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Friday, Aug. 10, 2012

Foundation of a noble response to devastation

Special to The Japan Times

"When others speak all manner of evil things against thee, return not evil for evil, but rather reflect that thou was not more faithful in the discharge of thy duties." — Ogawa Rissho (1649-96), as quoted by Inazo Nitobe in "Bushido," Charles E. Tuttle Co. (1905).

On Aug. 6, 1945, at approximately 8:15 a.m., a bomb exploded in a ferocious nuclear mushroom cloud 600 meters over the skies of Hiroshima, to be followed by another similar event on Aug. 9 over Nagasaki.

The clouds stretched kilometer upon kilometer over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in western and southern Japan, vaporizing all in its path from buildings to streets and, most painfully, the people crowding them.

Mental images and depictions relayed to us by survivors depict "skeletons" crawling on the ground — desperate, hopelessly in search for help, dripping glass-ridden melted skin — for kilometers stretching around the epicenter of the explosion.

In the moments that followed the blast in Hiroshima, 66,000 human beings perished and another 69,000 were injured to varying degrees. In the months and years that followed the bombing of Hiroshima, the effects of radiation-infected burns, the "A-Bomb disease" and leukemia claimed the lives of an additional 200,000 people.

It would pain most people to see such treatment inflicted on dogs. Yet for one reason or another, the same effects on hundreds of thousands of beautiful, living humans have been accepted by many.

How is it that a people so devastated could emerge as one of the most peaceful — internally and externally — on earth today? The Bushido-oriented response of Japanese civilization doubles as a lesson we can adopt at a time of catastrophe. There are two essential parts to this answer, and both are built upon values deeply entrenched in Japanese culture: proactivity and an unwavering respect for human life.

Maintaining a proactive attitude toward agents in a situation, regardless of the circumstances, and a belief in the premise that any current state is a direct result of one's former actions is the only way one can take control and use a negative situation to his or her advantage. Analyzing the acts leading to the doorstep of catastrophe or failure is essential to the process of learning from past mistakes so as to avoid revisiting similar circumstances.

This value, rooted in the evolved ways of the Japanese samurai, to this day runs deep in Japanese culture. Belief in and the incorporation of this concept in our process of thought is tantamount to assigning control of whatever situation we find ourselves in to none other than ourselves.

From there, the Japanese did not stop at incorporating lessons learnt from past mistakes; they then combined this value with an unwavering respect for human life.

The respect for human life is well-entrenched in Japanese culture, perhaps for no reason other than that Japan is poor in material natural resources. This value appreciates the beauty of people and is tormented at the awful desecration of a human being. The mix of proactivity with unwavering respect for human life brought about an understanding that in order to shatter the cycle of violence, "one need not retaliate after receiving a blow."

This response is embodied in the words of a grandmother who, after losing everything, lay dying in a hospital: "If there had been no war, there would have been no bomb."

These words, empowered by the shock of the first atomic bomb and its casualties, and by the personal sacrifice of one magnificent woman, continue to this day to shape the outlook of the great Japanese civilization.

I invite you to read and contemplate the peace declaration made in the name of the people of Hiroshima, signed Aug. 6,1948, by Mayor Shinzo Hamai (www.city.hiroshima.lg.jp/shimin/heiwa/pd1948e.html) as evidence of the immediate response to the bombing. Exactly two years after the bombing, the people of Hiroshima established the annual Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony to remind the world of the devastation that war can bring and to call for nuclear disarmament.

Hiroshima, the first city to be destroyed by a nuclear bomb, is today a center for international gatherings on peace as well as other social issues.

Every Hiroshima mayor, shouldering the responsibility of the international call for peace since 1947, presides over Mayors for Peace, an international organization for rallying cities and citizens to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons by 2020.

When the Japanese chose to respect the beauty of humanity by taking a proactive approach to a horrendous situation, they took control of the situation and successfully brought to an end a cycle of violence that could have entailed additional suffering and death. They also chose to make it their mission to reverse the course of the wheel of violence by proclaiming their city as the "International City of Peace."

Such a set of exemplary lessons should not be written off as an amusing story fitting only for yesterday. The lessons fit today's more-aware societies; for if history itself has taught us one lesson, it is that the key to not repeating history lies in understanding it.

I invite you to take time this year to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and attempt to relive the memories and lessons I found enclosed within and beyond the museum's walls.

Anas bin Ghanim Aljumaily, a U.S.-born Iraqi, resides in Japan. A graduate of Sophia University, he is an analyst with JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp.

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