Letter from Hiroshima

By John Marsh | 1985-08-01 12:00:00

Recently in Zushi, a town near Tokyo, mayoralty elections were held. A young man was elected who opposes the development of U.S. military housing in a valuable nature area. Court cases are still giving national publicity to this controversial case, which is symbolic of the dilemma facing the Japanese regarding the issue of military development and peace promotion.

According to the Constitution, drawn up essentially by General MacArthur of the U.S. occupation force, 'The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.. .Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." Actually, Japan has what is officially known as a 'self defence-force." It is well-equipped and well-trained, with the usual capabilities of an army, navy and air force. In the past, spending on the "self-defense force" has been limited to a traditional maximum of 1 percent of the gross national product.

However, as Robert Christopher writes in The Japanese Mind, most of Japan's current leaders consider this sophomoric foolishness. Thus the government, now under pressure from the U.S. not to renounce the military but to expand it, is considering increasing its self-defence" spending. Prime Minister Nakasone is expected to continue building up the military, and eliminating the 1 percent of the G.N.P. limit on military spending. The country, then, faces a constitutional problem in having what is more and more obviously a regular army, and the prospect of endlessly escalating financial commitments to military activities.

The Japanese are split on this issue. In 1981, a survey showed that 60 percent of them approved of some sort of defence establishment but paradoxically, 60 percent also opposed any change in the Constitution that would legitimize a military force. On the one hand, there is a continuing fear of Russia. Japan and Russia have long had a confrontational relationship, violent in the case of the

1904-5 Russo-Japanese War, more diplomatic in arguments over ownership of some islands north of Hokkaido seized by Russia at the end of World War II, and continuing with respect to salmon fishing quotas, seizure of Japanese fishing boats, and protests against calls by Russian fishing vessels at ports in Japan. The Soviet Union is seen as a threat, especially in the Japan Sea. On the other hand, Japan's devastating

defeat in World War II, with the horrors of the atomic bombing, render abhorrent any thought of war and military build-up. The generation is still alive that lived through that war, some of them even yet suffering the effects of radiation. Disfigured victims still hide from view, and as many as 100 people a year still die prematurely from radiation sickness. This generation of young people has been brought up to acknowledge the error of Japan's past military expansionism, and (one hopes) to pursue peace.

The advice and pressures on Japan from abroad are conflicting. Some say that Japan has enjoyed a "free ride," developing its economy at the expense of an adequate military force. The U.S. government is urging Japan to bear a greater share of Pacific defence, and to continue to host U.S. troops and nuclear arms. But others are encouraging Japan to use its current economic strength and international influence to be a leader in the cause of peace. United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, paying a visit in June, noted that Japan fulfilled its peace maintenance role by giving financial assistance to the U.N. forces, but added that "more important is the moral support that the Japanese government provides." As Japan is the only country to have experienced the nuclear holocaust, its peace initiatives can have a unique credibility.

Not surprisingly for a country emphasizing consensus, Japan has adopted a middle-of-the-road position. It maintains a modern military force and espouses the cause of peace. For some Japanese though, this compromise is unacceptable.

As Ayako Hiraeo wrote recently in Intersect, "the way to peace is either to be fully armed or never to be armed, and in between means the subjugation by either of the two superpowers." How-ever, given the constitutional constraints on the military and divergent public opinion, it is unrealistic to expect Japan to assume either the role of a major military power in the East, or of a peace leader by unilaterally and totally disarming.

And yet, Hiroshima is a stark reminder. On visiting the city one is first impressed by the modern, multi-floor 'Bullet" train station. It is surrounded by a dynamic city of three quarters of a million. Scant trace remains of the destruction of August 6, 1945, when an experimental bomb levelled a 13 square kilometer area and caused the death of 250,000 people. Today, traveling by tramcar to the Peace Park, one sees smiling, busy, hospitable people-some in kimonos, others in the fashions of the time-going about their daily business, as in any other Japanese city.

