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Hiroshima for Global Peace

5 .Moral Adoption

Moral Adoption was a campaign which supported a-bomb orphans’ education. Norman Cousins, the editor-in-chief of the Saturday Review of Literature, a weekly magazine published by a company based in New York, visited Hiroshima in August 1949 to observe the Institution for War Children. Then, he proposed the concept of moral adoption in the volume issued on September 17  34.


“Moral Adoption is and adoption that enables American families to help raise a-bomb orphans who lost their families and relatives due to the atomic bombing. These orphans are cared for in institutions such as Mrs. Yamashita’s orphanage [an orphanage for war children where Yamashita’s wife Sadako served as a director], but American families take responsibility for education and upbringing. At Yamashita Orphanage, the monthly cost for rearing a child was 2.25 dollars, including educational expenses [at the time 810 yen]. If there are readers who support my idea and want to take part in this project, I am happy to serve as a go-between.”


At that time, in America, which had implemented the Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted the immigration of Japanese people, legal adoption was impossible. Then, Cousins advocated moral adoption as the second-best measurement. Pearl Buck, a Nobel-prize winning novelist, and John Hersey, the author of the work of reportage Hiroshima, supported and participated in the campaign.


Cousins sent a letter to Hiroshima mayor Shinzo Hamai in October explaining the positive reaction to the campaign: “I would like to support all a-bomb orphans in Hiroshima if funds increase”.35 In December, Hiroshima City established the Hiroshima Municipal Fund Management Committee for A-bomb Orphans and expressed cooperation with “moral adoption of war orphans”. 36 Thus, a support and educational project had begun.


Adoptions were made based on photos and background information of children provided by Hiroshima. The first adoption was concluded between an 11-year-old girl in the Institution for War Children and a teacher, who was a father of two in Missouri, in February 1950. Then, by the end of March, 71 children had been adopted. Not only donations and gifts such as clothing and books, but letters were also received. University students and second-generation Japanese-Americans residing in Hiroshima helped children translate the letters.


“I feel sorry that our government destroyed Hiroshima completely, resulting in many orphans like you,” (pastor, April 25, 1950).


In the United States, where the atomic bombings were generally considered necessary, this letter clearly shows that citizens who felt remorse tried to lend a hand.37 The moral adoption campaign, on which both Japanese and American citizens collaborated, was the first citizen’s movement bridging the gaps associated with the a-bomb.


Adoptions included children from childcare institutions as well as children from single-female parent families, and the number of adopted children totaled 409 at its peak in 1953. The total amount of donations reached nearly 17.47 million yen by the end of 1957.38 Influenced by this, a domestic moral adoption campaign was started by Hiroshima Kodomo wo Mamorukai. 85 children were adopted and the campaign continued until 1964, when the youngest orphans turned 18  39.


The link between adopted children and American citizens faded as the children left the institutions due to the language barrier. Based on materials and letters kept in the Hiroshima Municipal Archives, my senior writer of the Chugoku Shimbun and the author carried a series featuring the feelings and history of those who were raised in the Institution for War Children under the title of “Moral Adoption in Hiroshima” in 1988  40.


22 people out of 38 whose whereabouts were established asked not to be named in the articles. Many people refused to be quoted with their real names, stating, “Looking back now, I really appreciate the moral parents who supported us even though we had never met before,” however, “I do not want to be considered an a-bomb orphan after such a long time,” and “I have never told even my husband about it.” Many lived far from Hiroshima.
The former war orphans, then around the age of fifty, their great efforts unknown to others, had managed to build homes and create peaceful lives for themselves. The mutual bonds that they had had since graduating from Hiroshima Institution for War Children and Hiroshima City Doshinen remained strong. However, a reluctance to speak publicly about their experiences was glimpsed, even among those who had responded with their real names. They had an unenthusiastic view of victims’ movements and the peace movement. Having been labeled “atomic bomb orphans” by newspapers and magazines from a sensitive age, they had been exposed to the public eye. They had borne feelings that could not be speculated about by the third party.


Looking back, on December 7th, 1947, the emperor’s tour of Hiroshima, a visit to an area near the Institution for War Children became a nation-wide subject of conversation. Some orphans were pulled into the election campaign. At every life event, such as leaving the institution and starting a job, and also when they received gifts from the U.S., their experiences were told, mixing heartwarming stories with hardship. In 1954, when protests against atomic and hydrogen bombs flared up after the U.S. Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, the a-bomb orphans were asked to take action and make comments. Although they were a-bomb victims whose parents were killed, they were left behind regarding support and measures against a-bomb victims which started in 1957, when the Act for Atomic Bomb Sufferers’ Medical Care was implemented. People who had remained in evacuation areas outside of Hiroshima City were not eligible for Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate.


The current Law for the Protection of Atomic Bomb Victims, which came into effect on July 1st, 1995, sets aside money for the families of atomic bomb victims (provided they had an Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate ) who died prior to March, 1969. Their grandchildren are eligible to receive 100,000 yen of government bonds for funeral ceremonies. Other war victims, who “understood better than anyone the tragedy of the atomic bomb” were not recipients.

34 Norman Cousins, “Hiroshima: Four Years Later”, The Saturday Review of Literature, September 17, 1949, p30
35 A letter from Norman Cousins addressed to Shinzo Hamai, October 11, 1949 (owned by Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
36 A letter from Shinzo Hamai addressed to Norman Cousins, December 21, 1949 (owned by Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
37 A series of documents concerning Moral Adoption and children of the Institution for War Children are owned by Hiroshima Municipal Archives
38 Hiroshima City Hall (ed.), Hiroshima Shinshi Dai 3 kan (New Hiroshima History vol. 3), Hiroshima City Hall, 1959, pp808-810
39 Hiroshima Prefecture (ed.), Genbaku 30 Nen (30 Years after the Atomic Bombing), Hiroshima Prefecture, 1976, pp264-265
40 The Chugoku Shimbun, series of 17 reports and 3 featuring coverages on “Hiroshima Seishin Youshi (Moral Adoption in Hiroshima), July 13 to August 1, 1988

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