To Dedicate My Life to Nuclear Abolition-The Atomic Bombing does not Belong to the Past
Story of Miyoko Matsubara
When I was exposed to the atomic bombing I was twelve years old, a 7th grader at a girls’ junior high school. At the time of the bombing, I was 1.5km or a mile away from the hypocenter and demolishing wooden houses for firebreak with other students. I was one of the 50 out of 250 classmates who survived the bombing.
Mobilized student to demolish wooden houses
On the morning of August 6, 1945, the skies were perfectly clear, and as the sun went up, the temperature rose rapidly. The air-raid alarm, a warning for the enemy bombers, sounded at 7:09 a.m. and was cleared at 7:31 a.m. The citizens gave a sigh of relief and started dismantling buildings as a fire precaution. (Buildings were dismantled in the appointed rows or blocks to make fire escape routes to save lives during air-raids.) About 350,000 people were in the city on that day, including more than 40,000 military personnel.
There was no vacation for students during the war. On that day, a total of about 8,400 Junior high school boys and girls aged 12 to 14 were working on six building demolition sites. Elementary school children between 10 and 12 years old were urged to evacuate to the countryside for protection from the air-raids. Younger children aged 7 to 9 years old had remained in the city with their families. Therefore, ordinary citizens such as younger kids below nine, women, weak people and the elderly were left at home.
In those days a great number of male and female students nation wide were taken out of school as work force. There were 3,156,000 such students in March 1945. With very few exception, schools all over the country gave up teaching. There was no education held in any place in Japan. We were in groups of four people. We were shouting words of encouragement to each other and carrying roof tiles and pieces of wood from demolished houses.
Fireball and Roaring sound
Suddenly, my best friend, Takiko, shouted, “I hear the sound of a B-29.” Thinking this was not possible because the all-clear had sounded, I looked up and there, high in the sky, the white vapor was trailing from the plane. I saw something like a fireball drop from the tail of the plane. I quickly lay flat on the ground. I heard an indescribable, deafening roar. My first thought was that the plane had aimed at me.
I had no idea how long I had lay there, but when I regained consciousness, the bright sunny morning had turned into night. I was in the dense dusty mist. I could not see an inch from me. Takiko, who had stood next to me, had simply disappeared. I could see no one. Then I realized that maybe I was blown away . I felt like I was laying flat on my back. But actually, I was lying there on my side with my right arm and right leg up in the air.
Severe burns and ragged clothes
I rose to my feet, confused. I saw my hands badly burnt and swollen three times bigger.. All that was left of my jacket was the upper part around my chest. I had dyed the jacket by myself. It took me a whole day. I had to dye it with grasses and vegetables because we had no dye. My baggy working trousers were gone, leaving only the waistband and a few patches of cloth. The only clothes left on me were dirty white underwear. The white color protected me from death. As you know, black color absorbs light, and white reflects it.
I realized that my face, hands, and legs had been burned and were swollen with the skin peeled off and hanging down in shreds. I was bleeding and some areas had turned yellow. Terror struck me, and I felt that I had to go home. I frantically started running away from the scene, forgetting all about the heat and pain.
As if I was looking at a horror movie…
On my way home, I saw a lot of people. All of them were almost naked and looked like characters out of horror movies with their skin and flesh horribly burnt and blistered. The place around the Tsurumi bridge was crowded with many injured people. They held their arms aloft in front of them. Their hair stood on end. They were groaning and cursing. With pain in their eyes and furious looks on their faces, they were crying out for their mothers to help them.
I was feeling unbearably hot, so I went down to the river. There were a lot of people in the water, crying and shouting for help. Countless dead bodies were being carried away by the water — some floating, some sinking. Some bodies were mutilated with their intestines exposed. It seemed as if they swallowed so much air when the wind blasted them against the bridge puncturing their stomach. It was a horrible sight, yet I had to jump in the water to save myself from the searing heat.
I might have been able to save Michiko’s Life
As I was watching the horrible scene, someone called my name. “Miyoko, aren’t you Miyoko ?” But I couldn’t make out who was speaking to me. She said, “I’m Michiko.” Her burns were so severe they had reduced her facial features — eyes, mouth, and chin — to a pulp. I realized that bright red flames were blazing in the area from where I had escaped. Fearing that we would be trapped by the flames, we climbed up the river bank, helping each other.
We crossed the bridge, on the way back to school, where electric lines for tramcars were cut and hanging on a street. Branches of trees alongside were severed and scattered in pieces. Electric poles were bent. I saw many Hibakusha put themselves headlong into fire prevention water tanks. They tried to drink water, only to be exhausted and died while doing so. Many others piled over them and were dead, too. Those who were too weak to move lay on the sides.
We came to another bridge. “I can’t run any farther,” said Michiko. Yet she pleaded with me with her eyes to take her with me. I could not even give her a drop of water. We had to separate. She was dead when her parents found her three days later. If we had helped each other and had got to a first-aid station, Michiko could have survived. My heart is torn with regret when I think of her.
On the verge of Death
Our neighbor Mrs. Ayano Hamamura helped me get out of the hell. On the way, I met my father. He was busy filling water in the fire engine. He looked surprised to see me. He said “It’s nothing serious. Mom is waiting for you. Go home to her.” He left in the fire engine for the city. My father fought fire in Hiroshima for three days. Then he helped treat Hibakusha at first- aid stations and was engaged in cremating the bodies. Meanwhile he became weaker and weaker.
I managed to get to a first-aid station. I suffered from lingering high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding gums. Half of my hair fell out. I was on the verge of death. Keloid scars developed on my face, arms, and legs. Someone helped me to practice bending my knees so that they would not stiffen permanently.
