A-bomb survivor remembers past,
looks to future

Sunday, January 20, 2008    First Congregational Church   4 pm              

Monday, Jan 21, 2008  Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception  7pm 

 By Paul Crum, Pax Christi Memphis

Whether he is speaking to a group of Japanese school children at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, or addressing a gathering in the basement of an American church, A-bomb survivor Takashi Teramoto says he always ends by quoting the words of Pope John Paul II: "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace."

Teramoto, a retired Hiroshima power company executive, now devotes his life to making sure people remember Hiroshima, both in his native land and around the world. With the support of various museums, municipalities, peace foundations and other benefactors, Teramoto and other Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) speak to college students, church groups, peace activists and others willing to listen. His two recent appearances in Memphis were sponsored locally by Pax Christi Memphis, First Congregational Church and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

Through interpreter Steven Leeper, Chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, Teramoto told the audience at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that he was, "… not here to express hatred, grief or my own emotions. To quote American philosopher, George Santayana, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.’ Being aware of the past is extremely important to making better decisions for the future."

Teramoto remembered a Japan devastated by months of allied bombing. "Fire bombing turned cities into huge seas of flames. "On March 10, 1945, 100,000 people died from the bombing of Tokyo," he recalled. "Children in cities were evacuated to the countryside. We slept in temples, but the war had sucked up our resources. I remember intensely not having enough food. When I think back to that time I remember being hungry – thinking all the time about food."

10-years-old at the time, Teramoto thinks his nutritional deficiencies led him to fall ill after over three months as an evacuee. "The temple called my mother and she came on August fourth to take me back to a doctor in Hiroshima. I remember her putting on her kimono getting ready that morning (August 6th). I was leaning over a desk writing a letter to a friend.

"Suddenly I sensed a tremendous light behind me and I remember looking toward that light," he continued. "I don’t remember exactly what happened then, but I do remember that things went completely black, and I remember crouching into a little ball with things falling on me – hurting me, injuring me very badly.

"Now I know that there was a mushroom cloud 36,000 feet high, and that I was at the bottom of that cloud that blocked out all the light." Teramoto’s home was just one kilometer (.06 miles) from the hypocenter of the blast.

He told the group that he also remembered a tremendous wind, estimated at over 1,000 miles per hour, and a very distinctive smell. "I later asked a scientist if radiation has a smell," he said. "He assured me it did not, but I will never forget that smell."

Speaking softly in Japanese, Teramoto continued. "After the darkness, I walked toward the first light I saw. When I came into the light I saw a woman from the neighborhood. She asked me who I was. I said, ‘I am Takushi.’ I didn’t understand at the time, but now I know I was completely covered in blood.

"She said, ‘jump on my back and let’s get out of here’. I began shouting, ‘My mother is not here!’ Someone told me they would look for her."

Traveling westward on his neighbor’s back, Teramoto said, "I saw all sorts of awesome things. One that has appeared always in my dreams is a woman’s head sticking out of the rubble. I think the reason it stayed with me is that shortly after that the whole area erupted in flames. I knew she was burned alive. That’s why it stayed in my dreams."

When the young boy and his neighbor reached a riverbank they stopped to rest. Then the "black rain" began to fall.

"The heat from the cloud that had sucked up all sorts of things mixed with the cold air in the atmosphere and it rained down in big back drops exposing everyone to more and more radiation," Teramoto explained. "The woman found a sheet of tin and held it over me. She got very wet, but I wasn’t as exposed as her."

He credited the woman with saving his life.

"When I think of that, I know I was given life by that woman so I can stand here and talk to you today," he said. Asked later about the fate of the neighbor, Teramoto responded sadly that she had died weeks later as a result of her exposure to radiation.

The speaker projected images of drawings and paintings on to a large screen to illustrate the scene he recalled on the day of the bombing.

"Riverbanks were filled with people and the rivers were filled with bodies," he went on. "You couldn’t see the water sometimes. I heard later that my mother made it to one of the riverbanks, but died there on August fifteenth. She was piled up with eight other people and burned."

Although Teramoto admitted it was a "hopeless task" to identify all the corpses, and that the clean-up had to be accomplished quickly for public health reasons, he was visibly bothered by the treatment of the dead.

"Human beings should be treated as human beings when they die," he said, "not as garbage or animals." He related that the ashes of many of the victims were gathered and buried in what has now become a memorial in Hiroshima Peace Park.

Teramoto told the audience that people continued to die for months from acute symptoms of radiation, estimating 140,000 dead by the end of 1945.

He was taken to an aunt’s house and spent months in recovery.

"I was told later that my aunt didn’t recognize me because my face was so covered with wounds," he said. "The mattress I laid on was ruined by all the glass that came out of my body. I remember discovering maggots in my wounds, and because there was no antiseptic, they held me down while they cleansed my wounds with hot water."

Teramoto said he lost his hair, but did not suffer the bleeding and skin spots that many experienced as a result of radiation sickness.

The seventy-three year old survivor admits that he knows there is bitterness in the deep recesses of mind, but he refuses to let it affect him, preferring instead to think about his children, his grandchildren, the life he now cherishes and the future.

"I lost my mother, my family, friends – my whole community," he said. "I was on the brink of death. War is death – a threat to our survival. We can’t allow anything like this to happen again. War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death."

Concluding in a reverent tone, he translated into his native tongue the words of Pope John Paul II, "… to remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war."

 A message from the Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba:

The information presented in this exhibition derives from an event that took place 62 years ago. We believe that event remains relevant to you today for two main reasons.

 

First, the atomic bombings led to a dramatic change in consciousness. Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced what felt like the end of the world. Whole families, neighborhoods, and communities vanished in seconds. The sheer magnitude of the destruction, horror, pain, and despair led to an understanding among the survivors that human beings can no longer resolve conflicts thought contests of destructive power. Such contests can have no winners. They threaten our entire species. War is obsolete. Nuclear war is out of the question.

 

This understanding remains ahead of its time. Most human beings still seem unable to grasp the concept of a totally inclusive world peace. We hope that this exhibition will help a few more members of the human family rise to that new level of consciousness and commit to our collective survival

 

Second, this exhibition is relevant because the horrific images it presents are more likely than ever to leap from history into our future. The nuclear threat did not end with the Cold War. Unfortunately, certain powerful people still harbor the delusion that nuclear weapons can guarantee security or further their fantasies of world domination. The US and Russia, with thousands of nuclear warheads ready to launch on warning, still hold us all hostage to political competition. some experts say we are at greater risk than ever of an accidental holocaust and nuclear winter. ...

 

The hibakusha - A-bomb survivors - have been telling us for decades that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist indefinitely. As long as they exist, nuclear weapons remain an obscenely expensive, criminally dangerous threat. Our greatest hope for this exhibition is that it will inspire you to spread the desire to be liberated from this threat.

 

In the next three to five years the human family will make a crucial decision. Will we eliminate nuclear weapons? Or will we use them? The overwhelming majority of nations and people on this planet want the former. If the US were to take the lead in a sincere global effort to find and eliminate all nuclear weapons and weapons-grade fissile material, we could be rid of them by 2020, when the Nuclear Age turns 75.

 

We have lived too long in fear and hatred. We cannot solve the real problems we face by continuing to threaten each other with annihilation. We hope you will make it clear to your leaders that you expect them, above all, to lead you toward a peaceful, just, and sustainable world free of nuclear weapons...