The Enola Gay as it returns from bombing Hiroshima
I had completed my daily walk from Hatchobori to the Bank of Hiroshima in Kamiya-cho where I worked and reported for duty. I had enjoyed the beautiful morning and felt better after what had proved to have been yet another night of air raid warnings and the fear of the threat of bombing. We could not understand why we had not been bombed as we had heard so many stories of other cities having been devastated by the American planes. We were, however, grateful for their oversight even as we took precautions to protect our city as best we could from the fires that raged after an aerial bombardment. Indeed, that was my task right now, having been sent by the manager of the bank to consult with the local civil defence unit whether personnel from the bank would be needed today to help to create fire lanes in the neighbourhood.
As I reached the Motoyasu bridge I stopped as was my custom as the view was so beautiful. I knew that I had to hurry, but one or two seconds would not hurt. As I looked at the river Is aw a number of American planes high in the sky but thought nothing of them as no air raid warning had been sounded. They were probably the daily weather or reconnaissance aircraft that we had seen so often before. Yet I could not take my eyes off them as they slowly moved towards the city. They posed no threat and actually looked rather beautiful in the clear blue sky.
The parachutes that were released were a novelty and I had never seen that before. They sank very slowly down towards us and possibly they would distribute leaflets from the Americans. If I could I would try to find one for my eldest son. As the parachutes descended, the one that was nearest to us suddenly exploded and my soul cried out in acute anguish and fear at the unknown evil that was about to visit our city.
In the one billionth of a second that remained of my life I did not see the flash of light that signalled my demise nor did I hear anything, all I could think of was my wife and my two children. How would they fare and who would look after them? I hoped that they would bury me with my ancestors.
We had spent most of the night awake or sleeping fitfully in my uncle’s house outside Hiroshima; one ear cocked for the sound of falling bombs. The air raid sirens had sounded throughout the night adding to the general tension, which we were used to but which still generated such fear and irritation towards the Americans. If they were going to bomb us why did they not do so, they had bombed most of the cities and so what was their plan? We had already had our breakfast and I was helping our aunt while uncle started his chores on the farm. It was already a humid morning and I longed to be outside and ran out happily enough when my uncle shouted for me.
I ran to where he was standing, one hand over his eyes as he stared towards the city. I could not see what he was looking at, but suddenly I was assaulted by a wave of sounds such as I had never heard before. It felt as if an earthquake was going to start but one that was in the sky instead of in the ground beneath our feet. My uncle kept pointing and shouting “explosion” but I could not fathom what had upset him so. Then I saw the clouds start to build from the city and climb towards the sky! They were such filthy clouds, venomous vapours that swirled and began to devour the azure sky, choking it of its beauty and serenity.
About 30 seconds after the explosion, the Enola Gay circled in order to get a better look at what was happening. By that time, although the plane was flying at 30,000 feet, the mushroom cloud had risen above them. The city itself was completely engulfed in a thick black smoke.
The clouds became bigger and the power of the sun diminished as darkness fell upon us. Yet this was not night but something fundamentally evil. I watched in trepidation, as this obscenity grew ever bigger, towering above us and generating such incredible fear within my very soul. I stood closer to my uncle and he put his arm around me; I think to comfort him as much as me. All I could think of was that my parents were in the city, our city that was now, finally, the victim of some enormous bombardment from the Americans.
And then soon afterwards it started to rain. Not the gentle rain that we expected at this time of the year and neither was it the heavy rains of winter, both of which are life giving and greatly valued by farmers. No, this was evil rain, black, thick, smelling of sulphur and death. As some of the drops hit my arms I felt their sting and immediately felt contaminated. Yet I did nothing about it and remained staring at the clouds that lay over our city. I knew that I had to go to find my parents as indeed did my uncle, but he was wise enough to suggest that I went early the following morning.
The wait was an eternity of dread and anguish but nothing like the fears that welled within my heart at the sights that I experienced that day as I neared the city.
What city? It had been completely destroyed. I walked across a scorched plain of utter devastation. There were a few buildings that appeared to be intact, but they stood there in accusation as the odd tooth in the mouth of an old man; present but almost useless. Everything was scorched black and such evil smells prevailed around me.
Yet, even those sights were naught when compared to the people that walked past me, or were driven past me who were heading out of the city. People in utter distress, their eyes devoid of humanity and all too often with skin that hung off their bodies in strands of gelatinous corruption. I cried as I walked, so afraid and yet so determined to go home and to find my parents.
We never did find my father, or my mother, or any of our neighbours.
Indeed I did not even find my house, although I walked in fetid dust where it may once have stood. I was told to go to a nearby school that was not too damaged as survivors had left messages indicating that they were alive and where they might be found. I was not so lucky and there were no messages for me. I was alone in a hell that I did not understand and quickly accepted the offer from a civil defence officer to help with the search and rescue operations.
