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Hibakusha: 78-yr-old bringing war victims together to protect Article 9, receive gov't aid

Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations Secretary-General Sueichi Kido speaks in Tokyo's Minato Ward on May 2, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- "I want to make a system to compensate for wartime damage together with survivors of the Battle of Okinawa and the air raids as well so that we can make sure that war never breaks out again," says 78-year-old Sueichi Kido, who experienced the atomic bombing of Nagasaki when he was 5 years old.

It has been one year since A-bomb survivor (or "hibakusha") Kido became the secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, known as Nihon Hidankyo in Japanese. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it clear he intends to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution, Nihon Hidankyo is calling on all the victims of World War II to come together for the first time.

Since its foundation over 60 years ago, Nihon Hidankyo has requested government compensation. However, while the government has given a total of over 60 trillion yen in compensation to former soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army and their families, it considers civilians as "general victims of the war," and as such, has suck to the position that war damage is within the tolerable limit.

"It's not a question of money," laments Kido. "If we don't make the government take responsibility, then we can't create a system that will keep it from deciding to go to war."

While the Atomic Bomb Survivors' Assistance Act provides support for paying medical and other fees, the law includes strong overtones that the funds act as social security payments for those affected by radiation, and it is not state redress available to surviving family members. As the survivors of the bomb grow older, the very existence of the organization has become precarious, and Kido desperately wonders, "What can we do to break the idea that war damage is within the tolerable limit?"

The idea to join together with other victims of the war came in 2016. As an activity in connection with the 60th anniversary of the founding of Nihon Hidankyo, the organization began communicating with the victims of the Battle of Okinawa, who are also seeking government compensation. In December 2016, Kido and other hibakusha visited Okinawa on an "exchange tour."

"It's embarrassing, but I didn't know anything (about the Battle of Okinawa) until they taught me," Kido admits. The fact that civilians were chased by the army out of their underground air raid shelters during the intense fighting was distorted, and it was made out that they participated in the battle by offering up their shelters to Japanese soldiers. They are thus covered by the Act on Relief of War Victims and Survivors as "quasi-civilian employees of the military."

However, those with no third-party evidence of their ordeal, and those who state plainly that they "did not cooperate," are then excluded from coverage by the law.

Survivors of the widespread air raids on Japan who have requested that a compensation law covering them be enacted have also been tossed aside.

"There is a difference, but they are facing the same conditions with the government telling them that the war damage they suffered is within the tolerable limit," Kido explains. His awareness of this has grown stronger while considering the future of Nihon Hidankyo.

Taking to the podium at an anti-constitutional revision gathering on May 3, Constitution Day in Japan, Kido implored the audience, "If the existence of the Self-Defense Forces is clarified in the Constitution, then Japan will become a country that can go to war." He continued, "This country has started to stink of prewar Japan, not postwar Japan. Now is not the time for war victims to remain silent."

(This is Part 4 in a series)

(Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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