Interview with Sumiteru Taniguchi
Japanese Citizen, Nagasaki
Q: In 1943, you were sixteen and living in Nagasaki. Were you in school or working?
Taniguchi: My older sister and older brother left the house as soon as they left school, so I had to get a job to look after the family. I got a job at the post office in 1943. I was mainly distributing the mail, but occasionally I delivered telegrams or collected mail.
Q: What was wartime Nagasaki like?
After that year , there were more air-raids. There were some at the end of July, some in August. There was a shipyard on the other side of the mountain, but it was bombed. The area in front of Nagasaki station was also bombed. So during my mail rounds, I encountered flying shrapnel a few times.
Q: Were parts of the town already destroyed ?
Taniguchi: Not that badly. Some parts of the town were bombed, but the scale of the bombing was not that great. I saw only two houses entirely blown up.
Q: By August 1945, did you realize that the war had turned against Japan?
Taniguchi: Generally, people just believed what the government was saying and what the military broadcast. We heard nothing about the war turning against us. There was Okinawa, but nothing was said to indicate we were in a bad state. There were even lamp processions saying, "We've won, we've won!"
Q: What happened to you on August 9th, 1945?
Taniguchi: During the night of the 8th, there were air-raid warnings. When those went off, postal employees had to report to the post office. During the night of the 8th, we all stayed in the office and on the following day (the 9th) my shift was to begin at noon.... But I was told by my superior to do his rounds in the morning instead, so I went out early to deliver mail.
Q: Did you hear the all-clear sound? How did you know it was safe to proceed?
Taniguchi: I left the post office after 9 o'clock and was on my bicycle, heading to my rounds. On the way, around 10 o'clock I think, I heard the air-raid warning, but because I was in the countryside, I thought nothing would be serious. Then my bicycle got punctured, so I left it and distributed the mail on foot. When I finished my rounds, I went back to my bicycle to fix the puncture. By then the air-raid precautions had cleared. At about 11 o'clock, I left Nishiura-Kami post office (as it was then known), and distributed mail to a few more houses.
As I pedaled on, I heard the sound of planes in the distance. I thought, "How strange, the air-raid warning was already over". I tried to look back, and saw something like a rainbow. In the next moment, I was thrown to the ground, and for some time, the ground was shaking. I was clinging on to it, lest I should get blown away. When I looked up, the house I had just passed had been destroyed. The last house to which I distributed mail was still there. I also saw a child blown away. Big stones were flying in the air and one came down and hit me, then flew up again into the sky. I realized a big bomb had exploded near me and I thought I was going to die. But I assured myself that I couldn't die -- I wouldn't die there.
When things seemed to have calmed down, I tried to get up. The skin of my left arm, from the shoulder to the tip of my fingers, was dripping like rags. I put my hand to my back, but there was no clothing. I could only feel something slimy.
Q: What happened next? Did you see any people?
Taniguchi: My bicycle was completely twisted and useless. The mail bag on its handlebars was open, and mail was scattered all over. Unconsciously, I collected the letters, put them by the bicycle, then went to seek shelter. I didn't feel any pain and there was no blood. But all my energy seemed to vanish. I could only drag myself forward, with one thought: Where should I go?
I walked about 200 yards, to a tunnel where they used to make torpedo bombs. I sat down on a stool, and asked some people to cut off the skin from my arm, since it was hanging and getting in my way. They cut off part of the shirt that was left and rubbed machine oil onto my arm.
Q: Then where did you go?
Taniguchi: After a while, people began to think that the factory had been bombed, so we should seek shelter somewhere else. About ten minutes had passed since the bomb was dropped. I tried to pick myself up with all my might, but couldn't. I couldn't even walk. A fellow who was feeling strong carried me to the hill and laid me on the grass in the shade.
A lot of people had gathered asking for water. Some were giving their names and asking people to tell their families. And people were dying, one after the other. By two o'clock, those who could move were all walking along the railways, but there were more people falling and dying on the way.
Q: What happened at nightfall?
Taniguchi: At night, the town, the mountain, and the factories were all on fire, and it was as light as day. Amidst it all, people still searched for families and relatives. I saw an American plane coming down low to shoot these people. When that plane went up again, one stray bullet hit a rock, making a sharp sound. That rock was next to where I was lying.
