From a Hibakusha residing in Okinawa
See the original Japanese version here. 日本語版はここです。
Dear Citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
I am a hibakusha, an A-Bomb survivor, and I live in a place called Yambaru in the north of the main island of Okinawa. I am an old man, trying to heal the pain of being irradiated by living amongst the myriads of gods breathing in the mountains, rivers, grasses and trees of this island. In reading this letter, I would like you to understand and remember that I cannot claim my voice to be representative of all hibakusha, but I feel my message is an important one.
On August 6, 1945, the atomic bombing made many citizens of Hiroshima hibakusha, and three days later, the second atomic bombing also made many people of Nagasaki hibakusha. Sixty-four years have passed since then. Now, the majority of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not hibakusha as the hibakusha population is rapidly diminishing as it ages. Soon we hibakusha will all disappear from this world. For the last sixty-four years we have been desperately trying to survive, tormented by the haunting memory of an unforgettable experience: the indescribable agony of sudden death caused by the most atrocious and inhumane weapon ever produced in the history of mankind. Yet it is not only this memory that torments us. We live with the constant fear that the residual radiation embedded in our bodies may kill us unexpectedly, at any time. However, the pain of being an A-bomb survivor differs from person to person, and cannot be summarized in a few words under the general term of “hibakusha.”
For my part, I must be honest and state that for some time after the war, I bitterly hated the U.S. and often reflected on how my life could have been different if the bombing had not occurred. Had I have been able cry out, “You foolish Americans!” it might have eased my anger a little. At a time when Japan was under the occupation of the Allied powers, such action was impossible. However, my feelings towards my situation have changed over the years.
We hibakusha are not intolerant. We have developed creative methods for survival as we have all struggled to overcome grave despair, to find hope and to understand the meaning of our lives. We therefore sincerely wish from the bottom of our hearts for peace and the total abolition of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, we feel that our souls and bodies must first be healed before we can discuss the abolition of nuclear weapons. Please base your understanding of our situation on the fact that each hibakusha has his or her own distinctive pain. It is our honest belief that once we are healed and our pain is understood, we can then turn our attention to the movement to abolish nuclear weapons. I wonder whether I am alone in feeling that anti-nuclear movements have so far been promoted solely in the interests of politics without trying to disentangle the tangled threads of the deep and complex sorrow of each hibakusha.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s recent bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games is one incident which reflects the callous attitudes of those who exploit the symbolic nature of these cities, ignoring the pain of the hibakusha. Another such reflection can be seen in the proposal that U.S. President Obama visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many are keen for this to happen; I, on the other hand, would like him to first express his remorse for the atomic bombings on behalf of all Americans, the people responsible for spreading the fear of nuclear weapons worldwide and creating the hibakusha population.
I would like to ask the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to consider the following:
The leader of the United States, the nation that developed and used atomic bombs, is going to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, an award ironically established by the person who became a millionaire for his invention of smokeless gun-powder and dynamite. I am unsurprised, as this kind of celebration is an old ploy frequently exploited by people with money and power to deceive the public. I do, however, find it shocking that the anti-nuclear movement is collecting signatures from the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an attempt to encourage President Obama to visit these cities. This situation is akin to that of the arsonist firefighter, who sets fire to a house, and is then the first to rush to save it. This push for President Obama to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki is no different from inviting the arsonist to the scene of his crime without asking him to express any remorse or to pay compensation. Please do not hurt the hibakusha any further by pursuing such insulting projects. Though the anti-nuclear movement is promoting the collection of signatures as an act of goodwill, we find their cause very upsetting and feel we have nowhere to appeal. We are old and do not have much time left to us. Before President Obama is urged to visit the cities that his country destroyed, he must be asked to agree to pay all the hibakusha’s medical expenses, living allowances and compensation for damages, and must also be requested to release all information collected by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission through its medical examinations of hibakusha. The ABCC operated for many years only for the purpose of collecting data on the effects of radiation on human bodies and never offered medical treatment to hibakusha.
I would like to convey to the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the following message:
I cannot help harboring deep doubts about your dignity and ability as mayors of your respective cities, given that both of you publicly and shamelessly promote Hiroshima and Nagasaki as potential hosts of the Olympic Games, an event which inevitably incites nationalism. Through this exploitation, you are making fools of the hibakusha. Do you think that the Olympic Games could be held at Auschwitz? Ever since the Nazis held the Olympic Games in Berlin as a grand festival to exult the Aryan race, they have been continually berated for exploiting the occasion and showing off their nation-state under the guise of sportsmanship. Do you wish the same criticism on your cities?
You may think that Nazi nationalism is a bygone matter that no longer has anything to do with our lives today. Yet that kind of nationalism behind Berlin's Olympics was still seen in the recent bidding process for the host-ship of the Olympic Games. It clearly revealed the ugly greed of all the candidates, and one could
sense a war-like atmosphere behind the process. It is generally believed that competition cultivates personal character and gives individuals confidence, but in fact, competition actually gives most individuals, save a very small number, an inferiority complex that weakens their confidence. Moreover, competition can be a dangerous tool as it reduces the value of individuals, the value of a nation, city, school, to mere numerical figures: the outcome of the competition. We must not forget that spiritual power, which cannot be converted into numbers, cultivates humanity.
Why is it that we cannot eliminate war? Even if we could successfully abolish nuclear weapons, I am certain that we would not be able to avoid the occurrence of new conflicts. As a result, more destructive weapons could potentially be developed. Encouraging compassion on the other hand, enables one to extend one’s imagination to the pain suffered by the hibakusha, as well as by all other war victims, and is essential in rendering all weapons meaningless. This is the starting point to freeing humankind from war. In this sense, the abolition of nuclear weapons should be a movement for the creation of the spirit of peace.
From now on, we, the people of Earth, need to generate the strong will to live together as a global family, overcoming the barriers of race and nation, and together we must explore alternatives to war for the resolution of friction between peoples. There appears to be no other way for mankind to retain its dignity.
When reading any piece of writing, one must read between the lines to fully comprehend what it is that the author wishes to say. I ask you to listen to the voice of the voiceless hibakusha in a similar manner.
Thank you very much for reading my letter.
(Edited and translated by Yuki Tanaka)