Oh Hiroshima !
‘Oh dear! Time will pass and we shall be gone forever. We shall be forgotten, and people will no longer remember our faces and voices. But our sufferings will turn into joy for those who live after us. There will be peace and happiness on earth, and we, who live now will be remembered with gratitude and blessing’.
These words of Chekhov truly reflect the feeling of thousands of those who lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki sixty five years ago.
6 August, 1945 was just another day on the island of Tinian in the pacific where the command of the Strategic Air Force of the U.S.A. was located. Except for a chosen and trusted few, no one else had the idea the havoc B-29 ‘FORTRESS’ BOMBER OF THE 509th unit was going to wrought within a next few hours. At 0245 hrs. when Commander Paul Tibbets and his crew took off in bomber no. 82 named ‘Enola Gay’ after Tibbets’ mother for the historic flight, little did the citizens of Hiroshima realised the magnitude of the catastrophe that was to befall on them in a few hours and which would change the course of the Second World war and force the Japanese to surrender within next five days.
In Hiroshima it was a bright sunny August morning, still, warm and beautiful. People had accustomed themselves to the sight of the American aircrafts flying high in the air on reconnaissance missions and though the air raid sirens had gone into action a few minutes ago at the sight of two other escort aircrafts, the appearance of the ‘real one’ generated little interest and people had come out of their air raid shelters. Suddenly there was a blinding flash which even diminished the sun. In a millionth of a second, the shimmering city became an ugly smudge. For Paul Tibbets and his crew, the mission was ‘accomplished’. These thirteen were no Genghis Khans or Julius Caesars. Yet any of these ruthless warriors, whose bloody deeds are written across the pages of human history, would have trembled at what these thirteen had done.
In the words of Commander Tibbets, “……….I shall never forget the sight of that purple cloud boiling upward for ten miles above a dying city, which was suddenly blanketed by an ugly mass of black smoke that resembled, more than anything else I can think of, a pot of bubbling hot tar”. This was what Tibbets saw from six miles above. But six miles below, Dr Michihiko Hachiya, a physician, went through a similar but much more harrowing experience. In his ‘Hiroshima Diary’ which has been named as ‘one of the most extraordinary records of human calamity and courage in the history of letters’, he recalls that dreadful morning, “……..clad in my drawers and undershirt, I was sprawled on the living room floor exhausted because I had just spent a sleepless night on duty as an air warden in my hospital. Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me – and then another. Garden shadows disappeared. The view where a moment before all had been so bright and sunny was now dark and hazy. Through swirling dust I could dearly discern a wooden column that had supported one corner of my house. It was leaning crazily and the roof sagged dangerously. Moving instinctively, I tried to escape but rubble and fallen timber barred the way. But picking my way cautiously, I stepped down into my garden. I stopped to regain by strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked. How odd where stood in the street, uncertain and afraid, until a house across from us began to sway and then with a rending motion fell almost at our feet. Our own house began to sway, and in a minute it, too, collapsed in a cloud of dust. Other buildings caved in or toppled. Fires sprang up and whipped by a vicious wind began to spread”.
Another physician, Dr Hanaoka, described what he saw on the streets, “…….I saw fire reservoirs filled to the brim with dead people who looked as though they had been boiled alive. In one reservoir, Even if I had tried to stop him, it wouldn’t have done any good; he was completely out of his head. In one reservoir there were so many dead people there wasn’t enough room for them to fall over. They must have died sitting in the water”.
These experiences are not fiction but stark realities of the Second World War. A cruel reminder to the mankind that man has at last perfected himself in the art of self-destruction. That on that bright, clear, sunny August morning, thousands were killed, many more were fatally injured and a quarter million homes destroyed within seconds of a falling bomb – all these have combined to lay emphasis on the fact that Hiroshima presented making with a fateful choice.
Public memory, they say, is short. And that Nature forgets and time heals. Hiroshima is now officially called ‘The city of peace’. But for ‘hibakusha’ – an atomic bomb victim – the atomic mushroom still hangs in the sky. How much to remember, how much to forget? This is the dilemma that Hiroshima – like the rest of the world – still struggles with. Yet one will find that most of Hiroshima’s ninety thousand survivors remember only too well. For them it is still 8.15 in the morning. They have not forgotten the blinding flash of light, the blast of searing heat, the multicolored cloud rising like a poisonous mushroom into the sky, its fiery roots lashing out with the intensity of a tornado. No, they cannot forget that those closest to the hypocenter above which the bomb exploded were incinerated on the spot, or perished in the flames that whipped through the streets. How can they forget the sight of the staggering people, half naked, clothing ripped from their bodies, their skin shredded, their facial features melted beyond recognition. The memories are still fresh on their celluloid. Sixty thousand homes a radius of three miles being destroyed within an instant; flimsy wooden structures collapsing on their inhabitants in the fury of the blast and being consumed in the wildfires that came tearing through leaving only the shells of a few concrete structures to bear testimony that once there were inhabitants there.
