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Most of us had never heard of the tiny island off the coast near Hiroshima called Okonoshima. In fact, we discovered, it was also erased from many maps on purpose. Yet in this tiny space of just 4km across, things happened which still affect lives around the world today.
This island played a significant role in three wars. In Japan's war with Russia, it was used as a fort. During World War II, illegal production of the poisonous gases used for chemical weapons took place here with the forced labour of young students. Then in the Korean War, U.S. forces kept their ammunition stores in the remaining bunkers.some even to the point of death
Standing in the dilapidated building which had seen it all happen, I felt a cold chill move through me despite the sunlight drifting through broken windows overgrown with vines. How many lives had ended because of what had been in this space?
The horror hasn't ended, though. Even recently, chemical weapons have been found by construction workers digging foundations for new buildings in China. After they've been exposed, these people who are generations removed and no longer at war with Japan suffer from respiratory and skin illnesses, .
Finally, someone asked our Japanese guide how he had become so passionate about telling people the stories of the wrong that his country has done. He shared how he had actually grown up in China, then lived most of his life in the region close to the island. He also has close connections with both Koreas. He has regularly travelled to learn about the atrocities committed during World War II, meet with victims, and to inform people about the human costs of chemical weapons in the past and now.
NARPI participants from China who knew those affected by recently discovered weapons stores, Korean participants whose country and culture had been devastated by Japanese government aggression, US students who had connections with Korean war veterans, and Japanese participants who had studied about the war but never heard of Japan's use of illegal chemical weapons were all inspired by the guide's commitment to telling his nation's history with a desire for truth, peace, and healing.
Chemical weapons continue to be used and wars continue to be fought, creating victims and stories of animosity for the future. The World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Call to Just Peace is needed desperately. Churches need to know about today's islands like Okonoshima and call societies to account, help the victims, and support the cleanup.
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