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Hibakusha: Paving the way toward the abolishment of nuclear weapons

Sumiteru Taniguchi (Mainichi)

"Using nuclear weapons constitutes the worst type of crime against humanity."

Speaking on March 26 in the city of Putrajaya, which lies on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, 87-year-old Sumiteru Taniguchi spoke about his experience in Nagasaki as a hibakusha -- atomic bomb survivor -- to a group of about 300 people, including high school students, who had assembled for a symposium.

A non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the area of peace education in Malaysia had organized the symposium, to which Taniguchi had been invited by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The Malay Peninsula is the area where the former Imperial Japanese Army launched a surprise land attack on Dec. 8, 1941 -- thereby commencing its Southern Operations.

Taniguchi recalls that when he heard the news of this military success, he had happily screamed, "Fantastic!"

Regarding his speech in Malaysia, he found himself wondering: "Will it be possible to convey my message in a country where, historically, Japan acted as an aggressor?"

It was with a sense of unease, then, that Taniguchi showed the symposium participants a photograph of his back -- which had become scarred all over from burns sustained by heat rays from the blast -- and talked about his horrifying experience in the atomic bombing.

Taniguchi was 16 years old when the blast occurred in Nagasaki -- at which time he had been delivering newspapers some 1.8 kilometers from its hypocenter. In addition to the burns on his back, he also sustained other serious injuries.

"I hope to see a world without nuclear weapons as soon as possible," Taniguchi stated to the assembled group. "This means no more hibakusha -- and no more wars."

After the symposium finished, numerous young people came up to shake his hand.

"I am glad I was able to speak directly about my experience," Taniguchi said -- his anxiousness clearly having dissipated.

A representative committee member of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, or Nihon Hidankyo, Taniguchi, has visited more than 10 countries around the world thus far to recount his experience. This was his first time, however, to speak in another Asian country.

One of the symposium participants asked him frankly, "Are you a victim or an aggressor?"

Another commented, "We shouldn't be seeking to blame people. Rather, we should be working together toward peace."

Reaffirming his stance on the matter, Taniguchi noted, "War encompasses both perpetration and injury. And what this ends up leading toward is an enormous cost to be paid."

He added, "All of this is symbolized by the atomic bomb, which is something that we must eradicate."

When President Barack Obama called for a "world without nuclear weapons" in Prague in April 2009, Taniguchi had held onto hope that the cause of disarmament would be advanced. With the subsequent antagonism between the United States and Russia, however, the process stalled.

Taniguchi visited the United States in the spring of last year to attend the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), where he called for an end to nuclear weapons. However, the conference ended up breaking down.

This year in February, before his journey to Malaysia, Taniguchi fell ill and had to be hospitalized for two weeks.

"As long as I am still able to move around, I want to speak out regarding the need to abolish nuclear weapons," he said.

At home, Taniguchi has his belongings ready in case he should need to suddenly have to again visit the hospital.

Just as his feelings regarding the need to wipe out nuclear weapons had begun to grow ever stronger, it was announced that Obama will visit Hiroshima.

"I wonder what the president of the country that dropped the atomic bombs will see and feel when he visits the affected area," Taniguchi noted. "Clearly, by agreeing to the (Hiroshima) visit, he is working hard to pave the way toward the abolishment of nuclear weapons prior to the end of his term in office."

And so Taniguchi continues fervently wishing for the categories of aggressor and victim to be transcended -- and for there simply to be a widening call for "no more hibakusha." (By Eisuke Obata, Nagasaki Bureau)

(This is part 2 of a series)

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