The wounds have not yet been healed and will not be healed. To add to the scars is the prejudiced and discriminated behavior of the society. Such an attitude has forced many victims to either lead a life of solitude or commit suicide. This is the conclusion I reached after meeting several victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similar conclusions were drawn in a survey conducted by a local daily of Hiroshima ‘Chugoku Shimbun’ after interviewing almost 700 victims.
‘Once when I was walking in the town, a child looked at my ugly keloid face and laughed. Suddenly, tears started rolling down my cheeks. More than that the thought which saddened me was that people viewed me with a biased opinion in the question of my marriage. I feel very sad. I tried many times to die’. These were the last words in the diary of shizuko Ogata, a bomb victim, before he committed suicide.
Fujiko Mizuno, 55, lives in Shizouka Prefecture. Scars of the atomic bomb are still visible on her right cheek for which she was ridiculed in public a number of times. When it came to marriage, all she could manage was someone twenty years her senior. She felt so disgusted that she left Hiroshima for good. But the story of Fujiko is not an isolated one.
Ever heard of ‘Hiroshima Maidens’? These were the girls who first fell victims to the atomic bomb and then to the apathy of the society. While the bomb left its visible scars on their faces, the scars left by the outrageous behavior of the society were invisible but much deeper. Twenty five of these girls were sent to the United States for plastic surgery but by the time they returned to Japan, they were already given so much publicity by the media that they were known all over the country. Not even a single girl could get married and the lot thus became famous as ‘Hiroshima Maidens’.
Takako Harda, 53, is one of those maidens. ‘…………….I do not really remember how many times I dreamt of marriage but every time an opportunity came, it fizzled out’. She told me. While I tried to persuade her to elaborate on the subject, she politely asked me not to compel her. I could clearly make out all her pains and miseries accumulating on her face while talking to me. ‘I remember very well. It was 6th August, 1945 and like all other school children, I too was working on the building traction job which was to ensure that the collapsing buildings on account of the earlier bombings do not kill people during future bombings. The air raid siren blew and we all took shelter in our regular hide-outs. Few minutes passed but nothing happened. So we came out to resume our work. Suddenly, there was a flash and I felt as if the sun has fallen on the earth and everything around me is burning. My own body burnt. My family members and friends suffered and died. I witnessed hell on the earth after I regained consciousness. I found people around me crying for water and finding none, drank blood mixed water and died as water itself had turned into poison. I later thought that I have witnessed the worst of human sufferings caused by human beings themselves. But time proved me wrong. These tragedies do not end in a while. They always shadow the lives of the victims. The atomic bomb which fell on my town four decades ago killed many thousand at that time but several hundred thousand so-called survivors are still facing the worse’, said Takako Harda in her mild but genuinely strong tone. At present, Takako lives with her mother but the intense hatred for nuclear weapons has never ceased to exist in her.
Akira Ishida, 58, a hibakusha himself, is a member of the Hiroshima prefecture Assembly. He also works as a peace teacher. ‘What happened to me when I was 17 years old is deeply engraved on my mind. Apart from health problems, the social problems keep haunting me. Hence I am all for peace, I wish it never happens again to anyone, anywhere in the world’, says Akira Ishida. On being asked that as a hibakusha and a politician, what does he feel about his country being so very friendly with the country which brought all these miseries to the people of Hiroshima, he replied, ‘…………….nobody should be forgiven for crimes against humanity. Let it be America or any other country. I must warn the people who think that underground shelter or any other device can save them in the event of a nuclear war. And even if they are able to save themselves, no medicine can heal their wounds because there will not be physical injuries alone but other obvious injuries which will keep cropping up like cactus’.
