This year marks the 75th memorial of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today is the 9th of August. Exactly 75 years ago, a bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Just three days ago, on August 6, a similar bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was dubbed Little Boy due to its thin elongated shape, 3 meters in length, and 0.7 meters in diameter. It weighed 4 tons. Little Boy was a bomb composed of enriched uranium-235. The Nagasaki bomb was called Fat Man as it was much rounder in comparison to Little Boy, having a length of 3.5 meters, and a diameter of 1.5 meters. It weighed 4.5 tons. Fat Man differed in that it employed plutonium-239. The Hiroshima bomb was detonated 600 meters above the city center; and the Nagasaki bomb, 503 meters above the city. The destructive force of the Hiroshima bomb was equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT, the Nagasaki bomb, 21 kilotons of TNT. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima is estimated to have instantly vaporized 70,000 people, while another 100,000 died in the following months and years due to burns and radiation sickness. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki is estimated to have caused 80,000 casualties. People were killed mainly by heat rays, blast winds, and the gamma and neutron radiation.
Kodama Michiko (児玉三智子, age = 82) is a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, and is now the Assistant Secretary General of Nihon Hidankyo (English name:
Japanese Confederation of A and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization). This year, Kodama gave a talk about the discrimination experienced by atom bomb victims, and how important it was for survivors like herself to speak up against nuclear arms. Her first-hand account of the bombing was so sobering that it enticed me to delve deeper into her history.
Much of Kodama’s story can be gleaned from her Aug. 3, 2012 speech presented at the 2012 World Conference for the Abolition of Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. She spoke of that fateful day in Hiroshima with hopes that there will never be another victim of nuclear war or radiation exposure. Kodama was only seven, studying inside a wooden structure of her school. All of a sudden out of nowhere, shone a great flash of light. Then, the roof of the building collapsed, and the glass windows were shattered and strewn all over. Glass was stuck in the walls, tables, the floor, and also on Kodama’s body. She could not recall how much time had elapsed, but she remembered leaving many of her classmates who were immobilized by the fallen roof. She exited her classroom and walked through the hallways. At the infirmary, the shreds of glass that had pierced her body were removed. There was no medicine or bandages for her cuts.
At some point, her father came to the school to pick her up. Her father carried her on his shoulders. And, as they walked home, she remembered thinking that she was witnessing this world’s most gruesome depiction of hell. She saw people who were burnt to the point that their skin had literally melted, and was just hanging on their bodies. She saw someone who appeared to be a mother, carrying her baby. It was difficult to confirm this because her body was scorched black. All over, there were people crawling, trying to escape. She was shocked to see a person whose eyes seemed to have been yanked out of their sockets. She
remembered another person who was carrying his own organs which had ruptured out of the body. People were crying, “Give me water. Give me water.” Countless people approached her father, asking for help. But, unable to help, she and her father walked home briskly, walking zig zag to avoid people, as though they were frantically escaping from something.
Kodama’s school, Honkawa Elementary, was approximately 350 meters away from ground zero of the detonation. She later learned that 400 students of Honkawa Elementary were killed instantly by the blast. Kodama’s house, located about three-and-a half kilometers from her school, had its roof blown off, with glass strewn all over. When it rained, it rained black rain. This black rain completely covered the walls of her house. Kodama recalled that this irradiated black soot was impossible to wash off.
Kodama had relatives and friends who lived nearby, and remembered that they all congregated to her house, asking for help. Kodama had an older cousin who she really liked. At the time of the bombing, this cousin was working about 500 meters from ground zero. Half of her body was burned, from her shoulders all the way to her feet. It was August, and the hottest time of the year. Kodama recalled how her cousin’s exposed body attracted flies that laid eggs in her scars. These later became maggots, which circulated her body. Kodama could not do anything to help her cousin except to peel the maggots off of her body. Her cousin would scream, “Itai, Itai yo,” meaning, “It hurts, it really hurts.” Kodama remembered how her screams grew softer and softer. She died in Kodama’s arms on the morning of the third day after the bombing. Kodama’s cousin was only fourteen. Kodama had another cousin, aged 10, and in the fifth grade, who had no burns or visible problems. But, after a while, he developed a serious case of diarrhea that did not stop. They thought that he was lucky to have avoided the fate of many others. However, one day in September, he suddenly began bleeding from his ears and nostrils. Quite unexpectedly, he coughed out blood. He died soon after. Kodama lost many uncles and aunts, one after another, by the end of August.
