Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki: First Session Questions and Answers

The following answers were kindly provided by Ms. Yoshie Kagawa and Ms. Keiko Ogura after the first session.

Q1: What was the role of media campaign, especially the U.S narratives, during the early days to downplay the disastrous consequences of the Bomb? How has that changed since?

Y. KAGAWA: Thank you for your insightful question! As for the role of media campaign, it could be said that the purpose was to advocate the government's announcement, i.e. to justify the decision to drop the bomb, and to convince the public about the strategy of relying on nuclear deterrence. Regarding the change; a recent study that examined newspaper articles about Hiroshima and Nagasaki published between 1945 and 2020 in 55 countries around the world found that 30 different newspapers in the US showed more or less the same tendencies. That there was no remarkable change in the ways in which the leading newspapers reported on the A-bombing, and that the number of articles addressing the A-bombing itself has declined recently. It seems likely that the intention is to keep the issue out of people's minds as having been discussed enough already. The few exceptions to this practice are the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times has published critical articles against the atomic bomb myth since around the time President Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016. The Washington Post also developed a multifaceted understanding of the A-bombing with various specific examples. One of the examples is a feature on Ms. Ogura's experience published last year, for the 75th anniversary of the bombing. However, it should also be stated that for every article that criticizes the A-bombing, there are numerous opposing contributions from citizens.

Ms. Ogura has been sharing her story in English for 42 years and has visited the US several times, and even talked with convinced supporters of nuclear deterrence. She feels that public opinion has slowly but changed over the years, that people started to understand the lasting devastation that the atomic bomb has caused to civilians. I think this shows that despite the major influence of the media, the activities of private individuals sharing or publishing their personal experiences of the atomic bombing constitute a powerful grassroots movement. We shall continue on this path.

For more information about the US coverage during the Occupation, please refer to this and this publications.

Reference: Yasuhiro Inoue (editor), 2021. Sekai wa hiroshima o dou rikai siteiruka [How the world understands Hiroshima]. Tokyo: Chūōkōron shinsha.

Q2: Was the entry into force of the TPNW earlier this year a boost for the nuclear disarmament movement in Japan? We know quite well about the hesitation of the Japanese government due to the nuclear umbrella of the US. But how about civil society, how about the Hibakusha or the ordinary Japanese people? Did TPNW create any kind of new dynamic or hope for nuclear disarmament?

Y. KAGAWA: That's a very perceptive question! Every year Hiroshima and Nagasaki hold commemorative ceremonies on the day the atomic bombs were dropped, and that was the very theme of the peace declarations made by the mayors of the two cities during the respective ceremonies this year. Prime Minister Suga's message and attitude at the ceremonies were, in contrast, really ambiguous and bureaucratic, highlighting the gap between the two layers of government and civil society. Nevertheless, I would like to share with you an excerpt from the Peace Declaration delivered by the Mayor of Nagasaki:

"May Nagasaki be the last place to suffer an atomic bombing.

These words are sent from Nagasaki to people all over the world. Hiroshima will eternally be remembered in history as the first place to suffer an atomic bombing, but whether Nagasaki continues to take its place in history as the last place to suffer an atomic bombing depends on the future we build for ourselves. The unchanging resolve of the Hibakusha to see that “no one in the world ever goes through that experience again” is expressed in these words, as is the goal clearly stated in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is a hope that each and every one of us should continue to hold onto."

And the Peace Declaration delivered by the Mayor of Hiroshima represents the determination of the residents and how they can change the Japanese government:

"If the determination to live in peace sweeps through civil society, people will elect leaders who share that determination. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate human violence. If civil society decides to live without them, the door to a nuclear-weapon-free world will open wide. The atomic bombed city of Hiroshima will never stop preserving the facts of the bombing, disseminating them beyond borders, and conveying them to the future. With the more than 8,000 Mayors for Peace member cities in 165 countries and regions, we will promote a worldwide “culture of peace.” In a global culture where peace is a universal value, world leaders will find the courage to correct their policies."

