By Akio Matsumura
That indelible black and white image of an ever-expanding mushroom cloud still sits in many homes and offices and still haunts many minds. It conveys a sense of awe in the face of tremendous power. There are fewer iconic images that depict the sometimes barely tangible fallout of this power: the vanquished bodies of loved ones, the slow onset of cancer, the terror of the unknown. The true effects of nuclear weapons. For that, we have to rely on memory and story, the recollections of a generation now old and fading away. The survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki–not just Japanese but of many nationalities– are the sole witnesses and survivors of nuclear weapons used as an act of war. Their stories of initial pain and eventual strength must be a constant reminder for the nuclear-armed. If used properly, these memories remain a powerful deterrent against nuclear war.
Hiroshima commemorated the 67th anniversary of the city’s atomic bombing earlier this week on Monday, August 6. Yesterday, August 9, Nagasaki marked theirs at Nagasaki Peace Park with a ceremony attended by representatives from over 40 countries, including the U.S. Ambassador.
Reading a Peace Declaration, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue urged the international community to conclude the Nuclear Weapons Convention. Prime Minister Noda said that Japan has a responsibility to encourage countries to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
Each year as both cities mark these anniversaries, I am more concerned with the average age of the survivors. In its coverage of the ceremony the Japan Times noted that the number of officially recognized hibakusha (survivors) in Nagasaki stood at 39,324 as of March, with an average age of 77½ years.
Who are the survivors? What are their stories? There are many. I am happy to know that they have made their way into classrooms around the world, and many continue to share their stories in books and lectures. I find the story of one man especially moving. Mr. Yoshida, whose mother was born in Hawaii, survived the Hiroshima bombing, and continued to live in Japan for many years, until moving to the Philippines where he now makes his home. It gives me great pleasure to share an interview published last week in the Japan Times about Mr. Yoshida’s life. “Atomic bomb survivor credits to learn for living ‘Four Lives.’” His vigorous energy and positive outlook embodies the spirit of the hibakusha. They are ambassadors of peace, focusing on how they can best share their experiences instead of dwelling on their victimhood. (Readers may recall that I introduced the story of Mr. Yuuki Yoshida early last year.)
Since the accidents at Fukushima last year, Japan now knows the twin dangers of nuclear energy. Today, Friday, tens of thousands will again flood into the streets of Tokyo to protest the use of nuclear energy in Japan. In this environment of frustration and disappointment with the government and TEPCO, we should not forget the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the only ones who can still share these lessons firsthand are fading. I repeat, the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the sole witnesses and survivors of nuclear weapons used as an act of war. We cannot let their stories slip away.
Please take a moment to consider what the two bombings that took place 67 years ago mean to you.