Faced with death’: Hiroshima survivor fights for nuclear disarmament
Published Friday, May 27, 2016
Last Updated Friday, May 27, 2016
Setsuko Thurlow was barely a teenager when U.S. forces dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on her hometown of Hiroshima.
Thurlow says that while Barack Obama’s historic visit to her hometown Friday was a ‘good gesture,’ she wants to see world powers such as the United States vow to ban the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The day was August 6, 1945. Thurlow, an eighth-grader at the time, had been recruited by the army and was working as a decoding assistant at army headquarters when the bomb went off.
Thurlow saw the “bluish-white” flash of light in the window.
“I had the sensation of floating up in the air, because all the buildings were collapsing, and mine was collapsing and my body was thrown.”
Thurlow then lost consciousness, only to regain it moments later as she found herself in total darkness.
“I knew finally, Americans got us here in Hiroshima,” Thurlow said. “I couldn’t move, so I knew I was faced with death.”
Thurlow said she heard the “whispering voices” of her classmates saying, “God help me, mother help me, I’m here.
“It still rings in my ears.”
Thurlow managed to escape the building, which then caught on fire. Save for one or two others who also managed to escape, Thurlow’s 30 or so classmates, who had also been recruited to work for the army, were burned alive, she said.
In the devastating aftermath of the bombing, Thurlow would lose other members of her family, including her sister and young nephew, who were so gravely injured it was difficult to identify them.
Unlike the tens of thousands of civilians who were killed by the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Thurlow and the surviving members of her family were able to pick up the pieces of their lives. But to this day, the images of dismembered and burned bodies haunts her.
Thurlow, who is now 84 and living in Toronto, says it is still “painful” to talk about the bombing. However, she remains an outspoken advocate for nuclear weapons disarmament, sharing her personal story at schools, universities and conferences around the world.
On Friday, Thurlow watched a portion of Barack Obama’s speech as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since the bombing.
Though Obama’s historic visit was a “good gesture,” Thurlow says, as an anti-nuclear advocate, she was disappointed.
“It was beautiful, poetic statement, but I didn’t see any concrete plan of action,” Thurlow said.
She was hoping to hear a “push for nuclear disarmament.
“After all, that’s the very thing survivors want to see happen,” Thurlow said. “We don’t ask (for) compensation or anything, but we want to make sure United States and other nuclear weapon states will never do it again.
“No human being should go through that again.”
Thurlow, who has received the Order of Canada for her anti-nuclear weapons advocacy work, said “very limited” amount of progress has been made since Obama vowed in Prague in 2009 to ratify a test ban treaty. Since then, Thurlow said, the U.S. has fallen short in working toward eliminating nuclear stockpiling.
“Yes, (Obama) accomplished something, but it’s not enough,” said Thurlow, who added the current state of the nuclear disarmament movements by nations is “unacceptable.”