left in a controversial passage. The city council saw this as a problem and the right-wingers agitated against it. I had to summon some courage to go ahead with delivering the declaration as written.

Lacking a perspective of its own history, Japan has not reflected on why it waged war. I suspect the A-bomb survivors’ campaign today lacks this perspective, too. Handing down our experiences to future generations constitutes the handing down of historical perspectives. We must reflect on why we took part in such suffering by pointedly looking back to assess the modern history of Japan. Based on this deeper knowledge of ourselves, we can then appeal to others for understanding with regard to the suffering endured in the atomic bombings. The media, as well, has to persist in conveying the message that war must never be waged again.

Ubuki: I believe the way experiences are handed down is a function of how those experiences are preserved in our history. If the experiences are preserved improperly, they can be subject to distortion and exploited for agitation.

Hiraoka: In the process of handing down our experience, we must also earnestly hand down a philosophy which rejects war. If we simply give voice to our suffering, that suffering becomes no different than that experienced in China during the war or in Iraq today. Unless the appeal from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima contains the strong point of view which rejects war, the appeal will be hollow. I once gave a speech in Spain and someone asked me: “How has the experience of the atomic bombing impacted the people of Hiroshima?” I responded by saying: “The people of Hiroshima are calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and peace in the world.” But I was told: “The people of Europe are all saying the same thing.” They had thought that the people of Hiroshima, who suffered an unprecedented experience in the annals of human history, must be leading life differently from others, and they wanted to know what that life was like. If we only call for nuclear abolition, we’re unable to relate to the hearts of the Iraqi people, who are suffering as we speak. The A-bomb survivors’ campaign must have this sort of capacity for imagination.

Ubuki: When I discuss the issue with students from overseas, I feel the same frustration as I’m unable to respond effectively to that kind of counterargument. So I completely understand what you’re saying. As long as we don’t demonstrate our philosophy through the lives we live, we cannot convince others of that way of thinking. Still, I feel uncomfortable when this aspect is linked to the weakness of the A-bomb survivors’ campaign. There are many people who don’t subscribe to the point you have made. The role that the A-bomb survivors’ campaign and its organizations are playing is fundamentally different from various other groups involving people who experienced the war that the national government has shepherded. The highest form of peace philosophy that has emerged since the end of World War II is the philosophy of peace that is based on the A-bomb experience. I believe that philosophy is the only one that can be considered the highest form of a philosophy of peace.

Hiraoka: Ideologically speaking, that’s true. I would like to point out, though, why the campaign has not developed into a movement which generates empathy among others. When the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs became usurped by political parties, leading to the split of the campaign into different factions, the A-bomb survivors should have undertaken their own action to turn the campaign into a different sort of people’s movement. But that did not happen.

Since the publication of the document known as the “Tsuru Brochure” [a set of objectives for the campaign issued by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo) in 1966], the A-bomb survivors’ campaign has made the abolition of nuclear weapons and the enactment of the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Aid Law the pillars of their campaign. The reality, however, has been a push to expand the Atomic Bomb Medical Relief Law, thus focusing on relief measures for the A-bomb survivors themselves. To realize that aim, they had no choice but to lodge their petitions to the ruling political party, which led to the survivors being taken advantage of by the government. Because the abolition of nuclear weapons is contrary to the policy of the Japanese government, the campaign should have been more aggressive about asserting the responsibility of the nation with regard to nuclear abolition. In the end, the campaign has only received material concessions from the government.

Ubuki: If that’s true about the A-bomb survivors’ campaign, it would have come to an end much earlier. But the campaign altered its strategy after the report submitted by the “Conference for Fundamental Problems of Measures for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs” in 1980 (Note 10). Before the conference submitted this report, A-bomb survivors had acted rather reticent, thinking that none of their demands might be realized if they made a strong call for a ban on atomic and hydrogen. But the report categorically rejected their demands, anyway. At that point the A-bomb survivors’ campaign clearly put the abolition of nuclear weapons at the forefront of their campaign. Among the members of Hidankyo, it’s true that at one point a controversy existed over whether or not the goal of nuclear abolition should be suspended. But ultimately they found unity in urging the abolition of nuclear weapons and they generated some support among the public, too. Nuclear abolition, after all, must be a joint effort between the A-bomb survivors and the general public. So the campaign was maturing, but I had no idea, at the time, that it would last to this day.

