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Luck or Curse? The Stories of Two Hibakusha

Interview by Christine Weeber

I conducted the following interview with Mr. Yukio Yoshioka and Mr. Susumu Yoneda on October 26, 2007, at the University Memorial Center on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Ms. Kyoko Saegusa, senior instructor of Japanese at CU-Boulder in the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, served as interpreter. Mr. Shigefumi Murata, who accompanied the survivors, had helped organize and secure financing for their visit. Mr. Murata spent his life working for Kawaijuku, one of the largest educational institutes in Japan, in the field of international education.

Also in attendance were Mr. Shinji Yamasaki, a Washington Bureau correspondent for Akahata, daily and weekly newspapers in Japan, and Ms. Takako Reckinger, a former staff member for Mr. Murata who was in charge of Japanese immersion programs in Seattle, Washington.

Wearing shirts, sweaters, and dress pants, both men had the appearance of ordinary Japanese men. One might mistake them for business travelers on their day off. Yet each had carried a story within himself, like a small polished gem, that he slowly withdrew—a touchstone for the rest of us. For their haunting is truly our haunting, one we think we may have subdued, but which hovers just below the surface—literally in 13,890 nuclear weapons that still exist. The threat of nuclear destruction remains all too real.

Sitting across from Mr. Yoshioka and Mr. Yoneda, I asked about their experiences and nuclear armament. We also discussed war in general and, particularly, the Iraq War. Many hibakusha are pacifists, and these two men were no exception. They recognized that the horrors they witnessed were both unique and universal—unique in that they saw the enormous damage of one atomic bomb, yet universal in that all wars cause unjust and oftentimes immense suffering for innocent civilians. I want to add that Mr. Yoshioka stated that Japan was both victim and aggressor. Both men recognized the devastation and harm Japan had enacted on other nations and citizens in its imperialistic fervor during the war.

Neither man wanted to recount details from the day of the bombing, so they each had written up an essay about their experiences of the bombing. I have incorporated most of their written words into the interview below, in the appropriate sections. Mr. Yoneda confessed in his written statement, “To tell you the truth, I do not wish to write about it because I do not want to remember.”

Both of these Hibakusha made the difficult journey from victim to activist. Now, their scars and memories bring us into close contact with the physical and psychological effects of nuclear weapons. Still today, 74 years after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima City, nuclear threats persist. Yet, as Mr. Yoshioka reminds us, “We have the right to life and freedom of conscience.” The anti-nuclear movement continues—and grows.

Mr. Yukio Yoshioka, born on July 10, 1929, was 16 years old and a second-year student of Hiroshima Prefectural Matsumoto Commercial School on August 6, 1945, the day the bomb devastated his homeland and directly exposed him to radioactivity. He went on to become a government employee. Around 1956, after the Bikini H-bomb test, he became a teacher of peace study and began speaking more publicly about his experience. As of 2007, at age 78, he was an executive director for the Hiroshima Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organization.

Mr. Susumu Yoneda, born June 9, 1940, was only 5 years old when the bomb was dropped, and he was directly exposed to radioactivity. He later worked as an elementary school teacher. For many years, he dedicated himself to peace education and, since retirement, has fronted the association of atomic-bombed teachers and school staff of Hiroshima City. He is also an instructor of peace study and, as of 2007, served as the assistant secretary general of the Hiroshima Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organization.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Christine Weeber with translator Kyoko Saegusa and two hibakusha Yukio Yoshioka and Susumu Yoneda, looking at photos of Yoshioka’s keloid scars from radiation exposure.

 

Weeber: What was your daily life like before the bombing?

Yoshioka: I was 16, [in my] second year in middle school, and everybody in the country was just working toward war. The government had contrived laws and regulations so that people had to do nothing but the war effort. I was supposed to be a student, but there were hardly any classes conducted anymore. The first half of that year, since most of the male heads of the households were conscripted, we had to go to those families without the head of the household to help out. If it was a farming household, we would do harvesting of rice, or if the typhoon came, we would build sandbag fences. So about two weeks before the bombing, we were working in a military factory called Fujikawa Steel Plant in Ouzu, where we made anchors for military ships.

