Hiroshima taught me to look to the fu­ture

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Ray Mat­sumiya

MY grand­fa­ther was 15 miles away from Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was un­leashed on the city in Au­gust 1945. As the cap­tain of the vol­un­teer fire depart­ment of his vil­lage, he was among the first to rush into the dev­as­tated city. That morn­ing, he wit­nessed hun­dreds of flash-burned vic­tims, heard their cries for wa­ter and their moth­ers, and then felt a strange, acrid rain that left streaks of black on his skin. A week later, he no­ticed a dull pain be­hind his left eye and within a month, he lost it. For over 30 years, he re­ported ex­actly what his use­less eye had seen on that life chang­ing day and the lesson he learned from it.

Friday, Pres­i­dent Obama will be the first sit­ting Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to visit Hiroshima. In ad­vance of this trip, Ben Rhodes, the pres­i­dent’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion ad­viser, stated that the pres­i­dent will “of­fer a for­ward­look­ing vi­sion fo­cused on our shared fu­ture.” This vi­sion will no doubt res­onate deeply with me and my family. For over 70 years, three gen­er­a­tions of my family have adopted a “lesson of Hiroshima” that has en­abled each of us to look to­wards the fu­ture and work to make it bet­ter.

The lesson of Hiroshima for my grand­fa­ther was to never forget what hap­pened but to also refuse to be­come trapped in his feel­ings of loss, grief and anger. In­stead, he looked to­ward the fu­ture and joined the “great­est gen­er­a­tion” of Ja­panese who emerged from the ashes of World War II to re­build Ja­pan. For the re­main­der of his life, this lesson of Hiroshima pro­vided him with the re­siliency to work to­ward mak­ing his vi­sion of a thriv­ing, mod­ern Ja­pan a re­al­ity.

My mother was three years old when the bomb fell. Grow­ing up near Hiroshima, the shadow of the bomb per­me­ated her daily life. Her fu­ture-ori­ented vi­sion led her out of her vil­lage, out of Hiroshima, out of Tokyo and then even­tu­ally to the United States where she has had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer, a happy family and where she re­mains to this day. Grow­ing up in the sub­urbs of Bos­ton, my family’s sto­ries of Hiroshima com­bined fret­fully with the Rea­gan era Cold War en­vi­ron­ment of mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion, Olympic boy­cotts. Fol­low­ing my grand­fa­ther and mother, I also em­braced the lessons of Hiroshima for my own time and place. Over the past 18 years, I have worked in ed­u­ca­tion and con­flict res­o­lu­tion in the Mid­dle East re­gion, where the lessons of Hiroshima of for­give­ness and re­silience re­main as top­i­cal and rel­e­vant to­day as ever be­fore.

Th­ese two hard-earned lessons from my mother and grand­fa­ther taught me to al­ways look to­ward the fu­ture, but when I look to­ward the fu­ture in the Mid­dle East, I am con­cerned. Ac­cord­ing to numer­ous ex­perts, the Mid­dle East is a cen­tral is­sue within to­day’s nu­clear land­scape. The re­gion, and all the in­tractable pol­i­tics swirling within it, has played a piv­otal role in the grid­lock plagu­ing re­cent ef­forts to se­cure an agree­ment for a re­gion free of nu­clear weapons. With ever es­ca­lat­ing re­gional ten­sions and the con­sid­er­a­tion or de­vel­op­ment of new nu­clear power pro­grams in 14 coun­tries, most ex­perts agree that the risk of new nu­clear weapons states is high­est in this re­gion. The cre­ation of dirty bombs, the trans­port of il­le­gal fis­sile ma­te­rial and other nu­clear se­cu­rity is­sues are also of con­cern. Yet, ba­sic knowl­edge about the bomb­ing of Hiroshima, its im­pact on peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment, ap­pears to re­ceive only rare men­tion in Mid­dle East­ern school cur­ric­ula.

At this time, it is cru­cial for groups of ed­u­ca­tors and com­mu­nity lead­ers not only from the Mid­dle East re­gion, but from through­out the world to travel to Hiroshima and draw their own lessons from the atomic bomb­ing. Some of th­ese ef­forts are al­ready un­der­way in this coun­try, which is some­thing I’ve per­son­ally ad­vo­cated for.

I hope Pres­i­dent Obama’s speech will in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple across the globe to work to­gether to build a fu­ture where nu­clear weapons, and the grave risks they pose, no longer threaten mankind. It is only through greater un­der­stand­ing that we can truly ful­fil the vi­sion of a world with­out nu­clear weapons that wasn’t pos­si­ble for my family. The writer is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of the Mid­dle East Project in Cam­bridge, Mass. — Cour­tesy: USA To­day

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