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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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