In Nagasaki, the story was no different. Mrs. Sakue Shimohira is one of the several thousands who were left injured after the nuclear holocaust to face hard facts of life. On 9th August, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the dark clouds of the bomb engulfed Sakue for the rest of her life. ‘After this bombing, the world has not been the same for us. Many victims committed suicide because of continuing illness, poverty and attitude of the society. A few young boys and girls did the same because they could not get married and were ridiculed by the society. With great difficulty, I could get married to another victim. My husband remained bedridden for about seven years and did not get his salary. I was left with no other alternative but o work myself and somehow run the household. The unending sufferings and miseries of life prompted me to commit suicide a number of times but I gave up the idea in consideration for my baby. Today, my daughter is 27 years old and married. But she also suffers from certain deformities associated with atomic bomb and same is the case with her three years old daughter. I have somehow learnt to put up with miseries but the thought of my daughter and the grand-daughter undergoing all those sufferings disturbs me’ said Sake in her deep voice.
But none bothered to pay attention to the woes and miseries of thousands who suffer quietly in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is an unending tragedy with no sign of an end till the blind arms race between the super powers continues. From Kremlin to White House, every step is in the direction of self-destruction and if the trend remains unchanged, the day is not far off when the monster Frank stein of nuclear weapons will gobble up its own creators. Yesterday it was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tomorrow it may be any other city, any other country or may be all of us on this planet. Peter Wyden has very rightly said about a book on Hiroshima, ‘Read it and weep for all of us, for we all are survivors of Hiroshima. Until now’.
Salute the Girl
Sometimes the child would do what the saner people forget. And so did the HIROKO KAJIYAMA. A two year old girl at the time of the bombing, developed leukemia as a result of delayed reaction of the anti-human bomb. She had grown enough to realise about her sickness. However, she preferred to confine it to herself and never mentioned a word about the disease to her parents. Probably, she realised that at a time when the entire society of hers was passing through the same agony her sufferings would add more to it. Instead she kept a diary and described her symptoms and sufferings in it.
Her condition soon started deteriorating. Finally, at the age of 17, her condition got worsened. She was admitted in a hospital. But that was too late. She died ten days later. After her death, her parents found her diaries only to read and weep.
When the parents showed the diaries to others it got a wide publicity. The Paper Crane Club of Japanese children were especially moved by the desire of HIROKO that the industrial promotion hall what is known today as A-bomb dome – be preserved as a symbol of what a sin was committed by men against men, and would keep on reminding the generations to come, about the sufferings of the bomb victims. The club children launched a campaign to force the government to fulfill a genuine and sincere desire of a child with a true concern for the society.
A sustained effort bore the fruits when finally in July 1966, when the city assembly passed a resolution to preserve the ruins of the hall.
This was followed by a fund raising campaign by the city mayor Mr. HAMI. It created a great sensation and the money started pouring in not only from Japan but from the U.S.A., USSR, France, India and England, by the end of July 1967, the preservation work was completed.
Today the dome remains the only symbol in Hiroshima of the nuclear destruction, in a city, which, at its surface wears an outlook of a most modern and prosperous city. Probably, everyone else was in a haste to catch on fast with the developmental race while an innocent soul had time to think of the future.
Sadako was another child in whose memory a monument has been built in Hiroshima she too was exposed to nuclear bomb like Hiroko at the age of 2. But she met to her fate soon at the age of 12.
One day suddenly an agile and ever fresh Sadako fell ill and never recovered. She was diagnosed for leukemia. This sent a shock among the class mates of Sadako who was a very popular child in school. They took turns visiting her at Red Cross hospital almost every day.
But Sadako was with another mission. She had belief that she would get well if she could fold 1,000 rpt one thousand paper cranes. Her classmates too joined her in the mission to see that Sadako gets well. But that was not to be though she reached her goal but it did not help her to recover from her illness. It did not discourage Sadako. She started folding another 1000 cranes. Until the very last day she kept on folding cranes but the cruel destiny did not show any mercy patience and inclination to live. Her classmate to show their solidarity and respect towards Sadako was built in memory of all those children who died of A-bomb diseases. A tower shaped monument was built by the generous help of the people and is being taken care of by the paper crane club.
PEOM BY SANKICHI TOGE
(the poet died at the age of 36 rpt 36, on march 10,1953)
give back my father, give back my mother;
give grandpa back, grandma back;
give me my sons and daughters back.
give me back myself.
give back the human race.
as long as this life lasts,
give back peace
that will never end.
(Veteran journalist from India, Raajkumar Keswani visited Japan in 1985 and spent time in Hiroshima,Nagasaki,Minamata and other places. He published a series of stories in various publication in India and abroad. This story on Hiroshima-Nagasaki too was the part of that series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )