Mankind has tried to harness and control nuclear energy in both war and peace, but the result has been death and disaster – from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Since there are likely to be more unforeseen accidents and tragedies, mankind has no choice but to disarm and search for solutions to provide energy and weapons.
That’s the message that Shiho Kikuzaki Burke delivered at the Coalition for Peace Action’s 40th anniversary Conference for Peace, which was held Nov. 10 at the Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton.
The Coalition for Peace Action seeks to abolish nuclear weapons.
Burke is intimately familiar with the topic of nuclear bombs. Her parents survived the attack on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, which was the first time that a nuclear bomb was unleashed on a civilian population.
Her parents, Toru and Mizuha Kikuzaki, were each 10 years old when the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Her parents were students at Hiroshima Kannon elementary school, she said.
Her mother was about a half-mile away from the blast, and her father was about one mile away from it. He would have been closer, but he had stayed home because of illness, Burke said.
“Most of the people at the school either died by the initial explosion or within months or years from radiation sickness,” Burke said.
Her mother survived the bombing, but was trapped underneath debris. She climbed out and was headed toward an air raid shelter, but Japanese soldiers pushed her back. She was walking toward the bomb blast.
Burke’s mother, who suffered severe injuries to her arm and scalp, walked home. The house was still standing and her parents were there. Her mother’s older brothers were at a factory, making airplane parts.
One of her mother’s brothers had been badly burned. Burke said she remembers that brother – her uncle – as a handsome man, but with an extensive scar covering part of his face.
Burke said another uncle committed suicide after a long struggle with depression because of his injuries and the loss of their father, who died from radiation sickness.
Burke’s mother immediately began experiencing radiation sickness, which marked the beginning of her lifelong struggle of dealing with the after-effects of the bombing. The radiation exposure took its toll over the years. When she was 28 years old, a doctor told her that she had three months to live.
But her mother’s faith in God and her will to survive led her to embark on a regimen of Eastern medicine. Her mother credits it with saving her life, Burke said.
“Growing up in Hiroshima and my parents’ experience of the bombing has been a major feature of my life,” Burke said.
It was her exposure to people whose lives had been shattered by the bombing that encouraged her to talk of world peace, she said.
Burke said that as a young child, she starred in “White Town Hiroshima,” which was a film about a young girl whose life was changed by the bombing. She became a peace ambassador and traveled with a television crew to Germany, the Czech republic and Austria, visiting the ruins of World War II.
But then came the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear energy plant in 2011. The plant was heavily damaged by a tsunami, spreading radiation, Burke said.
“It angered me that the first nation to witness the silent suffering of the after-effects of radiation to the human body and the first nation to witness the total collapse and destruction of the human soul caused by radiation, still took a risk using radiation as an energy source,” she said.
It upset her to see the mothers of children walking around in Fuksushima with radiation detectors to ensure the safety of their children, she said.
Burke said people have tried to harness nuclear energy, but its failure has resulted in disasters that range from Fukushima to Chernobyl, and from Hiroshima to Nagasaki.
Nuclear disarmament of the United States, Japan and other countries around the world is the goal, and it is a hard one to reach, Burke acknowledged. But it must be achieved, she said.
“We can’t change the past or take back the mistakes we have made, but we can indeed change the future by not repeating our mistakes,” Burke said.
“Elie Wiesel once said, ‘To forget a holocaust is to kill twice.’ Well, to forget any of these events is to kill twice,” Burke said.