International Meeting
2000 World Conference against A & H Bombs

Tanaka Terumi
General Secretary
Japan Confederation of A & H Bombs Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo)

Dear friends from across the world,
As a Hibakusha, it is a great honor to speak before you hear at the last World Conference against A & H Bombs in this century.

I recall the August of 55 years ago. A U.S. bomber unexpectedly appeared over the sky of Hiroshima and without any warning dropped an atomic weapon unknown previously to the human race. The bomb exploded with a monstrous flash about 500 meters above the ground. Its blast relentlessly smashed people on the ground and mowed down houses. The heat ray burned the people who were outside and set the smashed houses on fire. Those who survived the initial blast were helplessly caught under the piles of pillars and beams and roof-tiles and were burned alive. Invisible radiation was destroying the cells and genes of every person who was there. Those who escaped the immediate death were soon afflicted with high fever, bleeding, diarrhea and loss of hair, and many lost their lives over the next few months. With the only 2 bombs, 210,000 people were killed within 5 months.

I was 13 years old then and lucky to survive, for at the time of the bombing I was inside my house located behind a mountain 3.2 kilometers from the epicenter. Three days later we cremated the body of my aunt in a vacant space that had been near the epicenter of the city reduced to ashes. Heavy burns had turned her into a completely different creature. My grandfather was also severely burned and barely alive. Another aunt of mine and her children had been reduced to a pile of ashes together with their houses. My uncle was lucky to suffer only minor injury. But the radiation soon devastated him with high fever and took his life after Japan surrendered on August 14. The bomb took 5 of my family members at once.

The scene, so horrible, witnessed by a 13-year-old boy, is still vividly alive after 55 years. Before me were miles and miles of smoldering fields. In a pond were scores of burned corpses, all naked, with balloon like swollen faces. There was a house that was burned after a nearby stone wall, smashed by the blast, came crashing through. And amongst the ash and rubble was a child, burnt alive, but still standing. Lines and lines of dead bodies of women and children lay on the ground, waiting to be taken home. And many others were enduring the unbearable pain of being the prey of maggots crawling over their heavy wounds, with no hope of being rescued.

Those who barely managed to survive were disregarded by the society and abandoned for 10 years after the bombing. By 1950, 5 years after the bombing, the U.S. occupation force conducted a national survey and was aware of the existence of more than 290,000 Hibakusha. But they prohibited the people from speaking about the a-bomb damages. The Japanese government did not provide any relief measures to Hibakusha for 12 years. Many Hibakusha were suffering from unaccountable late effects of the radiation, from unexplained fatigue, liver disorder, leukemia and many other kinds of cancer. Hibakushafs everyday life was a struggle with the fear of possible disease and eventual death, they often lost the will to live. During these years of neglect, 100,000 Hibakusha died a "belated death". Those people might have survived if they had been provided with medical care.

In March of 1954, Mr. Kuboyama Aikichi, a crew member of a Japanese fishing boat, 5th Lucky Dragon (Daigo Fukuryumaru) died from the fall out of a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Consequently, every tuna fish caught in the test area and brought into Japan was ordered to be dumped. It was from here that a movement welled up among the people of Japan to oppose A and H bomb testing. This movement led by women soon spread like wildfire across the country. In August of 1955, the first World Conference against A & H Bombs was held in Hiroshima, and a nation wide search for Hibakusha began. Next year, Hibakusha gathered at the 2nd World Conference formed an organization of Hibakusha, Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), of which I now serve as General Secretary.

It was the moment that gave Hibakusha a "meaning to live" for the first time since the bombing. It was from this moment that Hibakusha, who had lived in misery and isolation, started to cooperate and encourage each other and to build a big movement for state compensation for a-bomb damage and for a ban on and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

By 1957 the Hibakusha movement had succeeded in having the government enact the "Law Concerning Medical Treatment for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs" and in 1968 the "Law Concerning Special Measures for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs". The laws greatly progressed state medical and health measures for Hibakusha. This was further strengthened with "Hibakusha Aid Law" enacted in 1994. These are nothing but the fruit of the movement of Hibakusha themselves and the movement against A & H Bomb.

The genuine compensation, however, that we have demanded is a state compensation for Hibakusha based on the recognition of the state's war responsibility. The immediate cause of the a-bomb damage was the use of nuclear weapons in violation of international law, and the Japanese government has responsibility for having started and waged the war which eventually led to the atomic bombings. The government has long refused to accept this argument, to this day saying that "war damages of the general public should be endured equally by the people."
In the state's Hibakusha laws I have mentioned above, damages caused by radiation are termed as "special damage". The laws define the damages as that caused by the radiation and not by the war. The a-bomb damages have been addressed separately from other war damages. This is the reason that had made the government so irrational as to refuse Ms. Matsuya's earnest request to have her injury recognized as a-bomb induced damage. Matsuya had won her case through rulings of the regional and the high court, and finally on July the Supreme Court also decided in her favor. The struggle that one disabled woman started against the government 12 years ago to be officially recognized as a Hibakusha has finally resulted in complete victory. This is a victory for all Hibakusha and the supporting campaign. I am certain that it will pave the way for the victory of another 3 A-bomb lawsuits now being heard for the same cause and that it will be a new starting point for Hibakusha and the people's movement.

In parallel with the demand for state compensation for a-bomb damage, Japanese Hibakusha have long called for the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons out of our earnest desire to prevent another disaster like the one we went through to being inflicted upon anyone else. We believe that people with a true knowledge of the bombing are the strongest source for the abolition of nuclear weapons. That is why we have taken every opportunity to visit places not only in Japan but also in Europe, the United States, Asia and Africa, to tell the people about the a-bomb damage and the Hibakusha's sufferings, and to explain for the need to abolish nuclear weapons, with the use of photographs and drawings. For the past few years, our organization has put emphasis in the campaign on diffusing and exhibiting a set of 40 picture panels called "A-bomb and Humanity" across the world. This exhibition was created with the soul and the eyes of Hibakusha.

Today Hibakusha are challenged with age and deteriorating health. Mutual help and consultation work with the help of non-Hibakusha have come to take up a significant share of our activities. The greatest challenge is how to pass on our souls and our movement to the younger generations in Japan and internationally.

Together with religionists and civil organizations such as Japan Seinendan Youth Council, Consumerfs Cooperative and women's organizations as well as the Organizing Committee of the World Conference against A & H Bombs, we have formed a network called "Message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." This networking organization has carried out various campaigns in Japan. As its international activity, it send a delegation to the Civil Society Conference held in the Hague last May and to the NGO Millennium Forum held in the U.N. in New York this May. The delegations stressed to the world the urgency of the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The greatest disgrace of mankind in the 20th century is the development of nuclear weapons and their use. Our conviction that humans and nuclear weapons cannot coexist and our desire for the total abolition of nuclear weapons remain valid in the 21st century. But Hibakusha hold hope for the future. Losing hope will lead to the destruction of humanity. That is the lesson Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught us that day.

The victims of the nuclear weapons have the duty to pave the way this century for a 21st century where nuclear weapons are abolished at an early date. To that end, let all the victims of nuclear weapons across the world work in solidarity.

Go back to the Menu of the Conference