Passing down the atomic bomb experience
Aug. 9, 2017
On August 9th 1945, the second atomic bombing in history took place just 3 days after the one in Hiroshima. Nagasaki was instantly destroyed by the blast. In that year alone, more than 70,000 people lost their lives.
On the 72nd anniversary of the bombing, thousands of people gathered in Nagasaki's Peace Park, close to where the bomb hit, to attend a ceremony. They observed a moment of silence at 11:02 AM -- the exact time the bomb was dropped.
Among those in attendance were atomic bomb survivors, known as hibakusha. Representatives from more than 50 countries, including some nuclear powers, also took part.
Nagasaki's Mayor, Tomihisa Taue, delivered a peace declaration. He spoke of a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons adopted last month at the UN headquarters by 122 countries and territories. It followed decades of slow progress. Nuclear powers did not participate in the negotiations. Neither did countries that depend on nuclear power for protection, including Japan.
"Please reconsider your policies that seek to protect your countries with nuclear weapons. The existing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligates all member states to disarm. Please fulfill this obligation. The whole world is waiting for your brave decisions," said Taue.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not address the treaty. He said Japan needs to continue to share the memory of its tragic experiences across generations and borders.
"To truly achieve a world without nuclear weapons, it is essential for countries that have nuclear weapons and those who do not to work together. Japan abides by its 3 principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its land. And it is determined to lead the world by closely working with both sides with this goal in mind," he said.
A survivors' representative criticized Japan's reliance on nuclear energy, especially in light of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns in 2011. Yoshitoshi Fukahori was 16 years old when his sister was killed by the Nagasaki bomb.
"Nuclear power plants are being put in operation again one after another. No matter what kind of strict regulations are put into place, they're useless against earthquakes," he said.
Each year, names of victims are placed in a stone vault. They include survivors who died within the past year and newly confirmed victims. This year, 3,551 names were added, totaling more than 175,000.
What are some of the issues people in Nagasaki still face, more than 70 years after the atomic bombing?
The refrain you hear the most is, "Pass on the experience to the next generation." Most of the atomic bomb survivors are now more than 80 years old. So who will tell their stories in the future?
Newsroom Tokyo anchor Hideki Nakayama walked the streets of the city in search of an answer.
72 years ago, central Nagasaki was just a stretch of burnt ruins. But it's difficult to find traces of that today.
I went to the opening of a photo exhibition. It's about the grandchildren of atomic bomb survivors from Nagasaki and Hiroshima and their families.
One photo shows a survivor with her son and granddaughter. Accompanying the photo is a memo of the person's experience of the atomic bombing. It was passed on to the granddaughter.
The photographer, Hiroko Doune, took pictures of more than 50 families of grandchildren of survivors.
"Many times, I had to cancel sessions because the survivors had died. There is little time left, but there are still families able to talk about the experience. I just hope I'm able to create opportunities for them to talk with each other," she says.
The loss of people's memories is not the only issue at stake.
In the city is a shrine gate. Half of it was blown away by the atomic bomb, and the other remains standing. It shows the immense power of the atomic bomb.
Last October, 5 sites in the city, including this shrine gate, were designated as national historic sites related to the 1945 atomic bombing.
A former belfry was among them. It used to stand at the top of Urakami Cathedral, which collapsed in the blast. Nagasaki City officials say they need to provide in-depth information to help visitors grasp the importance of these sites.
"We're considering changing some visual images in the presentation, or adding digital information to make it more comprehensible. Perhaps we should use the internet. We believe it's important to spread the word about the meaning of these sites," says the Manager of Nagasaki City's A-Bomb Heritage Section, Takashi Matsuo.
Young people are coming forward with suggestions on how to make good use of the historic sites.
"I think it would be better to put up signs along the visitor route. An information board in front of the museum is also needed," says a Nagasaki University student.
An elementary school stands about 500 meters from ground zero. 138 people were killed in the bombing.
Nagasaki University students are hoping to use their expertise in structural engineering to help with the presentation problem.
The 1st and 2nd floors of the school building are open to the public. Photos and remnants of the bombing are on display.
The students focused their attention on the 3rd floor, which is kept closed for preservation and safety. We obtained special permission to enter.
"These show how violent the fire caused by the atomic bomb's heat ray was. It scorched wooden blocks laid inside concrete," says one of the students.
They're thinking of attaching stairs outside the building and letting visitors look inside the no-entry space through a window. They also hit upon the idea to extend the stairs to the rooftop. Ground zero is visible from the roof.
"We can imagine what the town looked like right after the bombing. I think that's the great benefit of this place," says a student.
"I think people of younger generations, like us, should actively work to learn about atomic bomb materials and sites and get involved in efforts to preserve them in as good a condition as possible," he continues.
Matsuo says, "Young people know better than us how to hand down the knowledge to future generations. Their ideas are really very helpful."
Nagasaki City officials are hearing people's opinions. They say they will decide on the best way to preserve and use of these sites by 2019.
There was a big push for nuclear disarmament last month. That's when the United Nations adopted the first-ever global treaty to legally ban nuclear weapons.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons disallows the development, possession and use of such arms. It even forbids threatening to use nuclear arms, and clearly opposes using nuclear deterrents.
Newsroom Tokyo anchor Hideki Nakayama is joined by Keiko Nakamura, who was at the UN headquarters as a researcher during negotiations on the treaty. She is also an associate professor at Nagasaki University's Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.
