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Editorial: Japan’s mission as A-bombed nation carries greater weight amid global tensions

Hiroshima observed the 77th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city on Aug. 6. Nagasaki will also mark its A-bomb anniversary on Aug. 9. The ceremonies come as the world faces a heightened risk of nuclear weapons use amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

 

After the turn of the year, five nuclear-weapons nations — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — released a joint statement claiming, “We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

 

The statement raised expectations for the elimination of nuclear arms. Yet such hopes were betrayed less than two months later, with Russian President Vladimir Putin hinting he could use nuclear weapons while his country continues its military aggression in Ukraine.

 

Tensions are also rising in Asia. China sharply reacted to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, launching a large-scale military exercise in waters near the region. According to the Japanese government, five missiles fired by the Chinese military landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

 

Political leaders of nuclear powers, who have their fingers on “nuclear buttons,” are urged to exercise strong self-restraint.

 

— Hiroshima, Nagasaki coming under spotlight

 

Amid growing tensions in the world, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have come under the global spotlight. Ambassadors and other representatives of a record 101 nations decided to attend the Hiroshima peace ceremony on Aug. 6. It was the first time in four years for the U.S. ambassador to Japan to be present at the ceremony.

 

Meanwhile, Antonio Guterres became the first United Nations secretary-general to take part in the Hiroshima ceremony in 12 years. He sounded a warning, stating, “Humanity is in danger of forgetting the lessons forged in the terrifying fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

 

Seventy-seven years ago, more than 200,000 people perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki within five months of the atomic bombing of the two cities, where many were at the mercy of the blast and the raging fires that ensued. Citizens who were exposed to radiation from the bombs are suffering health issues even today.

 

The voices of survivors of the atomic bombings, or “hibakusha,” who have shared their experiences with others, have attested to the inhumanity of nuclear arms and become a driving force in moving the world. Their strenuous efforts played a significant role in the introduction of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January 2021.

 

Tomiaki Nagahara, 75, a volunteer guide at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, is a second-generation hibakusha. He has shared his story both at home and abroad, including his father’s experience of disposing of the victims’ bodies day after day in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. More than once, Nagahara saw people stop and listen to his story after he told them, “I’m from Hiroshima.”

 

Keiko Ogura, 85, was exposed to the atomic bombing at age 8. She has recounted her experiences in English to the foreign media following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Her messages have been posted on YouTube and garnered numerous views.

 

After the onset of the Ukraine crisis, some legislators of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for discussions on a “nuclear sharing” arrangement to deploy nuclear weapons on Japanese soil, and jointly manage and operate them with the United States. Such a move runs counter to Japan’s three non-nuclear principles of “not possessing, producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan.” Five groups of A-bomb survivors in Nagasaki expressed a sense of crisis over the initiative, saying, “It will spread the wrong perception that making threats with nuclear weapons is effective.”

 

While survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have conveyed the realities of damage inflicted by the atomic bombings to the world, major challenges lie ahead in relaying their experiences to future generations.

 

— Passing memories of hibakusha to the world

 

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were 118,935 people who hold Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificates as of the end of March 2022. The figure is down more than 80,000 from a decade ago. The average age of A-bomb survivors stood at 84.53.

 

The number of people who can share and pass down their firsthand experiences of the atomic bombings are on the decline year by year. In Nagasaki, the hibakusha singing group “Himawari” (sunflower) has participated in the Aug. 9 peace ceremony every year to pay tribute to A-bomb victims, but their appearance at this year’s ceremony will be their last due to the aging of members.

 

Under the coronavirus pandemic, new initiatives have emerged in an attempt to hand down the memories of hibakusha to posterity. Efforts are underway to share survivors’ testimonials online and digitize the data to pass it down to generations to come.

 

University students who are third-generation hibakusha are translating a booklet into English that compiled testimonials given by in-utero hibakusha, or those who were exposed to the atomic bomb radiation in their mothers’ wombs. The booklet is scheduled to be released online this year.

 

This November, a meeting of the “International Group of Eminent Persons” will be held in Hiroshima, inviting political leaders of nuclear and non-nuclear states. Hiroshima will also host the summit meeting of the Group of Seven industrial nations in May next year.

 

There must never be another Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Messages to prevent a “third tragedy” need to be continually delivered to the world, making the most of such opportunities.

 

It is essential to record and pass down the reality of damage wrought by the atomic bombs, and share the facts with the rest of the world. Fostering international opinion toward nuclear weapons abolition through these efforts will help avoid a nuclear war. Japan’s mission as the world’s only nation to have suffered atomic bombings in warfare is carrying greater weight than before.

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