Hiroshima survivor brings message of peace New Windsor first stop on group's U.S. visit

September 29, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Residents of Hiroshima, the Japanese city that suffered the worst nuclear disaster of the century, are delivering messages of peace across the United States.

The Japanese Peace Ambassadors Exchange (PAX) team made New Windsor its first stop on a three-week U.S. tour. The team -- a Hibakusha (blast survivor), a historian, a photojournalist and a teacher -- came as peace ambassadors from the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima.

"We have to tell the true history," said Fumiko Sora, 67, a Hibakusha who has been active with peace activities her whole life. "We have to tell what war is, what causes war and how powerful governments can keep peace."

In New Windsor, the team members saw the Brethren Service Center's programs to promote peace and social justice.

PAX is a yearly exchange program sponsored by the World Friendship Center, Nagasaki Appeals Committee and American Committee World Friendship Center. The Japanese will visit several college campuses, churches, the Three Mile Island Museum in Pennsylvania and many homes in the United States.

"This visit is a chance to meet American youth," Sora said. "I would like to hear a promise to abolish nuclear weapons. I want to take that commitment back to Hiroshima."

By telling her story, Sora hopes to impart the horrors of war and the tenacity of survivors.

"Members of the Hibakusha transmit to succeeding generations the voices of those who died," said Paul Quayle, an Englishman who lives in Japan.

He has published "Hiroshima Calling," a photo journal of the blast and its aftereffects. He calls his book "an alarm call for humanity to wake up and learn the lessons from Hiroshima."

Yoshio Sekiguchi, 63, has come to the United States to educate people on "the cruel results of the atomic bomb." He wants Americans to see the results of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to imagine a disaster several hundred times worse, he said.

He worries that so many countries are stockpiling nuclear weapons, much more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan.

If those new weapons were used, "the earth would be covered with radiation," said Sekiguchi. "It would be almost impossible for anyone to survive."

In August 1945, Sekiguchi and Sora were teen-agers. He was a middle school student. She had interrupted her education to work in a military factory.

Sora said she never saw the Enola Gay, the U.S. plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, but she vividly recalls a flash and a thunderous sound before the roof of the factory collapsed on her. A friend helped her to a first-aid station where "there was no help" and then to a bomb shelter.

Her family lived miles from the epicenter and might have been spared. But her father came into the city searching for his two children. He returned home with Fumiko and her younger brother, but her father suffered from radiation sickness the rest of his life.

"The interesting thing is that they don't blame Americans," said Carrie Beckwith, a volunteer at the Brethren Center and former director of the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima. "What they are saying is, they don't want anyone ever to go through this experience again."

Sekiguchi, a lifelong student of history and a pacifist, described the atmosphere in Japan during the war.

"We were taught the emperor was a living god, and I was a simple boy who believed it," he said. "No information came to us from the outside."

Everyone felt the ominous presence of military police and aggressive armed forces.

"We were brainwashed by militarism," Sora said.

Americans were demonized, and a student could be arrested for possessing a foreign book, Sekiguchi said. In his native Osaka,he saw starving children gathering dried grass to make bread. At the war's end, he saw U.S. B-29 bombers nearly every day.

"Japan had no power to fight against them," he said. "We didn't know anything, and we weren't allowed to join in the decisions."

Sora and Sekiguchi became teachers, dedicated to teaching the lessons of Hiroshima. In China and Korea, Sora recently researched the role Japanese aggression played in the buildup to World War II and uses those materials in her classes.

"We can't sacrifice other countries for our own benefits," said Sora. "Through peace education, we can teach cooperation."

Sekiguchi said, "When national interest comes first, that is a hindrance. What must come first is interpersonal interests."

Quayle sees the trip as a way to help his adopted city. He wants to give the world a pictorial glimpse of the city, which is still coming to terms with its devastation.

A stigma is still attached to the city, he said. When he mentions the city where he lives, he often hears, "Are you OK?" There is still much misinformation.

"Many are shocked to find people are still suffering and dying because of radiation," Quayle said.

Michiko Yamane, the fourth member of the PAX team, is a translator and storyteller. A ventriloquist who often works with young children, she uses a dummy named Shin to tell stories from history.

"Whenever an A-bomb survivor discusses experience, an American brings up Pearl Harbor," said Yamane.

"In Japan, we teach that Pearl Harbor was a shameful sneak attack. Wars are always brutal, and many innocent people lose their lives. To build a peaceful world, we must find the true facts of history."

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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