HIROSHIMA — A New York retiree who lost her brother in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center participated Tuesday in the 57th memorial service for the 1945 atomic bombing here, sharing wishes for a world without violence. Rita Lasar, 70, is a member of the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of relatives of the terror victims seeking nonviolent solutions to conflict. She also visited Afghanistan earlier this year and met people who lost relatives in U.S. airstrikes.
When she spoke last week during a convention in Hiroshima held by an antinuclear organization, Lasar harshly criticized the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, which by some accounts has taken more civilian lives than did the terror attacks in the U.S.
She also sharply criticized the George W. Bush administration’s stance symbolized by the phrase, “You’re either with us or against us.”
“Now I spend my time trying to get my fellow countrywomen and men to join the world community again, to trust again, to comprehend that there are millions of people out there, like you, who understand all too well the horror of Sept. 11th, having experienced that horror yourselves on a far greater scale,” she said.
Her visit came at a time when pacifism in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was the target of U.S. atomic bombing on Aug. 9, 1945, has flagged in adverse winds since last fall.
Hibakusha mostly seem disappointed by America’s military response to terrorism. Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba singled out the Bush administration for trampling the spirit of nonviolent reconciliation cherished for decades by citizens here.
Antinuclear organizations have also denounced the Bush administration for maintaining an option to use nuclear weapons against its enemies.
And yet amid the increase in tensions flaring up around the world, when even Japan, despite its war-renouncing Constitution, is lending logistic support to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and looking to enact attack-response legislation, people are turning up at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in increasing numbers.
The number of students visiting the museum increased last year for the first time in 11 years, according to museum statistics.
The number of high schools that chose it as a school excursion destination increased by 48 percent after Sept. 11 from the previous year, as concerns over the safety of traveling abroad also grew.
Director Minoru Hataguchi said the museum believes many schools changed their destinations from foreign countries and Okinawa — host to many U.S. military installations — to Hiroshima “as a venue for peace studies.”
Younger people in the U.S. also have a keen desire to learn about war and peace, said Haruko Moritaki, a member of a delegation of hibakusha and peace activists from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
When the group visited a high school in Atlanta in June to relate their A-bomb experiences, the session was suddenly canceled at the instruction of the local board of education, she said.
The activities of the delegation were regarded by the authorities as “too political,” based on the group’s flier, which included criticism of the Bush administration’s policies, Moritaki said.
But a leader of a local nongovernmental organization said that she was pleased by the enthusiasm Atlanta teenagers showed for learning about world history.
Although members of the delegation were kept off school property by guards, many students approached them and asked to hear their story, she said.
“Hibakusha and students gathered here and there in circles for about two hours,” she said.
Moritaki reunited in Hiroshima with Lasar, whom she met in New York during the group’s U.S. tour.
“We are inspired by her actions, and I believe she can learn something from Hiroshima, too,” Moritaki said. “We need to create a force (for peace activities) more at the level of ordinary people.”