Lessons from History
71 years ago today, the first atomic bomb fell on the city of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 people instantly and demolishing almost 6 square miles of city. Ninety percent of doctors and medical personnel were killed in the initial blast, and most hospitals were destroyed or heavily damaged, rendering medical care incredibly difficult. Radiation sickness and the fires that raged for 3 more days eventually brought the death toll to 135,000.
The bombing of Hiroshima is treated as an historical event, but the threat of nuclear weapons has never been more current. In an increasingly global world, the threat of nuclear terrorism, accidental nuclear war, and regional nuclear war is exponentially greater than in the years after the first nuclear bomb was dropped.
Today's modern nuclear weapons have on average over 10 times the explosive power of the first Hiroshima bomb, with the current most powerful U.S. nuclear missile boasting 75 times the destructive force of the "Little Boy." The global tally of nuclear weapons numbers over 15,000, enough to destroy the world hundreds of times over. The United States possesses almost half of the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons, approximately 1,000 of which are on high alert, increasing the risk of accidental nuclear war. Adding to this tally, the U.S. has plans to develop 1,000 new Long Range Standoff Cruise Missiles (LRSO) as a part of a 1 Trillion dollar nuclear weapons spending plan. Nuclear weapons are not just a part of our history, they are a part of our present day reality.
Political and military discussions of nuclear weapons focus on figures and statistics, but on this day, we must remember the true cost of nuclear weapons is in human lives. The Hiroshima Archive, a digital catalogue of Hiroshima survivors, was developed to keep alive the reality of that first horrible event and to tell the stories of those that lived through it, so that we may never forget the true grim power of nuclear weapons. Here, we feature a story from one of those survivors in honor of Hiroshima Day.
Those were chaotic days when the air raid sirens sounded every night and Japan was gradually headed towards the darkness of defeat. Students of the junior and senior years of Hiroshima Jogakuin High School before the war graduated at the same time. Some of us who graduated from the junior year went on to make guns at Toyo Kogyo (currently Mazda). Others continued to pursue their academics at the College or joined the 2nd General Army Headquarters to work in the communication battalion. Whatever choice my classmates made, at 15 and 16 years of age the young women of Jogakuin all worked diligently.
On the morning of August 6, I was waiting for the streetcar at Tokaichi Station for a long time. The streetcars were temporarily delayed due to the air raid warning earlier on. I squeezed into the packed streetcar and was riding by Dobashi. There was an orange flash for a split second, followed by a thundering loud explosion. It felt as though the streetcar was knocked off the rail. I jumped out and ran about amidst the darkness and frightening roar. I saw some younger female students surround a soldier to ask for help. Their skin was burned and dangling from the tips of their fingers. But the soldier himself was burned badly, and there was nothing he could do to help. He was trying his best to comfort them with kind words.
After the darkness lifted I saw a living hell. People were half naked due to their clothes burning off their body. They had horrible burns and everywhere you looked, there was mass confusion. I walked over the rubble, following a flow of people and dodging fires here and there. I was crossing the river to flee the spreading flames and sparks when I heard a little voice say “Stupid Americans, hateful Americans.” I turned around to find a young girl about 9 years of age carrying a baby on her back and following me. “Where is your Mommy?” I asked her. “Mommy and Granny were crushed under the house and they told me to take the baby to my auntie’s in Itsukaichi”, she answered. We crossed the river together. Then we parted ways. She headed towards Itsukaichi and I headed towards Koi. I felt concerned for her as she walked away.
When I arrived at Koi, black rain started to fall. I came by a farm and joined a group of people in a barn, who were waiting for the rain to stop. I was soaked and wrapped my shivering body in a grass mat. Then I became nauseated but thought that if I passed out here I would never make it home. So I gathered all my might to hike over the mountain to Nagatsuka where a farmhouse had been arranged to be a refuge site for my family.
I was walking by the riverbank in Nagatsuka when I noticed a strange phenomenon. The houses that used to have grass roofs had become structures with only beams and pillars with furniture inside. I walked under the burning sky in my tattered monpe pants. “Mother!” I called out at the farmhouse. “Hisako’s home! We were just about to leave to look for you,” my mother answered. She was preparing some balls of rice and barley to bring along on her search for me.
I laid down on the tatami, cradled in my mother and sister’s arms. My mother brought to my bedside some rice balls and tea, but I wasn’t able to swallow the food. At night I looked beyond the bamboo forest and watched the city of Hiroshima burn. I could see the bright red flames and feel the hot breeze that carried the stench of human bodies burning. I didn’t sleep a wink.
“My daughter never returned,” said Mrs. Kushiyama, my classmate’s mother. We all cried together. In the evening a young woman with severe burns arrived at the farmhouse next door and asked if she could rest in their barn for a while. She begged for water, but we were taught not to give burn victims water. So we sliced some cucumbers to put on her burns. My mother busily came and went between our house and the barn next door. The young women passed away the following morning in spite of the efforts and care given by the villagers. I grew very concerned about my health in the days that followed as I had nausea, diarrhea and loss of appetite. My hair was falling out as well.
Once the fires subsided in Hiroshima, my sister and I went to check on the state of our house in Higashi Hiratsuka. The city was permeated with the stench of burned bodies and the rivers were filled with the dead. Near Aioi Bridge, I passed by a group of eight dead schoolboys who had been burned while they held one another’s hands tightly as they lay in a circle. I imagined they must have called out each other’s names, as they were burned alive.
The Kamiya-cho and Hatchobori areas were just as hellish. I saw many people who were burned brown and swollen, and dead horses on their sides. I passed by a mother, sitting on the stone steps of the bank, who was nursing her baby. She was completely naked and bleeding from every part of her body and yet there was something so very noble about her that I couldn’t even speak to her. I vowed to myself that I would speak to her on the way back, but when I returned she was nowhere to be found. We carried on, walking over bodies, only to arrive at our home. It had been completely burned down. “Your home burned in a pillar of flames. The elderly next door saw the fire approaching and just retreated into their home, never to come out,” said a teary eyed neighbor who found us standing there.
We were passing through Kamiya-cho on our way back when a man came by and yelled “They’re stoning an American tied up to a telephone pole by Aioi Bridge. You should go and see!” We went in a hurry but saw neither an American nor people with stones. I’m glad we didn’t run into an American that day. I wonder now, had I come upon such a scene, if I would have joined the crowd to cast stones, or if I would have tried to stop the angry mass. I cry every time I reflect upon this.
War is such a cruel thing. They say that 200,000 people lost their lives from the single blast of the atomic bomb. As a survivor I want to tell the whole world that there are no winners in a nuclear war. Destruction of humanity is the only result. There can be no future for us under the threat of nuclear weapons. I recognize the importance of the abolishment of nuclear weapons in these uncertain times. I sincerely pray for world peace.
The Atomic Bomb Dome with its thorn crown stands as a grave on this anniversary
This first-person account was originally featured on The Hiroshima Archives created by
Mr. Watanave at Tokyo Metropolitan University
Go to The Hiroshima Archives to read more stories from A-bomb survivors