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Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima Remembered

Aug. 5, 2016

Seventy-one years have passed since the atomic bombing, but conflict continues in many places in the world.

In May, US president Barack Obama visited Hiroshima. It was the first time for a sitting US president.

"Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past," Obama said. "We must change our mindset about war itself -- to prevent conflict through diplomacy."

From the horrific destruction come messages of peace, with hopes for a world without war. Since President Obama's historic visit, Hiroshima seems to demand more of the world's attention. Saturday marks 71 years since the atomic bombing that destroyed the city. The anniversary will attract thousands of foreigners. Last year, over one million foreign people visited the city. That's a 56% increase over the previous year. One global travel site ranks the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as Japan's second most popular tourist stopover. Barack Obama's visit has further boosted the city's global profile.

What brings people to Hiroshima? Today, we'll explore the reasons. Newsroom Tokyo starts by hearing from some of the city's foreign guests.

Hiroshima was a lively, densely populated place was transformed by the bombing into a devastated land. But the city made a quick recovery. It was reborn and became one of the largest urban areas in western Japan.

In Hiroshima today, between the high-rise buildings there’s an open space -- a district that suffered the greatest damage. One spot was turned into a park, and the park passes down what happened after the bomb was dropped.

David Ka'apu came to the site from Hawaii with his family. He wanted his daughter Holly to see Hiroshima, and understand what nuclear weapons are all about.

“When you learn about it, you still have the distance from actually being here and seeing the devastation," he said. "So that’s why I thought. It’s important for them to come. And I think it’s important for everyone to come and to see it.”

David and his family visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a place where people can learn about what happened under the mushroom cloud.

Holly stepped into the hall. She couldn’t bring herself to look directly at the exhibit. The items belonged to junior high school students. The heat and blast from the explosion stole their lives.

A lunchbox found with the body of a young boy. The rice he was looking forward to eating had turned to charcoal.

One victim’s back was burned by direct heat rays. Most died immediately or within a few days.

"It’s really hard to look because it's all there and it’s all shown. It's hard. Seeing it is much more... it really takes you there instead of just reading about it because you don't fully grasp the concept until you're here. I'd like to share it with others because it’s important to see what happened and not to continue or ever see again," Holly said.

Two other visitors are from China. Liu Honghao and Qu Yan are in Hiroshima for the first time.

"I came here because I wanted to see Hiroshima as it is today with my own eyes," Liu says.

"I knew about the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. But I didn't know a lot about it. I came here to learn what actually happened on the ground," Qu says.

Liu is from the northeastern part of China which was once occupied by the Japanese army. Both are interested in history. But they say in China they weren't taught about the damage caused by the atomic bomb.

“The bomb exploded in the air 600 meters above the city, with a blast of wind that flattened everything," a guide says. "The spot directly below the explosion was crowded with the homes of ordinary people.”

Liu and Qu were especially interested in the effects of radiation on the body. Unlike conventional bombs, a nuclear weapon emits massive amounts of radiation. Many residents lost their hair. Radiation penetrated deep into their bodies, and damaged cells and organs.

It affected people in different ways. Liu and Qu learned that some victims are still suffering from leukemia and cancer thought to have been caused by the radiation. They say many of their friends and relatives think it was Japan's leaders who were responsible for the events that led to the atomic bombing. The visit to Hiroshima gave new insight.

"When I saw the faces of the victims, I came to understand how much the bomb had affected them," Qu says. "I feel great sympathy for them because they didn’t do anything wrong."

"The Japanese government at the time led the invasion of Asia. They were the aggressors. Not ordinary citizens. I believe ordinary people were the victims," Liu says. "When I think of the sadness and suffering people endured in Hiroshima, I don’t want anything like that to happen again."

People across the world are gradually absorbing the lessons of Hiroshima. The museum receives many requests from overseas to borrow items from its collection.

"We're trying our best to loan out our artifacts overseas. Maybe seeing the exhibits will motivate people to come here," says Kenji Shiga, director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

"Many visitors say their trip to Hiroshima made them realize what happened to the city beneath the mushroom cloud. We want to continue to pass down Hiroshima's historic legacy by making the best of the materials we’ve collected. That’s our mission," he says.

Mari Katayanagi, an expert in peacebuilding at Hiroshima University's Graduate School, joins anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.

Shibuya: Why is Hiroshima drawing wider attention now?

Katayanagi: Without doubt, the visit of President Obama has a significant impact on the number of visitors to Hiroshima. Probably the speech of President Obama helped creating an image of Hiroshima as a place to reflect not only on atomic bombs, but also peace in general. Furthermore, in this period of instability in the world, hearing about terrorist attacks here and there every day, we cannot help thinking about peace.

