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'Hibakusha'

"A lot more needs to be done to open the eyes and heart of the international community to the dangers of having weapons of mass destruction."

In Japan, “hibakusha” is a survivor of either the atomic explosion in Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945.

If not for that deadly, nuclear bomb-like explosion in Beirut a week ago which claimed 153 lives, thousands injured and the cratering of the already-hollowed Lebanese economy, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki last August 9 which led to the end of the Second World War in the Asia-Pacific would have simply gone barely noticed like one of those annual commemorations. In fact, four days earlier, in the nearby city of Hiroshima the annual commemorative event in what is now known as the annual A-Memorial to signify the use of the first atomic bomb on an entirely civilian populated area was simply one of those rites of summer.

But with that deadly Beirut blast, the world was suddenly shocked back to reality of yet another possible, not-so-hidden pandemic – the proliferation and possible use (or misuse) of weapons of mass destruction in this time of COVID outbreak.

That potential development can easily become a distinct reality with the increased tensions which COVID-19 has brought about. Not only are governments under fire for

the unending woes of deaths and infections. They are also facing difficulty for the economic and, necessarily, social disruptions which the outbreak has brought in its wake. Indeed, the strident exchanges among various world players, all of whom are nuclear-armed, can easily escalate into a full blown armed confrontation which we can ill afford at this time.

In fact, we can ill afford it at all. Period. Not with the distinct possibility that nuclear weapons are a hundred times more powerful than the one which almost blew Beirut out of existence may be used this time around. One remembers the world froze the last time nuclear armed countries almost got into an armed exchange during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. This time, given the level of global tension exacerbated by COVID-19, we may end up wiping out entire countries – not just freezing in disbelief.

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This possible development is what the last of the Hibakushas and their dependents, with the emotional energy which they have carried through the years, would like the world to realize and stop altogether. One of the last surviving Hibakushas, Dr. Masao Tomonaga, professor of medicine specializing in hematology to treat atomic bomb survivors who suffered from leukemia, is currently the Vice-President for North Asia of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). He has written about the horrors of nuclear weapons and is currently engaged in drumming up world opinion to do something about the continued development and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Referring to the signature campaign “Appeal of the Hibakusha” with the overarching theme “So that the people of future generations will not have to experience hell on earth, we want to realize a world free of nuclear weapons while we are still alive” launched by the Nihon Hidankyo (Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers Organization) which has gathered 10.5 million signatures as of 2019, Dr. Tomonaga noted that a lot more needed to be done to open the eyes and heart of the international community to the dangers of having nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. In one of her writings, the doctor recounted:

“I am one of a dwindling number of hibakusha — atomic bomb survivors; we are now, on average, 83 years old. Many of us still die of radiation-induced cancers and leukemia from the bombs dropped on our cities in 1945 because that exposure to radiation — when most of us were just 10 years old or younger — led to gene abnormalities in many organs that are still causing malignant diseases today. That means, legally and morally, the human toll of the bombings is still unfolding and the total number of casualties cannot yet be calculated.”

She noted that the idea of nuclear weapon-dependent international security is equally a pandemic like this COVID-19 outbreak embraced by big and wealthy nations with leaders infested with this political illness for which they refuse treatment. To her, the danger of maintaining nuclear arsenals and other weapons of mass destruction to the world could be catastrophic. “Were a nuclear war to take place,” she surmised, “there would be an immediate, huge loss of human life, an ensuing nuclear winter, a succeeding devastating agricultural crisis causing a global famine for billions and, ultimately, possible human extinction. But all is not lost. The Beirut explosion coupled with our past sad experiences in the misuse of weapons of mass destruction in the Gulf War and the continuing internecine strife in the Middle East and Africa has brought us back to reality and the danger of maintaining these deadly instruments.

Dr. Tomonaga added: “the COVID-19 pandemic can be successfully overcome only by global collaboration in medical care and governmental cooperation in international socioeconomic regeneration. The same is true for the pandemic of diseased nuclear thinking. Hopefully, we do so before the 100th anniversary comes. Hopefully we do so before the hibakusha population ceases to exist.”

Topics: Jonathan Dela Cruz , hibakusha , Hiroshima , Nagasaki , atomic explosion
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