76 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a Survivor Says Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons Still Imminent

August 9, 2021 | 6:41 am
a statue in Nagasaki's Peace Park in Nagasaki, Japantravel oriented/flickr
Masako Wada
Assistant Secretary General Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers organizations

I was born in 1943. The atomic bomb was dropped when I was one year and 10months old. I was at home, 2.9 kilometers away from the epicenter in the northern part of Nagasaki City. I don’t remember anything about what happened on that day. I was able to survive thanks to the landscape of Nagasaki, which is surrounded by mountains. I grew up listening to my mother talking about her experience from time to time.

A fire broke out from the epicenter to the southern part of the city. To escape the fire, wounded and burnt people crossed the mountain to come down into the city. My mother saw the movement of people lined up like ants. Their hair was so matted with blood that she couldn’t even tell if they were male or female. They were almost naked. She trembled seeing the black and writhing line of people coming down the mountain. Many people are believed to have died on that mountain road.

Right next to my house was a vacant lot due to building evacuation. The bodies that had been abandoned on the street were carried into the lot in garbage carts and piled up on the ground. The corpses were cremated day and night. She became desensitized to the smell and the sheer number of people in front of her eyes. She said that everybody became numb to what was happening. What is human dignity? Should human beings be treated like that? We are not created to be burned like garbage.

There was a well at the back of our house. A number of people who had been severely injured came there for water. Carrying me on her back, my mother cleaned their wounds, and she used old cloths which she had boiled beforehand for bandages. She never knew what happened to those people.

She was sent to help the doctors at a university auditorium, where a first-aid station had been set up. My mother fainted at the sight of the floor completely covered with people with extremely severe injuries and burns. When she regained consciousness, the first task she was assigned to was to brush off numerous maggots the size of her thumb from the patients. She was 24 years old at the time.

The US forces dropped radio sensors attached to parachutes when they dropped the A-bomb. This was to measure the power, blast and heat of the bomb and report to the headquarters. What actually happened under the atomic cloud? Civilians including the elderly, women, and children died. 210,000 people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as of December 1945. Each of them had a family and a life. The preciousness of life, human dignity. Didn’t the radio sensors report these? My mother would remember the stench, and talk about this every year on August 9, the anniversary of the bombing.

In 1946, the first UN General Assembly was held, and the first resolution was about nuclear disarmament. What has the world been doing to achieve this goal? They decided that it was the first priority for the UN to address. And a new committee was formed to solve the issues regarding nuclear weapons.

It’s been 76 years since the atomic bombing by the US force. The average age of Hibakusha, or survivors of the bomb, is now 84. Every year around 9,000 people pass away. We Hibakusha have been sincerely and faithfully working towards the abolition of nuclear weapons without taking even a single day of rest. Both the Japanese government and the US government turned a blind eye on those of us who were exposed to radiation for 10 years. We have received no support – neither economic nor medical.

With the intensive news censorship by the US, the casualties were completely covered up. We Hibakusha were abandoned when we needed help the most. During a press conference in September 1945, Deputy Commander General Thomas Farrell, the person in charge of the Manhattan Project, said, “People who were supposed to die, have already died. There is nobody who is suffering from the radiation.” After such a statement, Hibakusha, the citizens of the defeated nation had no choice but to remain silent.

The Bikini Accident occurred in 1954, and in 1956, 11 years after the bombing of Japan, Hibakusha who had been hiding and suffering, finally banded together and started to act to make their voices heard. They formed our Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations. Our resolution was to not only save ourselves, but also through our experiences, save humankind from the crisis. We stood up and have been working together ever since. In Japan and even from overseas, people who hope for a world without nuclear weapons have been supporting us. We continue to talk about our own experiences although we suffer each and every time we relive our moments of agony and grief. This sense of mission and determination have been sustaining us, the Hibakusha.

On July 7th, 2017, when the UN adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), many Hibakusha shared our joy with each other, grateful to have survived to witness this moment. Our joy was for those who had spent their entire lives for this initiative and for the 210,000 people who died on the day of bombing. The heavy iron doors that we had been pounding on had finally opened a little, and we saw a ray of light coming through. And on January 22nd of this year, our long-held hope and demand, the TPNW went into effect as an international law. While this is a source of jubilation, we acknowledge this as the first step of our new beginning.

What is now required of the world? The threat of the use of nuclear weapons is imminent. The International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons concluded that no country or organization has treatment options for the victims. Hibakusha have seen or experienced death, disease, poverty and discrimination. These are also what we are seeing right now in the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In a few years there will be various vaccines and things will be under control to some extent.

However, if nuclear weapons are used, there will be nothing left but the earth devoid of human beings. There will be nobody who can be proud of their power, honor, or status. There will be nobody left to toll the bell for the dead.

We Hibakusha are not merely survivors of the atomic bombing. We are the ones who have been taking action to save mankind from this crisis. We are the ones entrusted with this mission. We humans can probably live with the coronavirus, but not with nuclear weapons. We humans created them, and we’ll be the ones to abolish them. This is for the public benefit. To do this, Hibakusha will take whatever time remains to each of us to continue to walk with all of you.

I was there 76 years ago, and I’m still here to tell you our ardent and sincere desire of all the Hibakusha. Please learn, think, speak and act to abolish nuclear weapons, as citizens of the earth, and as scientists with your precious and noble mission.