Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of former U.S. President Harry Truman who authorized the 1945 atomic bombings of Japan, on Tuesday called for atomic bomb survivors to be heard to understand the threat of nuclear weapons.
Speaking to some 200 local high school students in New York, Daniel said that regardless of whether people agree with his grandfather’s decision to drop the bombs, “the threat of nuclear weapons is such that all of us…need to listen to survivors because if we don’t learn, we are going to do it again.”
Daniel, 57, has been involved in an initiative by a nongovernmental organization in New York to offers high school students a chance to listen to the testimonies of atomic bomb survivors, known as “hibakusha” in Japan.
The event Tuesday was co-sponsored by the Hibakusha Stories project and the Japan Society, an organization in New York promoting friendly ties between Japan and the United States. It was organized as part of events to mark the 70th anniversary this year of the end of World War II.
During the 90-minute lecture, Japanese atomic bomb survivors recounted the bombings in the final phase of the war and talked about issues such as how they have dealt with their identity as hibakusha.
Setsuko Thurlow, an 83-year-old survivor now living in Canada, was about 1.8 kilometers away from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb blast that rocked Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
She recalled how she thought she was faced with death that day and saw a “ghostly procession” of people.
“I say ghostly because people just didn’t look like human beings. They were unrecognizably burned, blackened and bleeding. The hair was rising up toward the sky and the skin and flesh were hanging down from the bones,” she said.
Yasuaki Yamashita, a 76-year-old survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki who has lived in Mexico since 1968, said the first time he spoke out about his experiences of the bombing was in 1995, after the son of a friend invited him to go to his school to talk about it.
“Until that day, I was hiding my identity. Because…we suffered discrimination in Japan by Japanese people so I didn’t want to say anything about my experience,” he said.
He said “still it is not so easy” to discuss his painful experiences but that it is “very necessary” to share them, noting that if the hibakusha keeps quiet, “nobody will know what really happened.”
Students asked such questions as whether the atomic bomb survivors “hate” the United States. Yamashita said he “never, never hated the people” of America.
“I never questioned who is guilty, who is not. Because two sides, they have always some reason (for fighting.) If you hate somebody, it starts war, start fighting,” he said.
Thurlow also said she had no reason to hate the American people, but admitted that she thought the decision to drop the atomic bombs, reached by people including President Truman, was “a crime against humanity.”
Daniel told reporters later that the important thing is to acknowledge that “there was inhumanity in all sides of that war” without pointing fingers at the current U.S. or Japanese governments or people.
On Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people by the end of the year. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 that year, and Japan surrendered six days later, bringing an end to World War II.