A Survivor’s Testimony

Why No One Should Be Investing an Industry of Death and Destruction

Setsuko Thurlow survived the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. She is now active in global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, having addressed the United Nations and visited schools to inspire the next generation to take action for a nuclear-free future. Here she describes the horror of the nuclear bombing and urges banks and other financial institutions to divest from companies that produce nuclear weapons.

Interview

ICAN: Why do you believe that nuclear divestment is so important?

Setsuko Thurlow (ST): As a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I am outraged that nations continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals in spite of their leaders’ repeated promises to work for disarmament. Billions of dollars are being wasted on nuclear weapons during a time of global financial restraint, when money should be directed towards meeting human needs.

The survival and wellbeing of humanity are vastly more important than the profits that banks and other financial institutions might make by investing in companies that produce nuclear weapons. In the interests of peace and security, financial institutions should divest from the makers of these immoral, inhumane and illegal weapons. Divestment is one of the most effective ways to advance nuclear disarmament. By financing nuclear weapons companies, banks directly facilitate the build-up of nuclear forces globally and impede disarmament.

ICAN: What advice can you offer to fellow disarmament campaigners?

ST: Anyone with a bank account or pension fund has the power to choose to invest his or her money ethically – in a way that does not contribute to this earth-endangering enterprise. We must each speak out and take action.If we allow this industry to continue unimpeded, we are in a sense accepting that nuclear weapons will one day be used again.Any such use would have catastrophic consequences. I urge concerned citizens everywhere to do everything in their power to prevent such a disaster. Humanity and nuclear weapons simply cannot coexist.

ICAN: Could you describe what you experienced on 6 August 1945?

ST: I was a 13-year-old grade 8 student at the time. I was with about 30 other girls working at the army headquarters as a decoding assistant. The building was 1.8 kilometres from the hypocentre of the bombing. At 8.15 a.m. I saw a brilliant bluish-white flash outside the window, and I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. As I regained consciousness in the silence and the darkness, I found myself pinned by the ruins of the collapsed building.

I began to hear my classmates’ faint cries, “Mother, help me.” “God, help me.” Then, suddenly, I felt hands touching my left shoulder, and heard a man’s voice saying, “Don’t give up. Keep moving. I am trying to free you.” As I came out, the ruins were already on fire. Most of my classmates who were with me in the same room were burned alive.

Although it was morning, it was as dark as twilight, with dust and smoke rising in the air. I saw streams of ghostly figures, slowly shuffling from the centre of the city towards the nearby hills. They were naked and tattered, bleeding, burned, blackened and swollen. Parts of their bodies were missing. Flesh and skin were hanging from their bones. We girls joined the ghostly procession, carefully stepping over the dead and dying. The silence was broken only by the moans of the injured and their pleas for water. The foul stench of burned skin filled the air.

At the foot of the hill was an army training ground, about the size of two football fields. It was covered with the dead and injured, who were desperately begging, often in faint whispers, “Water, water, please give me water.” But we had no containers to carry any water. We went to a nearby stream to wash off the blood and dirt from our bodies. Then we tore off our blouses, soaked them with water, and hurried back to hold them to the mouths of the injured, who desperately sucked in the moisture.

When darkness fell, we sat on the hillside and all night watched the entire city burn, numbed by the massive and grotesque scale of death and suffering we had witnessed. My beloved city had suddenly become desolation, with heaps of ash and rubble, and blackened corpses. Its population of 360,000 – most of whom were non-combatant women, children and the elderly – had become victims of an indiscriminate massacre.

ICAN: What has been the long-term toll of the nuclear bombing?

ST: By the end of 1945 approximately 140,000 people had perished. As of the present day, at least 260,000 have perished because of the effects of the blast, heat and radiation. Radiation – the unique characteristic of the atomic bombing – affected people in mysterious and random ways, with some dying immediately and others weeks, months or years later. Radiation is still killing survivors today, more than six decades on.

For more information, visit www.hibakushastories.org. Photo by Paule Saviano.

written by

Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
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