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On the 76th Commemoration of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The most peculiar part of my growing up, if I may say so myself, was the fact I spent my childhood/teenage years in two cities that couldn't be culturally more different from each other, namely Sasebo and Hiroshima.

Those who have been in the military service may be familiar with the name Sasebo, because the city is a host to a US Naval base. As such, I would say it is a pro-American, pro-military town. Sasebo is a city in Nagasaki Prefecture; it is only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from Nagasaki City. In 1968, Sasebo became the site of a historic protest in Japan; 50,000 people from all over Japan gathered in Sasebo to protest the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered ship docked at Sasebo Harbor; the ship was suspected of carrying nuclear weapons which violated Japan's domestic policies of not "producing/possessing/allowing the entry of” nuclear weapons. However, after the historic protest, all resistances to the US military pretty much died down; nuclear-powered ships still dock at Sasebo Harbor today which draws little attention, let alone protests.

The most shocking reality about growing up in Sasebo is the fact that you learn very little about the A-bomb experience in school.

The most shocking reality about growing up in Sasebo is the fact that you learn very little about the A-bomb experience in school. It is a one-liner in history textbooks at the most. I must point out that in fact, nowhere else other than Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, schoolchildren learn much about the A-bomb experiences. As far as Sasebo is concerned, it strikes you as odd, especially because of its proximity to Nagasaki City. I suspect the city's relationship to the US Naval base and Japan's Self Defense Force as large employers to the city's population has something to do with it. Every year, a non-profit anti-nuclear group hosts a photo exhibition of the A-bombing of Nagasaki in the busiest public square in Sasebo, but both the city of Sasebo and the Sasebo Board of Education explicitly have declined invitations to sponsor the event every year, citing their need to "avoid making any political statements."

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I only became aware of the absence of the A-bomb education in Sasebo after I had enrolled myself in a school in Hiroshima at age 12. Ms. Setsuko Thurlow and I happen to share the alma mater. As anyone who grew up in Hiroshima would tell you, it is a unique experience. The A-bomb experience is a collective memory for the city and its residents and is so apparently present in the air and sceneries of the city every day. Almost every single one of my schoolmates has a family member who has been victimized by the A-bomb. Many of my teachers were survivors. I lived in a dormitory on the school campus where many students were killed on the day of the bombing. Shukkeien, a public garden where many evacuated after the bombing and died, is around the corner. It is not about anything supernatural, but I have always felt the presence of the dead while living on the school grounds and, in a way, I feel that I carry their spirit with me everywhere I go.

One thing I am especially grateful for about attending my school which informs my activism to this day is the fact that I was taught not only about the A-bombs, but about Imperial Japan's aggressions in other nations in the Asia Pacific region, prejudices and discrimination against ethnic Koreans that are so prevalent in Japan still today, and Japan's aggression and discriminatory policies towards Okinawa. Many in Hiroshima understood that when we say, "We shall not repeat the error," we are referring to not only nuclear weapons but also to all wars. The A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki conveniently switched the narrative in the minds of some and made the nation of Japan into a victim. Even though ordinary people of Japan were victims of the A-bombs and numerous air raids that devastated many cities all over Japan, we must own up to the history of Japan as an aggressor and imperialist.

I was complacent and naive until the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. I thought that peace meant an absence of wars. The reality was, while I was celebrating peace, there were wars always being fought somewhere in the world and people were being victimized by nuclear atrocities. The rise of Japan as an economic superpower itself was fueled by being a major supplier to the Korean War and the Vietnam War. When the Fukushima accident happened, I was tormented by the thought that the ignorance, complacency, and inaction of people like myself had brought the disaster onto people of Fukushima (and other parts of Japan). I could and should have done more to move Japan and the world towards nuclear abolition. I would have gone mad or succumbed to addiction, if I hadn't thrown myself into activism. 

Three years ago, when the city of Los Angeles passed the resolution to support the Back from the Brink and TPNW, a former teacher of my high school who is a Hibakusha shared his joy with me by saying that he had not expected to see the passing of such a resolution in the US in his lifetime. However, 76 years after the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are about to launch into a new nuclear arms race, and I feel once again that we are failing the survivors.

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And once again the remorse drives me to act. I am hopeful that people all over the world coming together and demanding no nukes and no wars could change the course of the world. I am determined to do everything that I can in my power and am so grateful that I have fellow activists and concerned citizens who accompany me on this path to peace. 

Tsukuru Fors