dateline japan

Despite the annual peace demonstrations in Hiroshima and elsewhere in Japan, concern about nuclear issues is fading.

‘Nuclear allergy’
begins to erode

Published Friday, Aug. 31, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

Sun Staff Writer

HIROSHIMA, Japan — Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki face a variety of obstacles as they try to communicate their memories of the realities of nuclear war and their urgent hope that these weapons will never be used again.

Akihiro Takahashi, director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, says one of the greatest difficulties in talking to Americans is a reaction he encountered when he was in New York for last year’s special session on disarmament at the United Nations.

Corsicana native has first-hand experience

At least one Corsicana native knows at first hand what it is like to survive the explosion of an atomic bomb.

Ex-GI Bill Nelson now lives In Linden, half way between Longview and Texarkana. In 1951 he was involved in one of a series of tests to determine soldiers’ emotional reaction to nuclear warfare.

The tests were confirmed in Defense Department documents made public earlier this year.

Nelson, along with other members of Battery C, 548th Field Artillery, was entrenched about a mile and a quarter from “ground zero” in the September, 1951, test — near Las Vegas, Nev.

After the explosion, his unit was marched across ground zero, then back again to the trench.

“A few years ago his health broke and no doctor we have been to will say what is really wrong,” his wife wrote in a letter to President Carter earlier this year.

Beginning in 1958, Nelson felt a general distress, which developed into continual pain in the solar plexus. He also developed thyroid problems, and his calcium level began to rise.

“We have spent a lot of money trying to find a doctor that knows about this — all to no avail,” Mrs. Nelson wrote.

Army Times reported in May that some of the troops involved in the tests believe radiation from the bombs was the cause of a variety of maladies they now suffer.

“I feel the government owes it to these boys to help them,” Mrs. Nelson wrote. So far her appeal has been unsuccessful.

Many Americans he met still feel a deep bitterness about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Like others working for an end to the nuclear arms race, Takahashi is among the first to admit the responsibilities of his own country.

“Though we were victims — hibakusha — we have to ask ourselves about our own responsibility for the war.” He gestures with a hand still held at an angle by scar tissue from his atomic burns.

“I was a younger soldier,” he says. “I was educated so that I was determined to kill as many American soldiers as possible.”

It was only after the war — after he had been disfigured for life — that he learned of Japanese massacres in China, of the brutalities against prisoners of war in Burma and of the surprise attack on Peari Harbor.

He is sympathetic to the bitterness Americans still feel. He admits he still feels a sense of hatred and resentment toward those who ordered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

“I’m not asking that people forget,” he says, “but that they overcome their resentment. We are now facing a world with 2,500 times the capability of a Hiroshima-type bomb.”

Nuclear war, he reminds those he talks to, is necessarily indiscriminate, catching up civilians as well as soldiers. This was true in Hiroshima, he says, and it is all the more true with today’s more powerful weapons.

He takes some sad encouragement from the concern Americans are expressing now, now that they are beginning to learn about the effects of radiation on American soldiers who helped clean up Nagasaki and on others,, like Corsicana native Bill Nelson, who were exposed to radiation during weapons tests in the 1950s.

When two people share a common tragedy, it is easier for them to bridge their differences.

Attempts to communicate with the other major nuclear powers run into different obstacles.

At this year’s World con ference Against A and H Bombs, Soviet delegates walked out when a Japanese group staged a sit-down protest against the recent nuclear tests’ by both the Soviet Union and the United States.

Following their government’s official line, the Soviet delegation insisted that their country’s nuclear weapons are purely defensive, that Soviet nuclear tests should not be put in the same category as American tests.

China was not even represented at the conference, and survivors of the bomb have few if any opportunities to talk to Chinese about the realities of nuclear war.

The problem survivors face in communicating with their own people, says junior high teacher Akira Ishida, is summed up in an old Japanese saying: “To live in a lighthouse but not see the light.”

Even though Japanese live in the only country to experience nuclear warfare, knowledge of that experience is fading from the Japanese consciousness.

After the end of World War II there was a widespread mistrust of anything nuclear. Japan, it was said, had developed a “nuclear allergy” in reaction to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By the mid-1960s, though, Herman Kahn and other analysts at the RAND Corp., a think tank for the U.S. Defense Department, concluded that only five to 10 percent of the Japanese people were thoroughly opposed to nuclear arms under all circumstances.

“What I am saying is we should not fool ourselves that there is a deep, intense nuclear allergy which all Japanese have,” Kahn said in a 1970 symposium. “It is just not like that.”

In part, this erosion of the nuclear allergy is a result of the passage of time. Memories of the atomic bombings have faded and new generations have grown up with no experience of war.

In part, too, the word “nuclear” has lost its impact because of the increasing use of nuclear power in Japan, so far with no accidents.

Japan now derives 11 percent of its electric power from 18 nuclear reactors. By 1985 the country expects to generate 30 percent of its electricity in nuclear plants.

In contrast to the situation in the United States, protests against the plants have mostly been based on livelihood issues — from farmers who would lose their land or fishermen who would see their coastal fishing damaged.

In the end, the power companies have been able to resolve these issues by paying compensation for their losses, according to Hideo Tamura, a specialist in nuclear power issues for the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal.

“I’m not sure exactly how much the companies have paid to buy fishing rights,” he says, “but I have heard amounts of up to billions of yen have been paid to a single fisherman.” A billion yen is about $4.5 million.

Japan is now experimenting with its own plants to reprocess nuclear fuel — a step that theoretically could open the way to production of nuclear weapons, as it has in China, India and other countries.

Tamura does not believe his country will take that next step. He recalls a conversation with one hawkish politician who pointed out that for Japan, surrounded by nuclear superpowers, the possession of a small nuclear arsenal would be futile.

“This is based on the current political situation,” Tamura says, “but nobody is sure about the future.”

Survivors of the bomb like high school teacher Hiromi Morishita are concerned about that future. Morishita points to a recent poll of high school students in which 60 percent said they feel Japan will be forced to have nuclear weapons in the future.

Photo copyright © 1979 John Spragens, Jr.
Text copyright © 1979 Corsicana Daily Sun
Reporting for this series was supported by a grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.

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