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

Reflecting on, remembering Hiroshima

Now that a majority of Japanese citizens have no firsthand knowledge of World War II, how should the A-bomb experience be interpreted and conveyed to future generations? In this dialogue, which was conducted in connection with the 50th anniversary of the A-bomb survivors' movement, the Chugoku Shimbun invited two researchers, originally from Hiroshima, to share their thoughts on peace: Yasuo Hasebe, 49, a constitutional scholar and professor at the Faculty of Law of Tokyo University, and Takumi Sato, 45, an expert on the history of media and an associate professor at the Graduate School of Kyoto University. The two exchanged views which crossed the bounds of conventional thinking on the challenge of remembering and giving meaning to the A-bomb experience of Hiroshima.

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

How do you perceive Hiroshima and its appeal for nuclear abolition and peace?
Hasebe: As a child, I came to realize that August 6 is a special day, a day when Hiroshima is covered on the national news. But in the education I received in junior high and senior high schools I attended, I don't recall any special emphasis placed on the atomic bombing or peace. In my case, I have studied, and taught, without special emphasis on my birthplace, Hiroshima. Nuclear weapons should be eliminated, of course, but is it realistic to argue that the nuclear powers should all get rid of their weapons right away? Does the idea that the use of nuclear weapons is bad lead to the idea that war in general is bad? The points of these arguments should be clarified.

Sato: Compared to Professor Hasebe, I was enthusiastically provided with peace education at the public elementary, junior high, and senior high schools I went to (Note 1). We listened to the stories of A-bomb survivors in the auditorium during our summer vacations, and visited Nagasaki on our school trip while in junior high. My grandfather was a victim of the atomic bombing, but I don't remember my relatives talking passionately about their A-bomb experiences. I felt awkward when it came to political ceremonies in which the experience of Hiroshima was treated as something that should be conveyed to the world.

Notions of “the only nation to have experienced atomic bombings” and “the first A-bomb experience” were not formulated as national memories in the aftermath of the bombings. They came into existence under the “1955 system of memory” (Note 2). In those days, Hiroshima had to play the role of accepting the A-bomb experience as part of our national identity. But isn't it time that Hiroshima was released from the spell of serving as “the memory of the nation”? The experience of being under the U.S. occupation also played a role in making Hiroshima part of the anti-American national identity. After the San Francisco Peace Treaty [which took effect in 1952], Japan took side with the United States politically, but the public was frustrated due to memories of the war. As a result, Hiroshima was made a symbol of the war damage, and used as a way of expressing anti-American sentiments. However, this situation changed significantly following the end of the Cold War. Memories of the nation's anti-war identity have become diluted.

In what way?
Sato: The issue of nuclear weapons might have been the most important issue of the day during the Cold War, but we should consider calmly whether it is still an important point of contention. This can be seen more clearly in the area of mass culture. One example is the series of “Godzilla” films (Note 3). This series was created after the [1954] hydrogen bomb test at the Bikini Atoll, but “Godzilla: Final Wars,” which was released two years ago, had nothing to do with nuclear weapons. As a child, I watched the other films of the series and was struck by the terror they conveyed with regard to nuclear weapons, even though the settings were somewhat comical. What does it mean that the last film of the series did not deal with nuclear weapons? For this age, after the Cold War, I question the ultimate importance of appealing against nuclear weapons.

Do you think that the misery of war, including the A-bomb experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is still being passed down as the basis for an awareness of peace?
Hasebe: According to the basic principles of the international law of war (Note 4), the killing or wounding of noncombatants is forbidden. This also applies to the Great Tokyo Air Raids. For an indiscriminate mass killing of civilians to be justified, an exceptional reason must exist. The argument made by the United States that Japan would not have stopped waging war if the atomic bombs had not been dropped is a case of utilitarianism. This theory justifies the means of sacrificing Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the favorable end of bringing change to bear on the policies of the Japanese government. But this argument does not hold up. The United States has contended that the atomic bombings were necessary in order to achieve Japan's unconditional surrender, the goal that Washington had sought. But what they did was a forbidden act, namely the bombing of large cities. In the first place, the mass killing of civilians by nuclear weapons or by some other means is unacceptable. This point must be stressed as a premise of such arguments.

Making a distinction between combatants and noncombatants is vital in order to minimize the number of victims of war. In a shoot-out, it may be logical to say, “If I hadn't shot you first, you would have shot me.” But can we justify holding civilians hostage, relatives of the adversary, and threatening, “If you don't stop shooting, I'll kill them.” If the ethical principles are considered, it becomes clear that human beings must not be used as tools.

