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Daughter of A-bomb survivor seeks peace through open-minded discussion and forgiveness

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mainichi– The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — the first ever international agreement to enforce an all-out ban on the development, possession, and use of nukes — is set to go into effect on Jan. 22, 2021. However, nuclear powers, including the United States and Russia, as well as Japan, which depends on the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, have not joined the pact.

The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed Akiko Mikamo, 59, a clinical psychologist based in San Diego, California, who wrote, “8:15: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness from Hiroshima” — about her A-bomb-survivor father — to seek her opinion on current developments surrounding the treaty. Mikamo was an executive producer on the film adaptation of the book, “8:15,” released on the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The following is an excerpt of Mikamo’s remarks to the Mainichi Shimbun.

I think very highly of the nuclear arms prohibition treaty entering into force, as it gives rise to a global standard for a full-fledged ban on nuclear weapons. However, the treaty does not include clauses on realistic measures to coax nuclear nations into getting rid of the atomic weapons, and it is possible that it will advance the clash between countries that ratified the treaty and nuclear powers that did not. Each and every one of us, along with the United Nations, must think about specific ways to reduce nuclear weapons, while considering the implementation of the treaty as a starting line.

I published “8:15: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness from Hiroshima” in the U.S. in 2013, and subsequently in Japan in 2014. The book, which contains the memories of my father Shinji, who had firsthand experience of the atomic bombing and passed away at age 94 in October 2020, was translated into four languages including Italian, and also spawned the 50-minute American film “8:15,” which was released in 2020.

At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, my father, who was 19 years old at the time, fell victim to the A-bomb while he was removing tiles from the roof of his house — 1.2 kilometers east-northeast of the hypocenter. He sustained severe burns all over his body and lost half of his right ear. His own father also died, and Shinji went on to initially live alone. Despite this, he never said, “I hate America.” He must have also had the desire to push forward in any way possible. What I wanted to convey the most in my book is the nature of forgiveness, which allows us to come to terms with our inner feelings and move forward.

My father, who had talked about his atomic bombing experience at elementary schools and other places until a few years ago, always said, “Nuclear weapons should be abolished.” Meanwhile, he was also understanding of the situations of the U.S. and Russia that can’t dispose of their nuclear weapons right away. He encouraged the young generation to think about what can be done to abolish nuclear arms from a long-term perspective, while considering the reasons why nuclear power countries are armed with such weapons.

The reality in the U.S. is that there are many people who don’t even know that a nuclear ban treaty exists. Many were taught that the atomic bombing was necessary to end the war, and believe that the lives of millions of U.S. soldiers were saved thanks to its use, and that it even helped the Japanese.

The San Diego peace-promoting nonprofit, for which I serve as president, held a ceremony where we rang a peace bell on Aug. 6, 2010, at the same time as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. Even though our objective was to call for people to uphold a society free of nuclear weapons, we saw hundreds of social media posts criticizing the ceremony, which was featured in the news. Their comments included that America only helped Japan out and that we were holding grudges even after 65 years. Even now, when I speak out about Hiroshima on Facebook and other platforms, the comment section overflows with criticism.

However, views surrounding the atomic bombing seem to have been changing, especially among younger people. There are more and more people in their 20s who post online saying that they sensed the cruelty of humanity when visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, like they did at the Auschwitz memorial. They also commented that the atomic bombing is something that must not happen ever again. I also think there are an increasing number of people who seek to abolish nuclear arms as they view them as inhumane.

Taking into consideration the different situations of each country, viewing matters from various angles is important for attaining peace. With the spread of the internet, it has become relatively easy to know the opinions of those with opposing views. Even if you don’t agree with the other party’s viewpoint, the attempt to understand them allows extra room to have discussions on fostering peace.

Mr. Joe Biden, who will officially become the next U.S. president on Jan. 20, has been strongly pushing for policies to protect the environment. Logically speaking, a nuclear war is unacceptable in order to protect the environment, and it is hoped that America’s nuclear arms will be reduced. However, more than anything else, President-elect Biden must first unify the country which has become greatly divided under the administration of President Donald Trump, and there are also numerous issues facing the United States, such as coronavirus countermeasures and economic measures. I don’t know how much progress we can make in our goal to abolish nuclear weapons in the next four years. I hope for a world where those across the globe, including Japanese people, will think about peace as we move forward, while also bearing such circumstances in mind.

I personally believe that it’s wrong for Japan, the only country to have experienced wartime atomic bombing, to not ratify the nuclear arms prohibition treaty. There may be various reasons behind the decision, but I’d like Japan to take more leadership, by speaking up in the U.N. among other actions, in order to build a peaceful world.

Akiko Mikamo was born in the city of Hiroshima in 1961 to parents who both survived the atomic bombing. She went to the U.S. in 1989 to study at a graduate school after earning a degree from Hiroshima University’s School of Education, and became a clinical psychologist. She currently resides in San Diego, and is the president of the nonprofit organization San Diego-Wish Worldwide Initiative to Safeguard Humanity.