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2008年12月11日 (木)


(Mainichi Japan) December 10, 2008
Troubled minds of A-bomb victims left in limbo



Dec. 8 marked the 67th anniversary of the outbreak of the Pacific War, but many people still suffer from the psychological trauma brought on by that conflict. In October, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revealed that 77 veterans suffered from war-related psychiatric disorders in fiscal 2007, and that 42 of them were hospitalized. This, however, represents only a portion of those who have been traumatized by war.


I have visited and spoken with A-bomb victims who have been in mental hospitals for many years, and I heard tales of unending agony. A thorough investigation of the relationship between wars and mental disorders is indispensable if we are to understand the reality of war. Meanwhile, however, the actual victims are passing away in a state of neglect, and the problem of their existence is being relegated to the shadows of history.


A hospital in Hiroshima Prefecture permitted me to visit its psychiatric ward, which I found to be eerily silent on my first visit. There were no other visitors. "Many patients here are not visited by their families at all. They've been abandoned," said the hospital director with a sigh.


I interviewed an 86-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia 18 years after the A-bomb. She has been hospitalized for 45 years. Medically speaking, there is no clear link between the bombing and her mental disorder. The woman's 79-year-old sister-in-law says, however, that her husband (the woman's brother, who passed away in March) often declared that his sister's illness had to do with the shock of witnessing the horrors of the bomb.


I asked the woman to tell me what she had seen, but halfway through, she lapsed into silence with bowed head. This happened when she was telling me how she walked home from where she was when the bomb fell. I visited her again on another day, but she fell silent again at the same part of her story. I visited former colleagues of hers and various relatives, but never found out what happened.


My interviews concluded, the day came for me to return to Osaka. "Please let me go home," the women begged me, bowing repeatedly. I could only stand there in silence.


Three years ago, when I was working at our Hiroshima bureau and covering atomic bomb-related news, I encountered a man who had obviously become mentally distressed because of something that happened just before the death of his younger sister. He found his little sister barely alive, immediately after the bombing. The whole town was in ruins and there was no way to save her. The man insisted that he only wanted to relieve her suffering.


"I poured some broth from a can into her mouth to help her die and she choked to death," he declared. But he immediately contradicted himself to say, "She would have died in any case." I talked to him for nearly six hours, but he kept repeating the same story over and over, with unfocused eyes. I visited him again the next day, and it was the same thing, over and over. He had lost himself at the threshold of truth and untruth.


"I wish I had died in the bombing, too," he finally moaned in a choked voice. I will never forget the dark weight of that desperate cry.


The Special Support Law for War Invalids certifies war veterans who have been disabled to a certain degree or who are in need of medical treatment, and qualifies them for medical benefits. The government is therefore aware of the number of psychologically disabled veterans among the 983 who received medical benefits in fiscal 2007. However, with regard to the 229,682 people who received disability pensions under the Pension Law, or with regard to the 2,339 people who received disability benefits under the Law to Assist Families of the War Dead or War Disabled, these have not been categorized according to their illness or injury, which means there is no way of knowing how many of them suffer from mental disorders.


Masao Nakazawa, 71, psychiatrist and author of "Hibakusha no kokoro no kizu wo otte" (Delving into the troubled minds of A-bomb victims), says that the world became aware of problems such as "shell shock" and "battle fatigue" when large numbers of World War I soldiers began to suffer from psychological distress. When similar aftereffects were observed among many Vietnam veterans, the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was born. In Japan, however, mental suffering of this kind gained attention only after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and studies of people who have experienced war have been long neglected.


With regard to civilian victims, a small district of Nagasaki is the only place that has even bothered to confirm their existence. Just this fiscal year, Hiroshima launched an investigation into the psychological effects of the bomb. "The effects of the atomic bomb, still eating away at the minds and bodies of the hibakusha, have for decades been so underestimated," said Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba in this summer's peace declaration. Victims not only of the atomic bomb, but of the many fire bombings that took place all over Japan, have also been left to suffer in neglect.


It is probably too late to reveal all of the facts through an investigation. Too many of the sufferers and their relations have died. However, the burden on the families of remaining sufferers is great and calls are growing for discussion about the need for more social relief. For example, the sister-in-law of the long-hospitalized woman earlier mentioned has been digging into her own pension for years in order to send money to her husband's sister. A reticent woman, it took many efforts to persuade her to speak with me at all: "Well, if it will be of some help in telling future generations about the war," she finally said. I, for one, believe that we must redouble our efforts to document the reality of war, as a lesson toward a better future. ("As I See It," by Hiromi Makino, Osaka City News Department)


毎日新聞 2008129日 東京朝刊


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