Beppu: The video showed that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is lending its collection overseas to create stronger international awareness. We also learned that people around the world know Hiroshima, but they don't know what actually happened on the ground after the bombing. Why is this?

Katayanagi: It is a question of education, I believe. If you ask Japanese students about the Holocaust, Rwanda or Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which kind of answers do you think we get? In case of Hiroshima, students abroad may learn number of victims or size of severely damaged area. This kind of data is important, but we also need to teach damage of human life. There are things that everybody should learn from history, yet we do forget the history, particularly the reality of history. Hiroshima is trying to preserve the memory of the tragedy for the sake of future peace. One significant effort is to train narrators or story tellers following those who have told their own tragic story. Also some Japanese young volunteers hold exhibits of Hiroshima’s experience. These efforts may be helpful in disseminating the real experience of Hiroshima citizens.

Beppu: On the other hand, critics in countries like South Korea and China say the Japanese use Hiroshima to portray themselves as victims. What are your thoughts on this?

Katayanagi: I would like those people who are criticizing to actually visit Hiroshima and its Peace Memorial Museum. Although the museum is under renovation and you cannot see everything today, there are exhibits that also concern the Korean victims. There are panels showing the historical process towards the nuclear bomb attack, too. As the tourists shown in the video, visiting and seeing Hiroshima with one’s own eyes would lead to a different understanding. In Hiroshima, there have been efforts, including scholarly ones, to discuss the damage caused by the nuclear bomb including foreign victims. I would also like to remind that Hiroshima’s call for abolition of nuclear weapons is for the world peace, not only for Japan.

Message to the World
Masami Ukon

Hiroshima attracts people from around the globe, including some from areas afflicted by conflict and political strife. Last month it welcomed pro-democracy leaders from Tunisia. The democracy movement that started in 2010 there was later dubbed the Jasmin Revolution. That triggered the Arab Spring in the region.

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. The group is made up of representatives from labor unions, human rights groups and other organizations. The quartet won the prize for helping establish a new constitution and promoting a democratic Tunisia.

"We are for freedom, we are for dialogue. Please choose dialogue, the only way to resolve your problems," says Ouided Bouchamaoui, president of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts.

The group was formed in 2013, when Tunisia's road to democracy was at risk. The political divide deepened after the Jasmine Revolution. Tension peaked as opposition political leaders were assassinated. The Quartet is a strong believer in dialogue. They brought people with differing beliefs to the negotiating table...and put their country back on the path to democracy.

Since winning the Nobel prize, the Quartet leaders have been invited to talk across the planet. In July, 3 of the 4 leading members visited Japan. They were hoping to share their experiences, and learn from Japan's Phoenix-like rise after World War 2.

The Quartet gave a lecture in Tokyo with the theme of "The Power of Dialogue." They shared their struggles to save Tunisian democracy. Tunisia is considered the only successful case in the Arab Spring movement.

"When building a democratic society, putting importance on dialogue is key. We should not exclude people just because they are different. Instead, we should always accept, allow and keep dialogue going," said Hassine Abassi, secretary-general of The Tunisian General Labour Union, at the event.

“The Quartet is made up of ordinary citizens. Instead of leading a crowd, they supported the process of dialogue in subtle yet powerful ways. That made a strong impression on me,” said one participant.

But Tunisia now faces the rise of extremists. Last year, militants attacked the National Museum in the capital, killing 22 people, mostly foreign tourists. The stagnant economy is depriving young people of hope. More than 5,000 people have reportedly joined the Islamic State group to fight in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

In Tokyo, the quartet voiced their concerns about the impact of terrorism.

"We must fight terrorism to improve our social stability. In doing so, we need drastic changes to our strategy on anti-terrorism," said Abdessattar Ben Moussa, president of the Tunisian Human Rights League.

The Quartet headed to Hiroshima in search for inspiration from a city destroyed by an atomic bomb. Ouided Bouchamaoui was especially interested in how the city rebuilt. At the Peace Memorial Museum, Bouchamaoui and her colleagues were moved to see first-hand the extent of the damage, and how the people of Hiroshima rebuilt the city. For Bouchamaoui, there was one person in particular who changed the trip for her -- Keiko Ogura, an atomic bomb survivor.

"By the blast I was hit on the ground and I became unconscious. When I open my eyes everywhere was just dark," Ogura said.

Ogura was 8 years old at the time. She was only 2 kilometers from ground zero.

Ogura has been telling the world about her experiences for decades. The one thing she wanted to emphasize to the Quartet was the need to encourage people to work together and overcome hatred.

She struggled with that ideal herself. Thirteen years ago, Ogura visited the Smithsonian Museum in the United States. When she saw the exhibit of the Enola Gay she burst into tears. It was the plane that dropped the atomic bomb. She realized her pain remained deep.