Yoneda: Two weeks before, I was only 5 years old. I was playing very hard. Whenever the siren to warn of air raids would sound, we had to go into the shelter, but it was dark and hot, so I always fought with my parents because I didn’t want to go in. But soon after that, I contracted dysentery. So right before the bombing, I was in this separate ward for contagious diseases. So that’s how I spent my two weeks before the bombing.

 

Tell me about the day the U.S. dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima? What were you doing? What did you feel? What did you see?

Yoshioka: So continuing my story about that time. The military wanted to do what’s called building evacuation. This was already in the latter half of the Pacific War, so the military had done this in all major cities, such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and Okinawa. The purpose of the military project was to clear out the city’s East-West corridor of buildings. If a bomb were dropped in crowded areas, it would cause great damage, so they had done this in big cities, but the Hiroshima military headquarters also wanted to do it in Hiroshima City. The East-West stretch is 3.5 km long and 100 m wide, so it was supposed to serve as a firebreak should there be a simple bomb dropped in that area. The Prefectural Government had an office building about 800 m away from the ground zero to be. Everybody who had the strength to work on this project had been mobilized to work in that government building. The project was to be completed between August 3 and August 10, and the middle-school students were also mobilized for this project.

My principal and vice principal were called there to relay the message to students. And then I received the order as well. I was working in the military factory, and [at that time] I was the head of the class. The deputy head of the class was working in a different building. My teacher told me and the deputy head of the class that we had received this order: Your class has to participate in the project. We were given the 5th and 6th of August to work on the project, and we had to decide which date to take.

So the two of us divided the class into two groups and then decided which day to take by playing rock-paper-scissors. I won, and, therefore, I picked the 5th of August. My group went to the Prefectural Government Building in Kakomachi on the 5th, and our job was to bundle up important documents and then move them away from the building. But the next day, the other half of the class [numbering about two dozen students], led by the deputy head of the class, went to the building, and everybody was killed by the bombing. About half a dozen died instantaneously while seven or eight went home that day. But they all died within 10 days of the bombing. They were half a mile away from the hypocenter.

The night before the 6th, my father told me that since they are evacuating and demolishing buildings, there is a place where we could get cheap, used bath boilers and whatnot, so why don’t we go and pick some up. On the 6th, I had the day off, so we left the house and went to the river. We went up and down the river to get those used boilers. And that’s when the bombing occurred. I saw the blinding flash and lost consciousness. I don’t know how long I remained unconscious. I heard my father’s voice calling, “Run! Run!” I stood up in a flurry, but my forehead flesh was hanging over my eyes, so I could not see my surroundings. Father tied my forehead with rope, which he had picked up, and said to me, “Go home straightaway.”

Then, I had to face hell. [long pause] There was a sea of fire all around us. I saw children, women, and elderly people crashing and screaming, and also people on the Tsurumibashi Bridge. No one wore more than rags, and the scene was really an inferno. I felt smarting pain in my back and was very thirsty. I only remember jumping into the river to flee from the heat. I took a gulp of seawater and hurried for home.

When I reached home, I found my house intact and protected because of the collapse of Mount Ogonzan, which had shut out the flash. My mother completely lost her head when she saw the extraordinary appearance of me and fetched some talismans from the household altar. She placed them all over my burned body and prayed for me. I had burn injuries that covered two-thirds of my back, a third of my right leg, and my arm.

I went into a coma after having used all my energy to escape. I had a fever of nearly 104° F for 10 days. Thanks to my older brother and sister, who cooled my forehead with ice, I was able to escape death. And I believe, had I not been with my father, I probably would have died right where I was when the bomb exploded.

 

Yoneda: At the time of the bombing, I was in the hospital. And the place of the hospital was about 1.6 km from ground zero. It’s a town called Funairi-hon-machi, right by one of the rivers. The chirring of the cicadas in chorus caught my attention as I was lying on a bed near the window facing to the east. At 8:15, the sound of the propellers of a B-29 came to my ears. The plane came closer and closer to the hospital. I saw it drop a big block just above me. It was coming down on me. Instantly, I felt fearful and shouted, “Oh, my gosh!”

