Victory at any cost. This phrase seemingly encapsulated the strategy and mindset used by the U.S. at the time of the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. In the American school system, we learned that the U.S. dropped two devastating bombs on Japan in order to end the war as quickly as possible, thus preventing more killings and saving lives on both sides. However, the costs of this victory that ended WWII were staggering: 140,000 dead in Hiroshima and 70,000 dead in Nagasaki.
As a Political Science major and an aspiring policymaker in the U.S. government, my purpose in coming on this trip was to gain insight into the current relationship of Japan and the U.S. along with its surrounding East Asian powers in regard to the concept of peace and nuclear warfare. On Thursday, May 14 and Friday, May 15, we explored Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and met with professors, dignitaries, and even a survivor of the atomic bomb. These experiences have helped me construct a political science perspective of Japanese international relations, but my understanding of the happenings in 1945 along with its modern-day implications has grown in many unexpected ways.
Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which was ratified at the mercy of world powers that were victorious over Japan in WWII, renounces Japan’s involvement in any kind of future warfare and disallows the country from maintaining armed forces. Dr. Adams informed us of a movement in Japan to alter this article from the constitution so that Japan can have a military. This is in wake of rising tensions between Japan and East Asian powers such as China and North Korea. I was surprised to hear of this movement because I previously thought Japan had overcome the urge to use force in resolving disputes, especially after learning hard lessons and costs of war after WWII. I was very interested in learning more about Japan’s future dealings with peace and about the possibility of Japan developing nuclear weapons.
At the Hiroshima Peace Institute, we discussed these ideas with Dr. Zwigenberg and Dr. Jacobs, two professors at Hiroshima City University. While I found their ideas about the United States frustrating and unproductive, I was still able to gain important insight from them. I asked them about the future of nuclear weapons, their usage, and Japan’s involvement with nuclear weapons. First, I brought up the idea of the “nuclear taboo” as a means of diminishing the possibility of using nuclear weapons. In my Introduction to International Relations course, Dr. Beaudette taught us that the nuclear taboo is the idea that countries are averse to using nuclear weapons because it would violate global norms and be greatly frowned upon by other powers. The two professors responded by acknowledging its existence but were skeptical of its future effectiveness. Dr. Jacobs claimed that usage of another nuclear bomb in the future is likely because of its simple pragmatism along with the government’s lack of attention to the studies of the atrocious effects of nuclear weapons. He even believes that Japan is likely to obtain nuclear weapons in the future as international relations grow tenser and the balance of power in the world shifts with China’s ascent. Surprisingly, he maintained that nuclear disarmament is still possible, but unfortunately I was left unsatisfied when he said that he did not know what steps could be taken to achieve nuclear disarmament.
At this point, I yearned to find out whether or not a world without nuclear weapons was realistic. After our conversation with the two professors, we traveled to the Hiroshima Peace Park to meet Yasuyoshi Komizo, the Secretary General of Mayors for Peace. His presentation about efforts to obtain a peaceful world through the disarmament of nuclear weapons literally restored my faith in humanity. In a light-hearted, stimulating manner, he expressed his hope for a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020. While humorously admitting that this goal is unrealistic, he emphasized the importance of striving towards international disarmament. He told us that knowing the story of survivors and the pain that nuclear weapons inflicts is important, but it is not enough. It is pivotal to learn from history and spread those lessons to those around you.
This message of not dwelling on the past but rather using history lessons to do good for the future was evident in many aspects of our visit to Hiroshima. In our tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and other presentations, I never heard the phrase, “the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima,” but instead I always heard, “the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.” I see the usage of passive voice as an indication of the purpose of peace initiatives, which is not to guilt America for its actions but rather to look forward in avoiding the use of nuclear weapons. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum notably does not openly condemn the U.S. for pulling the trigger. Remarkably, Keiko Ogura, a survivor of the atomic bomb, does not hold resentment towards the U.S., but rather is very much about ensuring that a nuclear bomb never be used ever again. Likewise, Komizo gladly works with American mayors to promote nuclear disarmament. The idea that Komizo and Ogura may have forgiven, but most certainly not forgotten, the tragedy of the atomic bomb fosters forward, productive thinking, which I see as a fundamental step in ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
I am so inspired by the messages of both Komizo and Ogura. These two are so driven to achieve a world without nuclear weapons so much so that they have devoted their lives to the cause. Interestingly enough, their persistence and passion shows that they too are in the mindset of victory at any cost. This is ironic because their vision of victory, which is to rid the world of nuclear weapons, contrasts with the U.S. victory achieved with nuclear weapons 70 years ago.
In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, there is an eternal flame lit in the center called the Peace Flame. Our tour guide said that the flame will remain lit until there are no more nuclear weapons in the world. With all the work they are doing and the inspiration they instill in future leaders, I have hope that one day I will be able to watch that flame go out. Despite all the cynicism surrounding world peace, I have a feeling that Komizo and Ogura will achieve their victory in due time.