‘Humanity is not foolish’: 92-yr-old Hiroshima A-bomb survivor fights for nuclear abolition using peace education

(Reposted from: The Mainichi, July 10, 2023)

HIROSHIMA — “Humanity is not foolish. Nuclear weapons will be abolished someday.”

Such were the thoughts of a 14-year-old boy, who was exposed to radiation from the wartime atomic bombing of Hiroshima, immediately after the war’s end. Having had his hopes repeatedly dashed, that boy is now over 90 years old.

Hiromu Morishita, 92, a resident of Hiroshima’s Saeki Ward, who has shared his experience of the atomic bombing around the world and has been involved in the campaign for nuclear abolition, was glued to the TV watching a broadcast of the Group of Seven (G7) summit at his home in May.

After visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the G7 leaders looked downcast and somber as they walked to the cenotaph for the A-bomb victims in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Morishita thought that the museum’s exhibits and the testimonies of A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha, must have touched their hearts, and he hoped that the leaders would initiate concrete action. However, their joint “G7 Leaders’ Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament,” endorsed nuclear deterrence, leaving him with an unsettled feeling.

Morishita experienced the atomic bombing at the west end of Tsurumi Bridge, about 1.5 kilometers southeast of the hypocenter. He was in his third year of junior high school at the time, and people had been preparing to tear down buildings to prevent the spread of fire from air raids. Morishita suffered severe burns to his face and neck. The remains of his mother, reduced to a skeleton, were found in the charred ruins of their home.

In 1957, Morishita was hired by the Hiroshima Prefectural Government as a teacher and taught calligraphy at prefectural high schools. Since 1963, he has conducted an annual survey of high school students’ attitudes toward the atomic bombing and reflected the results in peace education. With fellow teachers, he created a supplementary reader for peace education, and repeatedly revised it.

Behind his enthusiasm for peace education lay a kind of “warning” to himself, triggered by the movie “Hiroshima.” The 1953 film, in which citizens, students, and teachers participated as extras, depicted the moment of the atomic bombing and the suffering of the hibakusha that followed. When Morishita saw the film for the first time, he was not moved by it, thinking, “This is not how reality is.” But when he saw it again several years later, he felt that the devastation was depicted realistically. “I became afraid that my memories were fading as well,” he recalled.

In his home, he has a large amount of materials used in peace education and nuclear abolition campaigns, with some even piled up in his closet. Among them are letters exchanged with American peace activist Barbara Reynolds (1915-1990). Reynolds was named a special honorary citizen of Hiroshima for her efforts to promote the A-bombed city to the world through her peace tours with A-bomb survivors. Volunteers now visit Morishita’s home regularly to catalog and digitize such materials.

In 2004, Morishita gave testimony of his A-bomb experience in Russia and Ukraine. Students studying Japanese at university keenly listened to his story.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in June that Moscow would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, adding to the chaos of the invasion of Ukraine. Nearly 20 years have passed since Morishita gave lectures in Russia and Ukraine. Morishita said, “Some of those students may now have children. Their grief is my grief, too.”

The Japanese government remains reluctant to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Meanwhile, in June, the Diet passed and enacted a law to secure defense funds that will allow a substantial increase in defense spending.

When asked if a future in which nuclear weapons are eliminated will ever come, Morishita replied, “The invasion of Ukraine has deepened the conflict in the world, and I feel, ‘What can I do?’ But I still have hope that ‘humanity is not foolish,’ and I want to hold on to that hope.”

(Japanese original by Kensuke Yaoi, Hiroshima Bureau)


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