By Jaclyn McAlester, Rotary Peace Fellow at International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan
I grew up in New Mexico, USA. I doubt most people think of nuclear testing when they think of New Mexico, but that’s exactly where testing of nuclear devices of the same design as the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place. The testing was conducted on 16 July, 1945. Less than one month later, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on 9 August. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first and only time nuclear weapons of such magnitude have been used in armed conflict.
It is estimated that between 129,000 and 226,000 people, mostly civilians, died as a result of the bombings. Most of them likely died the first day. The rest continued to suffer from burns, radiation sickness, injuries, and malnutrition.
And yet, somehow, against all odds, there are people who survived.
I was incredibly honored when I received an invitation to help organize an event where atomic bombing survivors from Nagasaki would share their testimonies and messages of peace. This event was born from a conversation between Michiko Yokohama, former Rotary Peace Center Coordinator at International Christian University, and Rotary Peace Fellow Florence Maher and driven entirely by the persistence and perseverance of the atomic bombing survivors in Nagasaki.
These survivors, known as hibakusha in Japan, most of whom are in their 90’s, expressed their concern about the limitations they faced in sharing their stories this year due to COVID-19. They felt a sense of urgency in sharing their experiences with the next generations. The Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace and the Rotary Peace Fellowship Alumni Association partnered together to create a platform for hibakusha to share their stories to a global audience through a webinar: “Bearing Witness from Nagasaki.”
It has been an honor to be a Rotary Peace Fellow in Japan. One of the primary reasons I chose the Rotary Peace Center in Japan to study was because of the unique history here. Japan is the only country to have experienced atomic bombings. Yet, rather than moving forward in pursuit of nuclear capabilities of their own, the people of Japan instead said: never again.
Since then, Japan has become one of the world leaders in commitment to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. A country and people who experienced unimaginable horror and violence are now active proponents of peace. Every day I spend here, I am in awe of this. I learn just as much about peace from the culture and people here in Japan as I do in my classes.
As a Rotary Peace Fellow, an American, and a human being, I felt privileged to play a very small role in facilitating an event for the hibakusha to speak their truths to the world. In a world that continues to seek nuclear weapons, the threat of nuclear warfare and its devastation hangs over all of us like a guillotine waiting to drop. We must listen to these survivors. This may be our last chance.
Please watch the recording of the event to hear their voices. As hibakusha Tsuki Shohei said, “please don’t forget this old man’s prayer for peace.” I sincerely hope we can come together to listen, learn, and say, never again.