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Hibakusha: Law allowing collective self-defense sparks fear for future of trust in Japan

Masao Tomonaga explains his opinion to plaintiffs in a lawsuit in Nagasaki arguing that Japan's security-related legislation enacted in 2015 is unconstitutional. (Mainichi/ Shotaro Asano)

NAGASAKI -- On May 20, Masao Tomonaga, honorary director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku Hospital, appeared in the Nagasaki District Court. He was there for oral proceedings in a lawsuit filed by a group including atomic bomb survivors.

The plaintiffs were seeking damages from the central government in connection with the enactment of security-related legislation allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, which they argue is unconstitutional. Japan's ruling parties passed the controversial legislation into law in 2015.

Written testimonies by Tomonaga and two others were submitted to the court as part of the proceedings. "This country is trying to set aside pacifism before apologizing to victims of the war and conveying appreciation for the country's restoration after the war," Tomonaga wrote.

Tomonaga has played a part in addressing nuclear-related issues both as a doctor and as a hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivor. It was his first time to appear in court in connection with Japan's security laws and its postwar Constitution, which renounces the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

Speaking to about 40 plaintiffs at a gathering after the court session closed, Tomonaga stated, "The enactment of the new security legislation came as a major blow to me, as if it were fundamentally overturning the identity I had taken on as a Japanese citizen."

Tomonaga was 2 years old when the atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. His home, where he was at the time, was about 2.5 kilometers away from the hypocenter. He grew up watching his father Masanobu providing medical treatment for those exposed in the bombing, and went into the field of medicine himself. He poured effort into research on leukemia, which was increasing among hibakusha from the same generation, and treated over 1,000 leukemia patients.

The inhumanity of nuclear weapons that he witnessed in the atomic-bombed city led him to join International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and engage in discussion with other doctors from around the world about the elimination of nuclear weapons. There he sensed trust toward Japan, which had walked its postwar path under the pacifist Constitution.

"The establishment of the image of postwar Japan as a 'peace state' gave me a lot of confidence when I was conducting research with doctors from South Korea and China," Tomonaga said.

In 2015, however, Japan passed its security-related legislation. If Japan were to use force against another country on the grounds of exercising the right to collective self-defense, what would happen to the trust built up in Japan after the war? Tomonaga felt like the foundation for his activities -- his fight for the elimination of nuclear weapons and against war -- was crumbling.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed an intention to revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, but the physician harbors a sense of apprehension over the move.

"He's pushing ahead based solely on a fanciful image from a generation that has no firsthand experience of war," Tomonaga said.

In the written opinion Tomonaga submitted to the court, he sounded a warning bell, stating, "There's nothing as dangerous as 'peace through force.'" As a hibakusha, he continues to worry about the country's future. "The Heisei era was the only era in modern history in which Japan was not involved in war. I want the (current) Reiwa era not only to be free of war but to be an era in which a new sense of values is created," he declared.

(Japanese original by Shotaro Asano, Nagasaki Bureau)

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