Suzuka Nakamura, Akira Kawasaki, and Yuumi Sato shared their expertise and experiences in the online event on the topic of atomic bombings. The discussions covered various topics, such as historical backgrounds, reappraisal measures, and current discourses.
„Any country can be affected by nuclear bombings as long as there are nuclear weapons“ – Akira Kawasaki
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki approximately one-third of the city’s population immediately through heat, blast waves, and radioactive radiation. All those who were not killed continue to suffer to this day. The majority of those affected only died in the years after 1945 from the long-term effects of exposure to radiation. For years, those affected suffered from radiation sickness and the lack of knowledge about it. Akira Kawasaki describes how Japan was under the rule of the USA from 1945 to 1951, which attempted to keep the effects of the atomic bombings secret. He compares the consequences for the survivors to a „landmine in one’s own body“, of which one never knows when it will explode.
The survivors – hibakusha, in Japanese – who are still alive today are already over 85 years old, so memories of the bombings are fading and first-hand accounts continue to dwindle. We are therefore probably the last generation to be able to listen to the survivors of the atomic bombings.
Akira Kawasaki (Peace Boat, ICAN)
Akira, who has been working for Peace Boat for a long time, first gives a brief overview of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see introduction).
He then reports on 1954, when a hydrogen bomb with many times the explosive power of „Little/Big Boy“ was tested in the Marshall Islands. A Japanese fishing boat, which was unfortunately on-site at the time, was also affected. This incident, called „Lucky Dragon“, contributed significantly to the start of a social debate and the Japanese anti-nuclear movement in the mid-1950s. After the US occupation suppressed such a movement and much knowledge about the atomic bombings, demands for compensation payments for those affected and the abolition of nuclear weapons were now being raised.
Akira explains that this demand for compensation is not directed at the US government, but at the Japanese government, and reads this as a rare admission of war guilt in Japanese society. The Japanese government pays some of the survivors‘ medical bills but calls this measure a social benefit instead of compensation or recognition. This rejects any further responsibility. Even less attention is paid to Korean and Chinese prisoners of war and forced laborers. They are not counted as hibakusha and receive even less support. This still puts pressure on diplomatic relations with Japan’s neighbors today.
In the second part of the discussion, Akira sheds light on the significance of nuclear power plants, which symbolize the economic revival and reconciliation with the USA after the Second World War. But this changed with the Fukushima disaster. The approximately one million people who were exposed to radiation do not talk about their suffering for fear of discrimination or social ostracism. Government officials also discouraged those affected from sharing their suffering in order to prevent a bad international image.
Akira draws parallels here with the survivors of the atomic bombings, who were also initially afraid to talk about their experiences. Only after long social struggles and much-experienced stigmatization are they now highly respected and appear in schools with their life stories.
He also talks about the fact that, in view of advancing climate change and high energy prices, the discussion about the civilian use of nuclear power is also very topical in Japan. While concerns prevail among the civilian population, partly due to the Fukushima accident, there is a strong political will to keep the remaining nuclear power plants and other nuclear technologies alive.
Yuumi Sato (HOPe)
Yuumi is a youth ambassador for HOPe, the Hiroshima Organization for Global Peace. Her personal connection to Hiroshima is deep and far-reaching: her grandmother lived in the city and witnessed the atomic bombing in 1945, her mother was born there and after moving to Hiroshima herself at the age of 6, she describes the city as very peaceful and safe.
In the discussion, Yuumi talks mainly about Japan’s historical approach to the Second World War and the atomic bombings. She tells us from her own experience that in school and in history lessons, the focus is on the atomic bombs and the nuclear burden on the civilian population. The fact that Japan was not only the victim but also the aggressor in the war is completely overlooked, Yuumi reports. As a result, there is no opportunity for discussion and reflection in the classroom and therefore no large civil society movement that advocates a reflective reappraisal of the events.
Suzuka Nakamura (Know Nukes Tokyo)
Suzuka, who co-founded Know Nukes Tokyo, begins by telling us that her grandmother came to Nagasaki shortly after the explosion and saw the horrific sight of her hometown. She never identified or felt like a hibakusha her whole life. That’s why she never told her story.
At school, Suzuka organized signature campaigns like many other people but doubted their effectiveness as a contribution to global disarmament. That’s why she created her own association, which she analyzes as trying to fill the gaps in the lack of education and public discussion about nuclear weapons, especially their role in today’s politics in Japan.
Whenever she meets people who are not familiar with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in her lobbying and educational work, they are perplexed as to why Japan has not joined. The current government relies on the extended deterrence of the USA and does not consider the NPT to be helpful for disarmament. However, all Japanese governments emphasize the goal of a world without nuclear weapons every year when commemorating the atomic bombings.
In the concluding discussion, the speakers once again emphasized that talking about the incidents was a long process that the survivors had to go through. Being discriminated against because you survived was the order of the day. That is why they appreciate all the more that this is no longer the case today. Supporting the survivors when they talk about their experiences is therefore essential. In this context, Akira emphasizes that the history of the Hibakusha shows him that support and help can only be achieved through the voice of the people who make demands of a government. Articles 6 and 7 of the TPNW are also empty without the civil society that demands them.
The TPNW was also an important topic in the discussion: Akira sees two main reasons why Japan has not yet signed it: The (possible) threat from Japan’s neighboring countries China and North Korea. Suzuka emphasizes that Japan’s civil society is not really aware of the treaty, which is why it is so important to draw attention to it. This can be achieved primarily through activities such as exhibitions and festivals that reach civil society directly. Working groups that come together (internationally) to pursue a common goal can be important for this, says Suzuka.
A big thank you to all those who were part of the event.
Written by Leah Engel, Marian Losse, Paula Bonara and Janina Rüther