End of Cold War and Gulf CrisisFamilies Send Messages to Japanese Hostages in Iraq
CHRONICLE ＞ 1990–1991 ＞ End of Cold War and Gulf Crisis ｜ Roles of International Broadcasting to End Cold War…
Tables of major events
- 8/2. Iraqi forces invade Kuwait. Overseas broadcasting turns to special programming.
- 9/6. Family messages air to Japanese hostages in Iraq.
- 10/3. East and West Germany reunited.
- 1990s. China achieves rapid economic growth.
- 1/17. Gulf War begins. Messages broadcast overseas to Japanese in Iraq and other Gulf countries.
- 4/1. TV Japan begins airing.
- 4. BBC begins overseas TV broadcasting in English.
- 8/19. August coup in Soviet Union
- 9/17. North and South Korea join UN.
- 12/25. Soviet Union dissolved.
SENDING INFORMATION TO JAPANESE HOSTAGES IN IRAQ FOR 96 DAYS
The Gulf Crisis broke out in 1990. Iraq took foreigners hostage to use them as human shields against multinational forces. Among them were about 140 Japanese. Radio Japan expanded its airtime for the Middle East to report the latest news. For three months until the hostages were released, it aired messages to them from families and coworkers every day.
From Cold War to Regional Conflicts
After Iraq invasion of Kuwait, a Russian tank in desert.
Hostage’s family sending message to their loved one.
In 1990, the world was changing. East and West Germany were unified. The Soviet Union fell. The international community shifted from a Cold War balance to an era of regional conflicts. Against this background, the roles of international broadcasting diversified.
Families’ Voices Sent to Hostages
From the Gulf Crisis to the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991, Radio Japan played a unique role in broadcasting history.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, instantly raising tension in the region. Iraq said it would take foreigners in its country hostage and use them as human shields against the multinational forces. Among them were 141 Japanese.
Amid this situation, Radio Japan added a relay station, this time in Gabon, Africa. The station was positioned well to improve reception in the Middle East. On August 30, it tripled its broadcasting to the area from 3.5 hours a day to 11 hours, focusing on news about the Iraq situation.
On September 6, it began to air messages from the families and friends of the Japanese hostages. At first, announcers read the messages so as not to aggravate Iraq. But soon, the families and friends talked directly into the mike to their loved ones.
“We are copying a sutra word by word with our own hands to seek Buddha’s mercy for your safe return home. Many people are doing the same for us. So I’m sure things will go in a good direction” (from wife).
“It was a lonely summer vacation without you, Dad. But now the second term has begun and my brother and I are studying hard. Do your exercises to keep fit till you get back home” (from daughter).
Both the families who recorded messages and announcers who read them for the families did so in tears. They had to record over and over again.
Thank-You Letters from Former Hostages
The broadcasts of messages lasted for 96 days until all the Japanese were released. During this time, Radio Japan conveyed 1,543 messages from wives, children and coworkers.
A former hostage sent this thank-you letter to NHK:
“Since Iraq invaded Kuwait, I was in a state of house arrest for about 130 days. I was unable to get any outside information. So I held onto my radio and listened to Radio Japan every day. One day, I heard an on-air message from my family and fellow workers to cheer me up. I was so happy and deeply moved that I wept for a long time.”
During Gulf War Too
On January 17, 1991, soon after the Japanese hostages were released, the Gulf War started between the Iraqi and multinational forces. More than 1,000 Japanese lived in the Gulf region, excluding those working for Japan’s missions. Radio Japan extended its relay system to almost 24 hours a day, using a station in Gabon and another in Sri Lanka that opened in January. With these, it stayed on the air for an exceptional length of 50 hours.
Roles of International Broadcasting
to End Cold War…
FREQUENT UNREST AND INCIDENTS, IMPORTANCE OF INFO TO PROTECT SAFETY
It was now an age when an incident in one country could be reported around the world in an instant. International broadcasting by radio played an important role in ending the Cold War. Now international broadcasting was entering a television age.
News in Japanese More Important with More Japanese Abroad
8/19/91. Hardliners opposed to Gorbachev’s reforms attempted a coup. Here,Russian Republic President Yeltsin says, “The coup violates the Constitution, and the state emergency committee is illegal.”
8/21/91. President Gorbachev before reporters after the failed coup.
As more Japanese lived abroad, Radio Japan’s news in Japanese was becoming more important as a way of quickly disseminating information.
In confusion after a coup attempt in the former Soviet Union in 1991 and unrest in Zaire, Radio Japan maintained contact with the Foreign Ministry and sent information carefully with priority on the safety of Japanese.
During the attempted coup, it devoted all of its Russian broadcasts to news for nearly one month and kept reporting the latest developments.
Radio Japan continued to report on a series of events from the coup attempt to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This invited many reactions from Europe and the rest of the world. Some say one factor that ended the Cold War was radio warfare that went beyond national borders.
Radio Japan Receiving More Letters Than Ever
In fiscal 1990, NHK’s international broadcasting received 90,783 letters. It was the first time Radio Japan received more than 90,000 letters from listeners in a year. In fiscal 1991, the number dropped a little to 87,517. That was because a temporary increase from Japan at the time of the Gulf Crisis and Gulf War turned into a decline when they were over. But letters from abroad continued to increase. Reactions began to come in concerning Radio Japan’s Persian service and Spanish service for Europe, which began in fiscal 1991.
International Broadcasting Enters TV Age with Gulf War
The Gulf War in 1991 opened an era of television broadcasting across national borders. When CNN began broadcasting the war from Iraq to the world, people were shocked to see live war coverage. CNN International of the U.S. was launched in 1985. Britain’s BBC began its international television service in 1991 and Germany’s Deutsche Welle in 1992.
Russian Service Stayed On
On that day, it was windy with light rain in Tokyo. After I arrived at the office at around noon, a “perfect storm” came from Moscow, a report that President Mikhail Gorbachev was under house arrest in Crimea, where he was vacationing. It was the first report of a coup attempt by Communist hardliners on August 19. Radio Japan was offering its Russian service for 30 minutes a day, 10-minute news after 14:00, and programs after 21:00 and 4:00 a.m. On that day, I stayed at the office overnight.
The coup attempt ended in just one day. But Gorbachev’s authority fell sharply. Boris Yeltsin, the president of one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, was gaining power. But hardliners resisted fiercely. The situation in the Soviet Union became unstable. On August 26, the news slot was extended to 30 minutes. But it was not easy to fill the time with news. This was before the Internet and YouTube.
Radio Japan set up special units to report every step toward the fall of the Soviet Union. On December 25, Gorbachev gave a resignation speech. The Soviet Union was no more. We had a busy year-end and new year, broadcasting special programs, discussions by experts, and so on. But I can say I was lucky to be able to be there when history was made.
(Katsuyoshi Akachi, former Russian Service desk editor)