At scaled-back me­mo­rial, a cry against ris­ing na­tion­al­ism

Mayor urges greater in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion to over­come pan­demic

The Washington Post - - 75TH ANNIVERSAR­Y OF HIROSHIMA BOMBING - BY SI­MON DENYER si­mon.denyer@wash­

hi­roshima, ja­pan — On the 75th an­niver­sary of the atomic bomb­ing of his city, the mayor of Hi­roshima warned the world about the rise of “self-cen­tered na­tion­al­ism” and ap­pealed for greater in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion to over­come the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Speak­ing at a Thurs­day morn­ing cer­e­mony in Hi­roshima’s Peace Me­mo­rial Park — near the cen­ter of the Aug. 6, 1945, blast — Kazumi Mat­sui re­newed a “Peace Dec­la­ra­tion” on be­half of the city and ap­pealed to Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ment to rat­ify a 2017 U.N. treaty propos­ing the elim­i­na­tion of nu­clear weapons.

Seventy-five years af­ter the bomb­ing of Hi­roshima, hu­man­ity strug­gles against a new threat: the novel coro­n­avirus, Mat­sui said. “How­ever, with what we have learned from the tragedies of the past, we should be able to over­come this threat.”

“When the 1918 flu pan­demic at­tacked a cen­tury ago, it took tens of mil­lions of lives and ter­ror­ized the world be­cause na­tions fight­ing World War I were un­able to meet the threat to­gether,” he said. “A sub­se­quent up­surge in na­tion­al­ism led to World War II and the atomic bomb­ings.

“We must never al­low this painful past to re­peat it­self. Civil so­ci­ety must re­ject self-cen­tered na­tion­al­ism and unite against all threats.”

The me­mo­rial events have been dras­ti­cally scaled back this year be­cause of the pan­demic. Crowds usu­ally reach­ing in the tens of thou­sands were kept away. Just 880 seats, spaced six feet apart, were placed on the lawn of the park, re­served for dig­ni­taries, chil­dren, sur­vivors of the bomb at­tack and fam­i­lies of those killed.

Flow­ers were laid at a ceno­taph ded­i­cated to the vic­tims, a bell tolled as the au­di­ence bowed their heads in prayer, and chil­dren sang a song for peace.

The tra­di­tional re­lease of hun­dreds of doves was can­celed af­ter the pan­demic pre­vented the birds from be­ing trained to re­turn home. Also called off to avoid crowds: a pub­lic cer­e­mony to float thou­sands of pa­per lanterns on Hi­roshima’s Mo­toy­a­sug­awa River.

Last year, Mat­sui also warned against ris­ing na­tion­al­ism, but his lat­est ap­peal takes on an added sig­nif­i­cance — the New START, or Strate­gic Arms Re­duc­tion Treaty be­tween the United States and Rus­sia, is due to ex­pire in Fe­bru­ary, and there is spec­u­la­tion it may not be re­newed, un­wind­ing decades of ef­forts to limit nu­clear ar­se­nals.

That fol­lows the U.S. de­ci­sion to pull out of the In­ter­me­di­ateRange Nu­clear Forces, or INF, treaty in 2019, ac­cus­ing the Rus­sians of cheat­ing. Mean­while, North Ko­rea’s nu­clear arse­nal con­tin­ues to grow af­ter the col­lapse of U.s.-led ef­forts to strike a dis­ar­ma­ment deal with Kim Jong Un.

“The web of arms con­trol, trans­parency and con­fi­dence­build­ing in­stru­ments es­tab­lished dur­ing the Cold War and its af­ter­math is fray­ing,” U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res warned in a video mes­sage. “Di­vi­sion, dis­trust and a lack of di­a­logue threaten to re­turn the world to un­re­strained strate­gic nu­clear com­pe­ti­tion.”

Sur­vivors of the Hi­roshima blast also found com­mon links be­tween the threat of nu­clear ra­di­a­tion and global fears of covid-19.

