In a room overflowing with more than 75 attendees, two Hibakusha, a term used to describe the survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombings, gave their testimony at the United Nations. In a joint collaboration, the International NGO Peace Boat, Hibakusha Stories, and the Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the United Nations co-sponsored the event entitled “Hibakusha Testimony: Humanitarian Voice in the Global Movement to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.”
Following a welcome message from Ambassador Carlos Enrique García González, Peace Boat Executive Committee member and Hibakusha Project Director Akira Kawasaki opened up the conference with an introduction of Peace Boat’s work, beginning in 1983 as a vehicle for reconciliation among people in Asia to promote peace, conflict resolution and environmental sustainability. Guided by a philosophy of learning from the past, the organization also currently works on various important global issues including disarmament education and activism with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
The first survivor to give testimony, Mr. Michio Hakariya, who was only 8 years old on August 6, 1945 when the atomic bomb hit Japan, spoke about his experience when the bomb fell on Nagasaki, taking breaks to look at an attentive audience listening to his personal story of how he had failed to fulfill a promise to his childhood friend who died during the war. Mr. Hakariya and his friend had planned to swim and fish at a lake near the epicenter of where the atomic bomb fell, but his mother had admonished him to finish his homework first. His friend never showed up at school again.
Kathleen Sullivan from Hibakusha Stories is also a disarmament educator, activist and co-author of Action for Disarmament: 10 Things You Can Do! Dr. Sullivan gave a demonstration of the current arsenal of nuclear weapons existing in the world compared to that from World War II using a sound experiment where she dropped a small metal bead onto a metallic plate representing the all of the firepower power during World War II, followed by several beads that echoed the sound of bullets hitting a target for several seconds, symbolizing the 17,000 nuclear weapons that nine countries currently hold today.
The second Hibakusha, Ms. Reiko Yamada from Hiroshima, spoke of the families affected by the nuclear bomb. She remembers images of injured people who sometimes did not look human, and how in an effort to escape they overflowed the roads near her home. There was nothing anyone could do without having medication to treat them, she said; so the people died and their bodies were gathered together and burned in the schoolyard. Mrs. Yamada talked about the living survivors having to carry memories of the people who had died, and how Hibakusha share their stories with so much expectation of change but continuously are disappointed at not seeing a global ban on nuclear weapons. “I hold this expectation for all of you,” she told the audience.
The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, talked about current efforts to educate young Japanese people with the hope that we can all work together toward nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation education. Two students from Nagasaki University, part of a delegation visiting the United Nations, acknowledged their mission to learn about what happened, and to listen to the testimonies so they can discuss and share this information with others.
Emilie McGlone from Peace Boat US closed the conference reminding everyone that consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing were not over, but were carried by the second and third generations, who were also present in the room. In addition to health issues, the survivors and later generations also face discrimination that often negatively impacts their lives and discourages them from getting married, having children or even sharing their past experiences with family members for fear of being ostracized.
By Susan Vente