The Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of World War II in Japan is a good opportunity to look back on the path Japan has followed up until today. Let’s begin this editorial with a story about an experience that a war nurse had during World War II.
Tazuko Nomura was working at a Japanese military hospital in Baguio, the Philippines, as a Japanese Red Cross nurse when the facility was fiercely attacked by U.S. forces on Jan. 23, 1945. U.S. troops bombed the facility even though it had a large Red Cross sign on its roof.
“There were young nurses whose white uniforms were stained with blood. My co-workers at the Japanese Red Cross, who were as young as me, were dying. I felt chills in my backbone,” she wrote in an anthology titled, “Kurenai Someshi” (“Stained in red”), and released in 1977.
Scenes at a makeshift hospital in a mine tunnel eight kilometers away after the massive airstrike on Baguio were also dreadful.
“A patient whose lower part of their body was immobilized in a cast complained that areas of his feet between his toes were painful as if they were burning. I looked at his feet and found that a white bone was exposed after being bitten by an insect. I lit up with a lantern the feet of another patient whose leg had been amputated and also found an insect in his wound,” wrote Naoko Shimizu in the same anthology.
The Japanese Red Cross Society dispatched a total of 33,000 nurses to battlefields or ships where hospitals were set up from 1937 when the Second Sino-Japanese War began to the end of World War II. They were conscripted just like servicemen and about 1,100 of them died.
Their accounts of the war vividly show the stupidity and the inhumane nature of war.
Miki Hanada, who belonged to the Aomori branch of the Japanese Red Cross, secretly kept a diary while working at an Imperial Japanese Army hospital in Shanxi province, China.
“I hope that I can sympathize with the mothers of those who are dispatched here even a little bit. I wish my hands were their mothers’ hands,” Hanada wrote in her diary.
At the time, graduates of Japanese Red Cross nursing schools could be called up to the society headquarters or its regional branches in case of war or a natural disaster over a 12-year period after their graduation. Therefore, many Japanese Red Cross nurses dispatched to battlefields or war hospitals were those in their late teens and 20s. Many were young mothers who were forced to leave their newborn babies behind.
Seventy-one years have passed since the end of World War II. Those who were 20 when the war ended are now turning 91. The number of survivors, who experienced extreme contradictions in that they were protecting the lives of people on the frontlines where people killed each other, is rapidly decreasing. Hanada passed away in August 2006 at the age of 91.
The government conducted a project of awarding former war nurses from 1998 to 2013. In response to applications, the government sent about 6,600 individuals a message in the name of the prime minister, expressing his respect for their wartime services. However, neither the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry responsible for the project nor the Japanese Red Cross Society knows the exact number of survivors.
It is necessary to learn of the past and hand down the experiences of these people to future generations all the more because the number of those who underwent hardship is decreasing.
People tend to be influenced by what is happening in front of them, and are attracted by aggressive voices in the presence of China and North Korea’s military buildups. All the more for that, we need a rational mind we can acquire by learning lessons from the past.
Discussions on historical perceptions appear to have calmed down since a statement that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued last year on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war stirred controversy. However, the Abe Statement was aimed apparently at avoiding friction over historical perceptions for the time being but is far from forming common views on modern history.
Whenever key Cabinet ministers visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals are enshrined along with the war dead, the issue of historical perceptions takes on a highly political nature. Behind the dispute over the issue of Yasukuni Shrine is a split in views on the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals.
Politicians must have courage and belief to overcome the difficult challenge of considering how to mourn more than 3 million war victims.
A visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to the atomic bombed city of Hiroshima on May 27 this year was an epoch-making event. A U.S. sociologist who visited Hiroshima in the 1960s was reportedly astonished when he was presented with senbazuru, or 1,000 paper cranes, as a symbol of peace saying, “How naive!” This is because of a wide gap between the nuclear deterrence theory that the United States has believed in and senbazuru. However, President Obama made four paper cranes and offered them to Japanese, and the number of visitors to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where Obama’s paper cranes are on display, increased 40 percent from last year. Obama’s paper cranes serve as a modest but significant bridge in the gap between the harsh reality of international politics and prayers for peace in Hiroshima.
A high level of realism is required in politics. At the same time, however, human beings cannot make progress unless politics is an act driven by a passion for idealism.
The egoism of individual countries is becoming increasingly prevalent in the international community in a world that had been devastated by two major global wars and has longed for stability and the peaceful coexistence of countries. Exclusive unilateralism is apparently behind the popularity of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. The ideal of world peace that the U.N. Security Council has pursued has long been shaken.
The Rio de Janeiro Olympics is underway. Spectators gave enthusiastic applause to the Refugee Olympic Team who raised the Olympics flag during the opening ceremony. However, the Olympics would only become a truly peaceful event if it became unnecessary to form a refugee team.
The peace that Japan has maintained for 71 years is a great asset. Japan can maintain peace for 80 or 90 years only if the country makes efforts to that end. Aug. 15 is a day when Japanese people should confirm the need to acquire the ability to learn from history.