I would like to mention another aspect to this issue. I believe that the nature of the A-bomb survivors’ organizations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in other prefectures, is different. As for the connection with the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs, people in other prefectures cannot step forward unless they have a certain basis for their actions. But, in any event, although such actions may vary by region, as a whole these organizations across Japan have been making a range of efforts that derive from the philosophy of peace based on the A-bomb experience. These efforts include appealing for the elimination of nuclear weapons and compiling the accounts of A-bomb survivors.

Fear of nuclear warfare has faded since the end of the Cold War, and interest in the A-bombed city has also faded since the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing. What do you feel is needed to refortify Hiroshima’s appeal for nuclear abolition and peace?

Hiraoka: Unless that appeal is tied to political reality, it has no impact. Why do we remain indifferent to the strengthening of the U.S. military base in Iwakuni? We must be earnest in voicing our rejection of war. While the citizens of Hiroshima, including the A-bomb survivors, have given voice to their ideals, I may be overstating the case, but they have also run roughshod over the people in the developing world. They must be mindful of contradictions in their own behavior. Certainly, the atomic bombing must never be repeated. But far too few questions are asked with regard to how this wish can be realized.

Ubuki: In the case of Okinawa, its experience of war and the damage caused by the U.S. bases there are linked. Thus, that experience of war continues to linger on in the people’s daily lives. But as for the experience of the atomic bombing, although it indeed served as an important starting point for the rejection of war in the past, the reality in the present is that the A-bomb experience has not been effectively handed down. At Hiroshima University, I taught lessons in peace studies for a number of years from around 1990, but most of the students were apathetic. Even Keiji Nakazawa, the author of “Barefoot Gen,” has come to be perceived as a man of the past.

Students know what the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims is, but they haven’t heard about the controversy over its inscription (Note 11). In that sense, we can say that teaching about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima these days is a worthy challenge. If we share what we think about peace in a straightforward way, young people will be able to relate to our ideas. It doesn’t matter whether or not we have personal experience of the atomic bombing. But students aren’t offered such opportunities. They may lack knowledge, but they’re very sensitive. From this point forward, I think that concrete actions and events will take precedence over theory in conveying the history of Hiroshima. Such actions and events, of course, are also part of our past.

How can a relationship be built between the A-bomb survivors’ campaign and the general public?
Hiraoka: When I had the opportunity to deliver a statement at the International Court of Justice [in 1995], I used the phrase “on behalf of the dead” without giving it deeper thought. But when I reflect on that phrase, I think my words were a kind of arrogance on the part of the living. I sense a certain arrogance in the A-bomb survivors’ campaign as well. The voices of A-bomb survivors are to be taken as absolute. Although the media don’t comment on this issue, there is deeply-rooted criticism of this tendency among the general public. There is an absence of ties that have been made between the A-bomb survivors and ordinary citizens. There should be another way of linking the two sides, not simply through the handing down of the A-bomb experiences. I believe that way is the rejection of war. The challenge going forward is forging this tie between A-bomb survivors and the general public.

Ubuki: When you mentioned the rejection of war, I was reminded of a particular episode. In the debate over the issue of Japan’s war aggression, Heiichi Fujii [the first secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations; he died in 1996] said: “There is a phrase ‘No more war, no more Hiroshima.’ You must take a look at the address written by Mayor Hamai for a meeting held by the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs [in 1955].” I later learned that Mayor Hamai indeed used that phrase in his address. When I helped with the narration for the film “Hiroshima: A Mother’s Prayer” (Note 12) at a film studio, I was asked by Haruko Sugimura [a Hiroshima native], who served as the narrator for the film, “This line refers to the heart of Hiroshima. What does that mean?” I responded by saying, “I’ve heard from someone before that it means ‘No more war, no more Hiroshima.’” Ms. Sugimura replied, “I will read the line with that thought in mind.” I believe there have always been people who are mindful of the rejection of war.