My mother ran into my room right away. The moment I tried to track the dropping object again, a pallid glow flashed. My eyes instantly closed, but the inside was pure white. I also heard something snap. I felt more pain than heat from the flash. I don’t know how much time passed after that. When I came to, I was under the crumpled hospital. I was in darkness. I thought it was already nighttime, but in fact I was surrounded by clouds of dust. I tried to listen in the dark, but nothing except the sound of flames in the hospital could be heard. Frequently, spurting flames made the area bright and increased the heat.

It became a little bright. A man came toward me calling a girl’s name, repeatedly looking in over the roof of the collapsed hospital. I called to him, “Help me, mister.” He cast a glance at me but went away.

I felt someone next to me. He was lying on his back, with no clothes on, and was under the structure. Blood was trickling from the breast with numerous glass chips jabbed in. The seriously injured and swollen forehead looked like that of a ghost. No. It was my mother.

I also found some glass chips jabbed in the right side of my body.

The flame was coming so close that it would roast my body. In my earnest desire to get out of the critical circumstance, I shook my mother awake. She looked around and said, “We are unable to get out of here. Let’s die together.” And then she fainted away again. I had no other choice except to repeatedly shout, “It’s hot. Help me.” Before long, I noticed someone approaching from the direction of the river, running behind the hospital. It looked like a red ogre. The body was entirely burnt. It was a naked female with blisters all over her skin. The skin hung peeled off here and there, and the muscle was imbrued into red with blood. I am sure she was in intolerable pain with every movement she made. She was a nurse.

First, she lifted me up in her arms and rested me in a safer place. Then she led my mother hand-in-hand to where I was resting. The hospital caught massive fire when they almost reached my place.

My mother ran into the river carrying me on her back. Many people who had fled were seen floating on the surface of the river. All were seriously wounded and severely burnt as well; one was even stabbed in the belly with a column. These scenes have been an unforgettable experience in my life. Hiroshima City was filled with fire as far as the eye could see. I could hear many people screaming for help from under the burning hospital, desperate cries of the people who were burned alive.

We were taken on a small boat out toward the midstream of the river. The sky was bright red. It is said that the temperature was above 3,000° C. When we approached the midstream, the boat caught fire. Everyone, except a seriously wounded and burned woman, my mother, and me, jumped into the river. When my mother said, “We are past all help,” the seriously injured woman sat up abruptly and pushed us into the river with all her might, right after she said to us, “I had tried to rescue my daughter out of the devastation but failed to do so. She must have been burned alive. You are young. Please survive for my daughter.”

When I came to, I was on a tiny island in the river. Mother was still unconscious. On the island, seriously burned and wounded red ogres were up on their legs throwing out their arms with their skins hanging around their bodies. There were not only red ogres but also blue ogres and brown ogres lying around there. All of them just called, “Water! Water! Water!” Although there was water at hand, they couldn’t move because any movement seriously hurt them. Beyond these people, next to the disintegrated boat, I found a charred dead body with its leg and hand pointing toward the sky. I still believe she was the woman who had helped us from the burning boat. There we were, caught in the black rain, while radioactivity soaked through our bodies from head to toe.

 

What happened after that?

 Yoneda: Because the fires weakened due to the rain, Mother was able to carry me on her back toward our home along the riverbank. Houses under the bank had collapsed and were on fire. Such a chaotic situation forced evacuating sufferers to choose this path. Someone was coming toward us dragging obi [a belt for a kimono]. After looking closely, I realized that the obi was the intestine that had been blown out of his stomach. Another man was covering his face with his hands as he was walking. He stumbled, and one of his eyes popped out of its socket and hung far below his cupped hands. A crying baby was clinging to its mother, who was lying dead on the ground. I heard that there were countless thousands of burnt figures of mothers and babies all over the burned-down city. All of them were noncombatant victims.

We caught news of a hospital temporarily set up at a Buddhist temple. There we remained blacked out until evening. For treatment, they pulled out glass chips and stitched wounds. We fainted a dozen times.

