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May we remember them well, with dignity and respect

May we remember them well, with dignity and respect

All photos: Albin Hillert/WCC

14 December 2017

By Albin Hillert*

Meeting the Hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is humbling. Sharing their stories is a challenge.

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). But as much as the award is about the success of an international treaty, of civil society and faith-based organizations working tirelessly to uphold human rights and human dignity, and an expression of hope for a world free of nuclear arms, it is about those who have suffered the most horrendous of events, and those who have survived to give witness to what the rest of us must listen carefully and work hard, even to imagine.

The award is about Masakazu Saito, about Ogawa Tadayoshi, about Miyata Takashi, Yamada Kazumi, Mutmura Chiyoko, about Setsuko Thurlow, Iwasaki Akiko and the many, many others who have now been awarded for their work towards a nuclear-free world.

Travelling to Oslo in Norway on 9-10 December, more than 20 Hibakusha joined celebrations of ICAN receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. May we remember them well, with dignity and respect.

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"Here" says Hiroshima survivor Masakazu Saito and leads your hand to his head. The skull bears a deep crack from the time the bomb hit Hiroshima in 1945, a memory of sorts, of the force of nuclear weapons. Yet his vision looks forward: "Some way, I could understand if two states were fighting back and forth. But in a world where with today's technology, two bombs can kill the entire population of the Earth, killing women and men, adults and children alike: we cannot have this. Peace. No war," Saito says.

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Nagasaki survivor Mutmura Chiyoko is another member of the Hibakusha visiting Norway. On 9 December she arrives at the Oslo Botanical Gardens, where the group of Hibakusha joins governing mayor of Oslo Raymond Johansen for an event themed "Seeds of Peace”. Together, the Hibakusha and Oslo representatives planted seeds as a token of hope. “Peace must be something more than an absence of war. But governments cannot do this alone...” said Johansen. "We need civil society," the Hibakusha responded in chorus before the mayor could finish his sentence.

And while ICAN receiving the Nobel Peace Prize has brought new attention to the cause of abolishing nuclear weapons, witnesses of the suffering, destruction and pain such weapons cause when used, have been with us for seven decades; some vocal, some silent.

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Yamada Kazumi survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Born in Manchuria near Harbin, he moved to Nagasaki to live with his grandmother upon starting primary school. He was 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter as the bomb hit Nagasaki.

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Yoshiko Tanaka survived the bombing of Hiroshima, as the only one among her friends at school. Scars running deep, it’s only for a few years that she has spoken publicly about her experience.

"When I was a first-grader in elementary school, I was 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter of the Hiroshima blast, in an area called Ushita, where I was burned and exposed to radiation. Amidst the destruction, as people wandered and cried out in pain, when the unchanged blue sky showed itself, in my child's mind, for some reason, a hope sprung forth that 'there will be a tomorrow.' We citizens of Hiroshima recovered and have overcome many challenges since then," wrote Tanaka in an open letter in The Mainichi in May 2016.

On 10 December, following the Nobel Prize award ceremony, the Hibakusha then took to the streets of Oslo to join a torch light manifestation for peace.

While the formation of ICAN is recent, many are those who have worked long and hard for the abolition of nuclear arms.

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"I am a member of 'No to Nuclear Weapons', in Norway," says Kerje Vindenes at the march. "As an organization, we have played a key role in mobilizing people nation-wide in Norway against nuclear weapons, through the 80s, 90s, and up until today."

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"Nuclear weapons do not create security. On the contrary," says ICAN supporter Sara Nes in the midst of celebrations. "We have two choices. Either we end nuclear weapons, or they end us. It's as simple as that."

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“Yes I can!” “Yes I can!” chanted the Hibakusha with the crowd on 10 December.

And then amid the cheers another sentence, as loud as an old man's voice will carry it: "We will never give up." "We will never give up."

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We will never give up.” “We will never give up,” he repeated.

"I was told over and over by the doctors, that I would not survive," concludes Masakazu Saito. "Yet here I am, 94 years old."

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#YesICAN

ICAN accepts Nobel prize, vows to usher world toward “freedom from fear” (WCC news release 10 December 2017)

Nobel winners plan next steps for banning nuclear weapons (WCC news release of 10 December 2017)

Free high resolution photos of the Nobel Prize weekend in Oslo

*Albin Hillert is communication officer at the World Council of Churches