In the early hours, it started to rain, so I could swallow some water from the leaves. When the morning came, no one lying with me was still alive. And when the rescue team arrived, they thought I was dead like the others. I tried asking for help, but I couldn't muster the strength, so I was left there for two more nights.
Q: So how were you rescued? How did you survive?
Taniguchi: I was rescued after three days and sent to the country clinic about 18 miles away from Nagasaki. I was laid on the floor of a primary school. It was August 11th, so there was no medication, but I was given food. After another three days, my wounds started to bleed and I started to feel some pain, but not too much. I was moved from one school clinic to another. In mid-September, I was moved to a primary school clinic in Nagasaki city, where patients were being treated by the University Hospital team. After I was transferred there , the first proper medical treatment I received was a blood transfusion. But my body couldn't take it. I suffered badly from anemia, and became just skin and bones.
Q: What happened to the patients around you?
Taniguchi: Well, very few patients were crying out in pain. They just died one after the other. I thought it was strange that no one said "ittai "["it hurts"]. Maybe our nerve systems were affected. We didn't bleed because perhaps even the function to produce blood was affected by radiation. So the first medical treatment at the University Hospital was blood transfusion, but as I said, even that didn't work.
From that time on -- about a month after the bomb exploded -- my wounds started to rot and run. My living body was burnt, but only after a month did it start to rot. While I was lying on my stomach, I had old cloths to my sides which became soaked with pus and had to be replaced several times a day. Most victims of the A-bomb said that they became infested with maggots, but it took me over a year to have flies lay eggs on me. Even a small fly could not dare to come near my body. A professor of biochemistry said that maybe my body exerted a kind of smell that repelled the flies.
Q: What kind of medical treatment were you given next?
Taniguchi: Even though the University Hospital medical team was involved, it was basically a makeshift clinic in the school. It was not a proper medical facility. They provided whatever remedy they could, but it was not of a medical nature. Even at the University Hospital, for example, they said that the atomic bomb was poisonous. So they made us drink herbal tea from boiled persimmon leaves, which they believed to be detoxifying. At times, they killed a cow and brought us the liver still quivering, and cut it into small bits in front of us and told us to eat it raw. They told us that it should be eaten raw to be effective. Their reason was that since we couldn't produce normal blood inside our bodies, we had to supplement it with the cow's liver, but of course it had no real effect.
About this time, penicillin came from America, but I heard later that the penicillin was not to treat the patients. The American research team brought it to do some medical experiments on humans in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Anyway, penicillin is not effective against radiation.
Q: Were you at least able to get sufficient disinfectant and dressing?
Taniguchi: I'm not sure what they were using as disinfectant. They used to cover the wounds with antiseptic dressing and ointment, and by the following day, it would be dry. When they removed the dressing, they'd flush the wounds with salt water. The salt water was not medically treated, but was pumped up from the port to be boiled and used as a disinfectant.
I had always thought that the salt water came from Nagasaki port, but last year when I was going through a document, I found that it was not from Nagasaki. Many victims died in the rivers where they sought to quench their thirst. These rivers poured into the Nagasaki Bay, which was also radioactive. It was written that the salt water was taken from the bay on the other side of the mountain and boiled in a huge pot for medical use.
Q: So when were you finally able to get the care you needed?
Taniguchi: We didn't receive proper medical treatment until November.... In November, finally, we were all sent to the naval hospital in Omura, near the Nagasaki Airport, where there was a naval base at that time....
Even the Omura naval hospital could provide no special treatments for me. The following year, they used a special kind of medication, saying that it was something special -- but in hindsight, I don't know how effective it was for a body so badly affected by radiation. That kind of radiation lingers in the body for a long time, affecting the whole system. And once the system is affected, modern medicine cannot really do anything about it. I think no one knew how to cope with it.
Q: Almost 50 years have passed, and still today we saw you going into the hospital for one of your three monthly check-ups. How you have suffered for all these years as a result of that one instant, when the bomb dropped! What have these years been like?
Taniguchi: As you know, after the bomb exploded, I was unable to move, lying on my stomach for a year and 9 months. I suffered throughout. Nobody thought I would survive... In May 1947, I could finally sit up. On March 20th, 1949, I left the hospital in Omura and came back to Nagasaki. My wounds had not recovered completely, so I had to be treated in Nagasaki. Even after 15 years, my wounds did not heal.
