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Mr. Hasai speaks of his passion to hand down his experience of the bombing (Asahien, Saeki Ward, Hiroshima City)
Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: The Only Solution
Hiromi Hasai (male, 83 years old)
By Ananda Kokumai (female)
Commemorative photo from about 1940 with soldiers staying at Mr. Hasai's house before leaving for battle in the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). Hiromi Hasai, about 8 years old, sits on a soldier's lap (front row, left). His parents in back and the older of his two younger sisters (front row, center) also appear in the photo. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Hiromi Hasai)
Professor Hiromi Hasai (83), now a professor emeritus at Hiroshima University, spent his life researching radiation from the atomic bomb, leading the field. In 2005, when he retired as president of Hiroshima International University, he began relating his experience of the atomic bombing and calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons, and since then has devoted himself to preserving and conveying the memories of the victims of the A-bombing. What keeps Mr. Hasai going? I asked him what he thought.
Mr. Hasai reflected on his youth, saying, "I believed what I learned in school, that we should 'throw our lives away for the sake of our country.' I was truly a young military boy."
* * *
I was 14 years old when I entered the city and was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb. I had been living with my mother and my youngest sister in our house in Hakushima (present-day Naka Ward, Hiroshima). I worked at the munitions factory in Jigozen-mura (present-day Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima) as a student worker, where my fellow students and I made ammunition for machine guns.
On August 6 at 8:15 a.m., the students had gathered at the factory in Jigozen-mura and were doing their morning exercises. Sensing a flash, I looked up at the sky to see low, ragged, fast-moving clouds heading toward us from the city of Hiroshima. When the clouds came overhead we were enveloped in stifling hot air and the glass windows in the factory started to rattle. "What's going on?" At first, we ran to the mountains for safety.
We got back to the factory around noon and saw people covered in black soot trudging along. Worried about my family, I asked what it was like in the city. Every person I asked said, "A bomb fell right on my house," "My garden, a bomb . . ." I wondered how so many bombs could have been dropped since we didn't see any flight formation. I thought this was very strange.
After that many trucks came loaded with the injured. They were burned so badly, none of them could even walk. When I held someone's arm to help them off the truck, I felt something clammy sticking to my hand. The person's skin had been burned and peeled off. When I let go because I thought it must hurt, I was yelled at for being derelict in my duties.
We ran out of rooms indoors for the injured, so we laid them on the ground. When we ran out of blankets we covered them with straw. At night, the sky over the city was drenched in red.
The next day around noon, I headed for my home in Hakushima, taking Hiroshima Railway to Nishi-Hiroshima. There were only a few buildings left here and there, and you could see all the way to Hiroshima Station far away. The number of corpses increased the closer I got to the center of the city, but my mother and 4-year-old sister were safe.
A few days later, a boy who suffered burns over his entire body suddenly started singing the national anthem. When he finished singing, he said, "Long live the emperor," and then breathed his last. I vowed to myself to avenge his beautifully executed death, carried out just as we had been taught.
At this point I didn't think we had lost the war. Since I believed what we had been told about "never surrender, even if you must die," I couldn't understand the reasoning behind Japan's choosing to surrender.
After the war ended, the teachers at school talked about peace. "You shouldn't believe what adults say. It's all lies." I couldn't suppress my feeling of distrust. I bade farewell to the "young military boy" I had been.
* * *
After the war, Hasai entered the engineering department at Hiroshima University, but took a leave of absence for two years due to illness, including tuberculosis. He was 27 when he joined the research laboratory of nuclear physics. He specialized in research on radiation, but this was still far removed from the atomic bombing.
In 1981, Hasai, who had become an associate professor at Hiroshima University, was sent to the research center at Los Alamos in the U.S., where the atomic bomb was made. For the year he was there, he was told by the American researchers that "the atomic bomb saved many Japanese lives." The rage he felt about this led to a strong awareness of his being a victim of the atomic bombing.
He felt he had to measure the radiation levels in Hiroshima, so after returning to Japan, he and his colleagues measured radiation levels of the walls and foundations of the Atomic Dome and other buildings in Hiroshima. This was done in order to estimate the radiation levels the atomic bomb victims were exposed to. In 1986, the U.S. and Japan jointly developed a new dosimetry system, called DS86, to estimate radiation dosages, but these figures differed from the levels actually measured in Hiroshima. In 2000, he led the Japanese side of a joint U.S.-Japan group that reviewed DS86. In 2003, the group devised a new dosimetry system called DS02 to replace DS86.
Hasai felt that as a scientist he should maintain a neutral stance, so he kept a distance between himself and groups of atomic bomb victims. He did not speak of his experiences of the bombing in public settings. In 2005, however, after retiring from his position as president of Hiroshima International University, he began talking about his experiences.
"War is no good. We have to eliminate nuclear weapons. We must continue to tell others of our experiences as victims of the atomic bomb." When he speaks of his experiences, he includes his knowledge of radiation as a scientist, and tries to get others, from visiting school children to foreign visitors, to understand the horrors of atomic weapons.
In 2006, he became chair of the "Committee of Experts on Damage Scenarios Resulting from a Nuclear Weapons Attack" sponsored by the civilian safety planning section of Hiroshima City. He was in charge of envisioning the damage that would occur from a nuclear attack on Hiroshima.
As a scientist and as a victim, he questioned whether it was even possible for him to imagine a nuclear attack since he knew it is not possible to escape from nuclear damage. After much reflection, he wrote in the Conclusion of the committee's final report in 2007, "To protect civilians, there is no measure other than to prevent a nuclear weapons attack from occurring, whether it be deliberate or accidental. To prevent the use of nuclear weapons, there is no way other than to abolish nuclear weapons themselves."
His activities are not limited to speaking about his experiences; he also is involved with handing down the records and memories of the bombing. By entering into his computer the handwritten diary he wrote five years after the bomb was dropped, he wants to tell future generations of the suffering of the victims of the bombing. He also participates in a project to train volunteers to speak on behalf of aging victims of that fateful day.
Hasai says it is important to speak subtly every day about his experiences and about peace to people he meets. "It is vital that peace seeps into every cell of your being, and that you deeply convince yourself of the meaning of peace."
* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me… about Hiroshima]," The Asahi Shimbun (Hiroshima morning edition), February 11, 2015.