A survivor of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima has urged an audience in London to tackle the root causes of war. Shoso Kawamoto was speaking today (1 August) at the opening ceremony of an exhibition in central London to mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the bombing.
Kawamoto was 11 years old in 1945, when US forces dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After a harrowing description of the fate of children who survived the atrocity, Kawamoto said that nuclear weapons must be abolished, “but first, we have to tell our children and ask ourselves why people fought each other”. He said this means thinking seriously about how to live in peace.
The exhibition, After the Bomb Dropped: How Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered, has been designed by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and is hosted at Friends' House, the headquarters of British Quakers.
It will run for two weeks and is linked to a series of events and further talks by Kawamoto. The programme has been organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW).
The sixty-fifth anniversary of the nuclear bombing comes as the UK government is under pressure over its determination to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. Trident consists of four submarines, each of which contains nuclear material over a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima.
Around 60,000 people died in the city on 6 August 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped by the USA with the backing of the UK. Its effects meant that 140,000 people - over 40 per cent of the city's population - had died by the end of the year. There was similar devastation in Nagasaki, which was bombed three days later.
“I was pretty much fortunate, I have to say, because one of my family members survived,” said Kawamoto, although both his parents were killed by the bomb.
He explained that many children had been evacuated from the city just before the bomb dropped, only to find that they had no home or relatives to go back to. Around 1,000 of these children died of starvation or hypothermia while living “almost naked” on the streets. About 300 others died in violence after being recruited by gangs.
As he grew up, Kawamoto faced social stigma as a nuclear survivor. At 23, he planned to marry, but his girlfriend's parents refused to give permission, saying that his children would be born disabled because of radiation. “I gave up on myself in despair,” he said, adding that he felt suicidal at the time. He moved to another city to “restart life” and had turned 60 the next time he returned to Hiroshima.
Kawamoto emphasised the impact that his mother's teaching of truth-telling and compassion made on him before the bombing. It is because of these values, he said, that he has chosen to speak out about the effects of the bomb. He said he was in London today “because of the teachings of my mother and because of good friends”.
He concluded, “I want to convey that message, and if I can help, my life will have been very fruitful”. The audience responded with warm applause.
Several people were moved to tears as they walked around the exhibition. It includes photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the days and months immediately after the bombings, along with an array of other material. These include drawings by survivors depicting their experiences as well as poems and writings by those affected.
One poem, We Shall Bring Forth New Life by survivor Sadako Kurihara, tells of a child born in the ruins after the bomb dropped. Another part of the display tells of Camphor trees, which were thought to have died in the bombings but unexpectedly began to sprout leaves again amidst the devastation.
Individuals quoted on the exhibition boards include the former Pope, John Paul II. He said that Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand out as “a warning to future generations”.
Kawamoto and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum were warmly thanked by Kate Hudson of CND and Helen Drewery of QPSW. The Vice-Director of the Museum read out a message from its chairman, saying that “CND and other activists are playing a vital role”.
Amongst the audience was Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London. She told Ekklesia that, “Every government minister should come and see this exhibition. It's a great reminder of what the consequences are of nuclear weapons. The debate at the moment seems to have been sanitised.”
The exhibition, After the Bomb Dropped, runs from 2 - 12 August, along with a series of related events. For more information, see http://www.quaker.org.uk/hiroshima.