Hopeless Attempts to Help

Kakuii Miyazaki

"By SUMMER, I'll be taller than you, father," calls my sixteen-year-old son, as he measures his height against mine. He has a voracious appetite, grows at an amazing rate, and studies hard. He is happy. When I was sixteen, the war prevented my studying and forced me to work in a munitions factory. When I was sixteen, the world's second atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki.

Though a student at the Nagasaki Normal School, I worked at the Mitsubishi Arms Plant. Our labor was exhausting, but we did our duty with all our might, in the hope that the tide of the war would change in our favor and enable us to defeat the Allies.

On August 9, 1945, at the beginning of lunch break, I went to the lavatory to wash my hands. As I was about to step out of the factory door, there was a tremendous flash. Instinctively I dodged back into the building and was about to take cover when a sky-splitting, deafening blast hurled me to the floor.

After some seconds -- I cannot say how many -- peeped through my hands. Though the day had been bright and sunny, everything was now as dark as if it were twilight. I heard anguished cries for help from all sides. The factory ceiling had collapsed. The walls had been blown away. In the chaos and destruction, injured factory workers lay everywhere.

Rushing outside, I saw to my still greater horror that the factory compound was a wasteland. Most of the buildings had been leveled. The ground was littered with twisted objects, shattered glass, and dead and dying human beings disfigured beyond recognition.

The end of the world! Terrified and stunned, I began to flee in the direction of the hills where there were well-protected shelters. A turmoil of refugees clogged the streets. People whose skin hung from them like rags and whose bodies were so burned that it was impossible to tell their sexes screamed for help. Running in all directions, everyone had but one thought: escape.

As if trying to free myself from the monstrosity of what I saw and heard, I ran as fast as I could. As I ran, I realized that the destruction must have been caused by another bomb like the one that had fallen on Hiroshima a few days earlier.

When I reached the hillside, I found all the shelters overflowing with refugees. For want of a better place, I took refuge in a nearby potato field surrounded by trees. Soon some of my schoolmates arrived and told me that our school was on fire. Looking in the direction of the school, which was not too far away, I saw flames shooting from the dormitory building.

Struggling to my feet, I ran toward the dormitory to try to do something to help the many students I knew must be trapped there. When I reached the school, I found only ten people engaged in the hopeless task of trying to extinguish the fire.

Students were trapped under the partially collapsed two-story wooden building. An older student whom I knew was crying for help. He had been pinned under a fallen ceiling beam. His body had burst open, and his internal organs were spilling out. One of our teachers lay motionless on the ground. Some students whose clothes had caught fire plunged into a nearby pond. Others were so burned that their raw, bleeding flesh was exposed.

We abandoned hope of putting out the fire and, working in a constant shower of sparks, tried to save as many people as possible. I used my gaiters for bandages. I lifted debris to free a student pinned under it. But there were so many! Then the entire dormitory was engulfed in flames. We had to leave the rest of the trapped boys to perish. Silently, I prayed for the repose of their souls. Their cries haunt me still.

We returned to the hill. In the evening began a ghostly, hellish parade of the wounded. Naked, burned, flayed, and bleeding they came. It was impossible to know whether some of them were men or women. One man glittered with countless slivers of glass embedded in his body. One attempted to keep his internal organs inside his split body with his hand. A mother, aimlessly wandering with a vacant expression on her face, held her dead child in her arms. Throughout the crowd ran other people in search of their relatives and loved ones. Their frenzied calls for mother, father, children, wives, and husbands echoed over the hillside.

Those of us who were not seriously injured did what we could to relieve the pain of the others, but all we had for medicine was pumpkin juice. By night, we had found some rice, which we cooked. With sweaty, blood-covered hands, we made balls of steamed rice for the injured. Because of the American reconnaissance planes overhead, we had to keep the cooking fire well covered.

The relief work in which I engaged from the following day took me throughout the Urakami Valley and into the very center of the bombed area. Unfortunately, not long afterward, I stepped on a nail and wounded my foot. The wound festered so badly that I was no longer in a condition to work. I decided to return to my home town of Minami Takagi. My arrival there four days later caused my family great happiness. Knowing that I had been in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing, they had given me up for dead.

Of all the vivid recollections I have of the horror of those days, one stands out from all the others. The wife and three children of Professor Shin'ichi Morita, one of our teachers at the normal school and later head of the Department of Education of Nagasaki University, were killed in the bombing. In spite of his personal grief, he directed extensive rescue work, carrying the cremated remains of his loved ones with him in a milk can.

In 1948, I began my career as a teacher by being assigned to the Chijimyo First Primary School. Later I was to teach at four other Nagasaki schools; but in 1950, I started manifesting symptoms of radiation sickness. My gums bled. I suffered from acute anemia, fainting spells, and apathy. My white-blood-cell count dropped drastically. Sapped of strength, I tired easily. If I worked or studied at night, my eyes became bloodshot and swollen. My days were darkened by dread of the disease.

But I went on with my teaching and tried to instill in my pupils respect for peace and hatred for the miseries of war. I did not succumb to the sickness; and in March, 1967, I stopped teaching, after twenty years in the profession, to enter the field of politics, where I hoped to contribute to the establishment of lasting peace.

In 1972, I introduced to the Nagasaki municipal assembly a motion for the establishment of an annual Peace Week between August 6 and 15. The motion was passed; and for a number of years Peace Week ceremonies, with special prayers for the victims of the atomic bombings, have been important annual events in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In themselves the ceremonies might seem insignificant, but I hope they will become part of the groundwork for the worldwide abolition of warfare.

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