HIROSHIMA, Japan As images of the terrorist attacks on American soil flashed continuously across television screens on September 11, survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were reminded of the hell they lived through some 56 years earlier.
But, what took Haruko Moritaki aback was that some of the atom-bomb survivors, including “pacifists,” were cursing the Americans.
“That made me realize how deep is the pain and resentment in their minds,” said Mrs. Moritaki, co-director of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA). “But I told myself that hundreds of thousands of lives [of those who perished in the atomic fires] can’t be wasted. Hiroshima has to overcome animosity. Otherwise, we can never abolish nuclear weapons.”
Except for her father, Mrs. Moritaki and other members of her family escaped the atomic holocaust because they had been evacuated to the countryside in June 1945, two months before the U.S. nuclear attack.
Her father, Ichiro Moritaki, survived the bombing but was disfigured by blast debris that destroyed his right eye, though his left eye recovered by a miracle, she said. Mr. Moritaki became one of the leading figures in the anti-nuclear movement and later served as chairman of the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. The atomic bombing is believed to have caused his death in 1994, 49 years after the attack. Mr. Moritaki, like many other atomic-bomb survivors, died of cancer.
“My father always said that we should change from ‘a nuclear civilization or brute-force civilization to a civilization of love,’” recalls Mrs. Moritaki, who is also president of the Association for Youth Peace Exchanges with India and Pakistan. The program, begun after their 1998 nuclear tests, brings schoolchildren from both countries to Hiroshima for “peace study.”
It came as no surprise when Mrs. Moritaki and other Hiroshima residents, including atom-bomb survivors, sent letters to President Bush after the September 11 attacks, urging him not to retaliate in Afghanistan. HANWA has forged closer ties to Peaceful Tomorrows, an anti-war group founded by families of September 11 victims.
Some HANWA members and survivors of the U.S. atom-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki flew to the United States in April to participate in demonstrations against war and nuclear weapons.
A planned to visit Towers High School in DeKalb County, Ga., was canceled abruptly after the school board learned that the delegation’s flier said, “These activists believe the U.S. may use nuclear weapons soon.” Officials feared the Japanese group would be seen as “too political.”
With tensions mounting between Washington and Baghdad, Mrs. Moritaki again is revving up an anti-war campaign, urging Washington not to take military action against Iraq.
She and other activists traveled to Iraq in December to meet with government officials and visit hospitals and a former battlefield.
“I wanted to know the present situation in Iraq. I thought I would lack credibility if I didn’t go and see it for myself,” she said.
Mrs. Moritaki, who has suffered from breast cancer believed caused by the 1945 atomic bombing, said she particularly wanted to see children who might have been victims of depleted uranium.
U.S. troops are reported to have used tons of armor-piercing bullets of depleted uranium during the Persian Gulf war, and Iraq has blamed depleted-uranium exposure for cancers, birth defects and other ailments.
NATO and the European Union took seriously two years ago the potential health risks of depleted-uranium ammunition used in the Balkans, which provoked concern in Europe when Italy began investigating soldiers who became ill after serving there.
On its Internet site, the White House dismisses Iraq’s claims as “propaganda” in its “disinformation campaign” and warns that Baghdad “could take advantage of established international networks of antinuclear activists launching their own campaigns against [depleted uranium].”
The White House “can’t make even a counterargument,” said Akira Tashiro, an board member of the Chugoku Shimbun, a Hiroshima-based newspaper. But he said the U.S. government can’t ignore growing concern over the health effects of depleted uranium on humans.
Mr. Tashiro, an author of “Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium,” has investigated the long-term negative health effects of depleted-uranium bullets. Having covered radiation victims in Japan and abroad since the late 1980s, Mr. Tashiro said the reports of Gulf war syndrome among U.S. and allied soldiers were convincing, despite official American denials that exposure to depleted uranium could result in serious health problems.
He added that since Hiroshima citizens know firsthand that people suffer from war-induced ailments even many years after a conflict has ended, most staunchly oppose a U.S. attack on Iraq. In Hiroshima, cancer began to increase 10 to 15 years after the 1945 bombing.
Major opinion polls also show that growing numbers of Japanese oppose U.S. military action against Iraq. The Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese daily, said 69 percent of those surveyed in late January opposed U.S. military action against Iraq, and 20 percent favored it.
Another Asahi poll shows the job-approval rating of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet declined to 47 percent from 54 percent in December. Under such circumstances for Mr. Koizumi, Japan’s support for U.S. military action is a tough sell.
As in many other countries, anti-war demonstrations were held Jan. 18 in major cities across Japan. People fear Japan will become a terrorist target for supporting the Bush administration. However, some say this country should support a U.S.-led military attack even without a new U.N. resolution.
“Japan should give loud approval,” asserts Tadae Takubo, a professor of international relations at Kyorin University in Tokyo. Japan “doesn’t have to follow Germany and France.”
Mr. Takubo said the United States has been cautious and spent a lot of time dealing with the issues of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Japanese who criticize Washington for its tough stance are wrong, he said. He would like to ask them: “If Iraq were next to Japan, what would they want?”
Tokyo has dispatched an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Indian Ocean to provide logistic support for the U.S. Navy and its allies. Japan points out that its war-renouncing constitution, written by Americans during Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s postwar occupation, bans the “threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”
During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Japan contributed several billion dollars to the war effort waged by the U.S.-led multinational forces.
Mr. Koizumi has skirted the question of whether Japan would support a U.S.-led war against Iraq, but leading members of his administration have suggested it would back the United States even without a U.N. resolution. Some government officials have said Japan would assist the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.
This angers pacifists like Mrs. Moritaki.
“What infuriated me most is some government officials are saying with a straight face that Japan is willing to help the ‘reconstruction of postwar Iraq.’ They are saying this on the premise of military attack, aren’t they?” she said.
“As a key ally and the only nation to be bombed with atomic weapons, Japan should play a role in telling the U.S. to stop preparing military action against Iraq,” she said.