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Messages from Nagasaki

Hiroshi Nishioka (male)
'Chokubaku'  3 km from the hypocenter / 13 years old at the time / current resident of Kanagawa

Photographer: Eiichi Matsumoto.
The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages.
I became concerned about my family and decided to go home. Our house was about 4.5 kilometers from the hypocenter and moreover, there was a small hill between the house and the hypocenter the house, therefore, was mostly shadow-shielded by the hill. My older sister was the only person injured, by broken pieces of glass. Everyone else was unscathed. The next day I went through the disaster area to get to school. It wasn't because I liked going to school or studying. Then why? I just wanted to maintain my perfect school attendance record until graduation. During those days, attending school for five years without a day of absence or being late to class was quite an honor and treated the same way as graduating top of the class. When I got to school I was very disappointed. Our teacher did not take attendance. Out of the 350 students per class, only around 20 had shown up.

Something else happened that disappointed me even more. Our teacher told us, "It has been reported that a middle school and a girls' school has collapsed, and students were caught under the buildings. We will select some of you and go to rescue them." He designated six of us. I was one of the selected. Here is an example of how foolishly humans behave without accurate information. This was wartime and there was strict media control, and we had no information about the condition of the devastation in the city area of Nagasaki. Shovels on our shoulders, we headed to the school located near the hypocenter. As we approached the hypocenter, the destruction came into our view. Buildings were completely destroyed, some houses still burning. The Japanese wooden houses easily burnt. More than that, we were shocked by the scale of human casualty that we saw. Hundreds of people suffering burns or other injuries, or both, were unable to walk and lying all over the city area. Even larger numbers of bodies lay scattered, pitch black and charcoaled.

I heard later that the evacuation troops arrived on the evening of August 9 and picked up injured people but they left the charcoaled bodies there. As I reflect on it in peacetime today, what is strange is that as I walked amidst the dead bodies and the wounded people, the thought of retaliating against the United States, a sense of regret, a feeling of pity, or a desire to offer help did not occur to me at all. My friends who were with me on the rescue mission told me they felt exactly the same way. Perhaps this is what war does to us; we had lost our human heart. I thought that the injured and the burnt people who managed to walk to the bomb shelter were better off than those who had died and the wounded people who could not move.

We walked through an industrial zone. The factories' steel frames were bent like smashed-up handmade craft made out of paper. The building had been burnt. There probably were people under them, but there was nothing we could do. We soon arrived at the middle school, our destination. It was located about one kilometer from the hypocenter. Although the wooden building had been not been burnt, it was completely destroyed, looking like dismantled blocks of woodwork. We saw buried between them some students, perhaps alive, perhaps dead. There was nothing we could do. The supervising teacher said, "This is beyond our limits of power," and we decided to adjourn.

On our way back we felt a little at ease and had the presence of mind to look around. Road after road were completely covered with scattered pieces of houses, factories and other items. We walked along what we guessed were the roads, and sitting there were many people, wounded by burns and pieces of glass. When they saw us, they said, "Water, water." "Please give me water to drink." Students in those days carried water canteens on their waists - which the wounded saw, and they begged us for water. Crouching people, so badly burnt that they appeared already dead, saw me and cried out, "Water, water," as they extended their hands toward my canteen. I did not extend my hands. Instead, I pushed and pushed away at their extending hands. If I gave them the water in my canteen, there would be no water for me to drink. ("I absolutely should not give them water.") Those were my thoughts, as I pressed the canteen against my waist and walked on.

I heard later that if we had given them water, they would have died in peace right away. I also believe so today. How I wish I could say here, "I gave my water to the injured people. They took a drink and died in peace." As I reflect now, my action remains a thorn stuck somewhere in my heart. The thorn will probably be there until the day I die.

Japan would surrender only a week after the A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan was defeated. We had no materials, but peace returned to us. So I thought. But, such was not the case for the survivors of the bomb. The A-bomb brought not only the destruction by heat and blast that I just talked about, but also the damage of radiation that humanity had never experienced before. Among the people who were very close to the hypocenter on August 9, there were many who suffered only minor wounds and others who were working inside buildings or underground and suffered no external wounds at all. They rejoiced in each other's survival. Such joy lasted but 2-3 months, half year to a year at the most.

Their bodies began to show the so-called radiation sickness. Initially, they would experience bleeding in their gums. Then, splotches would appear all over their bodies and they would begin to lose their hair. Ultimately death would come. Of course, there are those who would recover to normal health. In my case I only experienced bleeding in the gums. But it wasn't a temporary bleeding, so I was much more frightened than at the time of the dropping of the bomb. Radiation has continued to affect the health of the A-bomb survivors and even their children, with reports of numerous cases of cancer among the survivors and their children. These radiation-related facts provide the background to our strong opposition against the fission-based atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and other nuclear weapons. We know that nuclear weapons not only threaten people's lives, they can lead to the extinction of the human species.

Finally, I would like to mention briefly why two A-bombs were dropped on Japan. The bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was an act of deterrence by the United States against the Soviet Union. For that, one bomb was sufficient. Then why the second bomb? The bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was a uranium bomb. The one that was dropped on Nagasaki was a more powerful plutonium bomb. I believe the United States was determined to test the explosive power of this bomb.

About two months after the A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, a rumor spread that no tree or grass would grow in Nagasaki for the next 60 years. If you saw the destruction and the ruins back then, you would think the rumor was believable. However, the next spring, we saw green sprouts on trees and grass growing on mountains. How happy we were to see the green! Tears welled up as we stared at the green vegetation. I end my reflections as an A-bomb survivor with my oath that the Hiroshima A-bomb be the first bomb humanity ever experienced and that the Nagasaki A-bomb be the last bomb humanity would ever experience.
(Previously published text received 2010)