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Blogumentary: Giving Voice to Survivors from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima

Hiroshima – Today, with some distance of time and perspective, we can think about Hiroshima with a more balanced compassion than a few decades ago. It has become possible to reflect on not only the justification for the first dropping of an atomic bomb on a populated city, but also on how that impacted the many thousands of people caught up in the blast and its aftermath.

It was a bombing American hearts decided was justified — but which minds have largely disconnected from in terms of consequences for humanity. This was evident when the current Republican candidate for President allegedly questioned why we don’t use our nuclear weapons for a third time.

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Yoshie Oka returns to the bunker where she survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.      Photo by Ari Beser

Next January, either Donald J. Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton will receive the nuclear football from President Obama. Either one of seemingly the two most controversial people in modern U.S. political history is going be in charge of our nuclear codes, a certain outcome of this election we should be most concerned about.

Seventy-one years ago my grandfather Jacob Beser was flying in the back of a B-29 listening to the radio. He wasn’t listening to Beyonce—He was listening to frequency. He was monitoring a device that was going to end the war. This is what he trained for. This is what he knew and was prepared to die for. If anything went wrong, he was told to eat the device’s frequency code, written on a small piece of paper.

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Sumiteru Taniguchi holds up photos of himself immediately after the bombing of Nagasaki. A prominent advocate for nuclear abolition, he was nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.   Photo by Ari Beser.

None of that was necessary. He did his job right, and he saw what men were capable of. He saw it twice, over Nagasaki too, and he never expressed guilt about it. But he, like the rest of America, disconnected from the reality of the human suffering 32,000 feet below. He, like the majority of his countrymen, believed in their hearts it was necessary.

When my grandfather looked out the window, he likened the mushroom cloud to sand in the water, the way it billows along the shoreline in the tide. He couldn’t connect with the children in the streets or the people as they packed in train cars on their way to work. He couldn’t connect to the horrors they would experience and live with for the rest of their lives.

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Suano Tsuboi moments before meeting President Obama in Hiroshima during the historic Presidential visit to the city on May 27, 2016.   Photo by Ari Beser.

Can we make those connections, America? Can we stop saying “What about Pearl Harbor” long enough to look at what World War II brought humanity to accomplish? Can we ask ourselves, “What will it take to bring us there again?”

I am not asking for a justification. I am not asking for an apology. I am asking that we listen to the stories of the atomic bomb survivors as a testimony to the evils of nuclear war.

Today I invite you to my Facebook community, Hibakusha: The Nuclear Family, where you can learn about what it was like under the mushroom clouds. I’ve called it a Blogumentary. It is an interactive online documentary that begs you to remember what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What happened to the people there could happen to any of us. Listen to their words, not as Japanese, and not as Americans, but as people.

Ari M. Beser is the grandson of Lt. Jacob Beser, the only U.S. serviceman aboard both B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Japan in World War II. He traveled through Japan with the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship to report on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. Beser’s  storytelling gives voice to people directly affected by nuclear technology today, as he works with Japanese and Americans to encourage a message of reconciliation and nuclear disarmament. His new book, The Nuclear Family, focuses on American and Japanese perspectives of the atomic bombings.

Comments

  1. jeffrey erwin
    United States
    August 25, 5:22 pm

    We now know that Truman ordered the A-Bombs to be used on Japan in order to forestall Soviet advances and that their use was not necessary to prevent US casualties in the invasion that was scheduled for three months later.
    Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. A global nuclear war will happen in the 21st century, and it will involve the USA.

  2. KO
    california usa
    August 5, 10:11 pm

    I have waited all my life for National Geographic to give voice to these people, Hibakusha. Thank you for surviving and bravely telling us. Thank you, Mr. Beser for recording them. In my heart I’ve known a great sin had been committed in the name of the People of the United States of America, I knew that the bomb didn’t NEED to be dropped. For every action there is an equal reaction. This is the burden of the children of the USA.