"I have so many children and grandchildren that I could be put in the 'Guinness Book of World Records!'" -- That was the favorite joke of A-bomb survivor, or "hibakusha," Kazue "Kaz" Suyeishi, who passed away on June 12 at the age of 90.
The Hiroshima-native moved to the United States, married and then became the president of the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bomb Survivors. She became known as "Kaz Mama" because of her unique style of talking about her experiences as a survivor. Not being one for lecture-style speaking, she spoke as though she was telling her story to her children or grandchildren.
When Suyeishi came to the U.S., health insurance wouldn't cover hibakusha living there who suffered from conditions relating to the bombing. Some members of Congress even claimed that states shouldn't give money to support "the enemy." On top of all of that, Suyeishi's husband had experienced the internment of Japanese Americans during the war. However, Kaz herself never once held any ill will toward the country that had become her home.
"They say that today's enemies are tomorrow's friends. If people all over the world could all feel love for one another, there would be no more war," Suyeishi would say. "That's what I keep telling the children. Even if they think it's ridiculous, that is my life's work."
When I came across the news of her death, indescribable bitter feelings rose up inside of me. The feelings weren't merely the pain of her loss, but also of being confronted by the reality that the hope for "a world without nuclear weapons" was dying out as well.
Then-U.S. President Barack Obama's abstract but moving speech and attitude of reaching out to the hibakusha on a calm evening in Hiroshima in May last year will forever be burned into my memory. Not much more than a year has passed, and the world has changed drastically. While the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump has vowed to expand its arsenal of nuclear weaponry, North Korea conducts continuous missile tests, leading the world on a path toward the outbreak of nuclear war.
However, when I think about all of that, I feel this was inevitable. While President Obama looked at the Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome from a distance, he did not approach it and hastily made his exit. While the president moved the hearts of the Japanese people by presenting flowers and wreaths of folded paper cranes to the hibakusha, he moved forward with plans to modernize his country's nuclear weapons at great expense. The cold truth remains unchanged.
It was Suyeishi who said, "Obama's pleas will largely go unheard, and even the reach of my words are probably limited by time and place, but the only thing we can do is hold onto love and continue conveying our message." Still, it makes me wonder just how sincere Obama really was about the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Some say it is Japan that has changed. Although it appeared the U.N. would adopt the Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Japan stated that it would be "difficult to participate" in it, perhaps because of its ties to the U.S., and has opposed the negotiation of the treaty.
That's why I sometimes can't think of that evening in Hiroshima as anything other than some kind of Japan-America collaboration movie. Or was it a beautiful dream seen for a fleeting moment by a world heading for oblivion? To save this world in crisis, we need new efforts and, of course, what Suyeishi always taught -- love. (By Hiroshi Fuse, Editorial Writer and Expert Senior Writer)