Learning to fear the bomb: Atomic survivors teach Brooklyn students the horrors of war

The Brooklyn Paper
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Two survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic attacks — and the grandson of the man who ordered the bombings — moved a classroom of high school students to tears with an impassioned plea to bring an end to the nuclear age.

Setsuko Thurlow and Yasuaki Yamashita visited Downtown’s Brooklyn Friends School along with Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of President Harry S. Truman, on Oct. 18 to share their stories of the catastrophic bombings, which changed their lives — and the course of human history — forever.

In a small, tightly-packed conference room, many students’ eyes filled with tears as the now-elderly Thurlow and Yamashita recounted in graphic, visceral detail, what happened after they saw a “flash like a thousand bolts of lightning.”

Thurlow was 13 years old when the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, collapsing her school and leaving her trapped in the rubble beneath. She managed to escape, but the rubble caught fire before most of her schoolmates could get out.

“We had no appropriate emotional response to what we were experienci­ng,” said Thurlow, who now lives in Toronto and tours as an anti-nuclear weapons activist. “I have to tell this story over and over again so that human beings will not repeat these horrible things.”

Yamashita was six and playing close to his mother when his family saw planes overhead and ran into their house just outside Nagasaki moments before the flash. The blast blew the windows and roof from there home, leaving his sister bleeding from the head.

In the next few days, he watched his friends die and walked miles over rotting corpses with his mother in search of food.

Years later after completing high school, Yamashita found work at the Nagasaki Hospital, where many people his age were dying of cancer — even one to whom he donated his blood through transfusions.

“I realized this could happen to me,” said Yamashita, who moved to Mexico shortly thereafter. “I quit my job. I wanted to run away and forget my suffering.”

Truman Daniel said he became an activist against nuclear war after his young son brought home a book about a girl who died of cancer following the attacks, and the author and former journalist had to tell his child it was his great-grandfather who dropped the bomb.

“I’ve taken responsibility for other parts of my grandfather’s legacy,” said Truman Daniel, who runs the Truman Presidential Library in Missouri. “I think it’s important to take responsibility for this part, too.”

After Thurlow and Yamashita finished speaking, volunteer Robert Croonquist — who helped organize the Hibakusha Stories presentation — asked the students if they had any questions, but none raised their hands. Instead, they all just sat looking stunned.

Updated 5:36 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Does anyone remember WHY we bombed Japan? Anyone? Anyone?

Should we just sweep under the rug the fact that we were not at war until the Japanese bombed the USA at Pearl Harbor - sending thousands to their death - on a Sunday - and dragging us into a war we didn't want?

I'd like to ask Truman Daniel if he is going to fly over to North Korea and Iran and get them to stop their nuclear weapons programs? Of course not - because non-americans are so trusting and far more enlightened. They'll never use the bomb on way!

And after he read that book on the little girl who got cancer, did he happen to read the accounts of the many rescue worker on 9/11 who are suffering from ailments
that were the result of two jet liners crashing into the WTC? Of course not.
Oct. 23, 2012, 10:52 am
what is he from an ——? says:
well, are you? you seem it...
Oct. 23, 2012, 11:15 am
Sally from Gravesend says:
Will they have Chinese survivors of the Rape of Nanking explain to the students why Japan *had* to be subdued at any cost?
Oct. 23, 2012, 1:09 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Good thing Japan didn't have an atomic program, or they would have used their bomb on us.

Oh, Wait! They did!
Oct. 23, 2012, 3:46 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:

rock on pat
Oct. 23, 2012, 9:29 pm
Pat I from 70's Brooklyn says:
Thanks Old Time..

I understand the loss Japan suffered. But I'm a quasi-student of history and experts say that based on the death toll at Iwo Jima an invasion of Japan would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives and would have extended the war for years. if you thought they were tough imagine what they would have been like when defending their homeland.

I'm sick of revisionist history. We as a nation have made mistakes - but everything in perspective, OK? Slavery was wrong, but it was a worldwide accepted practice - and is still practiced to this day by countries that hipsters fawn over.

My son is nine years old. We are blessed with a very obedient and extremely bright child. He is our world.

He attends parochial school - a school that is way ahead of any "Friends" (anyone who charges you 15K per year for tuition can't be much of a friend, right?) school in our area. Hair has to be a certain length, zero tolerance, pledge of allegiance and prayers - every day. He gets over an hour of homework per night and has about 3-4 tests per week. In short they are strict.

We live in a suburb. I teach the things that I learned the hard way growing up in Brooklyn. The result is that he's very street smart. And...he's hooked on the History channel. He understands evil and when my MIL calls me a Nazi for correcting his grammar he knows full well that she's way off base.

When witnessing some local group protesting the bombing of Japan, he asked questions - because he knew full well that that there has to be two sides of the story. Explaining this is easy. Explaining the protestors is much harder - at least with out expletives. He knows about 9/11, radical muslims and how the SEALs took out bin Laden.

In short, OTB, my son has a simple set of rules to live by. I might be dead in 8-10 years due to a bum liver so I have a lot of work to do. His dream is to continue with competitive swimming and eventually go to Annapolis for engineering.

I gave him a list of rules to live by. Here are a few:

never start a fight, but if someone hits you, use overwhelming force.

The easiest day was yesterday.

Always check your work.

If you don't know what to say or do, do and say nothing.

When two people are arguing an outside can't tell who the a**hole is.

Chivalry is not dead.

Always hold doors open for others and give up your seat for women and the elderly.

Don't date girls who misspell their names on purpose. Ever

When shooting over two hundred yards, you have to compensate for wind.

There's nothing with waiting tables. There is dignity in serving others.

First impressions do count.

women go to stylists. Men go to barber shops. Thats why they have dirty magazines there.

Nothing puts a spring in your step like a haircut and a shave with a straight razor and a hot towel.

Never put pineapple on Pizza. Ever.

Sorry for the long post.
Oct. 25, 2012, 6:56 pm

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