The Lesson of Hiroshima for the U.S. Presidential Election

by Guest Contributor atlasien, originally posted at APA for Progress

Note from atlasien
: “Update: since writing this post, my recommendation has changed due to this news story. It’s now crystal clear which candidate is best on the issue.”

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing a presentation by a Hiroshima survivor. Here’s his story as I remember it.

Mr. Teramoto was ten years old when the atom bomb hit Hiroshima. One second he was leaning over a desk to write a postcard to a friend; the next second he was on his back amid the rubble of his former house. An aunt pulled him out. His face was covered in blood. He begged her to stop and rescue his mother too, but she was too focused on getting him to safety. She slung him across her back and ran away.

That was the last he ever saw his mother. He found out later that she had dragged herself out and made it to the bank of the river. She died within days and her body was cremated where it lay, next to so many others.

Sheltering by another bank, Mr. Teramoto remembers seeing the river filled with corpses. They floated up and down with the tide, the same ones over and over again. He showed us photos and also drawings representing these scenes.

(Art by KIHARA Toshiko, Hiroshima survivor)

Due to his position when the bomb hit, and the fact that he managed to escape exposure to contaminated water, Mr. Teramoto is still a vigorous and healthy man. He draws on this energy to educate people about what happened in Hiroshima. He’s been giving talks like this for decades. I imagine that survivor’s guilt is something he struggles and negotiates with constantly. He’s chosen to relive those events over and over again so that others can grow to understand the lesson of Hiroshima.

The basic lesson is simple. This must never happen again. Whether the bombing was “justified” is of secondary relevance. Here in the U.S. discussions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can get bogged down in that debate. As a Japanese-American, I feel the issue very deeply. Many Japanese-Americans fought bravely against Japan’s government, a military dictatorship that poisoned other countries and their own people as well. But I also believe racism was an integral part of the decision to drop not one but two atomic bombs on Japanese soil.

But the primary matter of importance is what the past of Hiroshima symbolizes for our common global future. This is the idea that Mr. Teramoto wants to spread all over the world.

The events of Hiroshima are receding. The cold war era is over. In my lifetime, there will eventually be no more survivors traveling the world and giving presentations. But there will still be insane numbers of nuclear weapons and the potential for a future conflagration.

Mr. Teramoto’s colleague, the head of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, put forth a terrifying scenario. Further destabilization in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Increased anti-American activity in the mountainous border region. Militaristic American government. The solution? Perhaps just one targeted atomic bomb. Maybe some villages will be caught in the way…

The current idiotic regime has substantially withdrawn from nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament agreements, citing, of course, the increased security risks of a “post 9/11 world”. John McCain is even more likely to use nuclear weapons, judging by his strong tendency towards loathsome paranoid jingoism. Either Clinton or Obama would be a massive improvement and would likely get us back on the path to honoring our nuclear treaties.

Personally, I’m an Obama supporter, and I believe he will be better on this issue. While it’s difficult to detangle candidate’s position statements to find an unequivocal answer to a relatively simple question, several factors convinced me. During one debate, Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates whether U.S. security concerns trumped humanitarian concerns. Clinton responded that yes, they did. Obama gave what I considered the correct answer; the two concerns cannot be separated. Also, Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War showed me that in a crisis, she might go by current popular opinion instead of the long-term best interests of the world. Obama has specifically stated that he will not consider using a nuclear weapon to destroy a terrorist training camp. Clinton’s answers on nuclear nonproliferation have also been much more equivocal and vague than Obama’s answers.

Anyone who is concerned by this issue (and I think “anyone” should really mean “everyone in the world”) should do their own research and act on it. Here’s a relatively neutral link to start off with.

I was profoundly affected by Mr. Teramoto’s talk. I hope I’ve been able to pass on to readers even a small portion of the urgency and gravity of his mission. This must never happen again.