A world of ‘hibakusha’ | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

A world of ‘hibakusha’

It is not the movies, folks, and there certainly are nuclear scenarios of the apocalyptic kind in the realm of the possible. News report after news report describe one rogue leader’s attempt to flaunt his country’s nuclear arsenal, his way of serving notice to his perceived enemies. It has made three missile tests that, fortunately for the jittery, all went pffft shortly after lift-off.

Duds, yes, or umido (Spanish for wet), the Ilonggos would say about firecrackers that fail to explode. But those rockets weren’t firecrackers and there’s more where those duds came from.


The Associated Press reported the other day how Japan is bracing itself in case of a nuclear attack from North Korea with residents near the US base receiving instructions on what to do. Drills have been held in some prefectures, but skeptics think the concern is overblown and that Kim Jong-un is bluffing. But who knows?

AP reported, “A possible missile strike and what to do about it have dominated TV talk shows and other media in Japan in recent weeks as regional tension spiked, with the North Korean regime continuing to test-fire rockets and US President Donald Trump sending an aircraft carrier to nearby waters in a show of force.”


Japan, now a US ally and host to US military presence, is the country that has experienced two nuclear strikes in succession from the United States during World War II, the population of its two cities decimated and the survivors becoming the walking wounded, near-dead and disfigured—the “hibakusha,” as they came to be known.

The postwar demilitarization of Japan did not last all that long, the hibakusha’s hope for long-lasting peace dashed when Japan remilitarized and was swept into the arms of its former enemy.

I first met some hibakusha in the 1980s. A handful of hibakusha (survivors of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) came here to lend support to the antinuke campaign. They had with them not only their experiences but also scientific findings on the effects of radiation on hundreds of thousands of lives, including theirs.

I sat in lectures, hearings and symposia on the nuke issue. I watched documentaries and went to photo exhibits. I learned nuke jargon. I wrote articles on the hibakusha. At that time the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was rising in what was supposed to be an earthquake fault and was a stone’s throw from two US military bases.

Hibakusha originally referred only to A-bomb victims. Later, H-bomb victims were included. In 1954, a Japanese fishing vessel called Fifth Lucky Dragon was at point 91 nautical miles east of the Bikini-Eniwetok Atolls when it was overcome by nuclear fallout from the Castle Tests in the area. The ship returned to Japan and was found to have radioactive particles. The crew of 26 suffered from radioactive sickness and one eventually died.

Although many hibakusha are now in their twilight years or have died, there still are survivors who can recall what it was like or can show proofs of that nuclear nightmare that are etched on their bodies and which, through their genes, future generations might have to bear.

North Korea had already landed four ballistic missiles a few hundred kilometers off the coast of Japan, a way, AP said, to simulate a nuclear strike on US troops stationed there.


Here are some simple instructions given the Japanese people in case of a nuclear attack, and for us Filipinos to take note of: If you are outdoors, take refuge in strong buildings or underground shopping arcades and if no such facilities are nearby, drop to the ground and cover your head. A chemical attack is possible, so cover your nose and mouth with a cloth and shut doors and windows.

Will we see a 21st-century world of walking hibakusha?

The Philippines is also within striking distance, but we are not being prepared for that kind of unnatural disaster. We have enough natural disasters to prepare for—earthquakes, supertyphoons, volcanic eruptions—and man-made ones such as mudslides, toxic spills and bomb explosions. Some days we don’t know what hit us. Filipinos live from one disaster to another, and we think the world of ourselves.

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