The Lives of Two A-bomb Scientists, Part 6

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

Handing down the A-bomb experience

Hiromi Hasai spreads out documents that he will bring to Okinawa Prefecture. The Himeyuri Peace Museum in the city of Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, which conveys the sacrifices made by students in the Battle of Okinawa, is planning to nurture area youth, who have no experience of war, as “war witnesses.” Dr. Hasai has decided to visit the museum, in the hope that he might glean clues in regard to handing down the A-bomb experience.

“As I grow older, time passes so quickly,” he said. “I feel rushed.”

In contrast to Shoji Sawada, his former classmate and a physicist like himself, Dr. Hasai had maintained some distance from campaigns for atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) and campaigns against atomic and hydrogen bombs. For many years, he immersed himself in measuring the residual radiation emitted from the atomic bomb. However, since he resigned the post of president at Hiroshima Kokusai Gakuin University in 2005, he has put his heart into the effort to pass on memories of the atomic bombing to future generations.

Until his resignation from the university, he had spoken little about his experience of entering the city of Hiroshima the day after the bombing and being exposed to radiation. As he did not encounter the fire of the bombing directly, he long felt hesitant to share his experience and was burdened by guilt that he had managed to survive.

Since last year, though, he has been energetically engaged in relating his A-bomb account. “Hibakusha are growing old,” Dr. Hasai explained. “It’s been some time since people began to express concern over the fading memory of the bombing and emphasize the importance of handing down the A-bomb experience to future generations. But everyone is still seeking ways to solve this problem and little is getting done. I thought that if this goes on, it won’t be enough.”

Before he began sharing his A-bomb experience, he listened to the A-bomb accounts of all the “A-bomb witnesses” registered at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum when they were speaking to student groups. Many of these 30 or so hibakusha were directly exposed to the bomb’s heat rays. They described a living hell that Dr. Hasai did not know firsthand. “My situation was really closer to non-hibakusha,” he thought as he listened carefully to these survivors speak. “But in this sense, perhaps I can be of use.”

From December 2008 to April 2009, Dr. Hasai held a study session called “Handing Down Hiroshima’s Experience” twice a month. He called on people, including volunteer guides at Peace Memorial Museum, to take part. The participants exchanged ideas about what they felt as they listened to A-bomb accounts and what more they could do.

Through these discussions, Dr. Hasai confirmed his view that “Hibakusha who have actually experienced the atomic bombing are able to talk truthfully about their experiences, relying on their memories. But younger generations, who did not experience the bombing, can only offer A-bomb accounts based on accurate information.” In mid-May, he shared his thoughts with Koichiro Maeda, the director of Peace Memorial Museum, and proposed a program to cultivate human resources and measures to convey the consequences of the atomic bombing.

Even now, Dr. Hasai goes to listen to the A-bomb accounts of other hibakusha on days he himself is not relating his A-bomb experience. As he listens, he pays close attention to see if these hibakusha, who tend to viewed as symbols of reconciliation and peace, really do not harbor bitterness toward the United States. Taking notes on his impressions, he also wants to pass on the emotional struggles of the survivors, which cannot be captured in words, to future generations.

“People can’t speak of peace right after they lost everything due to the atomic bomb,” said Dr. Hasai. “That’s just human nature.”

On the day World War II ended, Dr. Hasai vowed to base his beliefs on what he himself could observe and confirm. His determination 64 years ago has underpinned his basic stance as a physicist facing the power of nuclear weapons. Now, he feels a responsibility, as a survivor, to confirm the human tragedy wrought by the atomic bombings and properly hand this memory down to future generations.

Hibakusha testimony activities in Hiroshima
Some hibakusha are individually engaged in activities to share their A-bomb accounts with students and people visiting the city of Hiroshima on school trips or for peace education. Meanwhile, many organizations dispatch hibakusha to offer A-bomb accounts. Nineteen organizations, including the two factions of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organization, have cooperated to create a network of hibakusha who deliver A-bomb testimonies.

(Originally published on July 8, 2009)