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The Nagasaki Peace Discourse

City Hall and the Quest for a Nuclear Free World

SERIES: Asia Briefings

With some 20,000 or more people killed instantly in the atomic bombing of 9 August 1945, an additional 40,000 or more dying from radiation and related illnesses in the coming days and weeks, and with myriad others exposed to radiation effects, Nagasaki today is a city that remembers and reminds. But this was not always the case—in contrast with Hiroshima as the first atom bombed city, Nagasaki long stood out for the piety of its significant and historically persecuted Catholic population. New voices and new narratives would eventually emerge, however, especially among the surviving victims or hibakusha, as well as among local politicians, one who famously dared to challenge national myths surrounding war culpability.

Remembrance, the struggle for recognition on the part of the victims, and the even greater struggle waged by City Hall in Nagasaki to bring to world attention the threat of nuclear weapons, comes to the heart of this book. This we term the Nagasaki peace discourse. Yet, other narratives vie with the ‘idealist’ view, namely that of the ‘realists’ and, specific to Japan, the ‘nationalists’. Essentially the realists welcome the nuclear umbrella provided by the US-Japan Treaty system and have eagerly embraced civilian nuclear power under the ‘atoms-for-peace’ slogan. On their part, the nationalists perceive Japan’s ‘peace constitution’ as ripe for revision, looking ahead to a legal Self Defense Force and, for some, a ‘normal’ and even a nuclear-armed Japan. In the light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 11 March 2011, however, City Hall in Nagasaki cannot ignore the risks of civilian nuclear power or even the nation's mounting stockpile of plutonium. With Nagasaki prefecture host to the second largest US naval base in Japan, as became apparent with the 2017–18 Korean missile crisis, neither can the city insulate itself from international politics. Seventy and more years on from the atomic bombings, Hiroshima and, in subtly different ways, Nagasaki, have a sombre message to convey. This is in no better way encapsulated than in the popular civil society slogan, ‘No! More! Hibakusha!’

Geoffrey Gunn is an emeritus professor at Nagasaki University. He is a widely written scholar in Asian history, most notably on the independence struggles in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. His works on Southeast Asia include Monarchical Manipulation in Cambodia, Political Struggles in Laos, 1930–1954, Rebellion in Laos, and Rice Wars in Colonial Vietnam. He has also published on the early economic history of Nagasaki (Brill) and is a contributor to and an editor of The Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus (
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