But upon reaching the derelict A Bomb Dome, one is abruptly reminded that this is no ordinary city, but one with an unique lesson for mankind. The exposed and rusting girders of the Dome, harshly silhouetted against the blue sky, once surmounted the Industrial Promotion Hall, where the best Japanese technological wares used to be displayed. Photographs do not capture the spirit of the place today. Many local people had wanted this dramatic symbol of the war removed, along with all the other debris, as occurred through most of Japan. However, wider public opinion prevailed, and the A Bomb Dome is preserved, caught in time-an indelible image.

The Peace Memorial Museum is an elevated, concrete building in a park alive with flowers, trees, fountains, and rivers. It depicts the holocaust-from the letter authorizing the dropping of the bomb, to the impact, and subsequent plight of the survivors. The models and photographs arouse conflicting responses in me: a heightened curiosity and a deep revulsion. Some visitors, like by wife, spend a long time there, while others, like my academic colleague, have difficulty in coping with it all, and leave quickly. I wrote my name, as one of thousands of pilgrims from around the world, in a visitor's book beneath a peace plaque at the museum exit. At the time it was quiet and uncrowded, but later, tour buses arrived and neatly clad school children were assembled for their most important history lesson.

The Peace Park, where once stood hundreds of houses along busy streets, now has an array of war memorials and peace monuments. One can toll a traditional Japanese bronze bell in a clarion call for peace. And one can read the names of Hiroshima's war dead, beneath a prayer, "Repose ye in peace, for the error shall not be repeated."

But in returning past the A Bomb Dome, still numb from the horror, I could not help wondering: "Will it be repeated?" Has the message of Hiroshima been understood by those who have not witnessed this place? Those of us who have visited it have a duty to spread the message broadly and continuously.

Japan seeks to do this in a variety of ways. Throughout the country, and in others too, simple aluminum posts are being erected with the inscription, "May Peace Prevail on Earth."

At the international exposition at Tsukuba near Tokyo, there is a United Nations Peace Pavilion. Although one sees it first on entering the site, it is lost in a sea of other attractions glorifying science and technology. The 20 million visitors to Expo will come away with memories of lasers, robots, line-ups and food, rather than with commitments to world peace. The peace message in Japan, as in many countries, is in danger of being lost amongst the calls for economic development and technological progress.

But fortunately, the message is still communicated in many other ways. In 1955, Hiroshima hosted the First World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. Annual conferences were held thereafter until 1963, when splits in the anti-nuclear movement led to a multiplicity of conferences. Every year

On August 6, there is a memorial service in the Hiroshima Peace Park, when, as a tourist guide describes it, "the family of man looks, remembers, and prays."

In my student days I marched with Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and later joined the protests in Canada against the war in Vietnam. More recently I have supported the radical efforts of Greenpeace to stop nuclear testing in the Pacific, as well as the diplomatic peace initiatives of former Prime Minister Trudeau. Yet peace actions, even by millions of people, are never enough. The military build-up continues. Even here in Japan I learn of Canada's increasing commitments to the military, of plans to modernize Distant Early Warning System in the North. I learn of joint training exercises between the Japanese and U.S. armies, of port calls by U.S. warships, of Russian submarines in the Sea of Japan, and of border tensions in Korea. Although there are no "soldiers" in the streets here, I have seen convoys of Japanese "self-defence force" trucks, and Japanese posters proclaiming the attractions of a military career.

During my one year stay in Japan as an academic, I have found it hard to stay optimistic about the prospects for peace. My visit to Hiroshima, which I unaccountably delayed until the end of my stay here, recalled me to the promotion of peace, so that, as the prayer stated, "the error shall not be repeated."

The Japanese surely seek peace but are in a dilemma over the means. Perhaps the outcome of the Mayor of Zushi's campaign against military housing will show how Japan is going to deal with this dilemma. Perhaps my forthcoming visit to Nagasaki, like that to Hiroshima, will help me decide how I am going to deal with it.

Dr. John Marsh is an Associate Professor of Geography at Trent University, Canada, presently appointed as a Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies and Geography, at Kwansei Gakuin University, near Osaka, Japan.

Peace Magazine August 1985

Peace Magazine August 1985, page 5. Some rights reserved.

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