Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fukushima: Recalling Hiroshima Encounters in Times of Fukushima Crisis

Atomic Bomb Dome by Jan Letzel and modern Hiroshima | Credit: Wikimedia Commons By Ramesh Jaura Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN/HIROSHIMA (IDN) - Images of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, following an unprecedented nine magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami, inevitably evoke memories of my two encounters with Hiroshima.

A gentle monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is festooned with thousands of paper cranes that symbolise humankind's fervent desire that Hiroshima and Nagasaki may never happen again. About one quarter of a million people died in the two cities where the United States dropped the first nuclear bombs -- euphemistically, if not cynically, codenamed 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man'.

Named the Children's Peace Monument, the memorial commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of children who fell prey to the atomic bombing or the radiation that penetrated their young and innocent bodies sixty-five years ago.

Sadako was two years old when the bomb detonated on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, a second nuclear bomb devastated Nagasaki. Her story has pierced my heart though it is one of the several poignant stories of young and old caught unawares by the atomic bomb.

During my first visit in May 2008, I heard of young girls whose eyes melted as they were watching the parachute carrying the bomb. I heard of men, women and children whose faces turned into giant charred blisters. I heard of people seeking help in vain as their skin dangled from their fingernails.

I heard of entire families who were burnt alive as their houses tumbled in flames. And I heard of human beings whose eyeballs and internal organs burst from their bodies. I heard stories of Hiroshima that was a hell where those who somehow survived envied the dead.


Unlike the nuclear reactors in Fukushima that by all accounts embody "atoms for peace" and were designed to support economic and industrial development in the interest of human welfare, the Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima and the Fat Man that caused devastation in Nagasaki were intended as tools of destruction and programmed to annihilate targets without any regard for human life.

In retrospect, the radiation set free by the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor in its impact is as lethal as the one that killed Sadako. And yet history will prove whether even the atoms for peace are in effect tools of malevolence and annihilation or whether not enough was done or could have been done to harness the best of benevolence.

At any rate, the story of Sadako also drives home the pressing need to work and campaign for a nuclear-free world – as homage to hundred of thousands who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As if by some miracle, Sadako and her mother survived the atomic holocaust unharmed. It is said that until 1955 when she caught cold and felt stiffness in her neck, she was a healthy, energetic child who never missed a day of elementary school. She loved singing and sports. In fact, she could outrun anyone in her class.

Sadako recovered from the cold but her neck stayed stiff. In the following days, her face was swollen. After various tests, the doctor told her father that she had leukaemia. "She has a year left at the most," he proclaimed.

Sadako was admitted to the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. According to the story that has been recorded in the Peace Memorial Museum, some five months after being hospitalised, Sadako heard about a five-year old girl who had died of leukaemia in that very hospital. Knowing that she herself had leukaemia, Sadako wondered whether there was any chance of her surviving.

Months passed by. And hope appeared around the corner when in August high school students of the port city of Nagoya sent one thousand paper cranes to patients in the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. Sadako's room was also brightened by cellophane cranes folded in many colours.

When she heard that if you "fold 1000 paper cranes, your wish will come true," Sadako took to folding paper cranes fervently. She wanted to live. Into each crane she folded the wish: "Let me get well."

But her illness got worse. In the morning of October 25, 1955 Sadako died. She was 12 years old.

Time will tell whether such stories will be repeated in the coming years in the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster. But the need of the hour is not to sit back, but translate into reality the commitment to creating the awareness for action and mutual solidarity. This applies to nuclear weapons too.

"If nuclear weapons epitomize the forces that would divide and destroy the world, they can only be overcome by the solidarity of ordinary citizens, which transforms hope into the energy to create a new era," says Daisaku Ikeda in his 2009 proposal for Building Global Solidarity Toward Nuclear Abolition.

A nuclear-weapon free world would either make nuclear power plants superfluous or lead to research and development (R&D) efforts to harness the atom in such a way that it offers the best for the humankind.


My September 2010 visit to Hiroshima gave me reason to trust that the Japanese youth has the ability and mettle to "create a new era". Encounters at the Hiroshima Ikeda Peace Memorial Centre, named after the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) president turned out to be tremendously encouraging.

Etched on my mind is the encounter with Yasuro Kubo, Vice President, Hiroshima Region and Executive Leader of Soka Gakkai, who greeted me with an affectionate smile, memorable souvenirs, valuable information about the Memorial Centre, and tea and snacks on a hot September afternoon before we moved on to the hall upstairs.

More than one hundred mostly young but also middle aged persons waited to hear me -- a journalist born in India and living and working in Germany for nearly 38 years -- express my views on Dr. Ikeda's annual peace proposals and his unrelenting commitment to plead for a world without nuclear weapons. The attention and interest with which they listened was exceptional.

The Centre's commitment to peace and disarmament is underlined by the fact that it hosts a series of lectures by eminent people around the world, who have made significant contributions to the cherished goal of a world free of atomic arsenal.

In 2010 alone, the Soka Gakkai Hiroshima youth members sponsored a Hiroshima Study Lecture Series in conjunction with the 11th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates which took place at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park from November 12 to 14.

Guest speakers were Frederik Willem de Klerk, former president of South Africa, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and the co-founder of Northern Ireland's Peace People, Máiread Corrigan Maguire.

Frederik Willem de Klerk spoke about the history of apartheid in South Africa, his experience of spearheading the dismantling of South Africa's nuclear weapons program, and the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He pointed out that in order to achieve this, feelings of threat which often lead to violence must be replaced with feelings of trust derived from dialogue. De Klerk, who was instrumental in abolishing apartheid, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, together with the legendary Nelson Mandela.

Ambassador Dhanapala, whose organization the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs was awarded the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, called the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a crime against humanity. He emphasized that civil society has huge power to create change and influence governments and paid tribute to Soka Gakkai for its ongoing efforts toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The co-founder of Northern Ireland's Peace People, Máiread Corrigan Maguire, whose sister's three children were killed during the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, shared her experience of using nonviolence to end the conflict in Northern Ireland and emphasized the power of one-to-one dialogue. Maguire told the Hiroshima youth that because they come from a city that has directly witnessed the effects of a nuclear weapon; they have an important mission to persuade people around the world of the necessity for nuclear abolition. She also stressed the importance of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution which renounces war.

The significance of Maguire's talk was underlined by the fact that together with Betty Williams and others she founded the grassroots organization called Peace People to promote the vision of a future free from violence. She is also a recipient of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.

As their response to the Fukushima disaster underlines, the Soka Gakkai youth is not only profoundly committed to a world without nuclear weapons, and violence in all forms but also to assisting the victims of Japan's triple disaster. They are engaged in relief activities in crisis-stricken areas, guided by SGI president who says:

". . . Buddhism . . . allows us to change poison into medicine and to transform our negative karma. There is no hardship or suffering that we cannot overcome, no darkness that we cannot break through. Now is the time to bring forth the vast and immeasurable power of the Buddha and the Law. The more challenging the times, the more important it is that we take a step forward based on powerful prayer."

Note: This article first appeared in the March-April 2011 issue of Global Perspectives: