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Witness to History: Mr. Kido Tells His Story

I went to the United Nations yesterday to meet Sueichi Kido from Nagasaki. He is 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.

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.

The Americans—President Truman and his advisers—who unleashed this weapon 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 is devoting 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.

"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 curator of the exhibit, Erico Narita, had invited me to the exhibit. She showed me around and translated. She is in her 30’s and grew up in northern Japan near Hakkaido, a blissful, peaceful, innocent, post-war childhood. Contemporary Japanese history is not taught in the schools so she knew very little about Hiroshima and Nagasaki until she began her research. Therefore, the stories of the survivors in this 70th anniversary year serve a double purpose, at home and abroad.

Knowing that people don’t read a lot these days, Ms. Narita created a balanced narrative with photographs and graphics. And though the pictures are muted black and white, be warned that they are hard to look at.

When there is no knowledge, there is no discussion, Mr. Kido explains. He is a retired Japanese history professor and no friend of Emperor worship or the current Prime Minister. And so his story is also well-balanced; he is not a victim. There are fault lines in every nation, we said to one another as Erico translated. Then we bowed gently, shook hands, and said good-bye.

“Nucelar-Free World; Cries from Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” a multi-media exhibition, will be in the Main Gallery of the United Nations until May 31st. There are lines to get in and airport-strength security. Bring ID. Mr. Kido, the Assistant Secretary General of Hidankyo, the Japan Conference of the A and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization, and the last of the visitors, will be in the gallery until May 10. Read More 
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