A Hiroshima survivor's message to the nuclear world
What happens when a nuclear weapon is used? And what are the implications the day after? Scientists tell us that as an atom splits, a burning sun erupts from its heart, descends from the sky to engulf a city in its flaming wrath. It chars houses, melts skin and poisons the mud. The sound could be mistaken for the angel Israfeel’s promise to end the world with his trumpet.
A few weeks ago, Tufts University held a conference on the peril and promise of ‘Our Nuclear Age’.
I had the opportunity to listen to some distinguished speakers answer interesting questions. Hiroshima survivor Shigeko Sasamori provided us with a haunting description of what could happen on a day when nuclear weapons are used.
Sasamori is a short, spry woman with short grey hair whose lips and brown skin still bear scars from that day more than 50 years ago.
She trembled and stuttered as she spoke but her words carried conviction. On a bright sunny day many years ago, she was on her way to school when she looked up and saw a small plane in the sky.
As she looked up at the plane, she saw something even smaller fall out of it. Then came a blinding light and she lost consciousness. Waking up in a state of shock she started calling out for help and hoped that someone would hear her.
A stranger did find her and managed to bring her back to her parent’s house. She described a scene that could have been out of a horror movie. On the way to her house, she had seen hundreds of people moving like zombies, away from the epicenter of the bomb. Their skin melted away as they walked, to reveal flesh and bones.
She talked about how people fell dead as they slowly tried to move to safety.
When she finally arrived home, Sasamori’s parents and sisters had to rub off the parts of her skin that were coming off like yellow powder. Her family scrubbed the ‘powder’ off her for months, during which her sisters later told her, her “smell was unbearable.”
As we rose to give Sasamori a standing ovation towards the end of her address she said:
“I think we should all work for world peace and this is why I go wherever they ask me too, because even though it is hard for me, I really want people to hear about this.”
The words ‘world peace’ were suddenly not so clichéd anymore, coming from a Hiroshima survivor.
It was an oration I will never forget.
After she spoke, we were asked to think of what would happen the day after a nuclear exchange between countries today.
We thought about the challenges that one could face, and realised that the first challenge would be purely psychological. The tasks of reconstruction and communication would be huge.
If - some would argue, when - we arrive at this moment, it will be one of both tragedy and opportunity.
The poignant reality of Sasamori's story is evidence that impact of a nuclear attack is permanent and a poor price to pay for political gain.