Friday, August 13, 2010

Letter to Obama from sansei Soji Kashiwagi reflects tensions of Japanese North Americans over nuclear bombings in Japan

Last year, after President Obama's now-famous April 5, 2009 speech in Prague promising that the U.S. would take concrete steps to creating a world without nuclear weapons, many people and organizations wrote letters, urging him to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Published on August 15 last year at Discover Nikkei, the web project of the Japanese American National Museum, this eloquent letter to Obama from third-generation Japanese American Soji Kashiwagi to President Obama reflects the intimate tensions that many Japanese North Americans feel about their government using weapons of mass destruction against people (who may have been grandmothers or cousins) in Japan.
Two things, for me, made matters much worse, and truly brought it home:  One, that our country, the United States of America, was responsible for this and the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki; and two, that members of my own family were there to suffer through it all.  Seeing the devastation is one thing.  Knowing that it happened to my own family makes this very personal.
Kashiwagi challenges advocates of nuclear weapons who cite the rebuildings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to support the use of more nuclear bombings. The survivor of the Japanese-American wartime incarceration reminded President Obama that the severe emotional trauma of the nuclear bombings and the physical aftereffects of radiation do not "go away."
Today, Hiroshima, by all outside appearances, looks to be a thriving city, rebuilt and reborn.  However, to use Hiroshima as a shining example of how a city can recover from an atomic bomb attack is misguided and simply untrue.  When told of a conservative talk radio host in Los Angeles saying on the air, “Look at Hiroshima, they’ve gotten over the bomb” as if to suggest the use of nuclear weapons is somehow acceptable, both Takeshi and his younger brother, Katsuzo, both reacted in anger and became very emotional.

“This is the kind of attitude that will allow this to happen again,” said Takeshi.

“There is no compassion in this attitude,” said Katsuzo.

Having visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I have concluded that there is absolutely no way to “get over” an atomic bombing. Yes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have “recovered.”  But not far from the surface, the suffering and aftereffects of the atomic bomb continue to this day.  Hibakusha, or A-Bomb survivors, currently live in all parts of Japan and around the world, and continue to suffer debilitating aftereffects of radiation poisoning.  In our friend’s family, a baby girl born two generations after the bombing is disabled with severe birth defects, due to radiation in her mother, passed onto her from her mother who survived the bomb.  And as Takeshi said, it took him 40 years to recover—40 years!

These are the stories most Americans know nothing about.  But if we’re going to prevent a nuclear holocaust, these are the stories Americans need to know, and constantly be reminded of so that what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never happen again to anyone, anywhere.
Kashiwagi and his family emphatically repeat the message that hibakusha peace activists have proclaimed worldwide for sixty-five years: "Never again."

Read Soji Kashiwagi's entire letter and see his photos of Hiroshima here.

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