Surviving the survival....
Written by Rana Hajj
On August 6, 1945, 11-year-old Kawamoto Shyozo, a Hiroshima Atomic bomb survivor, was expanding agricultural roads with kids his age when he heard the devastating news and found out that he no longer had a family or a home to return to. This is when he began a merciless life journey that kept him wondering: “Who is happier? The ones who survived the Hiroshima A-bomb, or the ones who had died?”
Shortly before the U.S. dropped an A-bomb on Hiroshima, Mr. Shyozo, now an 85-year-old, was evacuated with another group of grade 3 to grade 6 students from 42 elementary schools to be sheltered from the incessant shelling which targeted different parts of Japan back then. Alas... little did the Japanese know that they had been protecting themselves from something way more atrocious than missiles and bombs.
When the A-bomb was dropped, the entire Japanese nation was perplexed not being able to gauge the immeasurable weight of the calamity that had struck them. Tokyo's first indication that the city had been destroyed by a new type of bomb came from U.S. President Harry S. Truman's announcement of the strike, sixteen hours later.
“It’s been 75 years, but only when you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, you’ll be able to understand what had really happened on that day,” said Shyozo as sharing his jarring experience “surviving the survival” after losing six of his direct family members.
“The A-bomb was dropped at 8:00 am on August 6, 1945 at an altitude of 9,470 meters and was set to explode at 600 meters. It detonated at an altitude of 500 meters above the ground at 8:15 am with a surface temperature of 6000 degrees °C. Within 500 meters from the bomb center, 60,000 people died instantaneously. Their bodies were burned and melted and no longer recognizable,” Shyozo said as painfully recollecting the events of one of the darkest days of human history.
For several months, the U.S. had warned civilians of potential air raids by dropping more than 63 million leaflets across Japan. In preparation for dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima, it decided against a special leaflet warning in a bid to maximize the shock, as well as the chance of a swift Japanese surrender to end the war. Thus, no warning was given to Hiroshima that a new and much more destructive bomb was going to be dropped.
“Within one or two km from the bomb center, some people survived; however, due to the tremendous heat, they were burned badly. Their skin was peeling off and their eyes were popping out. Approximately, 200,000 people suffered this situation, and the already scarce medicine was running out. Clothes melted and dried on their skin, so Tampura oil was used to help remove clothes off torched bodies,” Shyozo said whilst shaking his head in disbelief.
On August 6, at 5:00 pm, rescue operations kicked off with surviving students doing most of the work collecting dead bodies. They were approximately 8,700 students who had been evacuated 50 km away and who had lost their homes and families. 6000 thousand of these students had relatives to go back to, 700 went to orphanages, and 2000 were left homeless— many of whom starved to death.
“They ate anything they thought would satiate their hunger. They were found dead with traces of stones in their mouth. They had thought that eating stones would keep them strong and alive. Some of them ate newspapers. They fought over a piece of newspaper to eat and survive. 1000 out of the 2000 children lost their lives because rocks and newspapers never fulfilled their nutritious needs. The most heartrending of all is the fact that there are no records about these children and all the sufferings they had been through,” Shyozo, a living record of the ill-fated sufferings of scores of innocent souls, said as recollecting some of the most inopportune moments of his life.
“On August 9, my only surviving family member, my 16-year-old sister, came and picked me up. She survived because she had been working at Hiroshima station; nonetheless, she wasn’t spared the ramifications of the A-bomb radiations as she died six months later after suffering leukemia,” Shyozo said with a heavy heart. “A distant uncle of mine, who didn’t want to keep me with him, tried to find me a place in an orphanage, but his efforts went to no avail; there was not a single spot left for me.”
All forlorn, Shyozo was left alone thinking of a way to avoid suffering the same fate of the other children who had starved to death. A man named Mr. Kawanaka saw him. He approached him and offered him a job. He told him he would build him a house if he worked hard for him for ten years. Shyozo found hope again. He promised not to let Mr. Kawanaka down, and he didn’t. After ten years of hard work, Kawanaka fulfilled his promise and built Shyozo a house.
