A Journey to Hiroshima and Nagasaki for World Peace

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The Peace Dome, near the hypocenter of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, stands today as a memorial to those who were killed by the bombing. (Photo by Pat Angeles)

1945. On a lovely morning At 8:15, August 6, the glare of a thousand suns Flashed over Hiroshima. 11:02 am, August 9, a mushroom cloud rained death over Nagasaki.

See the images, Hear the stories of the Hibakusha[ref]Survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the survivors of nuclear testing[/ref] It will sear your soul.

One will never forget Think of melted coins, scorched stones, Contorted steel, but worst, See the shadows forever etched on walls, Left by human beings “burned like fallen leaves”[ref]From the story by Misao Nagoya, a hibakusha who wrote about her sister who was never found after the Hiroshima bombing.[/ref]

I wrote these verses after my first trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2006, where I heard the stories of the Hibakusha and visited the Peace Memorial Museums in the two cities.

This August, I came back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to attend the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen (A & H) Bombs and to once again hear the stories of the Hibakusha. Since the First World Conference Against A & H Bombs in Hiroshima in 1955, they have been testifying about the horrible impact of the nuclear bombing on their lives and calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Government and civil society representatives, academics and other peace advocates from all over Japan and the world come annually and continue to spread the call for No More Hiroshima and No More Nagasaki. At the 2016 World Conference, the Hibakusha spoke with more urgency than ever. The average age of the Hibakusha is now more than 80 years old. The remaining living witnesses to the first and only time nuclear weapons were unleashed upon humanity will soon pass away, but their message must not be forgotten.

The Inhuman Nature of Nuclear Weapons The Hibakusha have patiently, bravely and tirelessly exposed the realities of the damage and aftereffects of the atomic bombings. Hibakusha and other speakers in the 2016 World Conference described the inhuman nature of nuclear weapons. Shigetoku Nakagawa presented the impact of ten seconds of atomic bombing:[ref]The Inhuman Nature of Nuclear Weapons and Japanese and US Governments, paper delivered by Shigetoku Nakagawa in the 2016 World Conference against A & H Bombs in Hiroshima.[/ref]

Chain reactions of nuclear fission generated plasma (a high energy state of matter where electrons are separated from nuclei) of million degrees centigrade and an atmospheric pressure of several million hectopascals, forming a giant fireball that could be described as an artificial sun, with a  radius up to 300 meters and surface temperature of 7000 degrees centigrade.[ref]The surface temperature of the sun is about 6000 degrees centigrade[/ref] The bulging fireball created a wall of air that moved faster than sound. It then caused a blast that instantly leveled buildings. Humans were also thrown against the ground, their eyeballs coming out of eye sockets and intestines coming out of bellies. All of this happened within ten seconds after the bomb detonation. Then people were exposed to radiation. In a millionth of a second, over 80 generations of nuclear fission chain reactions occurred, releasing radiation that killed people and turned air and ground radioactive.

The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced hell. Dead bodies were everywhere. People who had survived walked as if they were ghosts, their clothes burned and their skin peeled off and hung from their bodies. Those unable to walk died where they fell. And those who had survived died one after another during the following weeks and months, first due to severe burns and later from radiation poisoning. By the end of 1945, 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki had died due to the atomic bombings. This included 40,000-50,000 Korean workers killed in Hiroshima and 15,000 Koreans killed in Nagasaki. The number of Korean survivors is said to be the same as the number who died.[ref]These are only official estimates because neither the Japanese nor the Korean governments conducted a survey.[/ref]

While the victims of the atomic bombing were experiencing infernal agony, the US was trying to black out the existence of the suffering Hibakusha in order to cover up the atrocity and inhumane nature of the atomic bombs. On September, 1945, the General Headquarters (GHQ)  of the Allied Occupation Forces issued the press code that lasted until the end of the occupation in April 1952. It provided that “newspapers must not carry any item that directly or indirectly makes subversive criticisms of the Allied Occupation Forces or invites defiance or resentment towards those forces.”  As a result, no Japanese newspapers, with very few exceptions, reported anything about the bombing of the two cities.[ref]Ibid, Shigetoku Nakagawa[/ref] Worse still, Japanese politicians completely neglected the Hibakusha when they most needed public help and assistance in every aspect of their life. Individual Japanese Hibakusha had to file lawsuits for state compensation. The Hibakusha are also fighting for justice about the delayed effects of exposure to atomic bomb radiation.[ref]Exposure to A-Bomb Radiation and the Inhumanity of Nuclear Weapons, by Miyahara Tetsuro, General Secretary of the National Liaison of Counsels for Collective A-Bomb Lawsuits, from the Proceedings of the 2015 World Conference Against A & H Bombs.[/ref]

To this day, the aging Hibakusha still live with the physical and psychological effects of the atomic bombing. Dr. Osamu, a physician to Hibakusha, said, “The mental wounds sustained by Hibakusha are usually treated as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but the total picture of this disorder has not been elucidated. The biggest reason is that the traumas of each Hibakusha surface and submerge repeatedly over decades, and sometimes lay the foundation for different mental disorders. The Hibakusha who survived the life-eradicating effects of the nuclear bombs will continue to experience the inhumanity of nuclear bombs as long as they live with the possibility of encountering nuclear bombing again.[ref]Special Report of Dr. Saito Osamu, Physician and Representative Director of the Japan Council Against A & H Bombs, from the 2015 World Conference Proceedings.[/ref]

