We Must Voice Dissent
An Interview with a Japanese Scholar and Activist Ichirou Tanaka
by Josh Frank

February 21, 2004

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Ichirou Tanaka is an elder, scholar, activist and teacher living in Tokyo and Nagano Japan. He was recently visiting New York City with his wife Yuko. They performed with their musical choir at Carnegie Hall. This interview took place at the Beacon Hotel on December 2nd 2003. Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.

Josh Frank: Can you tell us a little bit about your memory of being in Japan during World War II.

Tanaka: I was born in the suburb of Osaka City in 1935, so I was about ten years old when the Second World War ended, by then I was living in Tokyo. I still remember when I heard my dad was killed during the war; I was just a little boy. I vividly remember how I felt. I felt, as though my heart was going to explode, I was so sad. I hated the war very very much. How come our family became a victim? After that it was very difficult for my family to eat, so my mom wrestled with finding food in the suburb of the town we lived in. We were very poor and malnourished. Sometimes we had nothing to eat, we were forced to stay in the house all day, doing nothing, just lying on the bed. It was a very hard time for us.

Frank: You say you hated the war, did you have animosity towards the US or Germany? Did you blame anybody for the death of your father?

Tanaka: I hated the war itself, not America or any other country, I just hated the action of war, killing each other, bombs, it is all so evil.

Frank: What do you remember of the horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Tanaka: There was so much misery as a result of Truman using a nuclear weapon. When I visited Hiroshima on a school excursion shortly after the bombing, I came to grips with my feelings. There was no escaping the horror of that horrible bomb. I remember the scenes of people screaming for water, and jumping into the polluted river. I hurt so much seeing this pain.

Their faces so … I can’t express what I felt … I was miserable. Every summer since I was 15, many people from all over the country meet and pay respect to the lives lost during the dropping of the atomic bomb. We give presents and pray for the lives lost. I hope, no more Hiroshima, no more atomic bomb. There is no place for such hate in this world. I would like to insist; we are all humans living in only one world. If we can find somebody who has suffered we should support and help them. That is our duty as human beings. There is so much destruction from war. Human tolls, environment, our lives are damaged. A country can never truly heal after such a brutal war. Our buildings may be built back, but our souls will forever be hurt.

War must end. In the world now there is still so much hatred. In Israel and Palestine, Iraq, parts of Africa, there is still so much pain.

Frank: What do role do you see America and Japan playing in this present day conflicts? Indeed the US initiated the war in Iraq, and as you know America financially supports Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Tanaka: First of all, let me tell you about the Japanese situation. We have two main factions in Japan. One supports America, and the other detests US imperialism. Sometimes we must say no to the US. Japanese way of thinking is to go along with the US, but that is fool thinking. We must say no when it is wrong. Japanese armies are soon to be dispatched to Iraq. Recently a Japanese diplomat was killed in Iraq. I can understand the pain his family must be feeling. I have [had] the same experience. However we should not be there. The war was wrong for many reasons. The Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should stop the dispatch of our armies, because in Iraq the situation in horrific. We should not ally ourselves with the US in this case. This is my opinion. On the other hand America should retreat and pull out all troops at once. They clearly are not as welcomed as they thought they would be. After that the world community must condemn the US for invading Iraq.

Frank: Do you believe the attacks of 9/11 here in New York were done in retaliation to US policies in the Middle East?

Tanaka: I can understand the hatred the terrorists must have felt. But their actions were surely not justified. This is my first time I have been back to New York since that horrible event. I just visited ground zero with my wife, and I had a sobering reaction. So many people suffered. But I was happy to see the hope that still exists in the community. Some buildings are still caked with soot. Others are still not mended. I am sure the hearts of the victims are not either. Some of the American people enjoy their prosperities. They use lots of energy. But others suffer horrible poverty. It is amazing how rich America is, but how poor others are. I feel America elites feel the same way about the global community. They seem to be indifferent to so much of the suffering, and fail to see how they too are to blame. How they are culpable.

If Americans really understood war they would not have supported the Bush invading Iraq. Many would also be searching for ways to adopt Iraqi children who have lost their parents to America’s war.

Frank: What do you think can be done to help make sure such atrocities do not continue to take place? What should be our role, Japan and the US, so we don’t live with these threats of hostility and hate?

Tanaka: Before I talk about that I want to mention one thing. At the beginning of this Iraq war, how they discussed war, America that is, was so quick to decide. They were set on war from the beginning. It seemed the Democrats were just as much as the Republicans. There were no patience.

Patience is very important during times of conflict and discussions. Had America been more patient, this war would never have happened. But America got its way as they usually do.

Frank: But isn’t this typical of US policy? To disregard international law and diplomacy, in order to get what it wants?

Tanaka: Of course. France and Germany opposed the decisions, so they have not been so helpful. If countries continue to oppose US imperialism, the US will be forced to curb their ways. The US can only disregard others for so long before it comes back, what’s the CIA term for this sort of thing?

Frank: Blowback?

Tanaka: Yes, blowback. US policy cannot continue without ramifications. As I said before America should go back to the drawing table, because their foreign policy greatly ignores the millions that suffer throughout the world. America is so wealthy yet so arrogant with its wealth.

Frank: Can we go back to the Israel/Palestine conflict? As the US supports Israel with its economic support, what should the US do here?

Tanaka: America plain and simple, should not support Israel. America should be the mediator I think, but there cannot be mediation if America supports one side. America sides with Israel. At this point they should do much much more for Palestine. According to recent news, your President is so concerned about the current election. Both parties pander for the Jewish vote, which unfortunately seems to side with Israel in the conflict. Of course many do not, and they of course, should be commended. You would believe that since the Jewish people have experienced so much discrimination and pain, that they would realize what it is they are inflicting as they occupy a defenseless people, as suicide bombs are their only defense. This is wrong of course, for violence is cyclical. But they believe they have no other option. I think it is an act of desperation. Israel has missiles, nuclear weapons, tanks, guns, and Palestinians have nothing. Very uneven.

Frank: What can Japan do in this conflict?

Tanaka: Japan should not endorse the Israeli occupation. Imperialism should be denounced at every turn. American people, first of all, not only American people, but also Japanese people must awaken to stop the war. They must take action. Direct action, protests sit-ins. This must be done to raise awareness of what is going on. These voices from all over the world must affect the leadership in their countries.

Recently Japan had a national election, only one month ago, the Prime Minister, who is conservative won by a slim margin. So like America, Japan has yet to embrace progressive ideas. But I hope it soon changes. Japanese attitudes must be changed. To do this, we must support progressive parties, and we must do action. Your country must do the same. Japan’s situation is quite similar as America’s, as there are little options for alternatives in the politics. This just shows the actions we must take. We must voice our dissent. Do not give in, and do not give up hope that we can make a difference.

Frank: Thank you so much for meeting with me Ichirou.

Tanaka: It was a pleasure.

Ichirou Tanaka can be reached at joyisland@nyc.odn.ne.jp

Josh Frank is a writer and activist living in New York, he welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.

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