How should the A-bomb experience of Hiroshima be handed down to future generations while placing it into the proper historical perspective?
Ubuki: I visited a number of peace museums across the country when they were being built one after the other. The museums all had a similar atmosphere, displaying photographs of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Nanjing Massacre in China. I wondered if that was the most suitable sort of exhibit. Today, the Yamato Museum in the city of Kure has become a popular attraction. [Its focus is the World War II battleship Yamato.] Although the staff of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum believe this popularity will be fleeting, I’m not so sure about that. In Kure, where I was born and live, people have been heard to say, without really understanding the horror of the bombing, that they envy the A-bomb survivors for the government support they receive. The atomic bombing and the battleship Yamato both pose sharp questions with regard to the nature of war, and both are part of Japan’s war experience.

Hiraoka: Hiroshima’s philosophy of peace has not seriously contemplated what sort of future should be created for the world after nuclear weapons have been eliminated. We must affirm that this philosophy aims at building a society, both at home and abroad, that is prosperous and just and enables everyone to live in security. In line with this thinking, we must express our opposition to nuclear weapons by also opposing poverty, illness, and discrimination, which can all be considered forms of violence. But in reality the stance toward Taepodong [North Korea’s ballistic missiles] lacks a sense of resolve. Appealing for peace demands being mentally prepared in a way that involves full resolve, even to the point of enduring attack for such a stand. If the appeal lacks this determination, it doesn’t produce sufficient power. In this light, Hiroshima’s resolve must be questioned. How can Japan protect itself as a nation after nuclear weapons are eliminated? The question lingers as a sharp challenge and a reliance on military force will naturally result in a turn to nuclear weapons. How can we rise above this dilemma? This may sound like a leap, but the task of handing down the A-bomb experience leads to this question.

Ubuki: We must understand the minds of the A-bomb survivors. In reality, though, young people today have lost interest in history and are apathetic when it comes to what happened in the past. Hiroshima has sustained its appeal by highlighting the A-bomb experience. The premise should be made that our history is reflected upon through that experience. I regard myself as an “organizer of historical records” and I feel there is still room to show ingenuity in conveying the A-bomb experience. In addition to their current activities, new approaches are possible with regard to the use of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. I understand that the City of Hiroshima uses these sites as venues for education, but neither the city nor the national government is earnestly at work in delving into A-bomb related materials. The Hiroshima Peace Institute of Hiroshima City University should play a more active role in such efforts.

Since I started teaching at Hiroshima Jogakuin University, I have come to see that there are materials which impact the students’ interest in both the light and the darkness of history. If the university disregards the A-bomb experience, it will lose its identity and its basis for appealing for peace in the international arena. Fortunately, it has managed to maintain this awareness. I think the situation in Hiroshima could be different if more institutions held this sort of consciousness. For instance, including the issue of handing down the A-bomb experience, when younger generations reflect on what it means to be living in Hiroshima and they become involved in peace activities, the city of Hiroshima will be enriched greatly.

Hiroaka: Senior members of the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs once told me that my mentioning of the issue of Japan’s past aggression weakens their voices of suffering. But we have to reflect on what Japan did during the war. Without this reflection, the meaning of August 6 will never be effectively conveyed. We, too, were involved in supporting the war waged by our nation. Although eventually we came to the conclusion that the war was a great mistake, I believe we are also obligated to explain that mistake.

Ubuki: As a historian, I cannot help but consider, as one example, the personal history of Professor Moritaki (Note 13). I doubt that his personal story has been explained in a way that can reach the hearts of ordinary people. As Mr. Hiraoka has said, it is ordinary people that suffered the atomic bombing and Hiroshima is not some holy place. To grasp the breadth of the bombing, we must be mindful of the damage that was done to each individual. When Professor Moritaki is viewed only as an extraordinary leader of the campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs, it becomes difficult to see him as an ordinary person who became an A-bomb survivor. When he is seen in this light, his story, as a typical example of a number of A-bomb survivors, can be more effectively explained.

