I and Oliver Stone both spoke at Hiroshima on the anniversary of the first nuclear bombing in human history and we are slated to speak in two days at Nagasaki on the anniversary of the second nuclear attack. My speech is below in English (I will send the Japanese version later). These remain the most starkest of acts of state terror in Human history. I had seen images and video before that made me shudder but being in the City is different. At 8:15 AM on a sunny hot day we laid down next to the dome for three minutes with people from all backgrounds and I stared at the sky and tried to imagine through the tears the terror that came and exploded 600 meters directly above us in the sky 68 years ago. But how can one imagine the horror of dropping a nuclear weapon on a population incinerating and skeletonizing tens of thousands and leaving tens of thousands with burned body skin hanging in rags and worse. Harder to imagine yet is the darkness of the human hearts and minds that took the decisions to do that to fellow human beings.
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick explained eloquently about the real reasons for dropping the bombs instead of the mythology that is told in school books in America. But does that really make any difference on the horror of what Truman and his generals visited on humanity? Those of us in the medical field understand clinically what radiation poisoning does to the human body but politicians also know that and Truman had detailed reports from the earlier experiments. I met so many hibakushas (survivors of the nuclear blast) and their children and grandchildren. Many told us of the dramatic death of children by leukemia and other cancers and of the congenital deformities. It was more than we could take even as visitors so I can only begin to imagine the actual feelings of people here.
Clearly the monuments to victims were slanted strongly away from nationalism and war; something that reminded us that it is possible for victims to learn that war and nationalism are not the answer. I wished more people can learn that lesson and change the misleading pro-war pro-Zionist message of many holocaust museums to build instead a pro-peace structure.
On the positive side, we were thrilled to see so many children and youth taking the banner of peace. Middles school children collected signatures to ban nuclear weapons around the world. Hundreds of us marched to the electric company in town to ask that they stop using nuclear power (especially poignant after the disastrous Fukushima plant meltdown). Our colorful Palestinian Kuffiyas were welcomed among the colorful banners in our march. We felt love and peace. We saw alternating images of hope and pain and of beautiful people who face-up to right-wing politicians and the few racists who even deny what Japanese soldiers did in China and Korea. Like a roller-coaster, a tour of Japan brings mixed emotions.
As a visiting Palestinian I am struck most of all by the neatness and orderliness of the cities. Everything runs perfectly. Trains are accurate to the minute. Millions ride on these trains both within cities and between cities. Streets are clean and no walls or checkpoints stop us from freely moving around. It is all orderly and peaceful. Crossing streets on cues, trash in its receptacles, lines are straight, and cars and homes are clean and orderly. Just about everyone speaks in low tones and people are courteous to each other.
Japan like most countries is a society burdened by Western style capitalism. Here you see also things like McDonalds, Starbucks, prostitution, and corrupt politicians. Though more homogeneous than other countries, Japan is a very large country of 120 million people and even in a short visit one sees remarkable diversity of ideas and concepts. In Nagoya, we visited an educational table at the main square that tried to challenge the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (a US Dominated agreement favorable to corporations at the expense of people). The organizer of this table belonged to one of the few native communities of Japan, a great man by the name of Esaman. People stopped by bringing food and sharing stories. In the same square a lone young musician played his guitar asking for donations to build a school in a remote area of Pakistan.
In Nagoya, I attended a discussion of writings by Kobayashi Takiji. The audience were some 30 individuals of diverse background who put their shoes at the entrance of the lecture hall and wore red slippers as they listened intently to a retired bookstore seller discuss and pass around the books by Takiji. Takiji was born in 1903 and showed a talent for writing at an early age. His writings did not please authorities and he was fired from his job and eventually executed by the government at age 30 y.o. His most famous short novel is called Kanikōsen and it is a story about workers at a boat fishing for crabs. The story takes you into an incredible world of suffering of the workers, humanity to fellow workers, and cruelty of their boss. There seemed to be a revival of the interest in this genre of literature after the last Japanese economic bubble burst.
Many Japanese yearn for a more caring society and support global solidarity, including with Palestine. This was shown vividly in our visit to Nagoya and Hiroshima. I reflect on the people I met and saw in get-together, on the streets, in trains, and in restaurants. Here I would see people who reminded me of people I met in America, in Palestine and elsewhere. I thought someone should do a documentary on this carrying a camera around different countries to show that there are individuals in each country virtually twins with those living in other countries. Perhaps this film can bring us all closer to one another. In the meantime, I cannot wait for our upcoming visit to Nagasaki, Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto. And I cannot wait to go back to Palestine where hope against all odds still survives. Stay tuned.