Sato: Some survivors say that nothing could have prevented the atomic bombings because they took place during a time of war. But we shouldn't see their words in a superficial light. These are the words of people who were able to develop an approach to the issue that could convince themselves of this view and transform their experience for others to understand. If you're unable to do that, you have no choice but to remain silent. What we hear about the war is not the truth they obtained after thinking it through, but something ready-made which can sound convincing to everyone. The remarks made by the survivors should not be put into convenient quotes so that others can assert, “This is what the survivors say.”

Are you suggesting that people's views of war and peace are not properly discussed and made known?
Hasebe: Some people don't even want to think about the subject of war, while others see war from a point of view that is already fixed. It's hard to maintain the appropriate distance and take a dispassionate view. You have to be steadfast in clarifying the issues at hand by consciously viewing them from a variety of perspectives, otherwise the discussion becomes too emotional for rational arguments to be made.

Moving on, I'm wondering about the efficacy of A-bomb experiences and memories. The Japanese government has managed to uphold the three nonnuclear principles (Note 5). Do you see this as a result of the appeals made from Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Hasebe: It is a nation's constitutional principles and political framework which determine its security policies, including which countries to build cooperative relations with and which countries to confront. This wider framework also determines whether or not a nation will come to possess nuclear weapons. Appeals from certain quarters may have some degree of influence, but they are just one of the elements in the mix. It wasn't realistic for Japan to pursue a political stance that diverged from the United States. Consequently, for Japan to equip itself with nuclear weapons would have been meaningless, even detrimental.

Did accepting the U.S. strategy lead, ironically, to the three nonnuclear principles?
Hasebe: I don't know if it was ironic or not, but I think it was right that Japan chose the path of liberal parliamentary democracy, even during the Cold War. The bloc of nations with parliamentary democracies, where a variety of views could fairly coexist, was at odds with a bloc in which diversity was not accepted. Both blocs possessed nuclear arms and coexisted in “peace” by guaranteeing large-scale retaliation. Under such circumstances, little could have been gained by Japan having its own nuclear arsenal.

What problems are faced by the view of peace based on the “1955 system of memory”?
Sato: The “1955 system of memory” is a closed system that lacks channels of dialogue with the outside. This must change. August 15 is now designated as a day for remembering the war dead and praying for peace (Note 6). But if tribute is paid to the war dead on August 15, I think another memorial day for peaceful dialogue should be reserved, such as September 2, when the surrender was signed, or September 8, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed.

The Chinese character used for “public opinion” was not included in the list of Chinese characters for daily use that was released in 1946. As a result, the character for “popular sentiment” began to be used instead to mean public opinion, which led to the rise of a bizarre concept. Popular sentiment involves emotions or personal feelings, and is fundamentally different from public opinion. I think the voices of the A-bomb survivors are to the three nonnuclear principles what popular sentiment is to public opinion. The survivors' personal feelings (popular sentiment) are not the same as political opinion (public opinion). Personal A-bomb experiences were made to be embraced by the nation as “memories of Hiroshima.” As a result, various problems have occurred and have been dealt with in a partisan manner. Popular sentiment is not inferior, or subordinate, to public opinion. We must look squarely at the difference between the two to properly hand down the experiences of the atomic bombing to future generations.

What do you think is the best way for the appeals based on the A-bomb experience to be separated from the political realm and conveyed in a rational fashion?
Hasebe: A nation's greatest obligation is to maintain peace and protect the lives and property of its people. To realize this aim, we must exercise wisdom and coolly consider effective measures. Poor political arguments lay down a certain view of the world and force everyone to accept that this is the right path for all human beings. But there is more than one view of the world. That is why we have the framework of constitutionalism in which people with different values can fairly coexist. The basic point of constitutionalism involves the distinction between the “personal” and the “public.”

In the realm of the personal, every person should be guaranteed the chance to live out their lives as they see fit. But this axiom should not be incorporated directly into the realm of the public, where what is beneficial for society as a whole is deliberated and determined. We must devise effective measures for security that will be accepted by people who hold differing views of the world. It's hard to win understanding by just hurriedly appealing for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

To publicly engage in discussion over the elimination of nuclear weapons and have that aim widely accepted, what sort of attitude must be adopted?
Hasebe: When you work with like-minded people, you may not encounter difficulties. But there are people who don't share the same goal. They won't agree to adopt a certain policy if you just tell them, “Our view of the world is the right one.” If you want to win their understanding in a public debate, you need to build an argument and reasoning that will sway people whose ideas differ from your own, leading them to think, “This way will provide security for people's lives and property” and “This way will be beneficial not only to us, but also to the whole world.”

