The story of the Hibakusha


GREG OGLE reports on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki peace conferences and rallies in Japan which he attended earlier this month as a representative of the Australian Peace Committee.

Justice will only be done for the Hibakusha — the survivors of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — when nuclear weapons are eliminated from the world. That was the clear message of the Japanese peace movement as they commemorated the 52nd anniversary of those nuclear atrocities at the end of the World War II.

While the Japanese right wing used the anniversary to promote nationalism and call for a strong, militarised Japan, and the Prime Minister spoke at the official ceremony of the horrors of the bombings, the Japanese Council Against A and H Bombs (Gensuikyo) called for the abolition of nuclear weapons — a 21st century free of nuclear weapons.

Gensuikyo, which boasts some 2 million members in Japan, held its annual International Conference Against A and H Bombs. This year's conference included 51 delegates from 18 countries and several hundred Japanese delegates. There were mass rallies on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day in those cities.

Among the international delegates were victims of nuclear weapons tests from other countries: the Marshall Islands, Tahiti, Kazakstan, from the Nevada test site in the US, as well as many Japanese Hibakusha. The conference heard about the British nuclear tests at Maralinga in South Australia in the 1950s.

In a rally in Nagasaki on August 9, 7000 people gathered to hear the speeches and the story of the Hibakusha. The Hibakusha are now ageing, but the effects of the bombing remain in their lives and are a constant threat to their health. Their stories continue to move audiences: the young boy who emerged from the ruins of Hiroshima to see a body in the rubble "with a face like tofu" and unable to remember nothing for several weeks after; a Nagasaki man who still feels the guilt of hearing the cries for water of burned victims and of not being willing or able to help as he searched for his parents; and in testimony to the randomness of the terror, another man who happened to be walking behind a brick building some two kilometres from the centre of the blast and was sheltered from the heat rays which burned people nearby.

The Hibakusha have a special place in the Japanese peace movement. They speak with a certain moral authority and as they age and die, there is an increasing urgency to tell their story. Telling "the story of the real effects of nuclear weapons" was a continuing theme in the conference because there is a sense in which any legitimation of nuclear arsenals, be it national security, nuclear deterrence or whatever, fails in the face of the stories of the Hibakusha.

Such suffering can never, under any circumstances, be justified. That was the resounding message of the conferences and rallies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.