About the right to know the truth and the dignity of our lives
We are equal so is the value of our lives. We have learned it; however, our lives are often treated unequally in this world. I would like to talk about this crucial issue.
The dignity of our lives is impaired when we are treated unequally. I have kept calling the places where the right to live is denied the 'human battlefield'.
I have worked as a photojournalist for years; and I am happy to have chosen journalism as my lifetime occupation. I believe that I as a journalist can go anywhere as well as question the people in power even though most authorities likely try to hinder my work.
Every offender tries to hide the damage he or she has caused; those who are responsible for bombing are likely to hide the fact that children were sacrificed while others who caused nuclear accidents try to underestimate the damage of radiation exposure. I think we journalists should face these offenders and those who want to conceal the truth. So I have faced them in order to protect what I actually witnessed and recorded. These actions exactly overlap the right to know the truth.
Throughout my fifty years career in journalism, I saw a great number of children being killed mercilessly. I met one of those child victims in Lebanon. Haifa is a Palestinian girl of seven-year-old or so living in a refugee camp. She lost her father in a bombing and since then she had lost the ability to speak. While at the camp, she always followed me pulling the hem of my shirt. Later in Tokyo I received a telegram saying that she was killed by a missile which fell on her house. She was in the house together with her younger brother, mother and grandmother, all of them were killed at once. Before realizing it, I began to call places where the dignity of our lives is impaired the 'human battlefield. I have been photographing the 'human battlefield' for years.
In 1948, the State of Israel was founded; due to this event, more than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly evicted from their home and since then they have been called refugees. I first visited Israel when Israeli forces invaded East Jerusalem, the west bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza district during the Six-Day Middle East War which broke out in 1967. At that time, an advocacy ad happened to catch my attention, the ad read "Occupation yields resistance, resistance yields oppression, oppression yields terrorism, and terrorism yields retaliatory terrorism." This prophecy was proven true soon after. Israel has kept occupying the Palestinians' land and expanding their territory until today. The Palestinians are enraged, resisting and in despair.
One day in Gaza, just before riding a bus, I bought a toy drum from a Palestinian girl, a peddler. The drum was coarsely made of an earthenware pot and a patch of goat skin. Outside under the bus's window, she tried her very best to sell me another drum, but I declined gesturing that I could not afford to carry even one tiny drum. Since she seemed disappointed, I threw some coins wrapped in a piece of paper at her feet. As soon as the coins noisily fell onto the ground, the children around her dashed to pick up the coins, but she did not. When she glared at me, I finally understood she was not begging for mercy. She wanted to sell the drum and be rewarded for her work. I was overwhelmed with her unspoken message saying it was our fault to put her and her fellow Palestinians into great misery; also, I was impressed with her being so undaunted. It was my first time to encounter a Palestinian child. I was 24 years old then.
Later I realized that the subjects of my photos made me become a full-fledged photojournalist. So, let me show you an example. In 1976, when I visited a Palestinian refugee village, a villager, shedding tears, walked toward me and blamed me for not having come there one month earlier and not preventing a random shooting. His son was killed in the shooting. He continued to say that if I, a third-party witness was there during the 'Day of Land' protest, the mass shooting by Israeli soldiers would not have taken place. His son took to the streets refusing to relinquish their ancestral land and was shot to death. Thanks to him, I came to understand what journalists should do; we should report what happened and prevent contingencies from happening as well.
The year 2018 is the anniversary year for Israel, Palestine and me. The Israelis are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel this year. On the other hand, 70 years ago in 1948, the Palestinians were evicted from their home and became refugees. And fifty years have passed since I first visited Israel and began to face the Palestinian issue.
On September 11th in 2001, more than 3,000 people were killed in the 9.11 terror attacks that the al-Qaeda terrorist group claimed responsibility for. On October 7th that year, the US forces started to invade Afghanistan since the Bush Administration accused the Afghan government of giving shelter to the al-Qaeda terrorist group. Since then the media had kept reporting on an exchange of bombing between the US Army and the Northern Alliance. The reporters dispatched by the US side far surpassed in number their counterparts sent by the attacked. So, one-sided incorrect messages of the war were reported / broadcasted such as only 'terrorists' were killed there.
