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Letters from Hiroshima: A-bomb survivors write to President Obama, Part 5

Shoso Muneto is pictured on May 16, 2016. He says that the wish of A-bomb survivors is not to receive an apology for the atomic bombings, but to ensure that the ravages of war are never repeated. (Mainichi)

During his visit to Japan for the May 26 and 27 G-7 Summit in the Ise-Shima region of Mie Prefecture, United States President Barack Obama is to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. The Mainichi Shimbun's Hiroshima Bureau has asked atomic bombing survivors and other related individuals to write letters to Obama with their thoughts.

    The fifth letter in this series is from Shoso Muneto, 88. Muneto was left disconsolate after his experience in the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945. He deeply reflected on the question, "Why have I been allowed to live?" and went on to become a church pastor. His mission, he says, is to convey the terrible nature of nuclear weapons to people across the world who don't know the reality of being hit by an atomic bomb.

    * * * * *

    Dear Mr. President,

    When you spoke in Prague in 2009 about America's moral responsibility in seeking a world without nuclear weapons and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, we hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) were moved, and we sincerely hoped that nuclear weapons would be eliminated from the world. But seven years on, amid confrontation between the United States and Russia, reduction of nuclear weapons has not progressed. On the contrary, we have backpedaled, with an ongoing situation marked by moves to modernize nuclear weapons. A U.N. working committee on the Nuclear Weapons Convention is meeting in Geneva, but the United States has refused to participate. Why is this?

    As president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, you are surely fully aware of how inhumane atomic bombs are as weapons. You have surely been informed through reports of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission just how horrendous the nuclear damage in Hiroshima was. But we citizens of Hiroshima were not informed about internal radiation exposure and other such things as they were military secrets. I think your visit to Hiroshima is desirable in the sense of confirming those sorts of reports with your own eyes. But even if you declare that you aspire to create a world without nuclear weapons and the visit has significance as a final legacy of the short time you have left in the White House, I think it will be difficult for us to actually hope your visit to Hiroshima alone will spark a dramatic change in nuclear powers' policy of nuclear deterrence.

    International politics and security today are based on the threat and deterrence of nuclear weapons, as if nuclear weapons are guardian deities of peace. Yet I cannot believe that nuclear weapons are prepared, possessed and produced as a strategy only for them to go unused. It is a fallacious "safety myth" to consider nuclear weapons as mere strategic threats that cannot be used.

    Just as it was stated in an International Court of Justice nuclear weapons case that the use of nuclear weapons couldn't be deemed illegal in instances where the very existence of a state was threatened, it is not unusual or "beyond the scope of assumption" that nuclear weapons would be used for the cause of self-defense. But in this way, we humans are living under the nuclear "Sword of Damocles," in an apocalyptic state of danger. I believe there is no other way to save humanity than to eliminate nuclear weapons.

    I hear that you, Mr. President, will lay a wreath for all victims of atomic weapons, but to prevent your visit from ending up as a mere ceremony, a concrete roadmap for the elimination of nuclear weapons has to be presented. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will apparently accompany you in Hiroshima. War-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's peace Constitution was instituted with the wish never again to repeat the tragedy experienced by atomic bomb victims. I think the prime minister, who is trying to water down Article 9, needs to hold the perception that the historical background of the Imperial Japanese Army's Asia strategies and reckless entrance into in the Pacific War lit the fuse for dropping the bomb. Without that kind of historical perception as an aggressor, it is not fitting to stand before the cenotaph for A-bomb victims, which bears the inscription, "For we shall not repeat the evil."

    The earnest wish of A-bomb survivors is not "remember Hiroshima" but "no more Hiroshimas." I want to say it's not an issue of seeking an apology from America; it's never again going through the ravages of war.

    Yours sincerely,

    Shoso Muneto

    * * * * *

    Shoso Muneto

    When the atomic bomb struck Hiroshima, Muneto, a first-year student at a technical school which is now Hiroshima University Faculty of Engineering, was at his home 1.3 kilometers from the hypocenter. He was trapped under the collapsed house and suffered serious injuries. Covered in blood, he was delivered to an aid station on the island of Ninoshima, which was jammed with over 10,000 injured people. Young soldiers were throwing the bodies of the dead into pits one after another.

    "The sight of people being thrown away like garbage was a picture of hell. I felt like I would go crazy and I was left emotionless," Muneto says.

    After Japan's defeat in World War II, Muneto entered the Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, and he became a pastor at the age of 27. He talked about his experience in the bombing and was also engaged in movements calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons and the protection of war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution. He is a standing director of the organization "Nihon Shukyosha Heiwa Kyogikai" (Japan religionist peace council), and a member of the steering committee of "Sayonara Genpatsu Hiroshima no Kai" (Zero nuclear power plants, Hiroshima bureau).

    When he hears that the bones of A-bomb victims have been unearthed from the Ninoshima island, Muneto says he is overcome with the strange feeling that they might be his bones.

    "Hiroshima is a negative legacy that people in the world should share, like Auschwitz," he says. "I want President Obama, too, to feel the message that this commemorative place has to convey to humanity."

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