By Hideko Tamura: Today, whether or not the use of the nuclear weapons was clearly justified by saving lives, or whether the Japanese would have surrendered without resistance had there been a term to spare the emperor, cannot be proven beyond doubt for either side.
The summers used to be the happiest time in my childhood. Playing in our gardens of stone lanterns and an elegant variety of trees and flowering shrubs provided endless discovery and play. My grandfather's tranquil garden was especially grand.
On one sunny day in the summer of 1945, all that was gone in a split second of a lightening flash and a deafening sound of explosion. Many of my relations simply disappeared. I would never again see my young cousin, Hideyuki, who had been like a brother to me, or Miyoshi, my best friend. And on that day of two suns, my mother did not come home. I watched the red sky over Hiroshima burn through the night at the end of an arduous lone escape.
Many people continued to die from injuries and severe burns, but some without any hint of injuries also died choking for air. I developed a high fever and remained for some time on the borderline between life and death. Intense anxiety persisted over ubiquitous radiation. By the year's end, some 200,000 people succumbed to the radiation effects in Hiroshima alone, and the health problems continue today. Reporting on the mounting casualties was prohibited by the Allied Force. This was unlike any other war casualties, be it Dresden, Tokyo or even genocide victims. Just recently, radiation activities in the preserved organs of A-bomb victims in the research lab were observed by a scientist even after 64 years. One explanation given pointed to a possible presence of the radioactive ashes the victims breathed in before they expired.
The vast literature on the decision to drop the bomb includes some credible arguments that might have averted or delayed the use of the bombs. These include Truman's own chief of staff (Adm. William D. Leahy), cabinet and military leaders, (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas McArthur) and others (Winston Churchill and John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War). The Japanese were desperately seeking surrender terms through European contacts with only the one condition of sparing the monarchy still unaware of the pending entry of the Russians against them. Some speculate that the rush to use the bombs was a show of power to the Russians (Gar Alperovitz). The language of justification to save lives was secondary, according to these documents, but it became prominent later after the bombs were used. (Barton Bernstein, Kai Bird)
Today, whether or not the use of the nuclear weapons was clearly justified by saving lives, or whether the Japanese would have surrendered without resistance had there been a term to spare the emperor, cannot be proven beyond doubt for either side. One thing is clear, however: that the nuclear arsenals made quantum leaps in quantity and effects in the 64 years hence. More nations possess such weapons today — enough to extinguish the world.
Could an unquestioned justification for dropping the bombs have precipitously provided a comfort zone, shielding citizens from educating themselves to the horrific consequences of radiation upon survivors' health that continue even to this date?
Wars usually end when the treaties are signed and adhered to. But populations exposed to nuclear radiation continue to die prematurely after the cessation of hostilities. The nuclear weapons, therefore, do not end war, just as retaliatory remembrances do not bring us to a lasting peace. In an era when nuclear proliferation is a serious issue, we need to accept the reality of this ultimate weapon and dare to move beyond justifying the history, expanding and assuring the safety of your survival and your offspring's with a surrounding civilization intact.
I have lived most of my adult years in the U.S. and know its citizens to be kind, decent and fair. I've not blamed America for my altered life due to the A-bomb but more often buried myself trying not to think about it. Some of you may have done just that. But it is not too late for any of us to be mindful of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a different way so that we may confront the formidable task of defending our lives. Moving forward beyond guilt or blame is imperative after 64 years. The texts from Jerusalem and Athens support the presence of our higher nature and capacity for virtues for living and spreading a life-affirming quest for being truly human in a path of hope. Let us follow them with a renewed resolve before it is too late.
Hideko Tamura is a Hiroshima survivor and the author of "One Sunny Day: A Child's Memories of Hiroshima." She retired to Medford six years ago from the Midwest, having worked for more than 40 years as a therapist/consultant in human services. She also helped organize the Japan Peace Journey of 2006 for the Rogue Valley Peace Choir, which sang in Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima.