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Hiroshima survivor speaks against nuclear proliferation

Steve Leeper, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and Hiroshima victim Natsumi Nagao were in Springfield last week speaking at a traveling exhibit on the atomic bombing of the Japanese city at the Community Music School. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD To answer a reporter's question on her experience as a survivor of Hiroshima, Natsumi Nagao walkedover to the exhibit on the dropping of the first atomic bomb for a drawing showing a group of victims, writhing in agony.

She pointed to one of them and said in Japanese that was her.

Nagao was a 14 year-old student who was just 1.3 kilometers from ground zero when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. She suffered so many burns that her father wouldn't accept that she was his daughter until she had successfully answered a group of personal questions.

With two on-going wars in the Middle East, a faltering economy and fuel prices reaching new highs, awareness on nuclear disarmament may not be on most American's minds. Nagao is hoping that by telling her story Americans will see the issue of nuclear disarmament as important as any other issue facing the country.

Nagao was in Springfield on Wednesday as part of a tour of American cities of a traveling exhibit on the Hiroshima bombing. Steve Leeper, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, accompanied her. They spoke at a press event prior to the exhibit and a presentation at the Community Music School.

Leeper believes the world is "on a new nuclear crisis."

"We're right on the precipice between disarmament and hyper-proliferation," he said.

Leeper fears the Non-nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) summit scheduled for 2010 will be a failure as the stance taken by countries that have nuclear weapons is to keep other nations from obtaining them rather than disarming.

In 1968, the nuclear powers signed the treaty that promised disarmament. So far, Leeper pointed out, these nations have not dismantled their nuclear stockpiles.

He added that in March the Arab League announced that if Israel refuses to join the NPT therefore acknowledging it has nuclear weapons the Arab nations would drop out of the NPT and conceivably obtain bombs themselves.

With the tensions in the Middle East, Leeper believes someone might use nuclear weapons and said a nuclear conflict involving Iran would be "worse than World War II."

He and Nagao are part of an ongoing tour of the Hiroshima exhibit and survivors to either remind or introduce people to the horrors of atomic attacks. So far, Leeper said the reaction has been favorable from activists.

Nagao spoke in a quiet but emotion-filled voice and said she has spent her life trying not to confront her memories of the bombing and only recently started speaking about them. Still a resident of Hiroshima, she has avoided the Hiroshima Museum, although she has started speaking to schoolchildren visiting the museum.

She had not even looked at the exhibit until it was being set up in Springfield. She decided to help with the exhibit but was so overcome with the emotions the photos brought back, that she sat down and wept.

She admitted that because of her extensive burns to her face, legs and arms, "it would be a lie to say I didn't have negative feelings about Americans."

During her time with the tour Springfield was her last stop she said through a translator that she had met so many Americans who hate nuclear weapons that she "transcended her feelings."

"I feel saved from my feelings," she added.

Telling her story was so painful to her, but at the advice of a mentor, she started speaking with students.

After the bombing she managed to walk to an elementary school where she waited for three days before she was reunited with her father. Her brother was killed in the blast and other family members died early deaths attributed to exposure to radiation.

She said she hopes people understand "a little bit" of what the atomic bomb can do to families by listening to her story.

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