Hiroshima Under the Shadow of 9/11

When Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rose to speak at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park at 8:26 a.m. this past August 6, that is to say, precisely 11 minutes past the sounding of the Peace Bell which commemorates the world’s first dropping of the nuclear bomb, he could have barely imagined the negative impact his address would have upon his audience. The contrast between Koizumi’s uninspiring and cliché-ridden speech – which barely mentioned the growing danger of a nuclear war – and Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba’s address, delivered just 10 minutes earlier, was stark.

Akiba did not mince his words while underscoring the nuclear danger and reprimanding the government of the United States: "Since the terrorist attack against the American people on September 11 last year, the danger has become more striking. The path of reconciliation – serving chains of hatred, violence and retaliation – so long advocated by the survivors has been abandoned. Today, the prevailing philosophy seems to be ‘I’ll show you’ and ‘I’m stronger than you are’. In Afghanistan and Middle East, in India and Pakistan, and wherever violent conflict erupts, the victims of this philosophy are overwhelmingly women, children, the elderly, and those least able to defend themselves."

Akiba spoke of the "spiritual home for all people" that Hiroshima is building, in which "grows an abundant Forest of Memory, and the River of Reconciliation and Humanity flowing from that forest is plied by Reason, Conscience and Compassion, ships that ultimately sail to the Sea of Hope and the Future."

Akiba said: "I strongly urge President Bush to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to walk through that forest and ride that river. I beg him to encounter this human legacy and confirm with his own eyes what nuclear weapons hold in store for us all." But he declared: "The United States government has no right to force Pax Americana on the rest of us, or to unilaterally determine the fate of the world."

In Nagasaki, on August 9 too, Mayor Iccho Itoh delivered a powerful moral rebuke to war-mongers responsible for raising the probability of a nuclear catastrophe. Recounting September 11 and the US response to it, he said: "International tensions have since been heightened by the ensuing attacks against Afghanistan and intensified strife in the Middle East, as well as military clashes between India and Pakistan that have threatened to devolve into nuclear conflict."

Itoh added: "In the midst of such serious international conditions, the government of the United States has unilaterally withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia in the name of terrorist countermeasures, and is moving forward with missile defence programmes. The United States has also rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and has suggested the possibilities of restarting the production of plutonium triggers, developing a new generation of compact nuclear weapons, and engaging in preemptive nuclear strikes."

He said: "We are appalled by this series of unilateral actions taken by the government of the United States, actions which are also being condemned by people of sound judgment throughout the world."

The two Mayors’ speeches reflect the predominant popular sentiment in Japan, which remains overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear weapons in spite of recent slidebacks and hesitations in the government about the three "non-nuclear principles" which Japan advocates – not manufacturing, not possessing and not "bringing in" nuclear weapons.

In May, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fakudo suggested Japan could review its long-standing commitment to these principles. Since then, matters have been further muddied by the growing pressure from Japan’s militarist Right wing and by Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which is a monument to Japanese militarism and "war heroes".

Koizumi on Hiroshima Day reiterated his commitment to Japan’s pacifist constitution and the "three principles". But his Liberal Democratic Party has rejected a proposal by Social Democratic Party leader Takako Doi to give full legal effect to put the three non-nuclear principles. Nor have the people of Hiroshima forgotten the fight they had to wage with conservatives in the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour to insert a critical phrase in an inscription on a wall panel leading to the display corner of the newly completed National Peace Memorial Hall for the Deceased Victims of the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima.

The inscription reads: "While praying for those who died from the atomic bombing and remembering the many who fell victim to the erroneous national policy, we hereby pledge to hand down our memories of the tragedy to posterity, disseminate them here and abroad and build a peaceful world without nuclear weapons as soon as possible so that the same tragedy will never be repeated." The words, "the many who fell victim to the erroneous national policy" were inserted after much wrangling and at the insistence of the hibakusha, the survivors of the bomb attack.

Contrary to what many people believe, and despite the moral stature and respect they command, Japan has not treated its hibakusha well. Literally thousands of them – and they are a rapidly depleting species – have had to fight long legal battles to get relief and medical treatment from the state. For instance, I briefly met Hideko Matsuga in Nagasaki who had to fight for 12 long years to receive compensation. According to Senji Yamaguchi, a leader of Nihon Hidankyo (Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers’ Organisations), at least a quarter of the 400,000 people who survived the nuclear bombing of 1945 have received no assistance.

