Standing at Ground Zero

Fumiko Amano

August 2001

At the time, I was a 14-year old "Patriotic Girl" in the 9th grade who thought that the most beautiful thing in the world was to die for her country. But the munitions factory that I was mobilized to work in didn't have any materials to work with. There was only the nightly bombings by the B29s. All of the surrounding villages had been burnt up and we lived worrying if our turn was next. But we figured that if we were going to die anyway, we might as well try to get a good night's sleep. This was the tired life we lead in Hiroshima.

The memories of "that day" 56 years ago are fresh in my mind like a movie flashback and make me shudder. The sky was torn open by the flash then the loud explosion then the rushing wind. Amid the screams there arose in the sky the mushroom cloud and as we looked the sky turned more and more to flames.

Hell was born on earth with that single bomb blast. The fires continued to burn the city through the night and the city of 400,000 people became the "city of death." The people who had lined up like a parade of ghosts to escape the city cried out, "Everything is gone. GONE!" I sat on a rock by the side of the road looking at the city and thinking "I want to die with my mother and the others in the fire." I sat like that all night becoming like a rock myself.

The fires finally died down and I set out to look for my family in the city. I went up to The burnt bodies along the way and put my hands together in prayer, "It must have been so hot, so painful. I should have died with you. Please forgive me." Looking around me, I was the only one living. It was then that I realized what war is. War is killing, I thought. They said we were fighting a holy war for peace in east Asia! The attack on Pearl Harbor, the capture of Singapore, the fall of Nanjing. We all cried out in joy then, "We did it! We did it!" but now I realized this was the same death they had all met. I had grown up during Japan's 15-year War in East Asia and had lived every night in feat of the air raids, but this was the first time I learned the truth about war.

The thought that "I too should have died then" grew and grew within me over the years. That morning, my mother and I were supposed to accompany my brother to the hospital directly under the bomb blast. He was to check in for an operation. The bomb was detonated 150 meters southeast of the Atomic Dome and 580 meters directly above the Hiroshima Hospital. The temperature on the ground is estimated to have been at least 6,000 degrees Celsius. The heat, the blast wind, the radiation! If my brother had gone into the hospital as planned that morning, we would all have been instantIy consumed in the fire. There would not have been a trace of our bones left. We were spared because the head doctor of the Hiroshima Hospital was late returning from medical work in the countryside. My 22-year old brother was on the veranda of our home about a kilometer and a half away from the blast and was burned over his entire body. His face and neck looked like the lava from a volcano. The only word he could say before he died was "It hurts."

The tragic effects of the bomb, the residual radiation, the effects on the heart, blood ahd bones killed hundreds of thousands and continues to harm in its damage to human genes.

The two atomic bombs used in 1945 without a doubt opened a Pandora's box that for the sake of humanity should never have been opened. In the more than a half century since, hundreds of thousands more in the United States and South Pacific islands have suffered from nuclear testing in the race to build ever more effective means of assuring a nuclear holocaust.

The enormous amounts of money that governments spend in the research and production of such weapons only propels the logic that they must be used. The missile defense system proposal now before us has brought into sight the opening of space to the nuclear arms race. There is no hope unless the politicians and the scientists and we ourselves think of humanity not as if we are well above the clouds somewhere but as if we are at ground zero and then, with that perspective, work together with what wisdom arid strength we have.

For the memory of those, like my brother and all of those in Asia and the world, who cried out "It hurts," this is the work of peace to which we the survivors must now turn.