On Wednesday 11th May I had the privilege of listening to Setsuko Thurlow. Setsuko is a survivor of the Atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945.
As I left the room I confess to being tearful and slightly numbed by what I had just heard.
Setsuko’s testimony reached back in time and opened a window to 1945 which allowed me to look into a dark day in history that should never be forgotten and never repeated. She described the atrocity in great detail and I know that my words will not do justice to her story.
At 13 years of age Setsuko was being trained by the military, along with 30 other young girls. She was being trained to decode top secret military messages. That is how desperate the Japanese military were. As a fighting force they were beaten and demoralised. Despite this we dropped an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three days later a variation of the same bomb on Nagasaki. The greatest military experiment of all time was unleashed on the civilian population of two large Japanese cities with huge populations and no military significance what so ever.
Setsuko was in her military class room when she saw a blue flash of light. When she regained consciousness it was completely dark but it was still morning. The dust and debris sucked up by the explosion had polluted the atmosphere so much that it blocked out the light from the sun. As she staggered amidst the ruins she saw many dead bodies burnt and twisted. She saw moving figures, like ghosts in the gloom. As she got closer she could see people stumbling, burnt and bloated, some had their hands outstretched in front of their faces, they were carrying their own eyes. Some fell to the ground and as they did so their stomachs exploded and their intestines spilled out.
Her parents came looking for her the following day. Her father had been fishing out at sea and saw the mushroom crowd. He came back to find his family. Her sister lived outside the city but had come back the night before to visit. They were reunited but her sister and her sister’s child had swollen to three times their normal width. Their internal organs were blackened and leaking out of their bodies. Her sister and her four year old child died, three painful days later. Her Sister in law was never found. Given her location in the city, when the bomb explode, it is believed she was vaporised. Those that survived were often ostracised by society because they were horribly disfigured.
When the allies reached the city, General MacArthur promised to demilitarise and democratise Japan. Their first act in democracy was to close down all media coverage that reported on the aftermath of the bombing. The human suffering was not to be known. Diaries, letters, poems, pictures were confiscated. The victims were not allowed to testify and the world was not allowed to bare witness. There was a seven year close down of information. Without this it’s questionable if the nuclear age would have happened at all.
The aid that was supplied in the aftermath was not to ease the pain or help the suffering its sole purpose was to study the effect on human bodies. Setsuko believes they were used as Guinea pigs, twice. First as targets and then as specimens.
When asked, why after all these years, she still tells her heart rendering story she said
“We feel a moral responsibility to warn the world. This is a global issue. Let’s work together. This is my desperate plea.”
She was then asked how she would describe such a weapon and she replied.
“Weapon is not appropriate it’s a method to massacre indiscriminately. It’s immoral. Let’s live together, don’t spend and squander our resources on such things”.
The Conservative government insists that it supports nuclear disarmament – with the proviso that it has to be multilateral not unilateral. And yet it boycotted the multilateral nuclear disarmament talks in Zurich earlier this year.
As President Obama nears the end of his tenure he is going to visit Hiroshima. To put this gesture in context we must remember that the USA boycotted the Zurich talks and is committed to spending one trillion pounds on furthering weapons of mass destruction. And as a chilling footnote when the President visits Hiroshima he will have in his entourage what is known as the atomic football, that is the device required to unleash Nuclear warfare once again on the innocent and the defenceless.