At an international peace conference organised by Gensuikyo (Japan Conference Against A- and H-Bombs), which I attended with 60 other foreign participants from 30 countries, two important speakers were Mukai Shunji, a Japanese hibakusha living in Brazil, and Choi Il Chul, a Korean who lived and worked in Hiroshima in 1945. Both narrated terrible stories of the plight of the hibakusha living abroad. Most of Brazil’s 300-odd hibakusha of Japanese origin and the bulk of Korea’s 15,000 or more have received little assistance from the Japanese government.

Evidently, there are many people in Japan who would like to forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki and turn a blind eye to the growing global nuclear danger too. The reality of this danger was highlighted repeatedly at the peace conference I attended. Here, the principal focus was on the shadow which September 11 and subsequent developments has cast over the world, causing radical shifts in perceptions of "terrorism" and "security". No recent event has led to a more one-sided and warped definition of terrorism (reduced to sub-state terror alone), or to more far-reaching legitimation of the use of force as a universal solution to all security problems.

Post-September 11, any military action, whether punitive or pre-emptive, can be rationalised so long as it has the approval of the US. America is threatening to destroy the whole complex architecture of multilateral agreements on arms control and disarmament, and on rules about the justice of and in war. It has taken the world two centuries, countless wars, and the loss of millions of lives to evolve this multilateral edifice.

With its Ballistic Missile Defence plans, the US is about to inaugurate a Second Nuclear Age with a not-so-clandestine Manhattan Project-II. Its Nuclear Posture Review opens new avenues for the development and actual use of weapons of mass destruction against seven named states (including Russia and China, as well as US-designated "rogues) and for a variety of purposes and objectives which go well beyond the standard concepts of deterrence, flawed as these are.

Many conference participants stressed that Bush may be about to put into practice his doctrine of "pre-emption" in Iraq. This would make a mockery of international law – which, in the absence of Security Council authorisation, only permits use of force in self-defence after a state has been attacked. The US is not preparing to defend itself against known or likely threats. It is seeking permanent military supremacy against all real or imaginary adversaries, present and future.

It is the world’s gravest misfortune, and a consequence of the present "unipolar moment" conjuncture, that there is so little resistance to the US from its allies/friends, neutral powers, and rivals.

This, then, is a dangerous moment. It is marked by a distressingly high probability of the use of nuclear weapons, far higher than any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

India and Pakistan have contributed in their own sordid ways to the cynicism that has produced this moment – through a reversal of India’s nuclear doctrine and the 1998 tests, by vying with each other in courting the US, and through their intensified mutual rivalry – a South Asian sideshow to America’s "War on Terror". Particularly deplorable is the post-December 13 conduct of the two, led by Vajpayee’s jingoistic regime, which is aping Bush’s government. The eight-months-long South Asian stand-off highlights Kashmir’s potential as a trigger for a nuclear conflagration.

This underscores the urgent need for a truly international peace movement, with strong organic roots and an ability to act simultaneously in a number of countries. What exists today is a collection of national movements and discrete campaigns with some minimal cooperation between them, but without the mobilising abilities available, say, in the early to mid-1980s. The once-very-powerful peace movements of Western Europe went into decline post-Cold War. They are in revival mode, but their influence remains limited. Peace movements are growing in the Global South, but have a long way to go. This is also true of Central and Eastern Europe.

The peace movement in the US appears to have gathered some strength, as testified to by a 100,000-strong rally on April 20 in Washington, a revival of interest in peace issues on university campuses, and growing links with the anti-globalisation movement. But it falls woefully short when it comes to effecting a major change in public perceptions, leave alone official policy.

Perhaps the greatest message from the 57th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that the peace movement needs to go global – not just in perspective, but in effective action as well as organisation and logistics. It is time peace activists everywhere devoted some serious thought – and resources – to planning a truly international movement.

Author: Praful Bidwai

Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political analyst and peace activist, a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament. He shared the International Peace Bureau's Sean MacBride International Peace Prize for 2000 with Vanaik.