“Peo­ple around the world must work to­gether, must fight this dis­ease, must learn to­gether,” said Keiko Ogura, who was 8 when the atomic bomb struck 1.5 miles from her home in the north of the Hi­roshima. “That’s the kind of sen­ti­ment that we had when we were call­ing for elim­i­na­tion of nu­clear weapons.”

Ogura was knocked un­con­scious by the blast and awoke to find houses gut­ted or en­gulfed in fire, and a line of burned and in­jured peo­ple grad­u­ally emerg­ing from the city cen­ter.

She has spent her life call­ing for the elim­i­na­tion of nu­clear weapons, and she says she sees en­cour­ag­ing signs that young peo­ple are tak­ing up the cam­paign. But she warned that com­pla­cency could eas­ily see the world slid­ing rapidly down­hill to­ward nu­clear war.

“It’s very much like the fear of the sec­ond or third wave of covid19,” she said. “I feel the same sense of cri­sis.”

Ogura, 83, is one of a dwin­dling band of sur­vivors, mark­ing a new chal­lenge in pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries of the bomb­ings of Hi­roshima and Na­gasaki, which took place three days later on Aug. 9, 1945, and pre­ceded Ja­pan’s sur­ren­der in World War II.

Kai Bird, a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning his­to­rian at the City Univer­sity of New York, laments Amer­ica’s in­abil­ity to have a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about the need for the bomb­ings. “It’s ver­boten, we are still in love in the bomb it seems,” he said.

In an on­line brief­ing or­ga­nized by the In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Ac­cu­racy, Bird and other his­to­ri­ans ar­gued that U.S. lead­er­ship knew Ja­pan was about to sur­ren­der as the Soviet Union en­tered the war against Ja­pan by in­vad­ing Manchuria in Au­gust 1945.

Many se­nior U.S. mil­i­tary fig­ures shared that view, in­clud­ing Adm. Wil­liam H. Leahy, then chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who called the bomb­ing of Hi­roshima “bar­barous” and “of no ma­te­rial as­sis­tance” in end­ing the war.

But other his­to­ri­ans dif­fer, ar­gu­ing the bomb­ings had a de­ci­sive im­pact in per­suad­ing Em­peror Hiro­hito to sur­ren­der, and that de­lay would have cost more in­no­cent lives.

In Ja­pan, the mem­ory of Hi­roshima has fu­eled a na­tional sense of the coun­try as vic­tim rather than per­pe­tra­tor of the war, di­min­ish­ing the mem­ory of the in­tense mil­i­taris­tic na­tion­al­ism that led it down such a de­struc­tive path.

In­deed, the re­luc­tance of many Ja­panese peo­ple to con­front its mil­i­taris­tic past in Asia con­tin­ues to sour re­la­tions with its neigh­bors. In Ja­pan, the gov­ern­ment has been crit­i­cized for help­ing ob­scure the mem­ory of Ja­pan’s war crimes, in­clud­ing re­mov­ing some ref­er­ences from school text­books.

Speak­ing at the cer­e­mony, Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe spoke of the “in­hu­man­ity of nu­clear weapons” but made no men­tion of Ja­pan’s own wartime past.

“The an­niver­sary of the bomb be­ing dropped has a very sig­nif­i­cant mean­ing for Ja­panese peo­ple to de­velop self-aware­ness as vic­tims of the war,” said Hiroshi Tanaka, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Hi­tot­sub­ashi Univer­sity in Tokyo. “That makes it very dif­fi­cult on such a day to be­come aware of the other side, as a per­pe­tra­tor.”


Peo­ple pass by Peace Me­mo­rial Park in Hi­roshima, Ja­pan, on Wed­nes­day. On Thurs­day, Ja­pan is mark­ing the 75th an­niver­sary of the bomb­ing of Hi­roshima. When the United States dropped atomic bombs over Hi­roshima and Na­gasaki, more than 150,000 peo­ple died.

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