The desolation caused by “Little Boy”, the name of the American nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, didn’t triumph over the hibakusha. This is the name for the group of survivors of that nuclear explosion, along with the one that occurred in Nagasaki three days later.
The Japanese term literally means “people affected by explosions,” those who have given us a sublime teaching about a virtuous way of confronting and transcending a major tragedy.
The scars of radiation
Many of them were left injured or ill from the radiation of the nuclear blasts. However, their unwavering spirit served as inspiration for the nation to recover quickly.
“They have sought to tell the world that nuclear war must be stopped because no human being deserves to experience what they lived through. They also appeal to historical memory, which serves to discourage similar situations from ever happening again,” says Fernando Hernández Avilés, president of the Mexican Resilience Association, in an interview with Tec Review.
Their pro-peace resolution served as the basis for the reconstruction of a country that in 1964 was able to host the Tokyo Olympics, where athlete Yoshinori Sakai, nicknamed the “Hiroshima baby” because he was born in the city on the day of the nuclear attack, lit the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony.
Sakai, who died of a stroke in 2014, was an internationally renowned symbol of the hibakusha.
“In the wake of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan established a completely different culture of discipline, commitment, respect, and social construction,” says Hernández Avilés.
The Mexican case
Although similar cataclysms have also been experienced in our country as a result of earthquakes, Hernández says that we still have a lot to learn from the hibakusha.
“We often believe that Mexicans are resilient because we have overcome a lot of adversity. The reality is different because we lack the key element, which is not only to get fired up and come together in a time of tragedy but also to learn from and prevent new ones and to discipline ourselves.”
“That’s the part we would need to address so that we can simply build a more responsible psychology,” says the expert.
Hernández also emphasizes that to better assimilate adverse situations, Mexicans could imitate the Japanese model of learning from the past.
“As the hibakusha say, historical memory shouldn’t be set aside, because what happened 75 years ago doesn’t prevent it from happening again.”
Against all the forecasts
The reaction of the hibakusha is striking and honorable, as catastrophes of the magnitude of those that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, far from being a means for revitalization, often severely damage entire populations, according to Grisha Suquet Unkind, neuropsychiatrist at the Mexican Society of Neurology and Psychiatry.
“We have pretty strong evidence that traumatic experiences of this magnitude create disorders of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, grief, and a sense of guilt. This can also contribute to an increase in addictions,” says Suquet Unkind, in an interview with Tec Review.
What’s more, parental figures tend to cause more stress in these circumstances because, according to Suquet, parents begin to convey a negative view of the environment, as a paranoid sense of the surroundings, of hostility, in which they believe that a new disaster can happen.
“So, family ties are broken, and there is greater incidence of chronic diseases,” he says.
However, the specialist also recognizes that in contexts of desolation a kind of accidental leadership can arise in survivors, which coincides with the essence of the hibakusha.
“It is possible that a strong historical identity, a sense of having roots and legacy, can be generated, and if carried out in a positive way, it can be passed on from generation to generation. These are indirect beneficial effects,” the neuropsychiatrist states.
Stigmas are mostly in memory
A giant mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke often appears in the minds of many when they hear or read “nuclear energy.”
However, the term doesn’t mean destruction, but quite the opposite, especially when understood in a positive context of technology, according to Guerda Massillon, researcher at the Institute of Physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
“Nuclear energy represents benefits instead. Many countries get their energy from nuclear reactors, including Mexico at the Laguna Verde plant in Veracruz. And nothing bad has happened there. It hasn’t been a risk to the population, but a benefit,” she says.
However, if not left in good hands, nuclear power can be lethal both immediately and in the long term, as demonstrated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is estimated that the two nuclear bombs that fell on those cities resulted in the instant deaths of more than 100,000 people.
“The level of radiation was so high that it killed people immediately, while other people suffered effects over the years. For instance, some children developed long-term cancer,” says the UNAM expert.
This was the most devastating event of World War II that resulted in Japan’s surrender on August 12 of that fateful 1945, through the message below, delivered by Emperor Hirohito in a public radio broadcast three days later:
“The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”