I did my on-site reporting in Afghanistan from November to December of 2001. Foreign journalists including me passed by TV crews who were broadcasting bombing live from Afghanistan. We drove along highways where four journalists lost their lives a few days ago; and went to refugee camps built on the snow-capped mountainside in the northern area. At the northernmost camp, people said "Journalists passed by without stopping. Neither doctors nor rescue parties are here." Many children were dying there one after another every day.
The next year I returned to Afghanistan in order to check up on the reality of the 'accidental bombings' by the US Army. At the same time a civilian group called 'Body Count' had already reported the number of casualties with the help of the local media. Organizing the data in every region and visiting bombing sites, I examined the authenticity of the numbers. One day I went to a place where the US Army claimed they had attacked a terrorist base; however, I found it was not a base but a local market and about 200 corpses remained under rubble. At the end of 2011, I did stories on refugee camps, hospitals and the US forces; and at the end of 2012, I met with US bomb disposal units as well as local residents in order to collect some information. By this time, not only the southern and eastern regions but also Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan had become too dangerous to just walk around in. "There's no sign of any improvement in security," many local residents said. What they said has exactly been proven true nowadays.
I first visited Iraq in 1991 for my research on the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait, the neighboring country. Air-raid shelters were being bombed and millions of people were being killed there. In 2003, I revisited Iraq and did three stories there; in February, I went to Bagdad and Basra, both of which and the surrounding area were under an economic blockade then; from March to April I revisited Bagdad which was under an exchange of bombing; and in May I left Japan for Iraq again and visited the sites where the landscapes were ruined by the US air raids.
Rulers / victors are likely to whitewash their inconvenient truth. Japan was involved in the Iraq War in response to the US government's request. Japan was responsible for some of the victims of the war; so, the Japanese people should have investigated the damage, apologized and compensated the bereaved families of these accidental bombings. While in Basra, I visited a leukemia hospital and gave them some donations that I had been entrusted with. In 2004, the international media including its Japanese counterparts had begun to say "The Iraq War was over. The problem we are now facing is 'reconstruction'." Since then the media have been turning a blind eye to 'what actually happened during the war'.
When we realize that we are skillfully blinded to 'what we must know', we need to be more cautious than ever. The Japanese people tend to think 'every war takes place somewhere far away' from them. This sentiment is a typical example of them being blinded to the truth. During the Iraq War, the Japanese government was on the side of the US government, the perpetrator; during the Afghan War, our tax money was used for refueling the US bombers that were killing many people who were living in the Afghan countryside. Thus, the Japanese are not innocent bystanders to the killings and destruction in these countries. Those who died there were innocent children and adults, but not terrorists. How did the US media as well as its Japanese counterpart report these wars then? They skillfully deleted the images of civilian casualties and wounded US soldiers; at the same time, they insisted "the US Army fought against terrorists in order to protect civilians, so this war is a war of justice."
What actually happened there? We have often heard that these wars were the 'wars against terrorism'. The US government claimed American soldiers were defeating 'terrorists' and as a result, the Iraqis would enjoy freedom. Actually the US soldiers had kept on killing the ordinary Iraqis for years from the beginning. Also, they dropped a great number of cluster bombs on the Iraqis in order to wound and kill them. The Japanese people must remember that the Japanese government fought these wars with the US government; the Japanese were involved in these wars. We journalists must view with the critical eye the governments' behavior and politics.
Let's imagine what will happen when we choose to curb terrorism with our armed forces. For instance, the US Army used the word 'collateral damage' for any civilian damage. They insisted that 'collateral damage' meant 'unavoidable' as it relates to military purposes. However, once the Iraqis realized that the victims were children and unarmed ordinary citizens, they became enraged, their fury spread throughout Iraq, and finally their fury and despair gave birth to many more 'new terrorists'.
It was reported that the number of civilian casualties of the Iraq War rose to more than 500,000 which included the citizens killed by the occupation forces. When it comes to the US soldiers killed in action, in Iraq until 2011 about 4,500 died and in Afghanistan until 2017 more than 2,400 lost their lives.
Who do you think are the 'terrorists'? Many people think they are those who are slaughtering innocent civilians. Due to this incorrect but popular belief, the word 'terrorist(s)' is often used as a synonym for a 'merciless members of a group of killers', the enemy of the US, Japan and the allied nations.
Any war or military occupation has no good cause. No matter how someone is trying to justify the cause of war, there is no noble cause in killing hundreds of thousands of children.
