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Our Dystopian Nuclear World

Sueichi Kido and Erio Nakita, the curator of the exhibit, at the UN in 2015. Photo © Carol Bergman


As for the use of the bomb, she would say, "It was war and we had to expect it." And then she would add, "Shikata ga nai," a Japanese expression as common as, and corresponding to, the Russian word "nichevo": "It can't be helped. Oh, well. Too bad." Dr. Fujii said approximately the same thing about the use of the bomb to Father Kleinsorge one evening, in German: "Da ist nichts zu machen. There's nothing to be done about it."


― John Hersey, "Hiroshima," 1946



In May, 2015, I went to the United Nations to meet Sueichi Kido from Nagasaki. He was one of twenty survivors of the atomic blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki who traveled to New York for the opening of an exhibit in the UN lobby, discussions at the UN about the world's nuclear arsenal, and a commemorative concert at Ethical Culture School. Now 83-years-old, Mr. Kido attended the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, and was interviewed by the Associated Press. He remained hopeful, he said, that nuclear disarmament will be discussed at the summit. But both Mr. Kido and any talks about disarmament were upstaged by Zelensky's dramatic arrival. Forgive me if I missed it in the press handouts, but I don't think that the United States was ever mentioned as the perpetrator of the first and only atomic blasts. Putin's bomb rattling may be unsettling and dangerous, but that does not erase the disgrace of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:


A uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Little Boy exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison.     


                                                        – Source, Wikipedia.

The survivors of the bombings are called hibakusha, a Japanese word that literally translates to "explosion-affected people." Hibakusha and their children have been stigmatized in Japan and it is only recently that the government has recognized their medical complaints as a consequence of the blasts. My husband's uncle, Norman Cousins, the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature used the platform of the magazine for a post-blast adoptions program. Subscribers sponsored orphans and later brought twelve disfigured  "Hiroshima Maidens" to the United States for reconstructive surgery. You can read about the project here:




There is a plaque set in a stone dedicated to Norman Cousins at the Peace Park in Hiroshima,  and members of our family still attend ceremonies there every year. I am deeply proud to have married into this family who have worked for a just and peaceful world across the generations. And I am deeply concerned about the escalations in Ukraine as reported by Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker this week. The soldiers are enduring abhorrent conditions in the trenches, and they are dying in great numbers on both sides. 


The Americans—President Truman and his advisers—who unleashed the atomic weapons of mass destruction, censored the press after the blasts and suppressed the stories of the military witnesses and survivors. Even General MacArthur doubted the wisdom of dropping the bombs, and feared it. He argued that the saturation bombing of Tokyo—200, 000 killed—just  prior to the nuclear blasts, would end the war just as quickly.

A small man with a cherubic face once badly burned, Mr. Kido, a retired history professor, has devoted his retirement years to telling his story. "There aren't many of us left. We are getting old, we are sick," he says. Five-years-old at the time of the blast and living within the 2km epicenter, his mother carried him away from the wind and flames in search of shelter. Flesh was melting off their bodies, they were thirsty. There was no water, no shelter, no medical facility. The city had been incinerated. Needless to say, there was no question of a normal childhood for Mr. Kido after this holocaust. He didn't stop trembling until he was ten-years-old, or laugh, or play. PTSD doesn't describe the implosion in his body and his soul.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has an ancestral connection to Hiroshima, chose Hiroshima for the G7 to highlight nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and to give the rapidly aging and suffering survivors a chance to see each other, perhaps for the last time, at Peace Memorial Park.



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Virus Without Borders #101

               © Ed Koenig holding a photo of his husband, Jody Settle, during a recent vigil, with permission.                                                      


I am part of all that I have met.


-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"



I started writing this blog post on May 11, the day the government declared the end of the Covid emergency in the United States. It's not a watershed moment; it's just one moment to take a healthy breath—if we are so fortunate—to celebrate the end of restrictions, fear, survival, the survival of our loved ones—if we are so fortunate. And not everyone is, far from. More than one million deaths just in the United States. Is our grief communal, individual, or both? Are some of us untouched and unscathed by these past difficult months and years? Is that even possible? And what about people in war zones, or poor countries, who never received a vaccine? Or the migrants crossing our borders and the EU's borders? In a way, the pandemic was --and is-- an ecological disaster, too. And AI mapping won't help us contain another one, or will it?