Kodama herself was also not spared. By the time autumn arrived, Kodama’s hair had completely fallen out. Kodama credits her parents for getting her proper treatment, without which she feels that she would surely have died. Inasmuch as her parents worked on her behalf, Kodama was unable to keep them. Both of Kodama’s parents eventually developed cancers, and left her as well.
When Kodama grew old enough to start working, a revelation was thrust upon her. She came to the grim realization of how difficult it was for her to find a job. Employers discriminated against her because she was a hibakusha or a victim of the atomic bombing. By the time she found a job, she was reminded that there were barriers at each step of her life. Her first attempt at marriage ended miserably. Kodama sought to marry one of her coworkers, but the groom’s mother somehow discovered that she was a bombing victim. Kodama was abruptly informed that they could not allow an atomic bomb victim to marry into their family.
Many hibakusha gave up on marriage because they are thought to have defective genes. It is a fact that many hibakusha who got pregnant lost their babies to miscarriage or to stillbirth. And, when and if the babies were born, they often did not live long. Kodama
spoke of a friend who had lost her baby six times. This friend’s husband blamed her for being a hibakusha, and ended up physically abusing her. She died complaining that her back hurt.
Kodama laments that the atom bomb is something that never lets up, and torments her to this day. Kodama’s greatest sorrow is what happened to her daughter. Kodama’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer. After much consideration, her daughter chose to have a very sophisticated operation. After the operation, she also underwent all sorts of treatment. But to no avail, she passed away just four months after her diagnosis. When Kodama first decided to have a child, she was incessantly haunted by the possibility that her child may be born with physical disabilities. As it was, her child was born without visible problems, but she may have had issues somewhere deep within. It is not conclusively proven whether children born to hibakusha are apt to develop cancer. However, researchers are in agreement that a hibakusha’s genes are almost always affected in some way by radiation. This has become a nightmare for second and third generation children of hibakusha. In this way, the consequences of an atomic bombing are not limited to one generation.
Hibakusha are fraught with worry at critical points in their lives just because they are hibakusha. They suffer, get frustrated and get angry. The atomic bomb tortures a person’s body, mind, and spirit, over the course of one’s entire life until they die, according to Kodama. She implores that this manner of suffering must not happen again. Kodama believes that nuclear power is invariably accompanied by mass destruction. Devastating carnage cannot be avoided in a nuclear confrontation. Nations with nuclear arms claim that they are necessary as a deterrent. Kodama notes that nuclear arms are a deterrent based on the premise that there are only two choices: there is only a threat and its deployment, nothing in between. As a hibakusha, Kodama feels that the constant psychological anguish induced by a threat is no different from its actual use.
For Kodama, nuclear weapons represent man’s most inhumane instrument of war, that of the devil. Kodama continues her campaign because she wants all leaders to see, with their own eyes, the barbarity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a speech this year, Kodama was noticeably dispirited because there will soon be no hibakusha left to tell their story. She passionately exhorted young people to carry her torch.
I have introduced Kodama Kodama’s story today simply because it is important to pass on her message. This year, as Japan does every year, a ceremony was conducted on August the 6th at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in memory of the bombing victims. Survivors and their families are all invited to participate in the memorial every year. But, this year, as though the Japanese news agencies had colluded with each other, all of them reported on how few the hibakusha have become. Although partially impacted by COVID-19, what became glaringly apparent is that most hibakusha are now very advanced in age, and are dying. This year, only 23 survivors of the Hiroshima bombing attended, while there were no representatives from the Nagasaki bombing.
The more time passes from the bombings, the more imperative it is for people to hear about the stark reality of nuclear weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of 2019, there are a total of 13,865 nuclear warheads held collectively
by nine countries. According to some, we should feel assured because this represents a considerable reduction of nuclear weapons compared to the 1980s when the estimated total number of warheads exceeded 70,000. Today, 90% of all nuclear warheads are stockpiled by two countries: Russia and the U.S.
As devastating as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, they do not compare to the nuclear weapons that exist today. Little Boy and Fat Man were atomic bombs, or fission bombs, which set off a chain reaction of nuclear fission. The thermonuclear weapon today, more colloquially referred to as the hydrogen bomb, uses nuclear fission to ignite a fusion reaction in a secondary core of hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium. The nuclei of the hydrogen atoms fuse and form helium, which then causes a chain reaction, resulting in a destructive force that is 3,000 times as powerful as that which was detonated over Hiroshima.
Somehow, we are lulled into believing today that nuclear weapons exist only to deter rogue nations from using nuclear weapons, and that they will never be used. After hearing Kodama’s story, I would like to leave you with one question: Is there ever a justifiable reason to launch nuclear weapons on a fellow member of the human race? (Eisei Ikenaga)