Seventy-Three Years Later, Nagasaki Survivor Warns Against Nuclear Warfare

Seventy-three years ago today, on August 9, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people and forever changing the lives of those who survived the nuclear attack. The bombing came just three days after the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing some 140,000 people. For more we speak with two guests who traveled from Japan to New York City on the Peace Boat — an international boat that sails around the world campaigning for nuclear disarmament and world peace — last month. Terumi Kuramori is a hibakusha — that’s the Japanese word for a survivor of the atomic bomb — and Tatsuya Yoshioka is the co-founder and director of the Peace Boat.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Seventy-three years ago today on August 9th, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people and forever changing the lives of those who survived the nuclear attack. The destruction was massive, as shock waves, radiation and heat rays coursed throughout the city. This came just three days after the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing some 140,000 people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, just a few weeks ago, we were joined in studio by two guests who traveled from Japan to New York City on the Peace Boat, an international boat that sails around the world campaigning for nuclear disarmament and world peace. The cofounder and director of the Peace Boat, Tatsuya Yoshioka and Terumi Kuramori, a hibakusha — that’s the Japanese word for a survivor of the atomic bomb — joined us in our studios to talk about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I started by asking Terumi Kuramori to describe what happened when that second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki 73 years ago today.

TERUMI KURAMORI: [translated] That was the year when I was one years old, so I don’t have direct memory of that day. However, after surviving the atomic bomb, I went with my mother and my elder brother and sister into a bomb shelter, which was under the city, so we were able to survive, so I’m somehow able to be here today.

I don’t have any direct memory of that day. However, my parents also, they, for my whole life, did not speak out about the fact that we survived the bombing. The reason for that, the reason they did not speak out, is because, at the time, there was so much discrimination and prejudice against the hibakusha, the survivors. And at that time, it was difficult for us to obtain jobs, to get married. There was severe discrimination against us because of what we had been through.

When I was young — I was 5.8 kilometers from the hypocenter when we experienced the bomb. And that small village there that we were in, well, everybody, of course, was a hibakusha. Everybody experienced this. So, when we were in school, there were some people with keloids, with severe diseases, people who were affected directly by the radiation. But we were all hibakusha. All the children there were survivors, so there was no discrimination within the community. But when there was the time when I was to get married, because of the fact that I had been exposed to the radiation, the person who I wanted to marry, when we tried to do this, his family was against that, so we were not able to be married.

AMY GOODMAN: So you grew up in a community of hibakusha, of survivors of the nuclear bomb?

TERUMI KURAMORI: [translated] That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what people suffered who didn’t die immediately upon impact. And how many people in Nagasaki did die? And how many people, together with the people of Hiroshima, where the bomb was dropped three days before, did die?

TERUMI KURAMORI: [translated] As far as — I do not remember the exact day, but the people around me in the community, in our village, the hibakusha who survived, they told me of what they went through, their experiences. On August the 9th, 1945, until the end of that year, 70,000 people died in Nagasaki, more than 70,000. And there was also more than 100,000 people who died in Hiroshima.

In my village, there was actually mountains surrounding and a river, therefore the direct blast of the bomb did not affect our village so intensely. However, the people who survived the bomb — in Nagasaki, there is a large port, as well, so many people who were severely burned, who were very struggling to survive, with great wounds and so on, they were taken by these ships, actually, from there, as well.

On the evening of August 9 — I heard from the people in our village — they could see these people lined up, with people covered in blood, people crying out for “Water! Water!” and people dying in this way, almost living corpses, in a way, the next day their wounds being covered even in maggots, even while they were still alive. People really struggling. And it was these scenes of living hell I hear from the people in my community. And our neighbors also shared these stories with us about what happened in our city of Nagasaki.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the fears you have for your children, for their health?

TERUMI KURAMORI: [translated] Radiation and its impacts, of course, are not only the immediate impacts. Some people do die immediately, but after that, for many years, decades even after that, radiation continues to impact, continues to even affect — people’s cells are damaged. Their DNA is destroyed as a result of this. Therefore, for those people who were exposed to radiation internally, as well, through food, through water, through things that they were ingesting, even two or three years later, people, for example, giving breast milk to their children, even decades later getting sick with leukemia. There are very sad stories like this, so I was very concerned. Radiation is something which continues to affect generations. It’s terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts, Terumi Kuramori, on the U.N. secretary-general, Guterres, saying that he will be there on the commemoration day, on August 9th? He will be the first U.N. secretary-general to go to Nagasaki to note the anniversary of the atomic bombing. Ban Ki-moon went to Hiroshima.