Speech by Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh in Hiroshima on the 68th anniversary of the First Atomic Bomb
Kumbunwa and thank you for this invitation. It is a special honor for me to visit Japan. Here in Hiroshima we are most reminded of the horrors of war. Here we have a chance to reflect on the fact that there is no “good war”. We are reminded that nations do not win or lose wars. Wars cause the suffering of common people and makes rich people richer. Money wins wars, people lose wars. That is why President Eisenhauer warned about the power of the military-industrial complex. It is a power we were reminded of by Oliver Stone earlier today. It is this complex that was enriched as US taxpayers were left with 3 trillion dollars more in debt due to the criminal war on Iraq. And it was the same Truman that lied publicly about why he created the catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagazaki and also the catastrophe (Nakba) of Palestine.
War, as General Butler correctly observed, war is a racket. It is a way to make money for rich people at the expense of poor people. And that is why wars will continue unless common people revolt to stop them. And we the people were able to stop wars before for example in Vietnam and in South Africa. It is this power of the people that I am most optimistic about.
I am one of 12 million Palestinians in the world, 2/3rd of us are refugees or displaced people and the rest live under rule of a foreign government. How did this come about and how can we stop this war on the people?
Palestinians are the endogenous people of the Western Part of the Fertile Crescent in Western Asia. Key milestones in human civilization occurred in this Land of Canaan: animal and plant domestication, development of the alphabet, and development of laws and religions.
We had over 11,000 years of civilization with religious and cultural developments. Short attempts to transform Palestine into one thing or another failed. This included short lived attempts to make it all Christian or make it all Muslim or make it all Jewish. The European crusades were a good examples of this. But for 97% of our history, Palestine remained mutli-religious and mutli-cultural.
Since the late 19th century, the new political idea of Zionism was developed to create a “Jewish state” in Palestine. At that time less than 3% of the population in Palestine was Jewish. This Zionist colonization was aided by western countries notably England and more recently the USA.
An organized and ruthless project to ethnically cleanse the native Palestinians was organized resulting in countless massacres and total destruction of 530 Palestinian villages and towns. It is still the largest refugee crisis after World War II. In that sense my grandmother is a hibakusha.
Today 7 million Palestinians are refugees and five million of us still live on 8.3% of our historic land. The state of Israel was built on the destruction of Palestine. Israel has 55 laws that specifically discriminate against native Palestinians. It fulfills the international legal definition of an apartheid (racial discrimination) state.
Zionists like all other colonial imperial powers try to portray the victims as terrorists. European colonization always did that whether in the Americas or in Africa or in Asia. It maybe convenient to say that we are white civilized people who “circle the wagons” to protect ourselves from native savages. But the truth is that colonization is violence and 10 times more native civilians are killed than invading people.
I can tell you hundreds of stories of the brutality of occupation and colonization. I can tell you about home demolitions, about removal of people from their land, about murders, and about torture. I can tell you about breaking bones of Palestinian children, about using white phosphorous on schools and about Israel’s nuclear weapons. I can tell you about toxic waste dumped on Palestinian villages. I can tell you about prisoners held for years without seeing lawyers or judges.I could tell you about friends I lost killed in peaceful demonstrations. I could tell you my own family stories of suffering. But we do not have time.
I will tell you that Palestinians resisted for the past 100 years this onslaught. This Palestinian resistance took hundreds of forms, most of them unarmed. We had 13 uprisings, on average one every 10 years. South Africa under apartheid had a long struggle with 15 uprisings.
We Palestinians have been innovative in our struggle. We had the first demonstration in human history to use automobiles (cars) when in 1929 Palestinian women gathered 120 cars and drove down the old streets of Jerusalem. We lobbied the Ottoman Empire and the British empire to stop supporting colonialist Zionism. We engaged in tax revolts and other forms of civil disobedience.
We also asked and still ask the international community to help us. Tens of thousands joined our struggle. There is the International solidarity movement. As in the struggle against apartheid in south Africa, there is also the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). We ask you to join us because this struggle is the most important. It is important because it exposes clearly the hypocrisy of Western governments who speak of democracy and human rights but directly support racism, tyranny, war, and all violations of human rights.
We share this one small blue planet and the era of nuclear weapons when a country like Israel could destroy the earth, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must prove Haegel wrong when he wrote that “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” We do learn from our common history and today in the age of the internet, we are beginning a global uprising against nuclear weapons and against war. When people power is finally realized through global solidarity, we can not only win over war but also over poverty and over climate change and over apathy/indifference. That is really a future worth sacrificing for.
The Budhists tell us to have “joyful participation in the sorrows of this world”. Participation is the key. So indeed may you all have joyful participation in the sorrows of this world…. Arigatu, thank you, shukran, peace, salam.
This article was also featured on Counter Currents