Thursday, May 26, 2016

What hibakusha want Obama to learn from Hiroshima

President Obama will be visiting my home town tomorow.  I grew up in Hiroshima.  Six years after the bomb the Atomic Energy Commission sent my dad, Dr. Earle Reynolds, to study the effects of radiation on the growth and development of 4,800 children who survived.  

Obama will tour Peace Memorial Park (Ground Zero).  Our family sat through more than one August 6th ceremony there, honoring the hibakusha (explosion-affected people) killed that day, 95% of them civilians, and those thousands killed by the bomb's radiation since then. 

In the Peace Park he will see the Children's Monument, surrounded by colorful paper crane leis.  At its top, a model of 12-year old Sadako Sasaki stands with arms stretched wide.  Sadako made the crane a worldwide symbol of peace.

For three years Dad studied children like Sadako--very likely Sadako herself. Sadako Sasaki did not develop radiation symptoms for ten years, after our family--my parents, brother Ted, myself, and three Hiroshima yachtsmen--left Japan on a yacht my dad designed and built, Phoenix of Hiroshima.  While we were sailing around the world for pleasure, Sadako was folding paper cranes in a desperate attempt to stay alive.  She died in 1957.

On May 1, 1958, we sailed into Honolulu, ready for the last leg of our circumnavigation back to Hiroshima. But between us and our goal was 390,000 square miles of the Pacific which the AEC had just declared off-limits to American citizens.  In it, they were conducting the Hardtack series of atmospheric nuclear tests. 

The 35 explosions would total 35.6 megatons, more than 2,373 Hiroshimas.

Dad was concerned about the additional radiation being released into the jet stream and ocean currents. But until we met the crew of the Golden Rule, a smaller yacht down the dock from us, he remained a scientist, not an activist. 

These four Quakers had just been intercepted by the Coast Guard. Captain Bigelow was arrested for attempting to sail into the nuclear test zone.  A subsequent attempt on June 4th led to the arrest and 100-day incarceration of the entire crew.

Inspired by their courage we took over their protest.  On July 2 we entered the forbidden zone.  A Coast Guard cutter pulled alongside and two men in white uniforms with side arms jumped aboard and put Dad under arrest.

Dad's trial in Honolulu, conviction, and appeal took two years.  When we were finally free to sail back to Hiroshima, we were amazed to be welcomed by hundreds of hibakusha.  They thanked us for giving their message to the world: NO MORE HIROSHIMAS! NO MORE NAGASAKIS!

In 1961, when the USSR resumed atmospheric testing, we sailed again. We took with us hundreds of letters and appeals from hibakusha.  The captain of a Coast Guard vessel off Nakhodka refused us entrance to their port--and refused the letters.

In 1962-64 my mother, Barbara Reynolds, took those letters and hibakusha themselves to every nuclear nation—twice.  They met with ambassadors, Congresspersons, United Nations delegates, doctors, teachers, schoolchildren, appealing for a nuclear-free world.  

Obama may not see the monuments behind the museum, monuments to foreigners who helped hibakusha recover.  One of them was my mother.  He may not see the World Friendship Center she founded nearby, a place for international visitors to stay, meet hibakusha, share cultures, beliefs and ways to avoid war.

But I hope Mr. Obama will see Hiroshima through the eyes of the hibakusha.  They do not care about the politics of nuclear war.  They lived through one.  They want the nuclear powers, including us, to stop talking about the need to get rid of nuclear weapons, stop waiting for others to take the lead, and just eliminate them. They don't want anyone, anywhere, to have to go through what they did.

Jessica Reynolds Renshaw, Long Beach
Author, To Russia with Love, published by Wilmington College Peace Resource Center, Wilmington, Ohio, 2010

Inline image 1 
Mum and me fasting at foot of Children’s Monument, Christmas Day, 1961, deciding what to do with hibakusha letters and appeals.

Inline image 2

Me, with scroll (1 of 3 in the world) showing words on the cenotaph at Ground Zero: “Rest in peace, for the error will never be repeated.”

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