TERUMI KURAMORI: [translated] Nagasaki is, of course, a city which is maybe very different to Hiroshima in the sense that there are less people who come to visit. However, coming to Nagasaki to see the museum, to learn the stories of the hibakusha, the survivors, who are now more than 80 years old on average, is so important. There are so few of us now. So him coming directly to hear the stories of those who are still surviving, even after — you know, the people who are still suffering very much, even after last year’s awarding of the Nobel Prize to the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, those survivors who are still there are trying to share their message. So him coming to Nagasaki to hear this directly, firsthand, is so important. And so, if he can come to Nagasaki and bring this story back to his own country and people around the world, it is very important. I hope that Nagasaki will be the last place that nuclear weapons are ever used.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Terumi Kuramori, who is a hibakusha of Nagasaki. That’s the Japanese word for a survivor. She was one year old when the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945, three days after it dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

We are also joined by the man who organized the Peace Boat that brought Terumi Kuramori here to New York. Tatsuya Yoshioka is co-founder and director of the Peace Boat. Can you talk about what this Peace Boat is, that looks so unusual on the Hudson River there at Pier 90, right next to the USS Intrepid?

TATSUYA YOSHIOKA: OK. I have started this organization 35 years ago, and because, as you know, that’s — we are also the longtime suffered by the Cold War in Asia, so still now. Of course, the North Korean issue is a quite big issue. But that’s why, when I was a student, I really would like to do something to make a friendship among the Asians. So, and first my ambition is try to go to neighborhood countries and to start a dialogue with them, to build a friendship. That is 35 years ago. And after that, this Peace Boat cruise, the voyage, is growing. And now we are three times the around-the-world cruise in a year and to visit more than 80 countries for the dialogue and friendship promotion. And also we are really concerned about the sustainable development issue and also climate change and ocean issue.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the boat, the Peace Boat —

TATSUYA YOSHIOKA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — which is right now a regular cruise ship, that came into the harbor like so many others —

TATSUYA YOSHIOKA: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — but it’s so different from so many others, has signs on the outside. It says “Peace Boat.”

TATSUYA YOSHIOKA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: It says “ICAN.” And it has the symbol of the sustainable development goals.

TATSUYA YOSHIOKA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about ICAN and your partnership with this organization dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons in the world.

TATSUYA YOSHIOKA: Yes. That’s a — I think, I believe, one of the most important activity to abolish the nuclear weapon is to try to bring the real voice of the hibakusha, the atomic bomb survivors, because, in there, their experience is terrible, but at the same time they themselves have that experience. So that’s why it is very, very powerful to convince even political leaders to think about that: What will happen if next nuclear weapon war?

So, and I think that is a — our mission is to try to bring the survivors, the hibakusha, as much as possible to all over the world. And we are trying to set up the negotiation or testimony with the decision makers or the political leaders or even the business leader or professors, intellectuals, to understand that — what’s happened in Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

AMY GOODMAN: The nuclear ban treaty, if you could explain what this is, each of you? Let’s begin with Terumi Kuramori. The treaty that both Japan, Prime Minister Abe, who seems rather close to President Trump, and President Trump refused to sign on to. Of course President Obama did not sign on to it, either.

TERUMI KURAMORI: [translated] The nuclear ban treaty is something which we have been appealing about around the world, calling on countries to sign and ratify. Some of the countries that we have met with are in support. However, there is still many countries which do need to sign on. And so, we believe that all of the citizens around the world who have the power to vote, that have the power to impact their politicians, their parliamentarians, to encourage them to sign onto this nuclear ban treaty is important.

And also for countries like Japan to come out of under the nuclear umbrella. Japan, unfortunately, is not making any moves. It’s still stuck under that United States nuclear umbrella. So we, as hibakusha, are continuing to appeal that the nuclear ban treaty is going to become international law soon, and this means that we have, under — legally around the world, nuclear weapons cannot be used. This is a way to have countries all around the world recognize this and make this new norm a legal norm. I’m not sure about the United States, but perhaps it’s a difficult situation. But really, looking at these countries, it’s important.

AMY GOODMAN: Terumi Kuramori is a hibakusha. She’s a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki 73 years ago today, August 9th, 1945. Tatsuya Yoshioka is cofounder and director of the Peace Boat. That does it for our show. Democracy Now! has a job opening for a full-time broadcast engineer here in New York City. Find out more at our website, Democracynow.org.