"I was interpreting but I couldn't continue because I was crying. This was 60 years after the bombing," Ogura said.

What helped her to come to terms with her pain were her exchanges with people around the world. She learned about their experiences with nuclear testing, war and genocide.

"I realized all humanity shares the same fate with nuclear weapons. They kill all human beings, friends and enemies alike. I also learned that people around the world suffer from tragedy. Everyone needs to join hands to promote world peace,” Ogura said.

During the Quartet's visit, Ogura told them her message.

"Now we feel that we have to work together. Borderless is important. To hate other starts to think about revenge. We survivors, we stop in spite of that," she said.

Bouchamaoui was deeply impressed by Ogura's courage, how she had turned hatred and struggle into a strong will for creating peace. Bouchamaoui said she would tell her fellow Tunisians not to quarrel, but to work together.

“As Nobel prize winners, we have to teach Tunisian people, young people to say we have to look to the future," Bouchamaoui says. "Even we have some problem in Tunisia we have to look to the future. Nothing is impossible.”

Bouchamaoui’s strength is also encouraging Ogura to continue her work. “I sensed their strong commitment to peace building," Ogura says. "By seeing the work of someone from another country, I learned the importance of working steadily and doing what needs to be done.”

The people of Hiroshima are inspiring the world with their ability to rebuild not just the city's physical infrastructure, but its collective humanity. Their message of peace returns to the city in the hearts of those who hear it, inspiring, in turn, those who fight to never repeat the tragedy of war.

Interview with Tunisian President
Sho Beppu

We have seen what the Quartet was doing in Hiroshima. Their country, Tunisia, has just started down the path toward democracy.

Is there anything that ties Tunisia to Hiroshima? I flew over to its capital to look for an answer. I interviewed the president at his palace who was sworn in following the country's first direct election.

Beppu: President Beji Caid Essebsi, thank you again for accepting this interview.

Essebsi: I am the one to thank Japan for sending a representative from your country's television broadcaster. Japan is a great friend and an important partner for Tunisia, both economically and in terms of development.

President Caid Essebsi was foreign minister in the 1980s. After the revolution in 2011, he was Prime Minister for nearly one year. Then he launched the secular party. In 2014, he became the country's first democratically elected president.

Beppu: How important is it to achieve national unity between the various components of society, especially between religious and secular authorities?

Essebsi: Tunisia is the first Arab-Muslim country to have a secular state constitution. All religious references have been omitted. But Tunisia is still a Muslim country, I mean, mainly Muslim. Islam and democracy are not incompatible. This is what we are trying to prove here in Tunisia. We have launched a democratic program. We have engaged in a democratic process while being a Muslim country, a country with a majority of Muslim citizens. I believe the Tunisian constitution is clear proof that Islam and democracy are compatible, and we intend to continue to prove it to the rest of the world.

For 60 years, the country has ensured education for all, and promoted women's liberation. This has enabled the emergence of an important middle class. These are the true features of any democratic regime. But of course, we lag behind on the economic front. And when you lack basic well-being, it's always more difficult to be virtuous. We still need to make a lot of economic progress to guarantee the peaceful development of our democratic process.

Beppu: Tunisia has been successful in its non-violent transition from revolution to relative political stability. At the same time it's sending thousands of fighters to the Islamic State group. Can you explain this?

Essebsi: You have to look at the root causes that led to this situation. First, despite Tunisia's tremendous efforts, we suffer from high unemployment. In a small country of only 11 million inhabitants, some 600,000 people have been out of work for 5 years, at least. Unfortunately this is not improving. Many are university graduates, so 240,000 university graduates have been unemployed for 5 years. Of course, the youth want to enjoy their life, but they are not living in normal conditions. Second, some regions are extremely poor and have been marginalized. They have not been integrated into the economic circuit of our former development model. For example, promoting coastal areas to the detriment of inland regions.

The president thinks that economic development is the key element to building a stable nation. He also shared his thoughts about Hiroshima's reconstruction and message of peace.

Essebsi: No one can forget such an event so unique in history. It was the very first time an atomic bomb was used. Other countries, such as mine, have no idea what the experience was like. There have been very serious human consequences. And I believe the Japanese still suffer from the bombing. It is something that cannot be forgotten.

It was natural for the Quartet to go there. You know that Tunisia has endorsed democratization as its core policy. The Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their efforts in this matter. Such a reward is really special for a country like Tunisia. So it was natural for them to want to go to Japan to commemorate the country's important moment, by calling for peace rather than war.

After the Second World War, Shinzo Hamai became mayor of Hiroshima. It was Japan's first mayoral democratic election. He remained in office for 16 years, transforming Hiroshima into a city of peace and laying the foundation for its modernization.

