Leaning against a fence, 83-year-old Keiko Ogura looks at it. On August 6, 1945. “Everything was on fire.
Images of American military planes flying over are razor-sharp in her retina, as are the many hours that Ogura spent as a little girl in bomb shelters. Because of that constant threat, her father decided to keep Ogura and her five siblings at home on August 6, due to the fact that she was there. That was her salvation, she thinks. Sixty percent of her classmates were killed by Little Boy, the world’s first nuclear bomb that – with the bomb on Nagasaki three days later – ushered in the Japanese capitulation, ending World War II.
“We call the bomb here pikadon, ” says Ogura. First there was a flash of light, pika , and then an explosion, don . She fell to the ground, only a few scratches, but nothing serious. Everything was black, she says. She thought she herself was the target. But after the dust settled, Ogura saw that almost all of Hiroshima had been swept away. The entire Ogura family survived the nuclear bomb, which killed 140,000 people. The after-effects of the bomb brought the death toll to 237,000.
The more people learned about the health dangers of radiation, the worse the discrimination against victims became and the quieter it became in the Ogura house. “I was once asked out by a nice guy. But when I confessed that I was a victim, he couldn’t see me anymore. He wanted to, but his parents wouldn’t allow it. In my area, many marriages are prohibited for that reason.
Victims like Ogura are called hibakusha . They are people who have been within two kilometers of the hypocenter for at least two weeks after the bomb, or who have been exposed to radioactive fallout. If you were able to prove that, you received a certificate. With that certificate, hibakusha were entitled to two health checks per year and a small monthly stipend.
Later on, a compensation was added for people in whom complaints were discovered as a result of radioactivity. In 2017, that compensation was paid on only 1 percent of the hibakusha. In this, critics saw the government’s reluctance to pay medical bills for this aging group. There are about 50,000 hibakusha still alive.
Much will depend on international arms control treaties. The most important treaty, New START, will expire early next year . Talks about an extension between the United States and Russia came to nothing last month. Then there is the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) drawn up in 2017. TPNW prohibits countries that sign nuclear weapons from developing, testing or possessing them. 82 countries have signed it so far. Japan did not sign, presumably under US pressure. All countries that possess nuclear weapons are boycotting the treaty.
Ogura thinks TPNW is a step in the right direction, she thinks it is good that small countries should unite. At the same time, she realizes that Japan still depends on the US for its security in an uncertain region. “Still, I think Prime Minister Abe should have signed. But he has started to spend more and more money on defense and new weapons. ”