September 26, 2006
In spite of my intense interest in nuclear issues, I have never been able to go to Hiroshima. So, it was a memorable moment when a journalist from Hiroshima visited us at The Progressive on September 25.
It is one of the fringe benefits of working here that you get to meet interesting people, and over the years I have been introduced toand even written aboutother fascinating visitors. (See an April 2005 column I did about a group of Bangladeshi garment workers that came by.)
But the encounter with Akira Tashiro, senior staff writer and special project editor at The Chugoku Shimbun, the Hiroshima city daily, was unique.
Tashiro has been at the newspaper since 1972, and has done wonderful work on a number of fronts. His writing seems to be among the most progressive in Japan, especially when it concerns nuclear weapons. Perhaps this is to be expected.
“One hundred and thirteen of a staff of 350 died when the bomb dropped,” he says of his newspaper. To be anti-nuclear, he says, “is only natural for us.” (Tashiro added that the above casualty number does not include people who died in the years subsequent due to the after effects of radiation.)
Tashiro’s paper is no small-town newsletter. It has a circulation of 720,000, he informed us, and is among the hundred-largest newspapers in the world, according to the World Association of Newspapers. It’s wonderful, then, that it is doing such good work.
Tashiro himself has undertaken some remarkable assignments. During the 1980s, he did an extensive project on Star Wars, aka, the Strategic Defense Initiative, for which he interviewed the likes of Edward Teller and Robert McNamara. (Teller was adamantly insistent that Japan also join in the scheme, Tashiro says, because he wanted Japanese funding for his boondoggle. That interview was “confrontational,” he remembers.)
In the early ’90s, Tashiro did a series of articles on the effects of Depleted Uranium on returning Gulf War soldiers. For this, he interviewed numerous veterans and catalogued the multiple effects of Gulf War Syndrome. Tashiro still can’t believe that, in spite of all the evidence, the Pentagon still officially denies that the syndrome actually exists.
Tashiro is currently in the United States for a few months to work on his existing project—the changes the country has undergone since September 11. He has been traveling the country speaking with people from all backgrounds.
Tashiro’s writings have had a concrete impact back home. His Depleted Uranium series helped initiate awareness about an issue that almost no one in Japan had heard about, he says. And, after India and Pakistan detonated their bombs in 1998, an article of his led to a delegation of Japanese peace activists and bomb survivors visiting both countries. It also helped create a project that invites Indian and Pakistani youth to Hiroshima every year.
Tashiro is critical of current politicians in Japan, including the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The leaders are rightwing and don’t want to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki because that raises uncomfortable questions, he says. Due to this, the younger generation, including in Hiroshima itself, is slowly forgetting what happened sixty-one years ago, he says.
Tashiro is also disapproving of the belligerent attitude that many in Japan and the United States have toward North Korea, saying that the only solution to the standoff is by engaging the country and its leadership, both directly and through South Korea. He says that North Korea can be deterred by traditional means because it knows it would be annihilated if it used its nuclear weapons.
It was a real privilege listening to Tashiro expound on his work and his views. The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima was a cataclysmic moment in modern history, and it is heartening to know that some people are dedicating their life’s work to ensure that we don’t let another Hiroshima happen. Meeting Akira Tashiro was a real honor. It was like a part of Hiroshima visiting us.