Following from the jarring experience of watching Jeremy Corbyn hounded on BBC Question Time for refusing to say he would be prepare to launch a nuclear attack I feel impelled to share something I wrote awhile ago. Begrudgingly cut from my piece on Orford Ness it is a depiction of the real experiences of two survivors of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima on August 8th 1945 which I read in a pamphlet called ‘Give me water; testimonies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’. These are just two of the moving stories, with little to no embellishment, within this text which lay bare the haunting reality of the consequences of nuclear weapons which numerous members of the QT audience seemed somehow immune to conceptualising.
These were the scenes which followed the dropping of a bomb which the Trident missiles are estimated to be at least eight times more powerful than.
(Hiroshima, 0.8km from the explosion centre, image from http://blogs.icrc.org/law-and-policy/2016/08/09/hiroshima-nagasaki-atomic-bomb-survivors/)
In a small, unimposing hut there it lies. Pure white walls surround the once active missile, if it was held up lengthwise it would probably be slightly shorter than me. Inside the room is dead silence, outside the strong wind occasionally batters at the flimsy windows. Despite the bomb being disarmed I still feel wary of it. At first I can’t bring myself to approach it. I stand on the other side of the room sizing it up, failing to visualise the immense power it once held. The silence is broken as the warden who let me in gently hurries me. I am spurned on to approach it, but nothing could bring me to touch the shining metal.
On the white casing is inscribed a series of letters and numbers that mean nothing to me, serial and reference numbers; the warden later tells me one of the sequences was to denote the colour. Above that are some direct instructions to the user: WARNING LOWER ROLLERS BEFORE CLAMPING SADDLE / TIGHTEN NUTS TO 15 LB. FT. USING TORQUE WRENCH. I can make little more of these instructions than I could the serial number. All I can relate to is the finale of Dr. Strangelove, as our cowboy turned soldier straddles the bomb like a rodeo bull on its unstoppable path, thrusting and cheering in total exuberance before he is consumed by the blinding light of detonation.
One of the first men to see this light, an American General, was dazzled by its beauty, naming it at once magnificent and terrifying, perfectly sublime. In those moments he was overcome by the magnitude of this weapon, convinced no poets could ever adequately explain it. It was a light of gold, purple, violet, grey and blue, these colours illuminating every peak and crevasse of the nearby mountains. Just under a month later civilians would also experience this light, one that could not, the General insisted, be imagined; its beauty can only be visualised if it is seen first-hand though you would be lucky to remember it.
In Japan, they call the light pika. For those at the hypocentre when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was all they saw. On the 6th of August 1945, at 8:15AM, the first atomic weapon to be aggressively deployed, named Little Boy, annihilated a 1 mile radius in central Hiroshima, with further damage across the city. This city was actively chosen because it was a site of war manufacturing where there were many families as well as the military and workers.
That morning most people were relatively untroubled. Firebombings had been deployed across the country the few preceding nights but Hiroshima had received a signal that all was clear an hour previously. Housewife Futaba Kitayama was not afraid when she saw a plane flying above her. She watched it in fascination as it crossed the perfectly clear sky as she began her work. Near her someone cried “Oh, that’s a parachute! A parachute is coming down!” Kitayama turned in interest towards where they pointed. With barely enough time to see the parachute she did not see the bomb, or the obscene and wrathful letters that covered it. No one would read the American soldiers words, they were incinerated in the blast of their ultimate message.
Kitayama was as lost for words as the American General that first saw the light of the bomb. It was like someone had set fire to her eyes, as something like an ominous purple consumed her sight. The explosion threw her to the ground and roared throughout her body. As the world collapsed around her the light vanished to pitch black and she assumed this was her final moment.
Another woman, Toshie Fuijino, was 1.3km from the hypocentre when the bomb hit. The night before she and her youngest son had sat on their roof watching the stars. He showed her Orion, gazing over them. They had watched the sky above as nearby Kure City burned across the horizon. They had felt the certainty of their mortality. The boy had asked her why wars are even fought; she had no answers but to tell him not to bring up such questions at school for fear of the Military Police.
Fuijino had experienced the blast as a FLASH, transforming the whole world to a pale yellow. The shock waves vibrated through her right arm. The boom came some seconds later, enough time for her to stand up and wonder what was to be done. When it reached her she thought the whole of heaven and earth was crashing down upon her.
On the other side of town Kitayama realised she was still alive. With thoughts of her children spurning her on, she pulled herself out of the rubble. She would not allow them to be orphaned. The sky, which moments before had been a clear blue, was now dark like dusk, everything was grey and hazy. The landscape around her had been flattened. Gone were the buildings and any other landmark; it was all monotonous rubble, like an endless desert of rocks. She finally located the Tsurumi Bridge in the distance and became certain that if she was to cross it she would find herself once again in the world she had known. There she would be reunited with her children.
But across the bridge were the same scenes of utter devastation. In the water hundreds of people, turned into the same distorted grey figures, were squirming and screaming. Kitayama became conscious of her own body and realised the skin had been burnt from her arms. Yellow ooze was appearing from her hands, she did not dare think what the state of her face was. It was only when she looked back that she realised it was not an ordinary bomb that had hit and that all she had known had been decimated.
Suddenly hundreds or thousands of school children ran past her. Their clothes were tatters and their skin hung from their arms like long sleeves. Some jumped in the river, some gave up and simply fainted on the ground. Some more kept running, one shouting “Long live the Emperor” as he tumbled down with another close behind reciting the Military Order. Many more laughed hysterically or cried for their Mothers. Kitayama could barely process the scene in front of her; all she could think was “Why? Why these children?” The scene swam in front of her eyes for days to come making it hard to swallow any food. Even after Hiroshima was rebuilt she could not forget these children. They were built into the memory of what her city had become.
Fuijino was lost in grief for her son on the night following the attack. She had been reunited with the rest of her family but her youngest son had never returned. She lay in the basic shelter they had made in the place where their home had stood and wept while listening to the tears of her husband as he knelt in the remains of their children’s bedroom. She realised than that these same sobs were resonating across all Hiroshima as hundreds of families grieved for those they had lost. Though the same stars turned above her as those that she and her son had watched the night before the earth below had been transformed into a burned wasteland.
No heavenly guardians could protect them. There were no heroes that day. Who could sing songs for the man who in one flight killed at least 90,000 people and irreparably damaged so many other lives? Perhaps this is why we can’t have war heroes any more, the suffering is too immense to justify. As I look at the bomb in that white walled room I don’t spare a thought for the man who dropped the bomb, my mind is consumed by the thousands whose existence was extinguished in an instant. 5773 miles away and 70 years distant, the personal memories of those people affected by the atomic bombings lingers.
Introductory page to ‘Give Me Water; Testimonies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’, Citizens’ Group to Convey Testimonies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1972