Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Our Nagasaki Friends
The anniversary of the second and last use of nuclear weapons on a civilian population -- and we hope and pray it will be the last ever in human history -- was August 9, 1945, at 11:02 a.m., in Nagasaki. We had originally been invited by Mr. Arihara, who had made a film about a group of survivors and rescuers here, and by the survivors here, who eventually rebuilt their community and hospital. The culmination of our trip was perhaps not the anniversary date itself but instead August 8, when we met Mrs. Akizuki, the wife of the hero of the film, "Angelus Bell," and a heroine/survivor in her own right, and also gave our last workshop presentation at St. Francis Hospital, which had been rebuilt on the site of the former hospital.
To be sure, August 9 was a solemn day, but it couldn't take away from the beauty of the surrounding hills, nor could it detract from the joyful enthusiasm of Mr. Hiroge, the 80-year-old English teacher who recounted his story to us when we arrived in Nagasaki on the afternoon of August 7. Mr. Hiroge was serious -- in fact, he began his account by declaring, "during wartime, the biggest sacrifice was the truth. The truth was not told to the Japanese people." Later, though, he focused on his own personal loss, recalling a young relative with whom he was to dine the evening of the 9th, but who was never found: "I am still looking for him. He is 19 in my dreams, even though I myself am now 80 years old. I can't believe he is gone." Still, Mr. Hiroge was kind to us, and the community was generous, including Mrs. Yamashita, the former newspaper editor who organized the events, and Mrs. Maekawa, who translated.
Like Hiroshima, Pauline and Nick were asked to join a student group and make a number a speeches over the course of two days, as well as merge their petition campaign with this group of students who collect 10,000 signatures at a time. What makes this group remarkable is that it is composed of visiting Koreans and Philippinos (see photos of Nick and Pauline with Mutsuko making a speech at the forum, and then with the Koreans, and me and them with a girl from the Philippines). Overall, people from Nagasaki seem braver about confronting Japan's past -- I visited the only museum in Japan to confront Japan's history of imperialism, including its invasion of Korean, the Rape of Nanjing, and the enslavement of Korean men and women during the war. On the 9th at 6am, Nick and Pauline joined these student at the Ground Zero Park to lay flowers at the hypocenter and sing songs, at which time a declaration of peace was read aloud in front of the press corps. This press corps followed the kids around all day, including during a petitioning event which moved from a bridge when it began to rain to a shopping arcade. There I carried on further discussions with a Korean teacher whose father was a Korean survivor of Nagasaki, like many other Koreans who were forced to work in Japan during the war. He was in Japan with his Korean student group. At 11:02 a.m., we were at the ceremonial event at the Peace Park, where we were blessed by rain showers. The "moment of silence" was not silent at all but instead was blanketed by sirens: I was told this was done to muffle the sound of protesters on the street outside. We also had to pass through considerable security, unlike Hiroshima; perhaps this is because several years ago, the mayoral candidate was assassinated. Odd...feels like New York.
By the afternoon, we had met with the mayor of Nagasaki, who signed our petition, and in the evening, we had a reception with the supporters of Mr. Arihara's film. Promises were made to continue telling the story of 1945, and to not only remember, but also to do justice to these stories by working for peace.