The Harry S Truman Little White House sponsors a symposium every year involving a topic of importance. The title this year was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I attended the final discussion on the last day of the Symposium.
The topic drew me to the event. I was ten years old at the time Truman ordered the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Old enough to recall the events. Even a ten year old knew it was world altering.
Two of the speakers were survivors of the bombings. Relatively close to me in age. Setusko Thurlow is today 81 years old. At the time the bomb fell on Hiroshima, she was 13. Yasuaki Yamashita is today 74 years old. At the time the bomb fell on Nagasaki, he was 6.
Moderating the event was Clifton Truman Daniel. Daniel is President Truman’s oldest grandson.
President Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The two survivors are part of the Hibakusha Stories Group. Hibakusha is Japanese for atomic bomb survivors, a bomb affected group. The group is anti-nuclear weapons. It seeks the destruction of all nuclear weapons. Ban the bomb!
The personal stories of both survivors were compelling. They were there. Their lives thereafter significantly affected by the bombings.
Setsuko Thurlow again was 13 years old and living in Hiroshima at the time. She was an eighth grade student. However, she and other young school children did not attend school any longer. The men and young lads were fighting in the islands. Japan was losing the war. Only young children and women were left in Japan proper. They had to help in the war effort.
Setsuko was part of a group of thirty girls who were working at Army headquarters. Setsuko’s job was decoding secret messages from the front lines. She was attending an assembly meeting when the bomb fell. The time was 8 am. Suddenly, there was a flash. Beyond description. All she said of the bombing itself was “…..a real catastrophe.” She added, “No human being deserves that kind of experience.”
She did not share precisely what happened to her physically. Whether intentional, I do not know. Perhaps too painful to articulate even after so many years.
She wished governments would “…..stop wasting money on how to kill each other.” She could not understand how a group of people could plan and conceive a weapon to kill so many.
God/religion was a problem for her. Her words…..”If god is a God of love, how could this happen.” It took her years to reconcile the situation. Finally, she worked it out and became a Christian.
She made a promise to herself in 1954 to do whatever necessary to make sure an atomic/nuclear bombing never occurred again. As she said, “It became my responsibility, my mission.”
In the 1960s, Setsuko came to the United States to study. She openly expressed her anti-nuclear feelings. People around her did not take to her opinions too well. She sounded anti-American. Her feelings for the United States were questioned. It was a painful time for her. During that time she spoke at a Peace Conference in Cleveland. When she left, people were calling her Communist and spitting on her.
She believes that the decision makers of today are not doing their job. Of Obama, she said in effect he talks a good game, but does not walk the walk. Apparently Obama in a 2009 Vienna Conference said something should be done about ridding the world of nuclear weapons, but from her perspective he never followed up. She stressed Obama’s leadership was needed.
Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. Too early, she thought. He did nothing to deserve it and has done nothing since to deserve it. She was especially distressed that Obama was modernizing the United States nuclear arsenal rather than working to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Setsuko provided some insight into the years immediately following the blast.
Many doctors and nurses were killed at the time of the blast or died within weeks following it. Medical help was scarce for survivors..
No one really knew anything about radiation at the time. Many pregnant women at the time of the bombing delivered deformed babies. She claims the occupational forces kept people in the dark about radiation effects. They were told that only women who were pregnant at the time of the bombing could have deformed babies. Any who became pregnant after the bombing, could not. She claimed this was a falsehood. Radiation is still affecting some births almost 70 years after the bombing.
The burns and resultant scars were not beautiful. The scarring was scarring upon scarring. Many young girls had difficulty marrying. Many would only leave their homes in the dark of night.
She feels that the Japanese governments since the end of the war have been subservient to the interests and dictates of the United States. She believes Japan, the only nation who actually suffered atomic damage, should take the lead world wide in any anti-nuclear movement. She claims however that Japan does not because it refuses to sever its ties with the United States over the issue.
Setsuko subsequently married a Canadian and has lived most of her adult life in Canada. She was a social worker.
Now comes Yasuaki Yamashita.
Yasuaki has spent most of his adult life in Mexico. He is an artist.
He was 6 years old when the bomb fell on Nagasaki. It dropped on Nagasaki three days after the Hiroshima bombing. He was playing outside his home. Air raids were uncommon over Nagasaki. Earlier that morning, the air raid siren went off three times. Few ran to shelters. Even though the siren went off, there were no planes.
Then one plane flew over. The siren went off. He could see the plane. His mother came outside and told him to be careful and then returned inside. There was no concern.
Suddenly, there was a “…..tremendous flash.” His sister was standing near him. Her head was burning. The “…..moment of the blast was terrible…..a totally grotesque scene thereafter.”
Yasuaki spoke of discrimination following the bombing. People did not want to associate with anyone who was at the Nagasaki blast scene. Radiation was the problem. Though no one knew it was radiation caused at the time. Persons unrelated to the blast were getting sick if they came into contact with blast people. The radiation apparently could be transferred from one person to another.
Yasuaki kept his involvement hidden. He knew he had to leave Japan if he was to lead a somewhat normal life. He finally was able to get to Mexico as a reporter to cover the Olympics. There he stayed.
His affliction from the blast was a form of anemia. It began 20 years after the blast. He was living in Mexico at the time. He suddenly began bleeding big time. And continued to do so every six months for a long period.
Yasuaki shrugged his shoulders and said no one knew about or had any knowledge of an atomic bomb. Nor its radiation affects. Then in 1955, the doctors started talking about this thing called radiation. As described earlier, it was considered contagious. There was no treatment. Those who suffered from the blast were ostracized.
Yasuaki’s father was not in the area of the blast. However, afterwards he spent days piling the corpses up for removal. His father subsequently died from the radiation.
He, too, felt Obama has failed to help so far with regard to abolishing nuclear weapons.
What was strange to me was that this anti-nuclear discussion was taking place on the grounds of the Harry S Truman Little White House. Truman ordered the dropping of the bombs. Additionally, Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel was part of the presentation at what could be described as a Truman Symposium.
Was the grandson being critical of his grandfather?
Not at all.
Daniel said he was not second guessing his grandfather. He also was not apologetic for his grandfather’s decision to drop the bombs. However, he was committed to work to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
He explained that his desire for a nuclear free world came from a book his son brought home from school a couple of years ago. The book was titled Sadako And The Thousand Paper Cranes. The author was Sadako Sasaki. The book moved him. It was the story of a victim of the Hiroshima bombing. Sadako, who died in 1955 from radiation caused leukemia. Since the reading, he has become an advocate for a nuclear free world.
I found the presentation interesting. However, I did not agree with most of the positions taken. In today’s society, a nuclear weapon free world is altruistic. It does not fit. If the other nations who have nuclear capability all got rid of their nuclear weapons, then I would agree the United States should also. There are too many nuts out there to do otherwise. Self protection comes first.
I suspect that more than one country having nuclear capacity acts as a deterrent. During the cold war, Russia and the United States never took that last step. Each side knew it was utter destruction for both sides if one dropped the bomb. Hopefully, even present day radical nations who have the bomb think the same way.