Criticism leveled last month by Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba at the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has provoked a major reaction both at home and abroad.
Akiba said during his speech on Aug. 6, the 57th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city, “The United States government has no right to force Pax Americana on the rest of us or to unilaterally determine the fate of the world.”
According to Hiroshima municipal officials, the speech has inspired a flood of responses from the public.
“I read your Peace Declaration in a newspaper. It was so touching that tears fell from my eyes,” read one message sent to the city. “It is wonderful that you spoke to America that way.”
In total, the municipal government had received 229 responses to the Peace Declaration as of Aug. 30, mainly in the form of e-mail and letters.
Akiba spoke of the importance of pursuing a “path of reconciliation,” citing a speech made by President John F. Kennedy at American University in 1963 after the Cuban missile crisis.
“World peace . . . does not require that each man love his neighbor — it requires only that they live together with mutual tolerance,” Akiba said, again quoting Kennedy.
But Akiba’s words also have provoked anger, mainly from the United States, suggesting that for some at least, the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain an equivocal affair.
Of the 152 messages sent to the city from within Japan, 138 reportedly expressed support for the mayor’s remarks.
Of the 77 messages from overseas, 48 were favorable toward the speech and 24 were critical.
Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito also received several messages in support of his speech on the Aug. 9 anniversary of the atomic bombing of that city.
Ito criticized the U.S. government for refusing to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, citing the possibility of pre-emptive nuclear strikes and the withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.
“We are appalled by this series of unilateral actions taken by the government of the United States, actions that are also being condemned by people of sound judgment throughout the world,” Ito said.
Letters expressing sympathy toward Akiba’s remarks apparently reflect smoldering discontent among some Japanese — as well as a certain segment of the international community — over the hardline security policy pursued by the U.S. in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon just outside Washington.
“I am tired of the U.S. attitude that it can force its justice without question and walk all over the world to sell fights and missiles,” read one message translated from Japanese.
Another read, “Attacking unarmed citizens . . . how is it different from terrorists?”
Meanwhile, an e-mail message sent from the U.S. read, “Thank you for your courage to stand up to the hubris of our unilateralist government.”
The two municipal governments do not disclose any information that may lead to the identification of those who sent the messages.
Many Japanese respondents also turned their anger toward Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whom they think is servile to the White House.
Koizumi’s Cabinet quickly rammed a bill through the Diet allowing the Self-Defense Forces to provide U.S.-led forces fighting in Afghanistan with logistic support — a historical moment for Japan, whose postwar security policy has been bound by the war-renouncing Constitution.
Displeasure with the U.S. has also cropped up in recent media coverage of the leadup to the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Regardless of their political leanings, various newspapers, magazines and TV news shows have run features with titles such as “Why America is hated so much,” “Distrust of America” and “Questioning American justice.”
Meanwhile, the peace declarations made by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki mayors refueled the debate over the legitimacy of the atomic strikes on those cities, prompting some blunt reactions from America.
“I would hope that Japanese people consider the fact that their own government put them in harm’s way,” read one e-mail message sent from the U.S.
“While you are mourning your people lost in Hiroshima, why don’t you say you are sorry for Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War?”
Some messages sought to defend the position of the U.S. government following the Sept. 11 attacks: “For now and for all time, Americans will not beg the rest of the world for approval before defending her territory, people and interests.”
Many critics of Akiba’s speech pointed out that the mayor failed to mention any of the atrocities committed by the Japanese military during the war.
Other comments sent from abroad also indicate that apologies issued by Japanese prime ministers to other parts of Asia to this end are not widely known.
Masao Kunihiro, who advised Akiba on his speech, said the mayor’s remarks may have been appreciated by more people had it mentioned Japan’s past aggression in Asia.
It is unfortunate, however, if Akiba’s message has been taken as an “anti-American” one, said Kunihiro, a former House of Councilors member of the Social Democratic Party and a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities.
Kunihiro said he remembers his excitement when he listened to President Kennedy’s “Strategy of Peace” speech at American University in Washington.
“The ‘strategy of peace’ is exactly what we need now after Sept. 11,” said Kunihiro, adding that Kennedy’s speech helped drag the U.S. and the Soviet Union back from the brink of a nuclear war.
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