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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Where First A-Bomb Fell, Prayers Ask 'Never Again' - New York Times

Where First A-Bomb Fell, Prayers Ask 'Never Again' - New York TimesAugust 7, 2005
Where First A-Bomb Fell, Prayers Ask 'Never Again'
By NORIMITSU ONISHI

HIROSHIMA, Japan, Aug. 6 - At 8:15 a.m. Saturday, as tens of thousands of Japanese bowed their heads here to mark the instant when an atomic bomb fell 60 years ago, only the loud, telltale buzz of the summer cicadas broke the respectful silence.

In an hourlong ceremony at the Peace Memorial Park, participants, as in previous years, laid wreaths, burned incense, prayed for the souls of the dead, and gave impassioned pleas for world peace and the abolition of nuclear arms. Few in Hiroshima can remember an Aug. 6 that was not oppressively hot, and Saturday morning's blazing sun matched expectation and memory.

Still, on the 60th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack, some members of the aging and dwindling population of survivors expressed worries that Japan was shedding its postwar pacifism. The survivors, whose suffering had long made them Japan's most eloquent advocates for pacifism, said recent policy changes inside Japan had made them deeply pessimistic.

"The dispatch of our Self-Defense Forces to Iraq is completely out of line with pacifism," said Akihiro Takahashi, an A-bomb survivor and former director of the Peace Memorial Museum here. "In the future, the peace Constitution will no doubt be revised, and that will lead to conscription and, eventually, the possession of nuclear arms."

Since early 2004 Japan has had about 500 troops in southern Iraq, deployed on a humanitarian aid, noncombat mission.

A decade ago, on the last major anniversary of the dropping of the bomb, the possibility of Japan acquiring nuclear arms or revising its official renunciation of war was unthinkable. Today, North Korea's possible possession of nuclear weapons has led many here to worry about an arms race, and Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has begun the process of revising the American-imposed postwar Constitution.

"Things have changed," said Dr. Hiroshi Maruya, 80, a physician and survivor of the nuclear blast.

"Ten years ago, few could question Article 9 of the Constitution," he said of the war-renouncing clause. "But people talk about it openly now."

With government thinking no longer matching the survivors' message of pacifism, the general attitude toward them has changed, survivors and experts say.

Osamu Fujiwara, associate professor of peace studies at Tokyo Keizai University, said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did not follow his predecessors' practice of speaking to A-bomb survivors after the annual Aug. 6 ceremony.

"There is no political debate over this cancellation," Professor Fujiwara said. "The ceremony itself has become history, and the A-bomb itself has become a thing of the past."

Dr. Maruya described the government's attitude toward the survivors as "very cold."

"It's as if the government is saying, 'It is no use listening to you,' " he said. "Power politics is the theory of the new world."

In keeping with his city's idealistic pacifism, Hiroshima's mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, has proposed working through the United Nations to eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide by 2020. But an editorial in Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, reflected the new prevailing mood toward this kind of pacifism by bluntly calling it "empty." The editorial added that the antinuclear campaign "should reflect reality."

Making the same kind of universal appeal for pacifism that the nation's leaders used to make, Mayor Akiba said of the anniversary on Saturday, "It is also a time of inheritance, of awakening, and of commitment, in which we inherit the commitment of the A-bomb survivors to the abolition of nuclear weapons and realization of genuine world peace, awaken to our individual responsibilities, and recommit ourselves to take action."

To that end, a couple of hours after the ceremony, Miyoko Watanabe, 75, told the story she had told countless times. Exactly 60 years ago she walked out of her house when the strong sun made her return for a parasol. At 8:15 a.m., as she stepped out of her house again, she saw a flash of light in the distance. As the fire blew toward her, she crouched to protect herself, according to the drills that she had been taught at school. The bomb left her relatively unharmed, but it seriously injured her mother and killed her father.

Her father was one of 140,000 people killed instantly or who died soon after the bomb was dropped by the Enola Gay. The population of Hiroshima, a city with many military sites at the time, was 350,000. Three days later, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing 80,000. Days later, Japan surrendered.

Her story, Ms. Watanabe said, was her testament to the future. But given the proliferation of nuclear arms, she said that the A-bomb survivors' message "hadn't gotten across."

"It may be empty," she said of the proposal to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2020. "But you can't move forward unless you advocate. We can't keep silent because we are uncertain about the results. We have to keep trying, one step at a time."

Mr. Koizumi, who called Hiroshima a world symbol for peace, spoke quickly and in a soft voice, receiving polite applause. "I offer deep prayers from my heart to those who were killed," Mr. Koizumi said, adding that Japan would not produce or possess nuclear weapons on its soil.

A passionate speech by Yohei Kono, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament and a famous pacifist, received the loudest applause. He said the use of the word "mistake" in the famous phrase engraved on a memorial here - "Let all the souls here rest in peace, as we will never repeat this mistake" - referred to the use of the bomb, as well as Japan's militarism in Asia.

Recently, a right-wing vandal tried to scrape off the word "mistake" from the memorial, and the damage was still visible.

Last week, in another attempt to play down Japan's wartime aggressions in Asia, the lower house of Parliament restated a resolution passed a decade ago for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, but it removed the words "invasion" and "colonial rule." But declaring that Japan was the only country to have ever suffered an atomic bomb, the resolution again committed Japan to working for peace.

The resolution left some atomic-bomb survivors skeptical.

"The Japanese government says, 'the only country to have ever suffered from an atomic bomb,' when it's convenient for it," Mr. Takahashi said. "If the government believes that, it should act accordingly at the

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