Nobody, let alone a schoolboy, ought to see such sights. I hope that nobody ever will need to do so. The bodies that we pulled out of the rubble were so disfigured and burnt that they did not resemble the human beings that they had been only yesterday morning. We were instructed to carry them to designated, temporary cremation pits and we moved them on to the after life with as much dignity as we could when they were not known to us, but did constitute a health hazard.
Over the course of the next few days I continued to help. The work was slow and dreadful, yet as we laboured we did receive information about what had happened. We heard that only one bomb had been dropped on the city. One bomb! That is was a new kind of bomb and that was why the Americans had not bombed us previously, as had clearly been the case with other cities, rather they were waiting until this one bomb was ready for their use. We learnt that all of us were now exposed to something called radiation and that people could die from such exposure, but we did not really believe that. However, we did believe the evidence that was before us. This one bomb had created a blast that was so powerful that it had simply knocked buildings down as if they were of no consequence. Then it had generated a fireball that had blazed like a small sun, which had generated temperatures so high that everything had been incinerated. All wooden buildings within a 2 kilometer radius of the hypercenter had been totally destroyed. People had been vapourised and perhaps as it transpired, they were the lucky ones.
Our classroom was outdoors.
Slowly, my new world took form and eventually I was returned to school. My classroom was outside as there were no buildings that could house us all, but the fact that I was learning again was a huge relief and brought a sense of purpose to my reality as an orphan and survivor (hibakusha).
I lived with other survivors and we gained knowledge of the people that were dying each day from the invisible injuries that they had received from the bomb. Our vocabulary expanded to include words such as “radiation”, “Atomic Bomb” and “A-bomb microcephaly”, but I suppose we had very little understanding. Suffice to state that we did not understand why the Americans would have wanted to bring such devastation to our city at a time when the prospect of peace was a real possibility. Nor indeed did we understand why the Americans appeared to be more interested in collecting data, measuring and recording injuries rather tan in providing help for those affected by catastrophic injuries. All that we knew was that an outstanding number of people had died on 6th August and that people were continuing to die from the effects of the Atomic bomb and more would probably do so over the course of time.
Yet we were young and more able to set aside concerns about radiation and illnesses that were new to mankind. I too had developed keloids on my arms as my skin had been exposed to the “black rain”, but my injuries were as nothing compared to the sights that I had seen from those who had been close to the blast. I was relatively healthy and my interest in baseball soon brought a certain degree of normality to my life. Not that I ever forgot my parents, not for a minute, but the young are resilient and life goes on.
As trees were planted along the rivers and building work commenced in earnest, our city began to take on an appearance of home again and hope was reborn in our hearts. Yet even as I studied, played and engaged in youthful activities I never could understand why this had happened to us. We were taught that the decision to bomb our city, and Nagasaki as well apparently had been made by the three world leaders. But did they do so to bring about a hasty end to the war or was there some other motive?
The strict censorship that was imposed on Hiroshima after the world precluded any publication of information about the effects of the Atomic bomb on the city as well as on its inhabitants. Then of course there were the teams of “specialists” who came to Hiroshima to collect data and the information that eventually was published that indicated that the decision not to bomb Hiroshima with conventional explosives had been driven by a need to preserve the city so as to better understand the effects of the A-bomb. So we asked ourselves whether we were in effect part of some complex laboratory experiment rather than the survivors of a punitive raid designed to inflict such damage that our Emperor would agree to unconditional peace.
The Cenotaph in the Peace Park.
In truth, it did not matter what we thought as nobody was gong to be mindful of our opinion. Hopes that further atomic bombs would never be used were increased with the opening of the Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims in 1952 set in the beautiful peace park that was so close to the hypercenter. Many world leaders have come to pray at the Cenotaph and to reflect on the inscription that lies before it, which states “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the veil.” Religious leaders have also come to Hiroshima and have sought to argue for the eradication of nuclear weapons and an end to war.
Even as new nuclear tests are carried out, the Hiroshima City government protests to the government that conducted the test. Even though many may think that this is an exercise in futility, it is a pragmatic cry for peace every bit as important as the words of the Pope, the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa. Indeed the greatest hope that we, the common man, my have is from the proliferation of Mayors around the world who want to see an end to war and who meet regularly to seek ways to bring about this hope.
Yet right now, I see no such possibility. Rather I hear many fine words and then I read of this conflict or that conflict, death, pain and suffering brought to may poor people and always the threat that some man, some individual, will press the button and condemn us to the reality of a nuclear winter. Hiroshima and Nagasaki know only too well of the mushroom cloud hovering over the city, mocking the fury of the conflagration that consumes the buildings and condemned people to become human shadows etched in stone and we fear that others may one day face that Armageddon.
Every 6th August I stand before the Cenotaph, empty my heart of rancour and pray for my parents and for the thousands of innocent people whose lives were taken away from them by that one bomb. Later that night, I gently place my lantern on the river and pray for peace as my lantern flows away on the current. I pray for lasting peace whereby children will grow up with their parents in a society that values social justice. My prayer is always with me and perhaps I will die before it is finally realised, yet if I, a hibakusha, cannot find such hope, then who will speak out for others?