“I was 23. My life seemed to be perfect then; I had a house, and a woman that I loved and wanted to marry. I went to get her parents’ approval and blessings, but their answer was utter refusal. I’m a ‘cursed’ Hiroshima survivor and they feared I must have been affected by the A-bomb radiations. My world turned black again.”
The bomb kept hitting Shyozo harder as he grew older, but it never took his life. “Who is happier? The ones who survived the Hiroshima A-bomb, or the ones who had died?” he wondered.
During those ten years that Shyozo had been working hard to build a future and a home, many companies were built, which brought about many job opportunities. However, homeless and uneducated A-bomb survivors were discriminated against, so they didn’t get any jobs, wives, and so on.
Avoided by members of their society, orphans turned to gangsters who took control of them and abused them in return for food. A group of five or six gangsters would be given dirty and criminal tasks; this sparked rampant violence in the streets of Hiroshima, which became known for mobsters and gangsters.
“After being turned down by the family of the woman I loved, I joined a group of gangsters. I spent ten years of my life bogged down in this dirty life until I felt fed up at the age of 32, when I decided to commit suicide,” he said. “But I wanted to take my own life away in a place where no one knew me, so I bought a ticket and went to Okayama, where no one would know my life history,” he added.
Searching for a place where he could rest in peace in the streets of Okayama, Shyozo saw a restaurant sign asking for an employee.
“I remembered my mom’s words who would tell me ‘you can do it if you don’t give up!’, so I decided to take my chance and apply for the job. The owner of the restaurant was a very gentle man, so he gave me the job without asking about my background. His only concern was that I prove to be an honest and hard worker,” Shyozo said with a smile of hope returning to his face.
After 30 years of perseverance and relentless efforts, Shyozo became the president and owner of a huge food product company, but his broken heart never mended, and he never got married. At the age of 61, a school friend managed to get a hold of him to invite him to a ceremony marking the 50th commemoration of Hiroshima A-bomb. He was so happy to have been remembered by his class-mate. He went back to Hiroshima for good at the age of 70, but was disappointed when he visited the Hiroshima memorial and discovered that it had described all the A-bomb catastrophe details — with the exception of the sufferings that the 2,700 orphans had endured.
“There was only one picture of a boy shoe-shining with a caption that said, ‘2000 to 2,600 children went missing.’ This made me sad because orphans suffred the most; they wanted to live, but they died in solitude. Some of them were not exposed to the bomb, but they starved to death anyway,” he added whilst making sure that sharing his childhood sufferings as an orphan would speak out for the rest who couldn’t share their story.
“Lack of dialogue between the U.S. and Japan has led to war. The Japanese were taught that death was a normal thing and that they would become gods after death. Dialogue is possible. People should talk and children should understand the importance of dialogue, compromise, and tolerance. I want them to understand how good it is to be able to study and eat, and most importantly, to boost their confidence through education. I never got the chance to get an education or make a family, but my mother’s words helped me make it,” he added with a peaceful voice echoing his thriving efforts to ‘survive the survival’ throughout his tough life.
“Overcoming this tragedy is very important to serve peace in the world. To prevent what happened in the past from happening again we should overcome. Seek dialogue and tolerance; shun wars and walls,” Shyozo said with a heart full of love and hope against all odds.
To mitigate the risk of nuclear wars, a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT was negotiated between 1965 and 1968 by the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, a United Nations-sponsored organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Unfortunately, critics argue that the NPT cannot stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the motivation to acquire them. They express disappointment with the limited progress on nuclear disarmament, as the five authorized nuclear weapons states still have 22,000 warheads in their combined stockpile and have shown a reluctance to disarm further.
Several high-ranking officials within the United Nations have said that they can do little to stop states using nuclear reactors to produce nuclear weapons.