 

Did you find your house, or did it burn down?

Yoneda: Our house was about 4 km away from the hypocenter. The roof was blown off, and doors were also damaged.

 

What helped you cope, not only the day after or the week after, but a year after and a couple of years after? 

Yoshioka: Good question. I think we’re programmed to live. For about half a year, my body was just totally burned and damaged. My body was burned, most of my back was totally burned. This picture was taken three years ago. Here are the Keloid scars.

 

It must have been very painful.

Yoshioka: Yes. My right leg took half a year just to heal the burns. I was just like this girl. It was really painful, even though it was healed [picture of young woman taken from the back; arms red and swollen; white pus]. Swollen blisters don’t heal.

This is 60 some years later. It’s flattened now, and you can look at it without feeling too bad about it [laughs]. I don’t know how to describe the pain. It was in the summer. The flies would come and sit on me, and then, of course, maggots began to come out. All hibakusha had the same problems. We were really filthy because there was scarcely any medicine. My mother was the only person who could take care of us. My father, my older sister, and I were all in bed, and she took care of us. I think my mother had the will to just keep us alive. Then I thought I had to meet her expectations as well. It took half a year for the burns to heal, so my school finally told me that I could be re-admitted.

 

The school was open? 

Yoshioka: Yes. By the time my burns were healed, school called me and said I could come back. We used to have three classes, 50 students each, but then when they reopened, we could only form one class of 50. So pre-bombing, I was motivated to study. After that, I had no motivation to study. And then I had a job with the government office after graduation. But for the first seven to eight years, I was tired all the time, and it was really painful.

 

The burns?

Yoshioka: Everything. Even though the burns were healed, I still had a lot of pain. But I felt that my body was like that of a monster, so I was ashamed to expose my skin to other people. And I wanted to be as invisible as possible in the public. And then this frustration, this depression got worse and worse. And this feeling of guilt that I killed 23 of my classmates by winning that rock-paper-scissors game.

 

Did you feel shame? I have read about discrimination against Hibakusha because people thought their blood was contaminated. 

Yoshioka: That’s true. So then my boss at work would say, “Well, he’s lazy, he doesn’t do his work.” We had a few survivors at my workplace. They were all like me.

 

Did you talk to one another?

 Yoshioka: Yes, I created an organization of Hibakusha.

 

This organization?

Yoshioka: No, within my workplace. Otherwise, people would continue to misunderstand us.

 

At that time, you started speaking out publicly?

Yoshioka: And I also talked to my boss about what we really were suffering from and asked him for understanding. First, see I thought I killed my classmates. That was the most trauma. Then I resented my father, even, because he saved me, but had he not saved me, I could have just been dead then. I would have been with my classmates who died. I would not have been suffering like that. All kinds of things went though my mind like that. I was tormented, bodily and then spiritually. And I made three suicide attempts. And I went to a Christian church for salvation, but I didn’t get salvation from them.

At the beginning of the occupation, the U.S. had fairly good policies on us. The GHQ, general headquarters, MacArthur, he actually collected quite liberal staff to come up with liberal policies at the time. And one of their policies was to encourage labor unions. They had the anti-monopoly law as well. They also worked on the Peace Constitution as well. So at my office, which was a government office, workers were united to work on their union. It was very active then. The officers of the labor union at work encouraged me to study with them and go on strikes with them. Initially, I thought, I’d rather die than [do that]. I didn’t say yes to them for a long time. But then I started to see all kinds of contradictions within society. Low wages, union workers who participated in strikes would be laid off or punished. So I decided to take up their offer to study with the officers of the labor union. Then I realized that our government in the first half of the 20th century had committed such atrocities and betrayed the people—how hypocritical the government had been.

 

You weren’t aware of that before?

 Yoshioka: I was lied to and then programmed to cooperate. We were taught that Japan is a divine country, governed by the Emperor, and then, since it’s a divine country, we were not going to lose the war. That’s what we were taught. The education of militarism was really thorough. And everybody believed it, all the nation. But then I realized that was a total lie, and I thought what the war was about was totally false.