Many Hibakusha have risen above their lifelong agony to work vigorously in the movement for the elimination of nuclear bombs. “We will never be free from our being Hibakusha… The Hibakusha, who saw hell on earth, want no one to share what we are experiencing,” said Kido Sueichi,[ref]From the Paper delivered at the 2016 World Conference by Kido Sueichi, Assistant Secretary General, Japan Confederation of A and H Bombs Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo)[/ref] who was six years old at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima 2At the 2016 World Conference Against A & H Bombs, representatives from seven Hibakusha organizations, including two Korean Survivor Groups, united in their to call to the world toAbolish Nuclear Weapons Now!” (Photo by Pat Angeles)

Living in the Shadow of Nuclear War Since the US dropped the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not only the Hibakusha, but all humanity has been living in the shadow of nuclear war.

There is now a consensus among US historians that the atomic bombings were not needed to end the Second World War.  US Secretary of War Stimson had advised Truman that Japan’s surrender could be negotiated on terms acceptable to the US. The nuclear attacks were done to bring the war to an immediate end so that the US could avoid sharing influence with the Soviet Union in Northern China, Manchuria and Korea, and to intimidate Soviet leaders by demonstrating the apocalyptic power of nuclear weapons and Washington’s willingness to use them even against civilians.[ref]Joseph Gerson, Paper delivered in the Plenary Session of the 2015 World Conference Against A & H Bombs.[/ref]

The Hibakusha believe that the atomic bombing was also to verify whether the US atomic arsenals were powerful enough to enable the latter to fight the Cold War to their advantage. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were their guinea pigs, and this belief is boosted by the fact that the US conducted data on the effects of the atomic bombing which were kept confidential for a long time.[ref]Ibid, Saito Osamu[/ref]  The Atomic Bomb Casualties Commission was established in 1948, but it was blamed by the Hibakusha because it did surveys, but did not provide any care.[ref]Ibid, Shigetoku Nakagawa[/ref]

Since 1945, the US, and eight other countries have stockpiled more than 16,000 nuclear warheads which are more powerful than the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They adhere to the nuclear deterrence doctrine, an argument that says if a nation has capability to inflict unacceptable damage on another, then the latter will refrain from attacking the former—it will be deterred from doing so.[ref]http://www.nucleardarkness.org/nuclear/deterencedoctrineandstrategy/[/ref] It is a strategy to generate fear in the enemy and in the world through preemptive threat.  The existence of these nuclear weapons holds the world hostage to the possibility that the weapons can be used anytime.  A study by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War shows that even if only a small percentage of existing nuclear weapons are used, it would cause serious damage and would bring the human race to the brink of extinction.[ref]International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, (ICAN), Catastrophic Humanitarian Harm, p. 8[/ref]

Hibakusha Earnestly Desire Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Due to the tireless work of Hibakusha for more than half a century, and the support of the global anti-disarmament movement, the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and the need for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons are now being discussed for the first time in the United Nations.

At present,  there is a new move to open the door to a “world without nuclear weapons”. With the support of more than 70 % of the member states, the 70th UN General Assembly convened an “Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to discuss “concrete legal measures” to achieve “a world without nuclear weapons”. This August, the OEWG Meeting adopted a clear recommendation, supported by at least 107 states, for the commencement of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination.[ref]http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/oewg/2016/august/reports/11122-oewg-report-vol-2-no-19[/ref]

The Hibakusha have now launched an International Signature Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, which aims to gather millions of signatures which will be presented to the UN. They are  making an appeal to the world: “it is our strong desire to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world in our lifetime, so that succeeding generations of people will not see hell on earth ever again.”[ref]The Statement for the International Signature Campaign of the Hibakusha can be accessed here. [/ref]

We, participants to the 2016 World Conference Against A & H Bombs, committed to support this Signature Campaign of the Hibakusha, to extend relief and solidarity with the Hibakusha, and to support them to achieve their demand for state compensation. We also committed to strengthen our solidarity with all movements against war and for peace.[ref]The Declaration of the International Meeting of the 2016 World Conference Against A & H Bombs can be downloaded here.[/ref]

For me, this trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to meet and talk with Hibakusha is a journey where I became most conscious of my humanity and the absolute value of peace and freedom. Citizens of the world should make this trip, more so our world leaders.  The Hibakusha show us the effects of humanity’s descent into hell, but they also show how bravery and courage overcomes all obstacles – the victory of the human spirit!

Hiroshima 3At the Closing Ceremony of the World Conference Against A & H in Hiroshima participants from the International community join Japanese delegates in the stage in singing We Shall Overcome! (Photo by Pat Angeles)

Merci Llarinas-Angeles [ref]Merci Llarinas-Angeles is an international convener at Peace Women Partners International[/ref] (Solidarity Correspondent, World Current Report)