President Barack Obama’s speech in Hiroshima in May was lauded as a gesture of great historical significance. The U.S. remains the only country to ever use a nuclear device for the deliberate purpose of killing people, and the conversations about that decision over the years have been one-sided in that the perpetrators of the act and its victims have never discussed it in the presence of each other. If anything, the discussions on one side have avoided the points being raised on the other, since Japan and America have now been allies for 70 years. The U.S. justifies the bombing by saying it saved more lives than it destroyed and won’t even consider the notion that the bombs may not have been necessary to end the war; while Japan has lamented the huge loss of life by blaming war as an abstraction without suggesting that its current defense partner may have committed a crime.
But there was one element of Obama’s speech that deserves attention: The people most directly affected by the bomb, the hibakusha, will soon be gone, and without that link the world is in danger of forgetting the real significance of Hiroshima. This is true not only of the world, but Japan, where many citizens, it seems, know very little about August 6, 1945, despite the fact that the literature about Hiroshima is dense on both sides, and though I don’t have figures to back up this claim, I believe more of what has been written in English has been translated into Japanese than vice versa. At this late date it would seem that anything that could possibly be written about what happened on that day has been written, but when you consider how many people died that day, it’s obvious all the stories have not been conveyed. Japanese antiwar and anti-nuclear activists were genuinely pleased with Obama’s speech, even if he managed to avoid addressing America’s responsibility for all those deaths.
Some said they wished he would read the work of Keiko Horikawa, a journalist who last week won an award from the Japan National Press Club and whose work has focused on Hiroshima. None of her writing, as far as I can tell, has been translated into English, so this wish is hardly actionable, but the point is that Horikawa’s approach to the bombing has been detailed and wide-ranging, and emphasizes the point that each life is precious. She is one of those rare researchers who feels she has to understand a topic fully, in all its ramifications, before she can write a word. Her life’s work is dual: the Hiroshima bombing and Japan’s death penalty, subjects that are somehow connected at their roots. Horikawa’s subject is the value of a human life, whether it is that of a person condemned to death for a crime, or that of an anonymous person killed in a wholesale act of obliteration. She doesn’t judge the act, at least not overtly. She only reminds us that each life has meaning regardless of the way it was taken away.
In a very small attempt to continue this discussion and make Horikawa’s work more generally known in the world, I am here posting an English transcript, translated by my partner, Masako Tsubuku, of a press conference that Horikawa gave in August 2015 at the Japan National Press Club to promote her recently published book about the Hiroshima Memorial (“Genbaku Kuyoto”). In addition to explaining how the task of remembrance will never end, she provides invaluable insight into the work of a freelance journalist in Japan. I apologize for the length, but we think everything she says here is worth hearing. Continue reading