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A-bomb survivor shares experiences with US

Chie Yamagishi

Nov. 21, 2017

The US decision to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism shows how real the nuclear threat has become. An atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima recently visited America to share her experiences in hopes of creating a nuclear-free world.

The city of Syracuse in upstate New York is part of the so-called "rust belt," where the manufacturing industry is in decline. It's an area where President Donald Trump has many supporters.

80-year-old Keiko Ogura, an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima, was invited to the US. She took part in more than a dozen events in Syracuse, and shared her experience with nearly 100 people.

"We say 'No more Hiroshima.' That means no nuclear weapons from now," she says at an event. She's concerned about the reemerging possibility of a nuclear conflict. "It's always been our position that you can't have certain peace or ensure the survival of the human race without ridding the world of nuclear weapons. But many people in the United States don't seem to understand this. That's why it's important that we visit the country," Ogura says.

On August 6th, 1945, US forces dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. An estimated 140,000 people died by the end of the year. Ogura was 8 years old at the time. She was outside her home, some 2 kilometers from ground zero. Soon, many wounded people appeared in Ogura's neighborhood, begging for water. She gave them what they wanted, but some died immediately after. Ogura felt as if she had killed them. And for many years, she kept silent about the bombing.

Things changed with the sudden death of Ogura's husband Kaoru in 1979. As head of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Kaoru had dedicated his life to raising awareness around the world about the consequences of the atomic bomb. Keiko decided to carry on. She studied English by herself, and started telling visitors from abroad about the fate of the survivors.

Sometimes, she finds it difficult to convey her message to people of different nationalities and beliefs. Among the audience in Syracuse was Janet Burman. It was the first time she got to meet and hear directly from an atomic bomb survivor. Burman is a supporter of President Trump. She hopes he will deliver on his promise to rebuild the economy and make America great again.

Burman also supports Trump's plan to strengthen the country's military and nuclear capability. "I know that there are countries and organizations that are our enemies, and they either have those capabilities already or seeking them actively, and therefore, it is important to have it as part of our arsenal for the deterrent effect," she says.

"Their skins were peeling off, their clothes were dirty, but at first I was surprised by their burned hair," Ogura spoke. Ogura's words had a strong impact on Burman. "I'm glad I got to experience the emotion of what she lived through. I think we should strive for eliminating nuclear weapons. But I'm not optimistic about it. Given that I think there are things we need to do in the meantime to keep balancing to prevent them from being used," says Burman.

Ogura was about to face what would become her visit's most challenging audience. She had been invited to meet students who were preparing to become military officers to serve their country. She was wondering how to convey her message. "Even now, I'm not sure how I should communicate with them. But one thing is clear: I can only talk about what I know," said Ogura.

Ogura decided not to read from her notes. "It's a complicated feeling," she said. Instead, she planned to speak from her heart and see how the cadets would react. About 140 Army and Air Force cadets gathered to hear Ogura's story.

She started by talking about the invisible traces and the long-term damage caused by radiation. "I don't have any scars and keloid, but we have a kind of fear when we deliver babies, whether we have a normal baby. There are many who do not tell until now. It's so bad discrimination, but it's a kind of fear. This is very nasty part of radiation, nuclear weapons," Ogura said.

Ogura was inspired by the faces of the young people who may experience war in the near future. She spoke to them from her heart. "You're parents love you so much. Somebody who love so much do not want to lose their beloved persons. Always think about that to survive is the most important. But using nuclear weapons, so many countries, so many people were involved. Not only one country, borderless damage. So because of that, the reason why I am here is please know that and please help not to use such a part."

"I thought your story was incredible and it's really amazing we got to hear it. It's something really relevant today, with everything going on," said a cadet. "By meeting you who actually survived it and after-effects...It's easy to get jaded almost, from a history book, like, it's just words on a page and it's just about the number, but then actually learning about your experience and the people and the suffering you went through, gives me a whole different perspective on the topic," said another.

"Regardless of your position, it's important to cherish life and to love others without regard for the boundaries that separate countries. I think I could share these thoughts with them. I want to make clear why we must abolish nuclear weapons. So, I think I still need to put more thought into how I can better explain to people why nuclear weapons are so dangerous," says Ogura. She continues to seek the best way to encourage people to work towards a nuclear-free world.