The third shock from Hiroshima

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The third shock from Hiroshima

Kim Hyun-ki

The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo and a rotating correspondent of the paper.

On Aug. 3, 2005, I met Sunao Tsuboi, a survivor of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. The day was three days before the bombing on August 6 in 1945. The 80-year-old man in teary eyes stood before the A-bomb Dome in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. He recalled the dreadful day vividly. A sophomore of engineering at Hiroshima University at the time, he was just 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) off from the epicenter of the bombing. His body flew off 10 meters from the blast.

When he regained consciousness, his body was entirely burnt. He stumbled under the smoky skies cursing Americans for a week before he fell unconscious again. He was reawakened in 40 days, but could not get up for a year after his spinal cords were critically damaged from repeated radiotherapy. He also suffered from severe anemia. The scars within pained him even more. His heart was broken when his daughter had five miscarriages, as he felt he was to be blamed.

Eight years later, I experienced another Hiroshima shock. A senior journalist who no longer is with the JoongAng Ilbo had written a column arguing that the atomic bomb was “God’s punishment” and revenge of the Asians who were victimized by Japan’s militarism. The journalist criticized rightist leader Shinzo Abe and surmised that it may have been God’s will to decide that a gun shower was not enough for Japan.

The building of our office in Tokyo was encircled by vehicles of right-wing groups since the column was published. My Japanese friends also turned hostile. They asked me if those Koreans killed in the bombing in Hiroshima also were punished by God. I could hardly answer the question.

Over 20,000 ethnic Koreans died from the Hiroshima bombing, accounting for 13 percent of all deaths from that bombing. They had been taken to Japan for forced labor or fled from a hard living under Japan’s colonial rule back home. The cenotaph for Korean victims in the Peace Park epitomizes the tragedies, sufferings, and tears of Koreans.

Prince Yi Wu (1912-1945) was one of them. He was the son of a brother of Emperor Gojong. The prince resisted Japanese persuasions and supported the independence movement. He was killed in the blast of the atomic bomb on his way to work and was found dead the following day.

The tragedy for the ethnic Koreans continued with discrimination against the irradiated minority. The survivors and other Koreans living in Japan worked hard to erect a cenotaph in the park, but were rejected by the city government for a lack of space. Ethnic Koreans instead had to build one outside the park in 1970. After continued campaign, the monument moved into the memorial park in 1999. I can only pay respect to their persistence and altruism.

A G7 summit is held in Hiroshima next week. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida born in Hiroshima champions a world without nuclear weapons. During his visit to Seoul over the weekend, he promised to accompany President Yoon Suk Yeol when he pays tribute to Korean victims in the memorial park on the sidelines of the G7 summit in the city. It will be an uplifting moment for Koreans there.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama paid a visit to the peace park in 2016 during his visit to Hiroshima, but did not stop at the Korean corner just several minutes of walking in the park. Kishida may be demonstrating the will to create a nuclear weapon-free country together with Korea. But his accompaniment could also represent a symbolic atonement to Japan’s aggressions during the Pacific War and forced recruitment and labor of Koreans.

But we must accept what we should. Many Koreans want to hear a “remorseful repentance and heartfelt apology” from the 1998 statement by prime minister Keizo Obuchi again. But actions of 2023 could be more valuable towards future partnership. The two heads of state must take a first meaningful step towards that path under the skies of Hiroshima next week.
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