Justin McCurry / The Guardian – 2004-08-07 00:38:26
LONDON (August 4, 2004) — On Friday, the people of Hiroshima will come together to remember the morning of August 6th 1945, when their city became the target of the first atomic bomb unleashed on a civilian population.
Gathering within sight of the burned out shell of the former industrial promotion hall near the epicentre of the blast, they will remember the 200,000 people who perished in the immediate aftermath or who died later from the effects of exposure to radiation.
Remembering the A-bomb, though, is becoming an increasingly local affair. Representatives of just two of the world’s seven acknowledged nuclear powers — Pakistan and Russia — will attend.
Almost six decades after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, collective horror at their consequences is being replaced by collective amnesia. And to forget, say those who survived, is to invite the prospect of a disastrous repeat of the radioactive infernos of the summer of 1945.
The hibakusha — the Japanese name for those who survived the bombings – are falling victim to the passage of time and shifts in the geopolitical environment that are concentrating minds on terrorism and regime change at the expense of more traditional threats, such as nuclear war.
In Japan itself, the anti-nuclear movement has been marginalised. What was once a mass movement — a largely silent but powerful majority committed to upholding the country’s pacifist constitution and non-nuclear principles — has become too closely associated with the impotent political parties of the far left.
To many, the rallying cry of “No More Hiroshimas!” sounds cloying and hopelessly out of date.
The Voices of the Hibakusha
It is little wonder, then, that the voices of the hibakusha are being drowned out amid the din of real politik, especially in a region that is coming to terms with a North Korea emboldened by a nuclear weapons programme.
Inevitably, age, too, is an obstacle. Most of the survivors are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Many are in poor health.
Yet they are determined not to be written off as mere unfortunates in a singularly tragic event. They still have battles to be won – for recognition and to secure their rightful place in history, lest, they say, it be repeated.
“They are not forgotten, but they have been forced to exist in a historical file labelled ‘A-Bomb’,” said Kazumi Mizumoto, an associate professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute.
“At the same time, they are the only people to have experienced the effects of the military use of nuclear bombs. Whenever the world faces the danger of nuclear weapons, they alone can tell the world what the result will be. In that sense they are still important, and I think the world understands that.”
The community of atomic bomb survivors is now a diaspora spread between Japan, North and South Korea, China, the United States and Brazil — separated geographically, but united in their experience of coming under nuclear attack and by fear that many are not getting the official assistance that they deserve in their old age.
The subjects of numerous books, magazines and recordings, their recollections will survive long after they are gone.
In one of the biggest such projects, conducted just over 40 years after the attacks, NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, and the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Centre, asked 100 survivors to talk about the day their world fell apart.
‘We Went Through Hell on Earth’
Among them was Toshiko Saeki, a 26-year-old-woman who rushed to Hiroshima from her home in the suburbs on the afternoon of August 6 1945 to search for her mother and other family members.
Saeki, who lost 13 relatives in the attack, made perhaps the most eloquent case for not allowing the voices of the A-bomb survivors like her to fade into obscurity.
“Our experience must not be forgotten,” she said. “What we believed in during the war turned out to be worth nothing. I went through hell on earth [so that] Hiroshima should not be repeated again. That is why I keep telling the same old story over and over again. And I’ll keep on repeating it.”
Hers is just one of countless similar experiences that Mizumoto believes will remind the region and the world of what they stand to lose should they ever be pushed to the brink of nuclear war. Simply rationalising the political consequences, he says, is not enough.
“People are often motivated more by emotion than by logical discussion,” he said. “That is where the meaning behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki plays a part, and will continue to play a part.”
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
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