Setsuko Thurlow

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“I was just 13 years old when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, on my city Hiroshima. I still vividly remember that morning. At 8:15, I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. As I regained consciousness in the silence and darkness, I found myself pinned by 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 saying: “Don’t give up! Keep pushing! I am trying to free you. See the light coming through that opening? Crawl towards it as quickly as you can.”

"As I crawled out, the ruins were on fire. Most of my classmates in that building were burned to death alive. I saw all around me utter, unimaginable devastation. Processions of ghostly figures shuffled by. Grotesquely wounded people, they were bleeding, burnt, blackened and swollen. Parts of their bodies were missing. Flesh and skin hung from their bones. Some with their eyeballs hanging in their hands. Some with their bellies burst open, their intestines hanging out. The foul stench of burnt human flesh filled the air. Thus, with one bomb my beloved city was obliterated.”

- Setsuko Thurlow’s Nobel Lecture, after ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Setsuko Thurlow was a 13-year-old schoolgirl on 6 August 1945 in Hiroshima. Most of its residents were civilians who were incinerated, vaporised, carbonised – among them, members of her own family and 351 of her schoolmates. In the weeks, months and years that followed, many thousands more would die, often in random and mysterious ways, from the delayed effects of radiation. Still to this day, radiation is killing survivors. Every victim of these ultimate war crimes had a name. Every victim was loved by someone.

Her life was changed forever. The whole world was changed and the day was the dawn of a new era, the dawn of the nuclear age that would see suffering, fear, and the constant threat of the extinction of humankind from nuclear weapons.

From that terror, she rose. Refused to be quiet. Refused to be hidden. Resolved that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the hibakusha, have worked tirelessly for decades for the total elimination of these devices of mass murder and cross-generational radioactive violence. To make sure they would be the world’s first and last Hibakusha.

For most of her life, Setsuko has shared her story and stood up to the powerful, the leaders who threatened the world with nuclear weapons, brought destruction of environments, lives and livelihoods to many through nuclear weapons testing and still refuse to destroy these weapons. Setsuko participated actively in the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 and continues to actively advocate for its entry into force. Watch the powerful statement she delivered to the negotiating parties on the day the Treaty was adopted:

Raise your voice with Setsuko and all Hibakusha who declare now is the time for all nations to join the nuclear ban treaty — to end the darkness of this era and welcome the sunrise on a new day through the force of law and the will of the people. We now have the opportunity to bring the treaty into force. We now have the opportunity to stop funding nuclear violence instead of funding human needs. We now have the opportunity to stop risking the life of future generations. Take action to ensure there will be no more Hibakusha. Remember the lost of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, honor their memories and the Hibakusha with action.

photo: Setsuko Thurlow during the negotiations of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN | Thea Mjelstad