The Congo (the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
“An antonym of the word ‘love’ is not ‘hatred’, but ‘indifference’,” said Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Elie Wiesel, a Jewish American writer / an ex-prisoner of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, won the peace prize for his work on his life in the Nazi concentration camp.
In the Congo, the death toll of local conflicts rose to 5.4 million, the biggest in number in the history of the post war era. It is said that half of the 5.4 million casualties were babies/infants of five years old and younger. These tragedies in the Congo have rarely been reported in Japan. In other words, our ‘indifference’ led to the death of the people in the DRC.
As of 2016, about 5,000 people were evicted from their homes in the Congo every day. Furthermore, according to the statistics collected by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), since 1998 about 200,000 girls and women were presumed to have been raped there.
These tragedies are attributed to the conflicts over Congo’s rich natural resources. The Congo has abundant natural resources such as coltan (colombo-tantalite), uranium*, tin, diamonds, manganese as well as lumber. * The uranium mined in the Congo was used for the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.
Coltan, the aforementioned rare metal is used in mobile phones, video game machines and personal computers. With the recent IT boom in the industry, local conflicts in the Congo have been escalating into a proxy war among major powers. Moreover, the Congo’s forests have been disappearing due to reckless deforestation; as a result, gorillas, the endangered species were killed there in mass.
“I feel sorry for the victims, but their tragedies are not related to my daily life,” said many Japanese people. However, how would they react when they understand their mobile phones are closely related to the dead, the raped and the evicted in the Congo, I wonder?
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident occurred before dawn on April 26thin1986 It destroyed hundreds of villages and towns in Belarus and the Ukraine, and the vast area has become a no-go zone. I visited the ruined areas and photographed these decimated villages, and published a photo book Chernobyl 458 decimated Villages (Publisher: Nihon Tosho Center).
The accident took away people's health, lives and homelands. At first, however, many experts never admitted that radiation exposure caused many diseases including thyroid cancer. It was only ten years after the accident that they reluctantly admitted that the increasing number of thyroid cancer patients was a consequence of radiation exposure. These experts kept saying that the fear of radiation caused illnesses, and they spread the idea of 'Radiation Phobia Syndrome'. Twenty five years later we found ourselves being in exactly the same situation in Japan.
Since the governments of Belarus and the Ukraine acknowledged the seriousness of the nuclear catastrophe, the two governments have made every effort to save their people who were exposed to radiation. They enacted a piece of new legislation called the Chernobyl laws in order to protect the victims.
Running recuperation facilities for the children living in contaminated areas was a unprecedented effort that marked an achievement for both countries. Recuperation helps children to improve their resistance to diseases and strengthen their immune systems. The Chernobyl Children's Fund which I started in Japan also helped to build recuperation centers in Belarus and Ukraine. These centers are open throughout the year to the children from contaminated areas, and our fund has been providing part of the running cost.
Every year, the Chernobyl Children's Fund carries out a special recuperation program for the children suffering from thyroid cancer and other diseases. We sent many volunteers to the special program from Japan. When we held the 'Japanese Week' events and I took charge of journalism classes, I asked children who had their thyroid gland removed, "Why do you think you had to have a thyroid gland operation?" "Because I'm ill," a child gave me a right answer. But I continued, "It is because you haven't been given the necessary / correct information about the nuclear accident. We need to have the 'right to know' so that we can protect the right to be in good health and live a happy life. Unfortunately, the 'right to know' has not been established there. Important things were hidden at that time."
The 'right to know' is a very important right for us in order to live and be happy.
At 2:46 pm on March 11th in 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, triggering great tsunamis, occurred off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. When the ground started shaking, I was in the editorial staff room of the Days Japan magazine in Setagaya Ward in Tokyo. The violent jolts due to the tremors which happened over and over again scared me to death.
By that time, the newest issue of the Days Japan was ready for printing. However, I was informed that it was impossible to print the magazine there due to the mess caused by the earthquake; I hurriedly replaced the cover and several pages with new ones featuring the tsunamis. Then I sent the newest edition to be printed, giving some instructions to the print shop. The next morning I left for Fukushima, set up a base there and started doing some stories on the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Pref. as well as the damage of the tsunamis in Miyagi Pref. and Iwate Pref.