Mr. Sato has raised the point that public discussion mixes accounts of A-bomb experiences with appeals for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Sato: In fact, personal feelings are mixed with public views in my mind, too, and it's difficult for me to clearly separate them. However, it's vital that we try. After you take your personal feelings into account, you need to consciously form your public views. This is the only way we can engage in effective dialogue with people who are not directly involved in this issue as well as people from other countries.

Another point I would like to raise is that August 15 is regarded as the anniversary of the end of the war only in Japan and on the Korean Peninsula (Note 7). Is it possible for a person to console the war dead and discuss political issues at the same time? It's hard to hold a rational discussion when popular sentiment is mixed together with public opinion. It's too much for survivors to discuss political issues involving nuclear abolition while feeling grief for the loss of their loved ones.

Yasuo Hasebe
Yasuo Hasebe is originally from Naka Ward, Hiroshima. He went to Shinonome Junior and Senior High Schools attached to Hiroshima University and graduated from Tokyo University’s Faculty of Law. After working as a professor at Gakushuin University, he assumed his present post in 1995. He has written such books as “Hikaku Funo na Kachi no Meiro” (“The Incomparable Labyrinth of Values”) published by University of Tokyo Press, “Kenpo to Heiwa wo Toinaosu” (“Raise the Question of Constitution and Peace Again”) published by Chikumashobo Ltd., and “Kenpo towa Nanika” (“What is the Constitution?”) published by Iwanami Shoten. Professor Hasebe is also a member of the Committee for Settling National-Local Disputes affiliated with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. He resides in Tokyo.

Takumi Sato
Takumi Sato is from Higashi Ward, Hiroshima. He attended Onaga Elementary School, Futaba Junior High School, and Kanon High School before graduating from Kyoto University’s Faculty of Letters. Prior to assuming his present post in 2004, he held several positions in academia, such as associate professor at Doshisha University. His “Kingu no Jidai” (“The Era of Kings”) published by Iwanami Shoten, won the Suntory Gakugeisho, a literary prize for academic books. Other works include “Hachigatsu Juugonichi no Shinwa” (“Myth of August 15”) published by Chikumashobo, Ltd., and “Media Shakai” (“Media Society”) published by Iwanami Shoten. He now resides in Kyoto.

(Note 1) Peace education: In 1969, the board of education of the city of Hiroshima resolved that public elementary and junior high school students would be taught about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The Japan Teachers' Union adopted the policy of peace education at its annual convention that same year.

(Note 2) The1955 regime of memory: In his book “Hachigatu Juugonichi no Shinwa” (“Myth of August 15”), Mr. Sato argues that the “national memory,” which covers the days between the atomic bombing of August 6 and the radio broadcast of the voice of Japan's former emperor on August 15, was formulated as a result of media coverage of the 10th anniversary of the end of the war. That same year saw the establishment of the political 1955 system, in which the Liberal Democratic Party was formed and the Japan Socialist Party was reunited.

(Note 3) Film series “Godzilla”: The first film of this series, with the advertising tag line “the amazing monster created by a hydrogen bomb experiment,” was released in 1954, the year in which a hydrogen bomb test was conducted at Bikini Atoll and the ban-the-bomb movement arose. The film drew a total of 9.16 million viewers. There are 28 films in the series including the last film “Godzilla: Final Wars,” which was released in 2004.

(Note 4) International law of war: The International law of war is a body of law applied in times of war. This law consists of two parts: rules of engagement which regulate acts of combat between the warring countries and rules of neutrality which regulate relationships with neutral countries.

(Note 5) The three nonnuclear principles: The three nonnuclear principles, the basis of Japanese nuclear policy, state: “Japan shall neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons, nor shall it permit their introduction into Japanese territory.” At a plenary session of the House of Representatives in 1968, then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato presented the four pillars of Japan’s nuclear policy: compliance to the three nonnuclear principles and reliance on the U.S. for its deterrence against nuclear threat. Japan signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970.

(Note 6) Day for paying tribute to the war dead and praying for peace: August 15 was legally defined, in 1963, as the anniversary of the end of World War II. The above name was given to the day in 1982.

(Note 7) Anniversary of the end of World War II: In the United States, Victory over Japan Day is September 2, when Japan signed an instrument of surrender. The former Soviet Union made the day September 3, when the nation was set to complete its occupation of the Kuril Islands. China, an ally of the former Soviet Union, also adopted the day of September 3.

(Originally published on July 18, 2006)