By Jerry Alatalo
etsuko Thurlow is 83 years old and a “hibakusha”, or survivor of the atomic blasts of August 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. On October 25, 2015, she became recognized with the annual Distinguished Peace Leadership Award by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, joining previous honorees Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Jacques Cousteau, Carl Sagan, Jody Williams, Helen Caldicott, Medea Benjamin and others.
In July 1946 in the Marshall Islands’ Bikini Atoll, the first underwater test of atomic weapons was planned, carried out and filmed by the United States government. People of the Marshall Islands have taken legal action over the monumental negative health effects of radiation released during the testing.
(Thank you to Racaya at YouTube)
Setsuko Thurlow was 13 years old and in Hiroshima at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945 when the atomic bomb detonated on her city, was fortunate to survive, has recalled the hellish experience to audiences young and old in the decades since it occurred, and urges a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons from the Earth – forever.
“That fateful day August 6, 1945, as a thirteen year-old school girl and a member of the student mobilization project, I was at the army headquarters 1.8 kilometers from ground zero. About 30 of us students were assigned to work as decoding assistants of the secret messages. At 8:15 AM, as the Major was giving us the pep talk at the assembly, suddenly I saw in the window a blinding, bluish-white flash, and I remember having the sensation of floating in the air.”
“As I regained consciousness in the silence and the darkness, I found found myself pinned by the collapsed building. I could not move, and I knew I was faced with death. Then, I began to hear my classmates’ faint voices: ‘Mother, help me..’, ‘God, help me..’. Then, suddenly I felt hands touching my left shoulder from behind, and heard a man say: ‘Don’t give up, keep moving, keep pushing, I’m trying to free you. See the light coming through the opening, go toward it, and get out of here as quickly as possible.’ Most of my classmates in that room were burned alive.”
“Outside, I looked around. Although it was morning it was dark as twilight, because of the dust and smoke rising in the air. A soldier ordered me and two other girls, survivor girls, to escape to the nearby hills. I saw streams of ghostly figures slowly shuffling from the center of the city towards the nearby hills. They did not look like human beings; their hair stood straight up and they were naked and tattered – bleeding, burned, blackened and swollen.”
“Parts of their bodies were missing, flesh and skin hanging from their bones, some with their eyeballs hanging in their hands, and some with their stomachs burst open with intestines hanging out. The students joined the ghostly procession, carefully stepping over the dead and dying. There was a deathly silence broken only by the moans of the injured, and their pleas for water.”
“The foul stench of the burned skin filled the air. We managed to escape to the foot of the hill, where there was an army training ground about the size of two football fields. It was covered with the dead and the injured, who were desperately begging, often in faint voices: ‘Water, water.. Please give me water.’ But we had no containers to carry water. We went to a nearby stream to wash off the blood and dirt from our bodies. Then we tore off our blouses, soaked them with water, and hurried back to hold them to the mouth of the injured, who desperately sucked in the moisture.”
“We did not see any doctors or nurses all day. When darkness fell, we sat on the hills and all night watched the entire city burn, numbed by the massive, grotesque scale of death and suffering we witnessed. My father left town early that morning; when he saw the mushroom cloud rising above the city, he hurried back to the city. My mother was rescued from the collapsed home. My sister and her four year-old son were burned beyond recognition while going to the doctor’s office.”
“An aunt and two cousins were found as skeletons; my sister is still missing. We rejoiced in the survival of my uncle and aunt in the outskirts of the city, but several days later they began to have purple spots all over their bodies, which was a sign of radiation poisoning. According to my parents who cared for them until their death, their internal organs seemed to be rotting, and coming out as a thick black liquid.”
“Radiation, the unique characteristic of the atomic bombing, affected people in mysterious and random ways, with some dying instantly and others weeks, months and years later by the delayed effects, by survivors today 70 years later.”
Setsuko Thurlow’s recounting of her personal experience during the Hiroshima nuclear bombing disaster makes clear the moral and ethical argument for abolition of all nuclear weapons from Earth. Any debates about so-called “positive” aspects of continued reliance on such hideously destructive weapons to “maintain the peace” are impotent in the face of any possibility that the weapons could become used, and the repetition, perhaps hundreds or thousands of times as devastating, of what occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While nuclear weapons remain intact and ready to launch with the resulting nightmare scenario(s) worse than Ms. Thurlow shares, in essence humanity is living with the real possibility of nuclear war, collective suicide, and the extinguishing of all life on Earth. From any perspective, it is impossible to deny the logic for concluding that a nuclear weapons ban must become acknowledged, accepted and agreed upon by all nations as rapidly as possible.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) includes provisions that genuinely provide a road map for a nuclear weapons-free world, but has failed to provide the incentive(s) necessary to guarantee all signatory nations act in a forthright manner which concretely moves the global disarmament process along. Considering the experience described by Setsuko Thurlow of Hiroshima, has it become perhaps necessary to add provisions or amend the NPT in a way that provides more “radical” incentives that guarantee movement toward a world free of nuclear weapons?
Agree to dismantle, eliminate and/or destroy your nuclear weapons, or face the death penalty.
What would happen if the following provisions were amended to the NPT, agreed upon, and signed by all nations on Earth?:
“Upon the date this amendment becomes agreed to and signed, each nation on Earth possessing nuclear weapons will have no more than one year (12 months, 365 days) to disable, dismantle, or otherwise destroy their nuclear stockpiles. By signing this agreement, you recognize that possession of nuclear weapons after one year is a crime punishable by death. Failure to comply in the time allotted shall result in the non-compliant nation(s) sentencing of its highest-level elected official or generally recognized head of state, to death.”
After the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, before the year ended and 1946 began, from 210-220 thousand residents of Hiroshima perished. Nuclear weapons today, if one actually became detonated over a city, would result in a far higher number of deaths than Hiroshima because the weapons of today are many times more destructive. A nuclear weapon detonated in one of the world’s major cities could kill millions of people.
Nine nations now possess nuclear weapons, so would the possible putting to death of nine human beings be wiser, the best incentive available for eliminating nuclear weapons, and the option offering the highest levels of eventual (after one year) benefit for humanity when compared to thus far ineffective efforts – and continued existential threat? Put another way, is the idea of establishing a world without nuclear weapons one that is obviously logical, moral, ethical and worth working toward – even through “radical” measures?
Setsuko Thurlow said near the end of her address at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation annual event:
“I’m delighted… I see so many young people here tonight. And believe me, we older folks are trying very hard to make sure nothing like that will ever happen again to another human being, and we want you young people to have a chance to live your life, and to make sure your children, your grandchildren, will have a chance to enjoy this beautiful planet. And that’s the major reason I try to remember the painful memories of 70 years ago – so that people hopefully understand what kind of world we are living in today, and what responsibility each one of us have to make sure something like that would never happen again.”
Since posted on Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s YouTube channel on November 30, 2015, the following video featuring an extremely profound, powerful talk by hibakusha Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow has become viewed, sadly, only 99 times. Perhaps men and women readers from Japan can change that by sharing Ms. Thurlow’s talk with the people of their nation, especially at this time – coinciding with U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima.
(Thank you to NuclearAgePeace at YouTube)