While doing some stories on the terrible scars of the tsunamis, I had numerous unforgettable encounters. One day when I tried to cross a blockade, I asked a young men vigilantly standing there if I could cross the ‘Do Not Enter’ line. The man, a member of a local fire brigade said “Every survivor here has one or more family members still missing; I am no exception. But I am doing to full extent of my duties. Please understand that.” He was holding back his tears at that time. I apologized to him and turned back.
On the coast of Minamisoma in Fukushima Pref., I met a member of a local fire brigade searching for the missing. He said his grandfather was still missing. The city of Minamisoma became an inaccessible area because of the radiation contamination at that time. Few relief goods reached there.
Fukushima (media coverage and rescue operations)
On March 11th in 2011, due to the release of hydrogen gas, three reactor buildings exploded after a huge earthquake and following tsunamis hit the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. The stricken buildings of the plant spewed a large amount of radioactive materials in all directions. So, the soil and water in vast area in Japan was contaminated by radioactive isotopes. When the spent fuel pool of the No.4 reactor was on the brink of explosion, the government planned to expand the size of the evacuation zone further to the Tokyo area. Although this worst case scenario was barely avoided; we should remember how critically the Fukushima nuclear crisis was evolving at that time.
The high radiation dose had hampered the search for survivors for a long time. The tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami victims in the Ukedo district in Namie Town, located just 7 km from the No.1 plant, suggests how difficult it was to carry out rescue operations in the highly contaminated areas. The survivors were abandoned in Ukedo for one whole month until the first rescue team entered the district. Most of them were found dead at that time and many still remain missing.
I was in Futaba Town, just a few kilometers away from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, on March 13th; my Geiger counter suddenly swung past its maximum. The Geiger counter's maximum was 0.1mSv/hour. I was so shocked because I had never experienced such a high dose of radiation even in Chernobyl. The government's statement "No immediate health risk was confirmed and low radiation exposure levels were observed" was repeatedly broadcasted on the radio, and this puzzled and annoyed me. Two months later the government announced that radiation dose in Futaba Town was 1.5mSv/hour.
Was the 'right to know' protected? Or has it been protected?
The maximum permissible radiation dose is determined to be 1mSv/year by law. This is a universal standard. But the Japanese government raised the maximum to 20mSv/year in Fukushima Prefecture. They announced "We raised the maximum dose to 20mSv/year in Fukushima. It is harmless for everyone including children to return home and live anywhere the dose is 20mSv/year or less."
Today, inside the site of the Fukushima No.1 plant, a large number of tanks filled with contaminated water are standing side by side. More tanks of polluted water have been added day by day. In March of 2015, highly contaminated water was found leaking into the nearby sea. Until then Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the government had kept saying "The polluted water problem is now under control." Actually, contaminated water had been leaking into the sea; Tepco nonchalantly said "We did not think we had to announce the water leaking issue." At the end of 2017, a shark whose radiation dose was far higher than the standard level was caught off the coast of Fukushima.
Nowadays, those who called themselves 'nuclear experts' are busily going about their work, pretending as if the Fukushima nuclear accident had done no harm to them. Trying to spread their false safety theory, they have kept saying "The onset of thyroid cancer was not caused by the nuclear accident," "People always become nervous after taking thyroid examinations, so they'd better not take a thyroid examination," "Checkup results, even the cancerous positive ones, don't necessarily have to be informed to examinees because thyroid cancer is harmless," and "Nobody fell ill from radiation exposure in Fukushima." What these 'bogus experts' said is going unchallenged and is putting pressure on the Fukushima prefectural government to abolish the thyroid checkup system. Are they going to repeat these same comments when the next nuclear accident occurs, I wonder.
Has the right to live been adequately protected? Will it be protected?
I may have said too much, but I hope my message sheds light on how closely the 'right to know' is related to the dignity we have in our lives. I know we cannot always live undauntedly. However, if I see something that I cannot forgive, I will undauntedly start reporting on it with my camera. If we realize the need to protect what needs to be protected, we will daringly do this by devoting body and soul to it even if we must fight against those in power.
Finally, I hope many more journalists commence work on protecting the 'right to know'. Since we all have the 'right to know', we have the 'right to live' and more precisely the 'right to be in good health and live a happy life'. Alas, I have witnessed so many times this right being completely ignored everywhere.