Hibakusha, the Ban Treaty, and Future Generations

August 14, 2017
Masako Toki

This article originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on August 10, 2017.

Around this time every year, we have an opportunity to learn more about—and reflect upon—what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when atomic bombs were dropped on these cities.

The peace declaration read by Hiroshima’s mayor, Kazumi Matsui, at this year’s peace ceremony illustrated the horror of a single nuclear weapon that killed over 140,000 people. He depicted an “absolute evil” that was “unleashed in the sky over Hiroshima,” and implored the audience to “imagine for a moment what happened under that roiling mushroom cloud.”

It was a very poignant moment.

But I think that an even more compelling way to understand what really happened on that day is to listen to the recollections of the atomic bomb survivors, or Hibakusha, in their own words. These first-person accounts can deliver a sharp, keen sense of the effects of a nuclear bomb’s detonation, as portrayed in autobiographical books such as Hiroshima Memories, whose author, Hideko Tamura Friedman, was just a young girl when the bomb was dropped on her hometown on August 6, 1945. In an understated, matter-of-fact tone that makes the tale even more powerful, Hideko details the events of that day—such as how she was lying in bed reading a book early in the morning when “a huge band of white light fell from the sky down to the trees.” She jumped up and hid behind a large pillar as an explosion shook the earth and pieces of the roof fell about her. Hideko survived; some other members of her family did not. “My father,” she wrote in in a heart-rending statement of fact, “brought Mama’s ashes home in his army handkerchief.”

Such direct, immediate, first-person accounts fill the gap in historical renderings of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and help to give a clearer understanding of the actual effects of the use of nuclear weapons against human beings. The Hibakusha recollections help to demystify nuclear weapons, and remove any euphoria or sanitization about the use of atomic bombs.

Continue reading this article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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