President Trump’s increasingly hawkish statements on North Korean relations, including his dangerous “all options are on the table” rhetoric, are clear to me as a Japanese American to refer to the use of nuclear weapons.
Because of the unresolved historical tensions between North Korea, the United States, and Japan, it is highly likely that North Korea would target U.S. interests in Japan in addition to any attack on South Korea. This would embroil Japan, a pacifist nation as mandated by the postwar constitution, in a regional conflict that might very well result in another atomic weapon being used against it.
For these reasons, it is both irresponsible and morally reprehensible for the president or his administration to make statements that could incite North Korean aggression. If Trump authorizes nuclear deterrence, the innocent civilians of South Korea and Japan – and their overseas relatives —will suffer dearly.
On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Combined death tolls, estimated at 150,000 to 200,000, were almost entirely civilian. In an instant, these atomic bombs indiscriminately incinerated schools, hospitals, banks, libraries, sporting arenas, residences, and the people inside them. Many who survived the initial blast eventually died of radiation poisoning or developed cancer later in life related to the radiation exposure.
If the same 20-kiloton bomb that detonated over Nagasaki were dropped on Philadelphia City Hall today, nearly all the buildings and people in Center City from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill and from Girard to Wharton Avenues would be annihilated.
The unfathomable burden of being the only country and ethnic community to have a nuclear weapon used against them permanently damaged the psyche of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans alike.
Before the Immigration Act of 1924 prohibited Asians from entering the U.S., Hiroshima and its neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture were the two largest regions from which Japanese immigrants originated. Of the approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in the U.S. during World War II, many lost relatives or family friends who lived in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Survivors in the U.S., Japan, and elsewhere are known as hibakusha or “bomb-affected persons.” Some have suffered medical abnormalities, others have children with birth defects, but all of them experience survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress to some extent. These mental health conditions often extend to their offspring, who suffer from acute intergenerational trauma in both their psyche and genetic memory.
There are no words to adequately describe the horrors of the experience that hibakusha witnessed firsthand. It is also difficult to convey the extent to which Japanese Americans continue to be affected by these atrocities. However, the explosive rhetoric of Trump presents a real danger to Japanese Americans’ overseas relatives and ancestral country of origin because of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Signed in 1960, the treaty between the two countries states that any attack against Japan or the U.S. perpetrated within Japanese territorial administration would require both to act to meet the common danger.
As a Japanese American and a member of Gov. Wolf’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, I implore the Trump administration to cease use of inflammatory language that suggests the use of nuclear weapons, and to instead prioritize a peaceful resolution to deescalate threats of war in the Korean Peninsula.
Rob Buscher is a biracial Japanese American and member of Gov. Wolf’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. His great-grandparents immigrated from Hiroshima in the 1920s, and he has several elderly relatives who survived the atomic bomb.