 

How did that change the way you felt about the bomb?

Yoshioka: It was the war itself, which compelled the U.S. to manufacture nuclear bombs. At first, of course, I hated the U.S. For a few years, I hated this country for committing such atrocities, dropping such an atrocious bomb. But then many people came to the realization that it was the war that pushed people to behave like that, so the first thing we have to do is to stop wars. So the Hibakusha all feel: No more of this misery and atrocity.

 

Mr. Yoneda, what helped you cope?

Yoneda: I was a child, and my parents encouraged me to get over it. First of all, nuclear bombs are radioactive. If you are exposed to radioactivity, wounds do not heal. And radioactivity destroys your DNA. The body continues to generate mutated cells within the body. Those cells function differently from normal cells, and then it causes diseases. And it continues to create these different cells, which means you continue to be ill. And since we scarcely had any food, I ate contaminated food: pumpkins from our kitchen garden. We didn’t know they were contaminated at the time. Cells within the body were destroyed as I ate. And the longer I did it, the more effect the body felt. My body had a lot of glass shards from the blast. My mother and I suffered the same symptoms: high fever, severe diarrhea, hair loss, bleeding through gums and pores, pain all over the body, many purple spots, and blood vessels turned white. These were all symptoms coming from the radioactivity of the atomic bomb. The same symptoms affected our neighbors and caused many of them to die. We survived.

However, wounds wouldn’t heal, and some of the pieces of the glass stayed in my body. There were no doctors. Doctors were dead, so nobody was able to take many of these pieces out of my body. So in February 1946, my family, especially my father, tried very hard to bring some medicine home for me. As I said, I lost all my hair, but in February of the next year, whether it was because of my father’s efforts to bring me medicine or not, my hair started to regrow. That really gave me strength. It gave me power to live.

Before long I had a brother and a sister. Remember, my mother and I were together when the bombing occurred. It’s really hard for me to talk about this. My mother is diagnosed with this nuclear, A-bomb sickness 29 years after the bombing. The diagnosis was given to her 29 years after.

 

She was sick for 29 years, and then she was diagnosed?

 Yoneda: No, she gave birth to my younger brother and younger sister, and she was “healthy.” But she started to have pain 29 years later, and it only took her four days before she passed away, after the diagnosis. So [she had] all the symptoms that people experienced right after the bombing, such as high fever, diarrhea, hair loss, bleeding from the gums, purple spots all over the body, and then blood oozing out of the pores. And then veins turn white, and there is pain all over the body. She suffered that for four days, and then she passed away.

 

Before that she had none of these symptoms? 

Yoneda: Yes, that’s right.

Yoshioka: As he told you, bleeding gums, bleeding from the ears happens. My mom had the high fever, diarrhea, purple spots. That’s a sign that you are close to death and that’s caused by radioactivity. [He shows picture of soldier two hours before death; spots look like chicken pox on the face.] My father had similar symptoms. I was young, so that’s why I overcame it, but my father didn’t overcome it. He died three months after the bombing, with these symptoms. My mother died 35 years later, and my sister died 60 years later.

Yoneda: My father had similar symptoms 43 years later. But his was given a different label. Multiple types of cancer showed up all at once in his body, but the symptoms were very similar to what you saw and were specific to A-bomb victims. And then he passed away shortly after. So I think it’s me next, because I’m healthy now.

So you asked me, “How did I overcome or cope?”

I never overcame it.

 

I understand, as much as I’m able to. How can we make sure nuclear weapons are never used again?

Yoshioka: You just have to be active in that movement. As you know, they experimented with bombs in the Bikini Atoll. It was 10 years after the bombing. A Japanese person was killed by that, and the whole Japanese nation was outraged.

 

I read about the Japanese boat Lucky Dragon No. 5—

Yoshioka: The movement to ban nuclear weapons in Japan started after that, and it still continues to be active. We invite foreign officials, people from other countries, including Egypt, to this conference. And then at the U.N. too, nuclear nonproliferation treaties have been adopted, banning all experiments with nuclear weapons, so that movement, started after Bikini, has developed globally to include these declarations. But in the meantime, the number of countries that own and possess nuclear weapons continues to grow, such as the U.S., Russia, England, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, and, supposedly, Iran. My hope is that if this anti-proliferation movement spreads with the U.N. and its center, I would think that people would be willing to lessen the number of nuclear weapons.

