‘I said to myself, ‘God, please forgive me for hating this guy. If I hate, I should hate the war.’’
Those are the words of Ms Koko Tanimoto Kondo, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which took place 70 years ago today. She is describing the moment she witnessed a co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that hit Hiroshima, well-up with tears as he described the guilt he felt for his actions.
When the bomb hit Hiroshima, Ms Kondo was just eight months old. Since then she has devoted her life to telling the story of Hibakusha – the ‘explosion-affected people’. This year, as every year, she will take to the streets of her home town to talk to students about the horrors of her obliterated home and childhood. She will share with them the humiliation she felt as a teenager, when she stood naked on a stage while men in white overcoats – doctors, scientists – scrutinised her body for signs of radiation poisoning. She will recall, painfully, how her American fiancé abandoned her days before their wedding for fear that exposure to radiation had left her unable to bear children.
She is a pacifist who hopes her story will help young men and women to understand the devastation felt by victims of atomic warfare. Through storytelling tours, she reveals her path back to routine and order: self-affirmation in the context of awesome and unprecedented warfare.
Ms Kondo was a cameo in John Hersey’s expose of the Hiroshima bombing, which filled an entire edition of The New Yorker magazine in August 1946, one year on from the disaster. The magazine’s editors explained their decision to splash it as being taken “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use”.
While the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare, war itself has not stopped. Today, one in every 122 people are living in exile, forced from their homes by conflict. Over the past four years, the number of people killed in conflicts has jumped from 49,000 in 2010 to 180,000 in 2014. It is estimated violence costs 13.4 per cent of the world’s GDP.
But today’s conflicts differ from the Second World War, in that most take place within not between countries – they are civil wars, insurgencies, guerrilla conflicts, often conducted at the grassroots level and inflicted on civilian communities. That’s why we believe that local actions and capacities for peace need to be mobilised and supported, if war is to be prevented in the long term. That’s what Peace Direct aims to do.
Meanwhile time passes since the awful warning of Hiroshima, and memories of living survivors wane. The need to renew their stories grows. We can do this by rereading the direct testimonies in Hersey’s article, ‘Hiroshima’, with its six shocking case studies. In doing so, we pay the men, women and children of Hiroshima our respects.
On this day 70 years ago, Ms Kondo and thousands like her were subjected to the worst kind of indiscriminate warfare, the kind that should never leave the public conscience. Now is the right time to pick up ‘Hiroshima’, to remind us of what humanity is capable of doing to itself during war.
They do not suffer in silence.