Hiroshima has been in the news a lot lately. A few weeks ago, on 6 August, US Ambassador John Roos became the first US ambassador to officially attend the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima. This carried forward the spirit of President Obama’s commitment to creating a world without nuclear weapons. Perhaps less well publicized was the awarding of Asia’s Nobel Prize to the Mayor of Hiroshima.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award is known by many as Asia’s Noble Prize. It was created in 1957, the year the Philippines lost in a plane crash a President who was well-loved for his simplicity and humility, his passion for justice, particularly for the poor, and his advancement of human dignity. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund established the Award to honor President Magsaysay’s memory and perpetuate his example of integrity in public service and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society. The Ramon Magsaysay Award is given to persons - regardless of race, nationality, creed or gender - who address issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions which have transformed their societies for the better.
Among the 2010 recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award are Tadatoshi Akiba, the Mayor of Hiroshima. He was recognized for "his principled and determined leadership in a sustained global campaign to mobilize citizens, pressure governments, and build the political will to create a world free from the perils of nuclear war". The other awardees are A.H.M. Noman Khan from Bangladesh; Huo Daishan, Pan Yue and Fu Qiping, from China; and Christopher Bernido and Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido, from the Philippines.
This year represents the 65th anniversary of the single atomic bomb that reduced the Japanese city of Hiroshima to ashes and which instantly killed tens of thousands of lives, and an estimated 140,000 more through radiation and other sicknesses.
The horror of Hiroshima (and also Nagasaki) spurred major efforts at nuclear disarmament after the war. The United Nations adopted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which came into force in 1970. But the politics of the Cold War and today’s “War on Terror” have set back efforts for full disarmament, notwithstanding the inspirational initiative of President Obama. In 1970 there were already five nuclear-weapon states. Four more countries have since acquired nuclear-weapons capability. Other countries and non-state groups may also have acquired or developed nuclear weapons.
Mayor Akiba is an acknowledged leader in the global campaign for complete nuclear disarmament. He first became active in the anti-nuclear movement as a student in the 1960s. His efforts intensified while teaching in a US university after earning his doctorate in mathematics. In 1979, Akiba launched the Hibakusha Travel Grants Program (the bomb’s survivors are called hibakusha) through which American and other journalists visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and listened to atomic bomb survivors tell their story to the world.
Akiba spearheaded “Mayors for Peace”, a movement launched in 1982, and as its president since 1999, he has led the movement on an anti-nuclear campaign and expanded its reach. In 2003, Mayors for Peace launched their 2020 Vision campaign to escalate pressure on governments to abolish all nuclear weapons by 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings.
In his Ramon Magsaysay Award lecture, Akiba said: “The Cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mayors for Peace, and the trustees of the Magsaysay Foundation all share a common vision. We see the possibility of a world where war, violence, starvation and widespread environmental destruction are, like institutional slavery, viewed with horror as artifacts of our barbaric past.”
Japan is putting much pressure on President Obama to visit Hiroshima. Apparently Obama told Akiba that “Yes, I would like to come”. If Obama wins a second term in office, he may well visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A first term US president could not risk such a visit.
Many Japanese would also like to see Obama apologize for the bombings. This seems unlikely. A journalist recently asked Japanese foreign minister Okada if Japan would apologize for the Pearl Harbor bombings. Okada responded that this matter has been resolved in the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan (“Treaty of San Francisco”). Ironically, the same Japanese right wing that is pushing for an American apology is also opposing apologies by Japan to its neighbors for its occupation and military aggressions on during the war.
Some argue that the Japanese people should be seeking an apology from its own government, the military or even the emperor for leading the Japanese nation into a ridiculous and unwinnable war -- and above all for not surrendering when it was obvious to everyone that it was losing the war and when the atomic bombs could have been avoided. Such an apology is even less likely.
All this highlights how Japan’s victim complex is still very alive and present. One can never be sure why nations develop such complexes – every country creates its own narrative though myths, legends and stories which help its citizens understand their national identity. Could it be Japan’s position on the geographical periphery of Asia that gives it complexes vis-à-vis its neighbors? Its own two and a half centuries of self imposed isolation would not have helped – neither would its 60 years of subordination to the US. Political leadership could help create a new, positive narrative. But Japan’s political leaders are more concerned with fighting leadership contests than actually leading their nation.
Today you can see Japan’s victim complex everywhere. The national television abounds with reports of poor individual Japanese who are killed in car accidents or suffer other mishaps in far flung lands. As sad as these events are, they are nothing with what occurs on a daily basis in Tokyo. In its relations and negotiations with North Korea, Japan seems more preoccupied with the fate of people who were abducted decades ago than with the current major problem of reducing the risk of nuclear attacks.
Japan’s victim complex reflects the fact that the Japanese remain a closely knit tribe which always feels threatened by the outside world, and has difficulty integrating into either the East Asian or global community. The rise and assertiveness of China is only exacerbating this sentiment.
Ambassador John V. Roos Represented the United States of America at the Aug. 6, 2010 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony
Remarks of President Barack Obama, Hradčany Square
Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009
Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
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