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Home arrow History arrow The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia

Imperfect Cosmopolitan Commemoration in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In postwar Japan, cosmopolitanism manifested most clearly in the commemoration of the atomic bombings. When people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki began holding peace memorial ceremonies in 1947 and 1948, respectively, they commemorated the atomic bombings as epoch-making events and urged the whole of humanity to strive for world peace in light of the worldwide threat posed by potential nuclear war. The 1947 Peace Declaration of Hiroshima City called out, “Let us eliminate fear and crimes from the earth, so that we can establish genuine peace. Let us realize the ideal of world peace by renouncing war forever.”84 Similarly, the 1948 Peace Declaration of Nagasaki City promised to “establish eternal peace on earth by pleading to the entire world, ‘No more Nagasaki.’ ”85 This cosmopolitan orientation was partly induced by the censorship during the Occupation. Since SCAP did not allow Japanese citizens to criticize the United States for the atomic bombings, A-bomb victims had to use the universalistic language that transcended nationality.86 This cosmopolitan frame was also facilitated by emerging worldwide antinuclear and peace movements. In March 1950, for example, the World Peace Council released the Stockholm Appeal, which collected more than five hundred million signatures around the world to demand an absolute ban on nuclear weapons. Japan contributed about 7.4 million signatures, and the A-bomb poet Toge Sankichi wrote the poem “The Call” (Yobikake) to support the Stockholm Appeal.87

A-bomb victims and their supporters not only commemorated the atomic bombings but also lobbied municipal and national governments. In August 1952, about 250 A-bomb victims in Hiroshima City formed the A-Bomb Victims Association (Genbaku Higaisha no Kai) to request free medical examinations, welfare support, and subsidies for treatment of diseases related to the atomic bombing, among other forms of relief.88 While the Diet debated the Bill on Relief for Injured Veterans and Bereaved Families in 1952, Nitoguri Ikko, a former speaker of the Hiroshima City Council and chair of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Reconstruction Committee, testified in front of the House of Representatives Welfare Committee. There he requested that committee members consider expanding the scope of the bill to include civilians who had been killed by the atomic bombings while being mobilized for military-related services.89

The JSP supported A-bomb victims most actively. In February 1952, JSP member Oka Ryoichi relayed petitions from Hiroshima to the Diet and urged the government to protect “A-bomb orphans” (genbaku koji), children who had lost their parents to the atomic bombing, “as part of the attempt to reconstruct Japan as a peaceful nation, as the first and only victim of atomic bombs on earth.”90 In April, another JSP member, Aono Buichi, argued that the Bill on Relief for Injured Veterans and Bereaved Families should encompass civilian victims of indiscriminate aerial bombings, especially those who had suffered from the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.91 JSP members regularly chaired the Welfare Committee in the Diet and invited people from Hiroshima to testify about their economic and health situations.

Then, on March 1, 1954, the Lucky Dragon 5 Incident (Daigo Fukury umaru Jiken) occurred near Bikini Atoll, where the crew of a Japanese fishing boat was exposed to the fallout of a hydrogen bomb. The crew suffered from acute radiation sickness, and the tuna that they brought back to Japan showed high levels of radiation. The shock of the Lucky Dragon 5 Incident reverberated across Japan to the extent that all forty-six of the country’s prefectural councils passed antinuclear resolutions between March and October 1954. A nationwide campaign to collect signatures against nuclear weapons began in August 1954 and accumulated more than thirty million signatures within a year.92 In response to the nationwide antinuclear movement, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution to ban the use of nuclear weapons in April 1954. During the Diet session, filled with passionate speeches and loud applauds, JSP member Kinoshita Yu endorsed the resolution enthusiastically: “We the Japanese people established the so-called ‘peace constitution’ in light of our deep remorse (fukai hansei) for our past wrongdoings. . . . Since we are also the only people who experienced atomic bombings, I believe it is our duty to adopt a nuclear- related resolution of this kind.”93

The nationwide antinuclear movement culminated in the World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in August 1955. Representatives of fourteen countries and those of forty-six prefectures of Japan attended the conference in Hiroshima, which opened with testimonies from A-bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Core participants of the world conference proceeded to create the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuibaku Kinshi Nihon Kyogikai) to continue their antinuclear campaign and started collecting signatures to request government compensation for A-bomb victims.94 The second world conference in Nagasaki in August 1956 adopted a resolution to demand government compensation for A-bomb victims. After the conference, A-bomb victims created their own national-level association, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Gensuibaku Higaisha Dantai Kyogikai) to organize victims across Japan to lobby the Japanese government more effectively.95