During the Korean War, President Truman said he would use nuclear weapons if necessary. The whole world was enraged by that. Three hundred million signatures were collected, which prevented the U.S. from using nuclear weapons then. I think we have to believe that if each one of us participates in the movement, we could stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We are really encouraged to see that peace groups are springing up, and there is some hope for the future. I don’t think we should abandon hope that we could stop all wars, that we can eliminate all nuclear weapons.

 

Mr. Yoneda, how can we make sure nuclear weapons are never used again? 

Yoneda: I completely agree with Mr. Yoshioka. You just have to be active in the movement. The mayor of Hiroshima City called for a Peace Conference of Mayors, and in his call for the conference, he said by the year 2020 cities cooperate to eliminate nuclear weapons to determine that there will be no use of them. And we totally agree with the mayor in his statement, so we deliver this message to the mayors of Boulder, Denver, and Longmont this time. The city of Denver is already a member of this mayor’s coalition. Eighteen hundred cities throughout the world are members of Mayors for Peace.

 

What countries do you see as being most important to hearing your message and changing their course?

Yoneda: First, those who actually own nuclear weapons should listen to our message. And those countries that wish no one would have nuclear weapons: Listen to our message, and work toward the banning of nuclear weapons.

Of course, the reason we carry the plea from the mayor of Hiroshima here is to have mayors of the country that owns the most nuclear weapons to listen to our message. And that was one of the intentions of my visit this time.

 

Just in eastern Colorado [in 2007], we have 29 active nuclear armed minutemen III missiles. What do you think about the nonproliferation treaty in light of how many weapons the U.S. still has? Is it strong enough?

 

Yoshioka: I understand that you have trouble dismantling those things, technically. But since this country has the most weapons, this country shouldn’t say, Russia doesn’t do it, therefore [we won’t], or China doesn’t do it, therefore [we won’t]. This country should lead the movement of dismantling and then eliminating all the weapons. They would applaud that effort. We just earnestly hope that there will be no nuclear weapons in the world.

 

Yoneda: To eliminate nuclear weapons, part of it has already been done. I understand that there are several thousand active nuclear weapons. But the number is somewhat less than what it used to be. Nuclear heads are complicated devices, but they are, after all, manmade machines. So if you dismantle a nuclear head, it is no longer a nuclear weapon, and I understand that technically it is possible to do so. I think that dismantling and getting rid of them is humanly possible. Let’s do that.

So that’s our visit here, to talk about our experiences is part of this larger movement of eliminating all nuclear weapons. We, so far, in our visit, we visited one middle school and one university and talked to the students. They were a really good audience, they listened to us so seriously. We were impressed.

 

How is Hiroshima remembered, from your perspective, in the U.S. versus in Japan?

 Yoshioka: I worry somewhat that people in this country still think that by dropping those bombs we hastened the termination of the war and also saved a million lives of soldiers. I’m a little worried about that perception.

 

Worried that it justifies the use of nuclear weapons?

 Yoshioka: I just wonder if many Americans still justify the use of it by thinking that way.

 

Yes, a lot of people do, especially in wanting to defend our military, our Navy, our part in the war. People still argue that even though it was horrific, it was necessary at some level.

Yoshioka: One of the purposes of us coming here is to promote discussion about that perception. I didn’t come to the States to criticize Americans. We both experienced both hurting and being hurt during that war. My only wish is to abandon all nuclear weapons. I wanted to contribute to that movement. That’s why I’ve come to relay my experience of the bombing. During that war, Japan committed so many atrocities for a long time in Southeast Asia, and also to American people through the Pearl Harbor bombing and then the death march in the Abatan Peninsula. We killed 70,000 American soldiers, so what I want to relate to you through my experience is that war is a crime committed by a nation, ignoring individual rights and ethics, and it totally destroys people’s lives. I just want people to think hard about how many sad and painful experiences the surviving family and related people have to experience. That was my purpose in coming.

