Support and Education for Radiation Victims (SERV)
I am humbled and thankful for the opportunity to be here today. My father once told me that to know history and understand events of the past, one must go and see the place, one must experience the sounds, and hear the words spoken by those who survive. So here I am today, hearing your voices and seeing your faces and I am overwhelmed. To see Nagasaki and Hiroshima for the first time is difficult, since for decades I have read about the horrendous suffering and pain which took place here and today these cities are so alive and well. Human nature has an incredible strength to overcome impossible tragedies, and the rebuilding of these cities is a symbol of the strength of all survivors.
I was born in Vienna, Austria, a few years after a war had destroyed most of this beautiful city. It is much more difficult to rebuild lives than buildings, however. Families were devastated, and my sister, born in 1945, died as a result of the same war which took the lives of so many, in so many places.
The school I attended in Vienna had a wonderful teacher. She was interested in sharing all she knew about the world. One day she came to school and told us the story of a girl who was very sick and who needed our help. She brought beautiful colored paper and taught us to fold paper cranes. By the time we had filled our classrooms with the beautifully colored birds it did not matter to us that they could no longer keep a little girl alive, but the lesson had been taught. The lesson to never give up, see the beauty around us and that we must do whatever we can to prevent hurting innocent children.
Years later I learned that the bombed out building the world recognized
as the image of Hiroshima was designed by the same Austrian man who was
the architect for a very similar building in Vienna. Some of my fondest
memories of my childhood were the beautiful functions I attended inside
that building. Yes, one must experience parallels to understand the
likenesses among humanity. It is not the differences that are important,
it is the knowledge, which my teacher shared with me, that each individual
has the responsibility to learn from history, to learn that doing good
deeds is rewarding, and that evil deeds must be exposed. Simply,
the lesson was to work toward a world in which Sadako could have grown
Now I live in the United States of America, among a society of victims who have not been told that they will die of radiation poisoning. It is often too late to save them, once they discover they have been irradiated. The United States has one of the highest levels of thyroid cancers among children in the world. People who lived in high fallout areas are not even warned and told to get checkups. Many of them die without ever knowing what happened to them. They are never told who, and what, is responsible for their suffering. Huge amounts of money are spent to keep radiation exposure consequences hidden and silent. I meet people almost daily who tell me stories of suffering and illness; many of them had no idea that the radiation from almost 1000 nuclear bomb tests could eventually make their families sick and kill them. What started in Hiroshima has not ended yet. Three years ago I formed an organization called SERV, Support and Education for Radiation Victims. Mostly we listen and try to help those who have been ignored, those exposed who have no place to meet each other, no place for sympathy and no information about how to get help.
The American Government has done little to alleviate the pain and needs. A law was passed to compensate victims like the Utah downwinders, the weapons facility workers, the Uranium miners, and the military veterans in 1990. It does not cover any health expenses but consists of a one-time payment which is equivalent to the cost of a nice car. Many cancers and illnesses are left out, even though they have been clearly linked to radiation exposures. If a person dies without family there is no compensation, and if someone lived just one mile outside the "compensation" border, they receive nothing. Many die while waiting to be compensated, because the process often takes many years. Information about the process of application is difficult to obtain and often people give up and receive no help at all. Many people are bankrupted by the inability to work and by the costs of their health care. Often their children cannot afford an advanced education because there just is no money left. They also miss out on having grandparents, they miss their friends, which have died, and they feel rejected and ignored.
The richest government in the world is still unwilling to do what needs to be done. The needs are many, but foremost, free treatment of all radiological illness, and free healthcare must be the first priority. Secondly, a whole nation should no longer be kept in the dark about what was done to them. The whole world knows about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but what happened in the Western United States is still hidden, lied about and NOT common knowledge. This must change! In the future, it hopefully will become more difficult to keep secrets and to purposefully hurt innocent men, women and children. The communications technology of today is a powerful tool, and as we go into a new millennium, it will be of extreme importance to spread the truth and the history, and tell it over and over again, until there will be no one left who believes in the lie of the "friendly" Atom. Thirdly, families need to be given back what was taken from them. It is impossible to replace people, but it is indeed feasible and reasonable to expect that lost earnings, funeral expenses, and any expense having resulted from their premature death or illness will be reimbursed. No one should be allowed to benefit financially from harming others.
I am here today, because I believe that people can and will make a difference, that it is up to each of us, to do what is best for mankind and that it will be a kinder and gentler world in the future. Tell everyone you meet that the suffering and pain did not end in Nagasaki, but that it continued in Australia, in the Marshall islands, and Kazakstan, and that today the suffering still continues in places like Paducah, Oakridge, Hanford, Savannah River, Fernald, Rocky Flats, Portsmouth/ Piketon, Mound, Amarillo, Idaho Falls, Livermore, Nevada and Utah. Someday soon, everyone will know that not just one, or a hundred, or a thousand, or tens of thousands, or a hundred thousand died as a result of nuclear bombs, but that it has affected millions.
A long time ago my teacher told me the story of the beautiful cities
of Japan destroyed by nuclear bombs. Today it is our turn to tell
everyone about the places and people in America which were sacrificed also.
Once everyone understands that radiation does not stop at the border of
any country and that the consequences are truly Global, the chance to create
a world free of Atom Bombs will indeed become a reality.