Hibakusha testimonies at Nayarit Conference reveal lasting legacy of nuclear attacks

March 7, 2014

In a programme full of eye-opening and compelling presentations at the recent Nayarit Conference (13, 14 February 2014), one that stuck in the memories of many of the attendees and those following the proceedings online was the testimony of the Hibakusha – the survivors of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At the Nayarit conference we heard first-hand accounts of the horror of the detonations over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the testimonies of Setsuko Thurlow and Yasuaki Yamashita. They were stark in their portrayal of the devastation they encountered (“When darkness fell, we sat on the hillside and watched all night the entire city burn, numbed by the massive and grotesque scale of death and suffering we had witnessed […] Thus, my beloved city of Hiroshima suddenly became desolation, with heaps of ash and rubble, skeletons and blackened corpses.” – Setsuko Thurlow)

Another point emphasized by all the Hibakusha at the Nayarit conference was the lasting legacy of nuclear weapons. Ms Masaki Koyanagi is a third-generation Hibakusha. Her grandmother was 22 when the bomb hit Nagasaki, and although she survived the initial blast, she suffered persistent health problems over the course of her life and she would die from stomach cancer at the age of 53. As Koyanagi said the psychological impact of the bombings is immense and remains to this day:

“The psychological pain which A-bomb survivors suffer is unthinkable. The mental damage remains even after sixty-eight years have passed. Although A-bomb survivors are not forgotten, they themselves would like to forget. Even if there are no immediate visible effects at the time of exposure, the effects are sure to come out in future years in the form of illness. This condition has not yet been medically resolved. The victim is always uneasy, waiting for the effects to surface, and unable to guess in what form. After the effects of radiation are felt in the form of sickness, it can have other effects in the future by way of other sicknesses. Even victims’ children are told to hide the fact that their parents are survivors so that they can get on with their lives and grow up normally.”

In the words of Toshiko Fujimori, who spoke about the long-term effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, “The atomic bomb persistently haunts the life of the Hibakusha and torments them until the end of their life. If this is not inhuman, then what can it be described as?”

The experience of the individual can sometimes be obscured when one looks at the sheer scale of destruction in terms of numbers, area and environmental impact. The moving accounts of Hibakusha reminded us in clear terms of the human experience of the use and the lasting effects of these weapons. In the Hear the Stories section on the ICAN website, you can read the personal accounts of 5 individuals who have personally experienced the horror of nuclear detonations, both in war and in testing. Click here for the stories of Sumitero Taniguchi, Setsuko Thurlow, Yasuaki Yamashita, Karipbek Kuyukov and Yami Lester.

As Ms Thurlow said in conclusion to her testimony, “The time has come for non-nuclear weapons states and civil society to initiate a nuclear weapons ban for the sake of humanity.”

“You and I, together, we can. We must.”

Read the testimonies of the Hibakusha at the Nayarit Conference

Mr Yasuaki Yamashita, “Nagasaki, 9.08.1945” (Spanish)

Ms Setsuko Thurlow, “Hiroshima, 6.08.1945” (English)

Mr Toshiki Fujimori, “Long Term Effect of a Nuclear Weapon Detonation” (English)

Ms Masaki Koyanagi, “Intergenerational Effects: a Perspective from a Third Generation Hibakusha” (English)

Mr Terumi Tanaka, “Social and Psychological Impact” (English)

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