To support A-bomb victims, JSP published An Outline of the Bill on Relief for Patients of A-Bomb Diseases (Genbakusho kanja engohoan yoko), proposing to make the government pay for medical treatment of those affected by the atomic bombings. Similarly, Hiroshima and Nagasaki Cities jointly proposed a draft bill regarding government relief for A-bomb victims in November. Then, in early December, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs met with Diet members and submitted a petition to Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichiro and speakers of both houses, requesting government relief for A-bomb victims.96 These lobbying activities led the JSP and the LDP to jointly propose a resolution asking the government to provide medical treatment for A-bomb victims “from a humanitarian standpoint” (jindojo no kenchi kara).97 After the resolution was unanimously adopted at the House of Representatives, Ishibashi Tanzan’s government proposed the Bill on Medical Care for A-Bomb Victims (Genshi Bakudan Hibakusha no Iryoto ni kansuru Horitsu) in February 1957. Since the bill had broad support, it passed both houses quickly and took effect on April 1. The newly created act was to issue “health record books” (hibakusha kenko techo) for A-bomb victims. Owners of these health record books were designated as “official A-bomb victims” and entitled to free medical checkups twice a year. They were also eligible for free medical treatment fully funded by the government if their symptoms met the criteria of “official A-bomb patients” (nintei kanja). Although the act made the government responsible for providing medical treatment of A-bomb victims, this responsibility was defined as voluntary.

This definition of the government’s responsibility was challenged in April 1955, when a team of lawyers from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (Nihon Bengoshi Rengokai) helped three A-bomb victims file a lawsuit against the Japanese government—the so-called A-Bomb Trial (gen- baku saiban) began. Originally, the lawyers tried to seek compensation from the US government, on the grounds that it had violated the Hague Convention prohibiting the use of inhumane weapons; however, the American Bar Association denied any legal basis for such compensation.98 After the lawyers realized that it would be too difficult to pursue a lawsuit against the US government, they decided to target the Japanese government by advancing the following argument: the United States had violated international law by using the inhumane atomic bombs; however, the Japanese government had signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 to renounce all compensation claims, including those of A-Bomb victims, against the United States; thus, the Japanese government should compensate A-bomb victims on behalf of the US government.99

Concurrently with the A-Bomb Trial, the JSP pressed the LDP government to expand relief for A-bomb victims. In November 1959, the JSP submitted a bill to expand the Act on Medical Care for A-Bomb Victims into the Act on Relief for A-Bomb Victims (Genbaku Higaisha Engoho), comparable to the Act on Relief for Injured Veterans and Bereaved Families. Although Kishi Nobusuke’s government refused to provide compensation for A-bomb victims, it agreed to expand the coverage of the existing act for A- bomb victims in July 1960 to subsidize medical treatment of diseases that were not directly related to the atomic bombings, as well as to provide monthly allowances for A-bomb victims during their medical treatment.100 In the 1950s, opposition parties and left-leaning NGOs seized the political opportunity—the growing antinuclear movement both inside and outside Japan—to press the LDP government to admit its war responsibility and offer compensation for A-bomb victims. They challenged the logic of nationalism in Japan’s compensation policy that recognized only those who had sacrificed their lives for the nation through military service. The opposition’s challenge ultimately failed, however, because the LDP, given its robust mobilizing structures and control of the government, defended the existing compensation policy.

While politicians and NGOs debated government compensation for A- bomb victims, people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki gradually consolidated the cosmopolitan logic of commemoration. In February 1963, four Japanese Buddhist monks embarked on the “Hiroshima-Auschwitz Peace March.” They walked from Hiroshima to Auschwitz and visited twenty-four countries to deliver the message “no more Hiroshima, no more Auschwitz.”101 In April 1964, forty A-bomb victims also began the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki World Peace Pilgrimage.” They visited a total of 150 cities in eight countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, to appeal for world peace.102 This universalistic frame of commemoration, however, had one fundamental flaw: it failed to encompass foreign victims who had suffered from Japan’s past wrongdoings. This was a self-serving kind of cosmopolitanism, induced largely by the fact that Japan had no official diplomatic relations with South Korea and China, its two closest neighbors, which had suffered greatly from Japan’s past aggression.

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