Hiroshima Excerpts

Mayor of Hiroshima Akiba Tadatoshi’s words at the 6 August ceremony were, as the Japan Times reported, a cutting philippic against current US foreign policy:

“The world without nuclear weapons and beyond war that our hibakusha (survivors of the atomic attack) have sought for so long appears to be slipping deeper beyond a thick cover of dark clouds that they fear at any minute could become mushroom clouds spilling black rain(NPT) is on the verge of collapse. The chief cause is U.S. nuclear policy that, by openly declaring the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear strike and calling for resumed research into mini-nukes and other so-called usable nuclear weapons, appears to worship nuclear weapons as God.”

Undercurrents run deep here, however: The rebuke was for Prime Minister Koizuimi Junichir, wearing a pained visage in front-row attendance at the Hiroshima ceremony. Although in part suffering from the mid-summer heat, his tv persona suspiciously resembled the disgruntled smirk George Bush wore at Clinton’s inauguration. And well it might have been as he was forced to listen further:

(Akiba:)”The problem is not only nuclear weapons. The world moves as if there were no UN and Japanese Constitutions, its rudder lost and moving from post- to pre-war periods ‘War is peace’ say the Americans and British as they moved to attack Iraq A war that kills women, children, the elderly, those without crime, that destroys nature with its radioactivity and does not disperse for millions of years”

This year’s ceremony commemorated the 58th year since the city was destroyed in the world’s first nuclear attack; a middle-aged couple from Iraq, both doctors, lay flowers at the foot of the monument. The gesture resonated well with the citizens of the city well-aware of “rekka-uran” (depleted uranium). It has not been a good year for neither constitutions mentioned above: 15 May–anniversary of the 1932 assassination of PM Inukai by military cadets–saw the approval in committee of the Yuji Hoan law effectively giving the US control of the Japanese military; 4 July–heretofore Japan’s official Dependence Day–came passage of the bill dispatching troops to Iraq.

Akiba: “The government of the country with the unique distinction of suffering nuclear attack has a special domestic and foreign obligation. To declare assistance for all sufferers of radiation throughout the world, to work sincerely towards a nuclear-free Asia, to offer a new fundamental declaration of ‘Neither to produce, nor to maintain, nor to allow the use of’ nuclear weapons.”

Of those critical of his administration’s rush to support America’s “war for peace”, Koizumi responded after the ceremony to a reporter’s question, “It’s all a matter a matter of perspective. It’s very important to cooperate with the US to guarantee peace in Japan.” He is of course speaking of the specter of North Korea; the missile-shield cooperation plan is on the table. Will it be followed by Japan’s own deployment of nuclear weapons? Chief of Staff Fukuda Takeo intimated last spring this possibility (also a pet ploy of Tokyo’s own Le Pen, Mayor Ishihara Shintaro), and despite or perhaps encouraged by the mild admonitions from within his party he affirmed this stance once more albeit obliquely, actually saying that nuclear weapons would not be necessary if all countries decided not to maintain them. The Asahi Shinbun newspaper noted this a sarcastic response to Akiba’s peace declaration above.

It is necessary to remember that PM Koizumi fresh out of university was secretary to Fukuda’s father former party chief Takeo, and that the above Yuji-Hoan law cementing the US-Japan allied relationship was proposed–and rejected–over 20 years ago by Koizumi’s father and Fukuda Takeo. This kind of “all in the family” cronyism also serves as partial explanation why Japan’s “Self Defense” Forces are soon on their way to Iraq. In essence, it was a personal promise to GW Bush resulting from the chemistry that has developed between the two; personal wealth erases many cultural barriers, evidently.

All in all, Koizumi’s insistence upon “No More Hiroshima’s” in his ceremonial speech has something of a hollow ring these days, working as he does from a different semantic angle. Eminently flexible, the written Japanese can represent words both in syllables without reference to symbolic meanings; in his speech, Hiroshima comes to mean the idea of nuclear attack erasing the particulars of time and place (Lisa Yoneyama’s “Hiroshima Traces” from U of California Press gives the whole story). This stance is of course morally defensible, but it in fact is based upon Jim Crow reasoning when used by the current administration: Any smaller country outside the US-sphere of influence is not allowed weapons, and if they are on the road to acquisition are open to attack.

Last night on News 23, progressive journalist Chikushi Tetsuya talked of heat, the heat of Hiroshima city in August, the heat of flame around the stone tomb interring the names of those who died in the initial blast and the hibakusha who pass away in the past year–average age, 79 years old–include this year six American POW’s held in Hiroshima, the arson attack by a disgruntled, unemployed university student who set flame to thousands of folded-paper cranes symbolizing peace contained in one of the monuments, and of course the heat of the bomb blast itself. It is important to remember this heat, he assured us, because too many decisions concerning the nuclear threat are made in the safe, secure confines of air-conditioned caverns.

Until last year, it was the custom of the Prime Minister to attend a special meeting of hibakusha survivors, giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns to high politicos. It is a kind of heat that the current prime minister evidently cannot stand because he has excused himself for two-year’s running. “He is not listening to us,” appealed hibakusha representative Kaneko Kazushi to the Health and Welfare Minister standing in the PM’s stead.

ADAM LEBOWITZ teaches at Nihon University and has lived in Japan for 12 years. He can be reached at: noriko-adam@tokai.or.jp