Hibakusha hit BBC jest but fret over domestic amnesia

Survivors fear fewer Japanese are aware of horror of nuclear war

LONDON/NAGASAKI (Kyodo) A BBC program that joked about a Japanese atomic-bomb survivor has not only angered other hibakusha and their supporters but also made them ask the question: Do younger generations of Japanese know enough about the terror of nuclear arms?

“QI” quiz show host Stephen Fry and guests drew laughs from its celebrities and the audience in December when they talked about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who by fluke survived the atomic bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Fry described the Nagasaki native as “the unluckiest man in the world.” The broadcaster and the program’s production agency apologized following a protest by the Japanese Embassy in London.

Some major British media organizations covered the dispute over the quiz show, but public interest in the issue appears low in Britain. A BBC employee involved in international news said few in the company were talking about it.

The possession of nuclear arms is “a question of national pride” in Britain as well as France, the German newspaper Der Spiegel said even before the show aired. The two countries are a “part of a small club of the five official nuclear powers,” it said.

British tabloid the Daily Mail said the BBC program’s jokes were “quite insensitive.” But it also said use of the bombs by the U.S. was positive, saying, “The blasts hastened Japan’s surrender and the end of the war — averting the need for a land campaign that would have cost tens of thousands of Allied and Japanese lives.” This argument is also common in the United States.

Matthew Bell, a commentator for The Independent, called Japan’s protest over “QI” odd. Another BBC show made a similar joke in the 1990s about an atomic-bomb survivor, but “nobody complained then, not even Mr. Yamaguchi,” Bell said.

The controversy comes at a time when the average age of atomic-bomb survivors has topped 76 and their experiences have gradually moved into history even among Japanese ahead of the 66th anniversary of the Aug. 6 and 9 nuclear attacks.

Documentary filmmaker Hidetaka Inazuka said those criticizing the BBC program should also work hard to make sure the knowledge of the pains of atomic-bomb survivors has been thoroughly passed on to younger generations in Japan.

“People are also far away from the truth of the atomic-bomb attacks in Japan. No difference” from Britain and other countries, Inazuka, 60, said.

Terumi Tanaka, secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, said he feels that fewer people understand even in Japan what atomic-bomb survivors and their children deal with, including the health concerns of the children.

Yamaguchi’s oldest daughter, Toshiko Yamasaki, expressed anger at the program, saying, “Didn’t the personalities and guests of the program think: Anybody could fall victim to a similar nuclear attack even tomorrow.”

But Yamasaki also said Yamaguchi, who died at 93 in January 2010, would not have gotten angry but instead would have been disappointed to see the BBC program, saying something like, “My wish (for peace) did not reach them.”

Inazuka will release a documentary on Yamaguchi’s life as a double hibakusha this summer. According to Nagasaki City Hall, there were 34 double hibakusha, including those who have died.

“There are many double atomic-bomb survivors who do not dare come forward as they feel guilty, given that there have been many who were killed in one attack,” Inazuka said. “If those involved in the BBC program had been faced with what Yamaguchi experienced, they would not have talked about the survivors that way.”