So this is back-to-basics, Virus Without Borders # 101, like the first day of college, or the day I began the dedicated Virus Without Borders blog posts more than three years ago, utterly confused and ignorant. What have we learned since? What have we learned that we can apply to whatever is next for us? For this country? For our troubled world? If we are indeed free of worry about this still mutating virus, how will we use that freedom? Will we become more indifferent and self-centered, or more engaged and responsible? And why is it, all too often, that those who suffer the most, become kinder, smarter, and willing to sacrifice? I have a theory: The privilege and self-centeredness in our personal lives—and  as a nation, and within our nation—has  been amplified by deprivation and fear, or released by deprivation and fear, depending on our personal challenges, traumas, upbringing, politics, spiritual beliefs, and temperament. 


My student, Ed Koenig, lost his husband, Jody Settle, to Covid.  Ed has become an advocate for the children who lost their parents, not to mention that he's been assisting migrants at his local church. This week he will attend a launch party of an anthology of stories, Who We Lost. He will stand up in front a group of people and read his essay, "On The Road Again," about Jody aloud.


The collection was curated and edited by Martha Greenwald, a former adjunct professor of writing and a well-known poet, originally from New Jersey; she lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout 2020, Governor Andy Beshear held televised pandemic update conferences; they included  brief stories about someone who had recently died. Martha's own visceral grief was stirred each time he spoke. Her optometrist father had died in a tragic accident in 2009 when he was hit by a car, ironically, by a driver who had no peripheral vision. The story is described in the acknowledgments of  Who We Lost, but not in the introduction. "I didn't want the book to be about me," she told me in a telephone interview.


Still in quarantine, wanting to do something positive for others, she launched the not-for-profit  https://whowelost.org/ website and then approached Belt Publishing with an offer to curate an anthology from the website as a living, portable memorial. The website is still online collecting stories, and for those who have never written before—and even for those who have—it includes a fascinating "toolbox," with prompts. 


In truth, we have all felt vulnerable, we've all suffered, though perhaps not as grievously. I have not lost anyone as close to me as a partner, or even a friend, or relative. I've been free of that particular pain. I even felt somewhat elated on May 11 as I'd just received my 6th Covid shot and wanted to celebrate. I bought a new lipstick, a frivolous, pleasurable, self-care reward. I've missed everyone's chins and lips. I've missed my own chin and lips, my husbands chin and lips, my doctors' chin and lips.  I had an eye doc appointment this week and LOL everyone in the office was unmasked. "Oh, what a nice face you have," we said to each other. And, as I was departing, "It's been so nice to see you, I mean really see you. And how did you and your loved ones survive Covid? Did everyone make it through?"

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Oh, Did I Miss Another Shooting?

With thanks to Joyce Vance for permission to use this adorable photo of her well-trained German Shepherd calmly enjoying the backyard with her chickens. photo © Joyce Vance 2023



Every time someone talks to you about opposing abortion, ask them about their views on the Second Amendment. And if they tell you they're pro-gun, point out that's inconsistent with being pro-life.


-Joyce Vance in her "Civil Discourse" Substack Newsletter 5/4/2023



My new most favorite podcast is #SistersInLaw with Joyce Vance, Kimberly Atkins, Jill Wine-Banks and Barb McQuade, all clear-thinking, plain-speaking lawyers. I also subscribe to Joyce's Substack newsletter where she posts photos of her chickens, stories about her knitting, and signs off with "in this together." She's a southerner, and a storyteller in the great American Southern tradition. When she writes, I'm with her at the chicken coop helping her unpack the seed, a welcome working guest. Like so many strong, professional women I know—women  of all ages—she's  a model of informed integrity, balancing her work with her life as a parent, a partner, member of her immediate community, and the larger community of the troubled United States of America.


All the women on the podcast are exemplary—take a Google moment to check them out—and I am particularly thankful for them right now as they straighten out my thinking about the tangled challenges we are facing in the run-up to the 2024 election. The campaign is underway, requests for money already a constant. Joyce writes often about the fascism at our door, and the historical imperative of a second Biden and Harris ticket. Take another moment and have a read of her newsletter this morning:




The podcasts are long—I usually take two days to finish them as I have others I listen to—and they have advertisements, which are entertaining, even hilarious. The women themselves tout various products and discuss them—everything from furniture to an at-home nail salon—polish that does not chip! I'm assuming they do really use these products, at least I hope so, even though I really don't care. I want them to keep on keeping on, and they need advertisements.


And just a short addendum. I wrote Joyce a note at her University of Alabama School of Law email address to ask permission to use a photo of her chickens and she replied in two days: "Of course you can!" 


Thank you Joyce and company for helping me, and your thousands of other subscribers, to sustain both activism and hope. In this together indeed!

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