Nakayama: The adoption of the treaty is indeed an epoch-making development. What's its significance?
Nakamura: It is very significant that the treaty makes nuclear weapons illegal under international law. The prohibition is the first step to establish a world free of nuclear weapons. The treaty will bolster international norms against nuclear weapons, which will pressure both nuclear weapon states and their allies．
Nakayama: In the treaty, the term hibakusha is used twice in the introduction. It's the Japanese word for the victims of the use of nuclear weapons. The adoption of the treaty has been a long-held dream of hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have a report.
In 1982, a survivor from Nagasaki called on the UN to enact an agreement that would classify the use of nuclear weapons as a crime against humanity.
"No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki, no more war, no more hibakusha!" said Senji Yamaguchi.
His appeal came as little progress had been made in nuclear disarmament.
From the 1960s, disarmament efforts were being made based mainly on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States and the former Soviet Union played a central role in concluding the treaty during the Cold War era.
But the agreement failed in getting any nuclear powers to give up their weapons. In fact, the number of nuclear-armed countries continued to rise.
People in Nagasaki persisted in calling for a total ban on nuclear weapons.
Many non-nuclear states also began to think that a new framework was needed. In 2013, Australia, Mexico and other countries started full-fledged talks on banning nuclear arms by focusing on the inhumanity of these weapons.
Hibakusha gave first-hand accounts about the cruelty they experienced by such arms.
"The atomic bombs are gene-targeting weapons of which radiation immediately causes DNA damage that eventually induces leukemia and cancers during the entire life of hibakusha. Nuclear weapons are kind of pandemic disease from doctor's eye. The only effective treatment for this disease is abolishing these weapons," said one atomic bomb survivor.
In March, talks on a legally-binding nuclear weapons ban treaty got underway at the UN. But no nuclear-armed countries took part.
The Japanese government remained opposed to the talks and did not participate. This disappointed many hibakusha.
"The talks are not only unrealistic in helping to create a world without nuclear weapons. They could further deepen the rift between nuclear and non-nuclear countries," said Fumio Kishida, the Japanese foreign minister at the time.
Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, who chaired the talks, visited Nagasaki to meet with hibakusha.
"It is very important for me as a chair of this conference that I was able to come to Nagasaki and experience and see with my own senses the impact of atomic explosions," she said.
The treaty was finally adopted in July with overwhelming support from non-nuclear countries.
In Nagasaki, a bell was rung to mark the treaty's adoption and to pay tribute to hibakusha.
"As a survivor, I believe the treaty marks a step or 2 forward. But I'm very sad because Japan's government isn't taking part," said a hibakusha.
Nakayama: Nuclear deterrence used to be an essential factor in the debate on nuclear disarmament. But now discussions are focusing on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons. That represents a major shift. Would you say that nuclear arms' role as nuclear deterrence used to be recognized and accepted, but that those weapons are now regarded as evil?
Nakamura: Since 2010, the humanitarian approach has been growing and shifted the discussions about nuclear weapons from security policies towards discussing nuclear weapons in terms of their effects on humanity. The humanitarian approach transformed the discussions from a small group of states to a global discussion amongst the public.
Nakayama: But, in reality, North Korea is believed to be stepping up its nuclear development program. What do you think about the opinion that dismisses the treaty as having no effect?
Nakamura: The DPRK's behavior is a direct result of the US' extended deterrence policy. The DPRK nuclear situation is urgent, and it is absolutely necessary that we alleviate the situation. As the situation worsens, I am increasingly concerned about the high alert status of the US nuclear weapons, which can be launched even within a minute. There is a high risk that they could be accidentally launched, which would cause severe problems.
Nakayama: Japan isn't joining the treaty. It's faced with a big dilemma -- placing itself under the nuclear umbrella, despite being the only country ever to have suffered atomic bombings. What kind of a request would you send to the Japanese government?
Nakamura: As the only state which experienced the devastating impact of nuclear weapons during war times, Japan has a moral responsibility to support the ban treaty. As an ally to the US, Japan could stand up and pressure the US to change its policies. Currently, Japan strongly supports the US extended deterrence policy. It believes that nuclear weapons will preserve the country and resolve the situation with the DPRK. This idea is wrong and Japan must support a diplomatic solution and support the establishment of a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.
Nakayama: The treaty refers to hibakusha and the 2 devastated cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima are gaining greater importance. What sort of message can Nagasaki send to the world now?
Nakamura: Although we have the ban treaty, we still raise public awareness about the dangers and effects of nuclear weapons on humanity. August 6 and August 9 are not only days to reflect about the past, but days in which we must think about the future. Hence, disarmament education is vital and can help us to avoid another nuclear war. I strongly believe that young people can play a vital role and can expand upon the actions of the hibakusha. They can create innovative projects to raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Will Nagasaki be the last place destroyed by an atomic bomb? It is the hibakushas' long-held dream that such a treaty becomes a reality.
The treaty declares the atomic bombs caused catastrophic humanitarian consequences. But it's also a cruel reality that the threat of nuclear weapons still exists.
None of the states that possess them have recognized the treaty. After 72 years, we have more nations that can trigger a catastrophe.
That's why it is even more important to hear the messages of the hibakusha and see the remnants of the bombings. They don't just teach us about the past, but warn everyone what could lie ahead if nuclear weapons continue to exist.
There is a glimmer of hope that this important message is being passed on to younger generations. They are the ones who will continue to speak out that it is inhumane to use or even possess nuclear weapons.