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American University exchange program focuses on Hiroshima, Nagasaki atomic bombings

  • 2015-06-16 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: June 16, 2015 – p. 37)


 By Ryo Kiyomiya in Washington


 It is a long-held belief in the U.S. that the atomic bombings helped end World War II and saved many lives. The “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition” organized by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and supporting groups opened on June 13 (June 14 in Japan). The American University in Washington, where the exhibition is being held, has a program for exchanges with Japanese students with the goal of narrowing the gap in the perception of history on both sides. Has the Americans’ view of the atomic bombings changed?


 This program is called the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Exchange Tour. Students come to the atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August each year for a 10-day stay to visit exhibitions on the atomic bombings and listen to first-hand accounts by the victims, which makes them think about the atomic bombings and nuclear weapons.


 Professor Peter Kuznick plays a central role in this program. He said: “The students’ lives were changed after they listened to the atomic bombing victims.” Ritsumeikan University Professor Atsushi Fujioka, who has taken charge of arrangements to host the American students over the years, also said: “Even Americans who think nuclear weapons are necessary are touched by the accounts of the atomic bombing victims.”


 The program started 20 years ago. In 1995, an exhibition on the atomic bombings planned by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum was cancelled due to objections from veterans and other groups. The exhibit became one honoring the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The American University took over the exhibits on the atomic bombings and organized its own exhibition.


 A total of 240 overseas students have participated in the Peace Exchange Tour over the years. They discussed the atomic bombings and nuclear weapons with Japanese students.


 Associate Professor Vincent Intondi of Montgomery College, a researcher on African Americans’ view of the atomic bombings, joined the program in 2005 when he was a student of the American University. He said that he was deeply touched by the accounts of the atomic bombing victims, which influenced him significantly. He has been coming with his students since 2009.


 Associate Professor Akiko Naono of Kyushu University’s graduate school, who started the exchange program, was shocked by Americans’ view of the atomic bombings when she was studying at the American University. She pointed out that, “While there has not been any dramatic change in Americans’ view of the atomic bombings, we hope that change will spread gradually, starting with the students who participated in the program.”


 The cost of the program for participants from the U.S., about 600,000 yen, is quite expensive. There was even a year when no one participated. In recent years, an increasing number of students have no knowledge of World War II. This year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, 25 students have applied to join the program, a bigger number than usual.


 This reporter asked 30 men and women on the street in Washington, from teenagers to people in their 90s, whether they support the atomic bombings.


 Nineteen people answered in the negative. Most young people said this is because the atomic bombs killed innocent people. Three of the respondents answered “yes,” while eight gave no answer or said they didn’t know.


 The respondents were asked to name the atomic bombed cities. Eighteen of them were able to answer “Hiroshima, Nagasaki”; seven could only name Hiroshima, while two answered Nagasaki. Three of the respondents did not know both cities. On the other hand, no one was able to give the dates of the atomic bombings. (Slightly abridged)

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