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Sat, 08/02/2008 - 09:14
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FOCUS: Fading memory, glimmer of hope on 63rd anniv. of atomic bombings

TOKYO, Aug. 2 Kyodo - As the world marks the 63rd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prominent American scholars and analysts are worried about the fading memory of the bombings but offer guarded optimism about a future free of nuclear weapons.

As a whole, however, these experts, in recent interviews with Kyodo News, painted a realistic view about the future direction of the world characterized by the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and limited success in ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

''The memory of the bomb droppings is getting further and further, more and more distant. Even the threat of nuclear weapons has become more and more distant,'' observes Susan Lindee, a professor of the history and sociology ofscience at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Pointing out that with each passing year, domestic and international interest in the atomic bombings is waning, she said, ''It's become something that people don't worry about on an everyday basis. It doesn't seem like a big issue. It still is, but it may not seem that way, certainly to the American public.'' John Loretz, program director of International Physicians for the Prevention ofNuclear War in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers a similar view.

''Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened 63 years ago and it's starting to feel like ancient history. It's hard to have emotional connection with people and events that happened several generations ago,'' he said. Citing the importance of survivors continuing to relate their stories, Loretz said, ''The fact that the survivors are still with us, continue to go out and meet people and tell their stories and make this real to people is very important.'' Jonathan Schell, a journalist and nuclear arms analyst in New York, said the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States have led some Americans to have''curiosity at the very least about the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They are freer to relate. Because they do have a fear that their own city might be destroyed in a nuclear blast.'' Loretz said that the institutional U.S. policy on the 1945 atomic bombings ''has consistently been and remains to this day that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the war.'' According to this reasoning, the bombings were justified because they saved more Americans as well as Japanese. ''There is so much evidence now to the contrary. That's just an insupportable argument anymore. But that'scontroversial,'' he said.

''Hiroshima and Nagasaki still lie uneasy on the American conscience. Any attempt to get rid of nuclear weapons really would be in a certain sense a struggle for the soul of the United States,'' Schell said. ''But I feel that there probably is a sign of receptivity and greater openness to reconsidering that question. I don't think they are necessarily antinuclear but they are getting interested in it. They want to know what it's all about.'' Loretz seemed cautiously optimistic about the disarmament movement, saying, ''The civil society movements that are coming together around the nuclear issue are providing a lot of the substance of ideas for how to get there. And I think that's the hopeful thing.'' He also said, ''We are in a far better position than we've been in for maybe more than 20 years. Certainly since the end of the Cold War to really get somewhere with this issue and make an impact. The elements we are doing that are certainly in place.'' He welcomes the U.S. decision to remove North Korea from the list of terror-sponsoring states. ''I think that's something that they should have done all along,'' he said. ''Although it's a small step forward, what this whole episode has shown is that diplomacy really does work. It really is the way to try to resolve these problems even with a country that's as isolated and as difficult to work with as the DPRK.'' The DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is North Korea's officialname.

Lindee seems less optimistic. ''Nuclear free, to me, I don't mean to be cynical, sounds unattainable to me. I don't see how we can get there,'' she said. ''I think the only way to get to a nuclear-free world would be to get to a world in which the industrialized, militarized, mass production system upon which modern life depends collapses.'' In the foreseeable future, Lindee predicts, ''I think we could be heading forward where the emphasis and the expenditure on nuclear weapons will go down, at least on the part of the United States.'' Schell also expressed guarded optimism. ''There are tides of sanity in this world that are quiet but run deep on the nuclear issue. And I can easilyimagine them prevailing,'' he said.

In the short run, Loretz says a change in government will have a positive effect on disarmament and other diplomatic issues. ''When we have a new president in office, we will see some modest positive efforts. No matter what,things will get better,'' he said.

''We will engage more actively with the rest of the world. We won't see this arrogance in American foreign policy that we have seen under (President GeorgeW.) Bush,'' he added.