“I was 13 years old when I experienced the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, which took the lives of five of my family members. When the atomic bomb was dropped, I was upstairs in my house, 3.2 kilometres from the hypocenter. Suddenly I saw a huge flash. I ran downstairs, and as soon as I laid on the floor, I became unconscious. When I woke up, I found myself under glass doors blown by the blast. Miraculously, the glass was not broken, and I did not suffer any major injuries. Three days later, I entered ground zero to find my relatives. Some had burned to death where their house used to be. Others survived but soon died with heavy burns or fever from radiation. Altogether, five of my family were killed. Everywhere, many victims with heavy injuries and hundreds of dead bodies were left unattended. It was literally hell.”
Terumi Tanaka, now 88 years old, is one of the many Hibakusha who have dedicated large parts of their lives to anti-nuclear activism. The vivid memories of the catastrophic effects that the nuclear bombing had on his family and his community, have driven Terumi's continued efforts to make sure no one would have to suffer through such an event again.
For decades he has shared his story with students and world leaders alike and been a staunch advocate for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and never hesitating to call out those governments - including his own - who endorse nuclear weapons by accepting the status quo. “Protecting the security of humans through nuclear weapons is but a myth. I particularly urge citizens of nuclear weapon states and their allies to be aware of this, and to become leaders of action to change their own country’s nuclear policies.”
Today, Terumi is the co-chair of Nihon Hidankyo, the Japanese Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations. Nihon Hidankyo was established by Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) as a movement calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons as well as the government aid and compensation for Hibakusha. They joined forces and encouraged each other in their firm belief that their experience must never be repeated. He has led efforts to garner signatures for the hibakusha appeal, which now has over 11 million signatures.
On the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his message is simple: it’s time for all states to rally behind the treaty that will end nuclear weapons once and for all: “We the Hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombings, have been calling for a long time that humanity cannot coexist with inhumane nuclear weapons, and that all countries around the world should swiftly join a treaty to prohibit and to abolish nuclear weapons. I make this appeal on behalf of the Hibakusha, who continue to remember the tragedy that turned their city into a hell in a fraction of a second, devastating it and taking the lives of tens of thousands of people.”
photo: courtesy of Terumi Tanaka