As for the last question, I would like to say a resolute yes! Let us embrace the TPNW as a great opportunity to create a new dynamic and hope for nuclear disarmament together!


Hiroshima Peace Declaration

Nagasaki Peace Declaration

Q3: How do second-generation activists carry on the legacy of the Hibakusha and victims of the atomic bombings? / Do you feel that new generations are carrying on the legacy of A-bomb survivors?

Y. KAGAWA: There are various kinds of initiatives by individuals who feel the urgency to carry on the testimonies. Considering the second point, I would like to emphasize that it is not limited to the second or third generations of the atomic bombing survivors. In my case, I cannot identify myself as a second-generation A-bomb survivor (Hibakusha) because my parents were in a remote place and are not recognized as Hibakusha. However, because of my uncle, who died at the age of 13, I feel connected to the atomic bomb issue. Moreover, I would like you to know that it requires a lot of courage to identify oneself as a Hibakusha or also as a member of the second or third generation. Some Hibakusha had to hide their experiences to avoid discrimination and stigmatisation, and many never told their children what happened to them. This is quite a delicate issue, because confessing yourself to be a second or third generation Hibakusha means that you accept some possible consequences of radiation. Even if medical science says that there is no effect on the second or third generation, no one can assure us that there is none. To be honest, I am also not entirely free from the fear that it might have an impact on me. Having lived in Vienna for decades, I am still asked naïve questions like: "Is it possible or safe for people to live in Hiroshima now?” This question means to me; are you free from the consequences because you grew up there? So on the one hand, it is not easy to become active as a second/third generation Hibakusha to carry on the legacy, but on the other hand, there are some individuals who have become more outspoken after they realised the importance of taking this path. To give you an example: A man from Okinawa who visited Hiroshima on a school trip when he was 14 years old learned from an atomic bomb survivor that there were still sunken roof tiles and bottles in the Hiroshima river that had been bent by the heat waves, and he actually found them, which later led him to collect remains of atomic bomb victims in Hiroshima. Therefore, I think it is important that not only the descendants of the Hibakusha, but also those who feel the heart of the victims or survivors as if it were their own, think about what they can do and take action. This is also the message I wanted to emphasize in my talk. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you too can take up the baton of the Hibakusha and carry on their legacy.

Q4: Has Japanese society encouraged survivors to speak about their testimonies?

K. OGURA: Some Hibakusha who, for whatever reason, never spoke or could not speak about their experiences, were encouraged to speak out by those around them in their later years. Also, because the average age of Hibakusha is now 84, there is an urgent need for both society and survivors to communicate the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons to youth. So the question is: How? I feel the need to think about how to make the tragedies of the war tangible, especially for the young people and children in Japan today who did not experience the war. While there are many ways to relay the experiences of the Hibakusha, I would like to share with you an initiative that I have recently taken on. Based on my experience, high school students drew pictures and wrote a story for a picture-card show entitled “Keiko’s August 6th”. The target audience for this show was designed for kindergarten and primary school students. Since it would be too shocking to tell the children directly about the devastating experience of the atomic bombing, I had to think hard how I could do it, and decided on this method from my experience of telling stories. As you can see from the video of this picture-card show, the illustrations are very gentle and the tragic scenes are depicted vaguely so that they can be endured by young children. Another point to mention is that the high school students themselves digested this experience, thought about how to express it and created it. In the process of collaboration between me and the high school students, they were able to give form to their thoughts and feelings and not only listen to the A-bomb experience, but also make it their own. This is what I think is the key significance of this project.

I believe that the best way to promote peace is through mass media and education. But also the efforts of each and every Hibakusha are important. Post-war censorship by the US occupation forces and discrimination against the Hibakusha forced them to keep their mouths shut. Nowadays, they can speak freely, but survivors are getting older and their memories are fading. The Hibakusha are struggling against time and the task at hand is to think about what to deliver to the youth and in what way. I am currently working on a children’s book, “Keiko’s August 6th”, which will be available in English and Japanese and which I would like to send to children all over the world. I hope to finish this project while I am still healthy.

You can watch the picture-show here: Keiko´s August 6th