HIROSHIMA, Japan >> Hiroshima’s appeal of “never again” on the 72nd anniversary Sunday of the world’s first atomic bomb attack has gained urgency as North Korea accelerates work on its nuclear weapons program, showing its growing prowess with increasingly frequent missile launches.
The two Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles North Korea test-fired in July appear to have major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago within their range. Such missiles could be armed with nuclear, biological or chemical warheads, although many experts say North Korea hasn’t fully mastered miniaturizing nuclear warheads and might not have the technology to ensure a warhead would survive re-entry into the atmosphere from space or even hit an intended target.
Such developments draw mixed feelings from Kim Ji Nho, a pro-Pyongyang ethnic Korean who was born in Hiroshima. Kim, 71, is a “hibakusha,” or atomic-bomb survivor, who was exposed to radiation when his mother, pregnant with him, went to the ruins of the city to search for a daughter who went missing in the blast. He grew up in a community of ethnic Koreans in the city and has a relative who had since moved to North Korea.
He is critical of the U.S., and says only dialogue, not military actions or threats, can resolve tensions. But regarding nuclear weapons, “We ‘hibakusha’ and our groups share a clear goal, which is to abolish nuclear weapons from the world,” Kim said. “Nuclear weapons should never be used.”
Like his father, many Koreans were brought to Hiroshima, a wartime military hub, as forced laborers during Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century. They and their descendants have endured outright discrimination by Japanese. So have A-bomb survivors: Kim’s father had told him to keep mum about his radiation exposure, because being “hibakusha” could only mean more trouble.
In his message to Hiroshima, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the presence of some 15,000 nuclear weapons along with “dangerous rhetoric regarding their use” has exacerbated these threats.
“Yet our dream of a world free of nuclear weapons remains far from reality,” he said. “The states possessing nuclear weapons have a special responsibility to undertake concrete and irreversible steps in nuclear disarmament.”
Ayaka Kajihara, 18, a college student, says she imagined her late grandmother, also a “hibakusha,” suffered greatly, though she was reluctant to discuss her past. Even so, she feels it was very important to learn what happened to the grandmother and her hometown 72 years ago.
More than 300,000 of the “hibakusha” have died since the attack, including 5,530 in the past year. The average age of the survivors is more than 81 years. Many suffer from long lasting effects of radiation.
“I hope more people from the rest of Japan and overseas will visit Hiroshima and just see and feel the reality of what the atomic bomb has done, and start from there,” she said. “Because that’s how I started thinking about peace — by meeting ‘hibakusha,’ including my grandmother and hearing their stories.”
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