During that time, I was in pain, I suffered, and wanted to die. I finally asked for a week's leave from the office and left home without telling anyone and went to Karatsu in the Shiga prefecture to die. I climbed the hills and went to the sea to think about it. But in my thoughts, I thought about all the people who had died. Although I was in pain, I was still alive. When I thought about who did this crime to me, I realized that I must live on behalf of those who died unwillingly. I have to tell what happened, so they will not have died in vain.
Still, the physical pain persisted. Sometimes I visited two or three hospitals in a day in the hope that they could heal my wounds.
My wounds weren't properly treated until 1960. That was 15 years later. It wasn't easy. Then I developed a tumor where the skin had burnt, and the doctor told me it was cancer... The war ended 49 years ago, but not for us. We victims have been suffering every since and we don't know how it's going to affect future generations.
So I keep thinking that I have to live and tell as many people as possible so that my experience will never be repeated.
Q: Do you think your message has been heard?
Taniguchi: In order to create a world where we can live as human beings, we have to get rid of all substances that could be called "nuclear".... We have to speak about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war finished 49 years ago but we still carry the war within ourselves.
Q: In 1954, the Americans tested their first H-bomb and the Japanese fishing crew of Lucky Dragon were bombed in the Bikinis. What did this incident mean to you?
Taniguchi: The plutonium bomb dropped in Nagasaki was a perfect example of an experiment on mankind. But the Americans who dropped it have never shown any remorse. They even lied and justified their position by saying that it was correct to drop the bombs to hasten the end of the war. No one in the Japanese Government has ever apologized about getting involved in that war, either. On the contrary, they even said that it was unavoidable, that we had no choice but to do it.... Perhaps the Japanese Government , who started that war, had to take sides with the American Government.
The uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. Then another bomb, similar to the plutonium bomb, was developed with hydrogen added to the compound. So they continued their experiments...
Q: Is there an end in sight?
Taniguchi: These bombs were tested not only on Japanese fishermen, but on many people who were made to suffer....The nuclear race, the desire to conquer the world with nuclear weapons escalated. We have to stop. And in order to do so, we have to tell what we witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki....Ten years later, in 1955, the anti-nuclear, disarmament movement began after the Lucky Dragon incident in the Bikinis. At that time, there were a lot of people supporting the movement ...
We have to make a peaceful world and protect a world in which people can live as human beings. Instead, it has become a world where political ideology divides. There have been no apologies for Hiroshima or Nagasaki, nor for Lucky Dragon....
I have been telling the world that nuclear weapons are not compatible with human life. However, there is still no clear movement toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons. For sure, the Soviet Union has disintegrated and it seems that there will be some reduction of nuclear weapons. However, the U.S. has not decreased their nuclear arsenals, and even Japan is talking about the possibility of producing nuclear weapons. North Korea has also reported that they are in a position to produce nuclear weapons. At present, nuclear inspection is a big issue there. Nuclear inspection itself already signifies a dangerous situation....
With human wisdom and solidarity, we have to create an environment that will allow us to be able to control this....
Q: Your adult life covers the period of what one may call the "Atomic Age". In your view, what is the legacy of nuclear technology? Is there any benefit through peaceful use?
Taniguchi: The term "peace" or "peaceful use" is used too often. I think there is only one meaning for the word "peace". That is, the word should be used to signify an environment where everyone in the world can live happily as human beings....
There may be other reasons why there is a shortage of energy sources, but nuclear plants are leading us to dangerous waters. Wherever there is a nuclear plant, there are heated arguments... I always say, we should not allow such attitudes to lead us to think that the proliferation of nuclear plants is something unavoidable, that there is nothing we can do, to just to let it pass. We want everyone to think about it.
One of the things that happened last year is that the U.S. appealed to the international community to stop the production of plutonium -- even for "peaceful use". In Japan, some people have also advocated that the reuse of plutonium is not appropriate... and in the last week or so there have been several rumors that the quantity of plutonium has been restricted or reduced.... We have to think about an alternative to nuclear power, so that we don't have to rely on it entirely. In order to achieve this, we must not be confined to political differences or a certain ideology. We must strive for the same objective -- that we all want to have decent lives as human beings.
Why can't we strive together ? I always wonder why we can't achieve it... I often discuss it with the children who visit me on school trips.
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