After seven months of treatment, I could walk to a mirror. I looked at my face in the mirror for the first time. I was shocked. It was disfigured beyond all recognition. I couldn’t believe that it was my face. I was filled with sorrow. My mother would weep and say, “I should have been burned instead of you.” Seeing mother in such a deep sorrow, I made up my mind never to grieve over my fate in her presence.
Miserable days of My Youth
Then I returned to school. There were only fifty of us out of the whole 250 students. Though I had suffered from the atomic bomb, I did not intend to stop my activities, so I studied very hard. But this was of no help to my plan to get a job in a bank or any other place because I was weak and had keloids on my face. The horrible keloids on my face kept me from finding work after graduation. I had to overcome the distress of being treated as an outcast by our society. No one would sit next to me or marry me because of the fear of radiation.
In 1953 in Osaka, I eventually underwent twelve operations over a seven-month period. As a result, I was able to open and close my dysfunctional eyelids and to straighten out my crooked fingers. I returned to Hiroshima, wishing to express my thanks in some way.
Adjust myself to Society through Welfare Activities
The next year, in 1954, I started to work as a live-in care-taker for 30 sight handicapped orphan children. There were twins who were said to have been in their mother’s uterus when the A-bomb was dropped. They were mentally retarded with a two-year-old intellect. There were some others who were too poor to attract sponsorship. I worked there for eight years.
Working in the field of social welfare helped me to meet people in the community in a more positive way. Gradually people began to accept me and I began to accept things more easily. In those days I started to think seriously about the A-bomb. I realized that the real enemy is not America: It is war and nuclear weapons, I was positive that man-made bombs, A-bombs and nuclear weapons, must be gotten rid of by the hands of men. I was also positive that only with our continued expression of hatred toward nuclear weapons, and only with our incessant condemnation of this evil, can we human beings avoid starting a war again and repeating the same folly. I decided to devote my life to the cause of nuclear abolition.
In March 1962, I was chosen as a representative of Hiroshima to present in person, the heartfelt message of the survivors to the former Under-Secretary-General Ralph Bunche of the United Nations, at the U.N. Headquaters in New York, and to delegations at the 18th Disarmament Conference in Geneva. On the way to New York and Geneva, we visited 14 countries in five months, including Belgium, The United States, England, France, former West and East Germany and the Soviet Union. Everywhere, we appealed for a ban on nuclear testing.
When I returned home, I was saddened with the news that my brother and his wife had passed away.
Their 3 children, each aged 3, 5 and 9 years old, were left behind. I decided to raise those children in place of my brother.
Sad news would not stop-one year later, my father died because of stomach cancer caused by the radiation. I lost three relatives because of the bombing.
In September 1988, I had to take a five-month sick leave to have breast surgery. I may look fine and healthy now, but my old wounds continue to hurt all the time. The surgery left me with two polyps in my stomach. The doctor says these polyps need to always be checked. I fear that these might some day turn into another cancer. But my mission helps me overcome my physical weakness. I continue telling my experience as a hibakusha, a survivor, appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and talking about the folly of war and the preciousness of life, to as many people as possible.
Can hardly justify the Atomic Bombing
Although the war ended 53 years ago, for the HIBAKUSHA, the A-Bombings do not belong to the past. it has continued to this present moment.
When I recount my experience of the atomic bomb, as one of the survivors, to over 200,000 elementary, junior and senior high school and university students out of a total of 1.4 million people who visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum every year, I also tell them about Japan’s war crimes in Asia.
Starting in August 1910 when Japan annexed Korea, Japan deprived the Koreans of their lands, natural resources, and even their language for the next thirty-five years. Japan has not yet apologized to each of the Korean people for this heinous deed. Deprived of the means of livelihood, about two million Koreans were forced to come to Japan as a labor force. This is the reason that there were about 10,000 Korean victims of the Atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
I tell students about Japan’s war crimes in order to let them know that Japan was both the aggrieved and an aggressor during World War II. At the sametime, I have the point of view that Japan’s invasion in Asia does not lead to the justification for dropping atomic bombs.
The atomic bombing should not be categorized just as an attack in the war but it was the start of the nuclear age which might lead to the extermination of humanity.
Humanity and its possible extermination
Today, total amount of nuclear weapons possessed by the declared five nuclear countries. (the United States ,Russia, France, Britain and China) is well over 35,000. Those nuclear arms are thousands of times as destructive as the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, capable of annihilating human beings many times. If nuclear weapons should be used, humanity would surely be wiped out. If those nuclear arms were used, nobody wins the war and nobody loses the war.
Also No one is blamed for their aggression and no one would suffer tragedies. Nothing would be left on earth. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is tragedy which can not be categorized from the viewpoint of aggressors and the aggrieved and human beings have to learn from HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI a lesson to survive the future.
As you already know India and Pakistan conducted nuclear testings in May 1998, spurring nuclear arms race and proliferation. Though it is a little hope that Britain announced its plan on nuclear disarmament last year but they would not abandon all their nuclear arms.
We, human beings are always facing the possibility of our extermination. As long as we do not abolish all nuclear arms on earth, we cannot expect a bright future. Now I am in the mid 60s and physically weakened because of the radiation-related disease, but I will strive for nuclear abolition as long as my health condition allows me to do so. So let us get united and work hard for world peace!
Finally, I would like to note the inscription on the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Cenotaph. It reads ” Let All the Souls Here Rest in Peace; For We shall Not Repeat the Evil. ” That is what the spirit is all about.