Hiraoka: With the citizens of Hiroshima continuing to ponder the idea of peace, nuclear abolition subsequently became a symbolic aim of the city. I think that's a positive development. At the same time, four or five years ago I spoke at a gathering held in Higashi Ward and I told the audience that the horror of war can also be seen in the victims of the Great Tokyo Air Raid and the people who were repatriated from foreign soil after the war. One elderly woman then approached me with tears in her eyes and said, “Only the A-bomb experience is heard in Hiroshima.” That isn’t right, I thought. Hiroshima should be a place where we can all share our feelings by expressing our experiences of war. Many of Hiroshima’s citizens are not A-bomb survivors. I believe the foolishness and the misery of World War II as a whole should be reflected upon.

Takashi Hiraoka
Takashi Hiraoka was born in the city of Osaka. After graduating from Waseda University, he became a reporter for the Chugoku Shimbun in 1952. Mr. Hiraoka was put in charge of a number of feature series, including coverage concerning the 20th anniversary of the atomic bombing. After acting as editor-in-chief of the Chugoku Shimbun and president of RCC Broadcasting Co., Ltd., Mr. Hiraoka served as mayor of Hiroshima for eight years. At present, Mr. Hiraoka is engaged in a variety of citizens’ efforts, and has assumed the role of chairman for C-haus, an organization which promotes networking within the Chugoku Region. His publications include “Henken to Sabetsu” (“Prejudice and Discrimination”) and “Kibo no Hiroshima” (“Hope in Hiroshima”). Mr. Hiraoka lives in Nishi Ward.

Satoru Ubuki
Satoru Ubuki was born in the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture. After graduating from Kyoto University, he supervised the compiling of such papers as “The A-bomb Documents” for Hiroshima Prefecture starting in 1970. After working as an assistant professor at the Research Institute for Nuclear Medicine and Biology at Hiroshima University (today, the Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine), Mr. Ubuki has served as a professor at Hiroshima Jogakuin University since 2001. Mr. Ubuki’s publications include “Heiwa Shikiten no Ayumi” (“The Development of the Peace Memorial Ceremony”) and “Genbaku Shuki Keisai Tosho Zasshi Somokuroku” (“General Catalog of Books and Magazines Carrying A-Bomb Survivors’ Essays”). His specialty is the history of postwar Japan and the history of the atomic bombing. Mr. Ubuki lives in Kure.

(Note 9) The 1991 Peace Declaration: The 1991 Peace Declaration said: “Japan inflicted great suffering and despair on the peoples of Asia and the Pacific during its reign of colonial domination and war. There can be no excuse for these actions.”

(Note 10) The Conference for Fundamental Problems of Measures for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs: The Conference for Fundamental Problems of Measures for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs is a private advisory body to the Minister of Health and Welfare (now Health, Labor and Welfare). In 1980, the conference submitted a report that rejected the enactment of a relief law that would include condolence payments for the A-bomb victims. About measures concerning the A-bomb victims, the report stipulated: “If measures made for victims of the atomic bombings are out of proportion to measures made for ordinary victims of the war, it may be difficult to come to a consensus as a nation.” The report also had an impact on the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, which was enacted in 1994. Thus, national compensation was not included in the law.

(Note 11) The Inscription Debate: The Inscription Debate emerged in 1952, when Radhabinod Pal, an international law scholar from India, visited Hiroshima and criticized the inscription on the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, saying that the Japanese phrase lacked a clear subject. This debate was rekindled, as well, in the 1970s. The City of Hiroshima explains: “The inscription implies that all human beings are committed to not repeating the evil of the atomic bombing.”

(Note 12) The documentary film entitled “Hiroshima: A Mother’s Prayer”: The documentary film entitled “Hiroshima: A Mother’s Prayer” was created in 1990 by the City of Hiroshima. The film is screened at Peace Memorial Museum.

(Note 13) Ichiro Moritaki: Ichiro Moritaki is a former chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations. In 1956, when he was a professor of Ethics at Hiroshima University, Mr. Moritaki began to serve as the chairs of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations and the Japan Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, when the organizations were formed. Mr. Moritaki was a symbolic figure for the A-bomb survivors’ campaign, engaging in such actions as sit-in demonstrations at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims to protest nuclear tests. He died in 1994.

(Originally published on July 14, 2006)

Related articles
The A-bomb Survivors’ Movement: The Past 50 Years, Dialogue 1 [1] (Jul. 14, 2006)