Beppu: Indeed, Mayor Hamai...

Essebsi: Yes I know...

Beppu: He was the first freely elected mayor in Japan after the war. Mayor Hamai is known for his efforts to rebuild the city, especially social infrastructure, like water, electricity and public housing. You are the Tunisian head of state, and you were also democratically elected.

Essebsi: The first one, too.

Beppu: Yes, the first one, and you are also stressing the importance of social stability.

Essebsi: I am convinced that without peace, stability and security, there will be no development, no progress. And I believe that the mayor of Hiroshima engaged in this matter. I also think that the reconstruction of Hiroshima ought to be, even now, an international matter. The whole world should participate, one way or another, as a symbolic gesture. Of course, Japan does not need help now, but everyone should contribute to the symbolic reconstruction of Hiroshima, to show that destruction from war can be rebuilt in peace.

One should never build on hatred or on negative feelings. Despite everything, we should keep faith in mankind, and believe that it's only in a peaceful environment and with the people's unity that you can rebuild and go forward. Japan is known worldwide for its advanced development. Japan does not deserve to be reminded of the negative effects of the bombing, and the hatred.

Professor Katayanagi joins anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio once again.

Beppu: The quartet was moved by the words: "to overcome hatred and join hands." What's the significance of their visit?

Katayanagi: From the video, the Quartet has received the message of Hiroshima to work together for peace beyond hatred. Then the message will be spread to wherever they travel. It’s a chain of people who experienced suffering from violence, even if the types of violence have been varied. The message carried by those people can give a strong impact. I would consider it as an act of bridging peace.

Shibuya: What can people from conflict zones learn in Hiroshima?

Katayanagi: I hear that people visiting Hiroshima from abroad are foremost impressed by the recovery of Hiroshima. Many people have seen the image of devastated Hiroshima. Now it is a beautiful city with the peace memorial park in the center covered with green trees. People coming from conflict-affected countries or regions are encouraged by this scenery that one day their own place may also recover and develop.

However, the experience of Hiroshima is quite different from many violent conflicts today, which take place within boundaries of a country, in other words, internal conflicts. Hiroshima can yet give a hope for recovery, and for that, what was important in Hiroshima was a vision shard by the citizens to build a peace memorial city. Another issue is how to use the tragic experience. Hiroshima is not a place of hatred despite the despicable experience.

By transforming the suffering into the wish for abolition of nuclear weapons, the point of focus is raised to the universal level. And that goal is not only for the direct victims, but the world peace.

Beppu: Tunisia's president was fascinated by how Hiroshima rebuilt, physically and economically. Professor Katayanagi, you're well-versed in development economies. What's the significance of economic growth in peacebuilding?

Katayanagi: It is also related to the question of what is peace. After going through days of fear of violence, people need normal life. You can eat every day, you can go out without fearing the bomb attacks or shooting, you can go to school, you can dream about your future. For that you need economic development. You need a job. I’m thinking about this more from the individual level, in the sense of fulfilling economic and social rights of people, than the national economic development which may ignore the poor, believing in the trickle down effects. Poverty in many countries are related to corruption of the elites. So when we talk about economic development in peacebuilding, our focus should be at the community level, and livelihood of people. In this relation, one area of my research focus today is peacebuilding through business, promoting business for empowerment of conflict-affected population.

Beppu: How do you see Hiroshima in the world, as we go forward?

Katayanagi: The predominant theme in Hiroshima has been and will be abolition of nuclear weapons. Leading that theme is a role that Hiroshima should play in the world. However, I would like to see the expansion of its role as a forum of peace, and I believe many people and organizations, including Hiroshima University, are trying to contribute to it. Peace not only as a world without nuclear weapons, but in the wider meaning. We should discuss, for example, what is happening now in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or South Sudan. Since people coming to Hiroshima reflect on peace, we should be ready to create a place of dialogue for peace, and send messages to the world.

Personally, I wish to develop a network of past, current and future students who will work on peacebuilding in various places. Our students come from all over the world, including conflict-affected countries. I’m sure that their experience of studying together in Hiroshima helps them having deeper thoughts for peace and coexistence. Tomorrow back in the university, I will give a lecture on peacebuilding, for example, and discuss with about 50 citizens. It’s my honor to do that on the special day of Hiroshima.

Sho Beppu's Analysis

Hiroshima is indeed a tragedy. But, being a witness to the 71st anniversary of the bombing, I feel encouraged to see how its message of peace is spreading to the world.

And not only that, it is also encouraging to see that Hiroshima is receiving more and more visitors who are creating new exchanges.

I look forward to seeing how these exchanges grow and strengthen in the years to come, and what impact they could have on the conflict-ridden world we live in.