 

Yoneda: In response to your question, I was really encouraged by the middle-school students’ response yesterday. In short, one question that came from the audience was, it’s a difficult question to answer but one student asked me, “How did you survive?” I think our personal experience told to them really reached deep into the student. So I think the question came because he thought, having suffered such atrocity, what made me decide to survive, deep down? I really thanked this student for asking me that question. I surmised that perhaps this student would question the validity of the war that’s going on right now perpetrated by this country.

So I said to him, I was 5 at the time, so my thought of just, I wanted to survive, that came from actually the fear of dying. And as I saw many victims begin to die one after another, my fear of death was amplified. But also, I think, I wanted to respond to my father’s love for me and his will, that he wanted me to survive.

 

This country says we’re maintaining peace by keeping all these nuclear weapons—

 

[one of them said]: That’s a big lie!

 

Yoshioka: There are two points of view when people say peace is maintained by the possession of nuclear weapons, but if you try to defend your country by keeping nuclear weapons, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is endless, and then it gets more dangerous as you have more nuclear weapons. The countries that actually have the nuclear weapons promised they would abolish nuclear weapons through this nonproliferation treaty, and I want to believe that people in the world have the wisdom to walk the path of abolition of nuclear weapons through peace movements and petitioning and so forth. I think we need to learn history’s lesson: We have never gained peace through the rules of war.

 

How is the U.S. pressuring Japan to revise its peace article, Article 9, of its Constitution? What are your views of this article? Do you see it as a gift to humanity?

 Yoshioka: Your Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Armitage, many times spoke with “important Japanese government officials” in charge of the mutual security agreement between Japan and the U.S. And then he put pressure on those government officials to change the constitution so that Japan could use the army along with America. Japan is actually strengthening its movement toward making changes in our constitution. For example, they have already changed the basic education law, and then they have established a system by which Japanese nationals can vote for or against changing the constitution. And then they are restructuring the U.S. military in Japan. And all these movements look very dangerous. However, people who are determined to keep peace are getting stronger. The people who want to preserve peace are actually coming out and fighting against the aforementioned movement and trend.

Yoneda: As you know, there are a lot of remarks made by high U.S. officials regarding “improving the Constitution.” I do think it’s a gift to humankind, what the Japanese Constitution Clause 9 says, which is abandonment of war and then refusal of militarization and the right to fight.

 

Did you marry, and do you have any children or grandchildren?  

Yoshioka: I have one son and one daughter. They are both married, but both of them have weak digestive systems, but I’m not sure it’s because of radiation. The government actually supports the second-generation people of the victims. They give them annual checkups. There is a governmental organization called Institute for the Effect of Radiation. This Institute is supported half and half by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Japanese Ministry of Welfare and Labor. They conduct research on the second generation. And they have said that there haven’t been any findings that the bombing affected heredity, but they also say that they should continue their research. However, I know of people whose children died of leukemia. There have been a few cases in the newspaper. I know that I have an acquaintance whose grandchild was deformed. There are also testimonials by midwives who delivered babies after the bombing, and there were lots of deformed children and some of the deformities were cleft lips, no bone around the brain, six digits on the hands, and the internal organs were protruding out of the body cavity. They were not contained by the skin.

 

Yoneda: I am married, and I have two children and one grandchild. So far, I have been healthy.

A friend of mine’s son, who was 39 in 1997, died of cancer of the scrotum. And the son’s father had already had the disease of the white blood cells that is particular to the A-bomb victims. I also heard a midwife testifying that quite a lot of babies who were born after the bombing were deformed.

 

Thank you both for sharing your stories.

 

Christine Weeber is the author of two poetry chapbooks, a bilingual collection titled In the Understory of Her Beingand Sastrugi. Her poetry and prose have appeared in A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National ParkUnder the Devil’s ThumbSolo: On Her Own Adventure, and other publications. Christine is the copy editor and a developmental editor at Sapiens. She also serves as a healer in Nederland, Colorado.

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Christine Weeber

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KJ 95: Wellbeing