The Horror Of Nagasaki 70 Years Later

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Seventy years ago, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki. Japan surrendered, and World War II ended six days later. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, the people of Nagasaki retained searing memories and view the present through the prism of their terrible history. Bomb survivors worry that Japan's current government is pulling the country back towards militarism.

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ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: A bell tolled at 11:02 a.m., marking the moment that a U.S. plutonium bomb obliterated this city and killed some 70,000 people. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue addressed a memorial service. He said Japan should not abandon its pacifist constitution.

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TOMIHISA TAUE: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "There's widespread unease and concern that the peaceful ideology of the constitution of Japan is now wavering," he said. "I urge the government and the parliament to listen to these voices of unease and concern." Japan's post-war constitution was drafted by the U.S. It bans the country from waging war. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was at today's gathering, has proposed a security bill that would overturn that ban. The bill has hurt Abe's approval ratings. Understanding what happened 70 years ago helps explain why. Back in 1945, Minoti Moriuchi (ph) was an 8-year-old student. He lived in a village about three miles from Ground Zero. He remembers catching crickets in some fruit trees with his friends.

MINOTI MORIUCHI: (Through interpreter) I climbed the tree and was reaching up towards the sky for a cricket. In that instant, a laser-like light hit my eyes. I was blinded, and I thought the sun had exploded.

KUHN: Moriuchi was saved by a little hill that lay in between his home and the city's center. He remembers that a few hours later, his aunt appeared silently at his house with two cousins. She was carrying one, age 3, who was already dead. She was leading another, age 5, by the hand. He died later. His aunt said that the younger cousin died after begging for water.

MORIUCHI: (Through interpreter) They were burned red and black. I could not distinguish their faces from their heads or their clothes from their skin. When I tell my story, this scene always comes back to me. I always regret that I couldn't do anything for this kid who died without a drink of water. It was all he wanted.

KUHN: Moriuchi watched as six family members died in his home. Later, he walked into the city to look for other missing relatives. He remembers seeing fires everywhere, corpses floating in the river and a streetcar full of charred bodies. But he says he was too numb and weak with hunger to react.

MORIUCHI: (Through interpreter) I didn't feel pity for them. It didn't feel like they stank, although they were scary. It was like a dream or as if I was just looking at a drawing.

KUHN: Moriuchi later got radiation sickness, but he survived. He did not consider himself a hibakusha, or atomic bomb victim, until he got stomach cancer in his mid-50s.

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KUHN: Streetcars rumble up and down Nagasaki's cosmopolitan bustling streets, just as they did 70 years ago. The traces of death and devastation are nowhere to be seen, but for the bomb survivors, the situation is urgent. Hundreds of them are suffering and dying every year from radiation-related illnesses. And, Moriuchi says, Japan's prime minister seems not to have learned the war's lessons.

MORIUCHI: (Through interpreter) I wonder how he can imagine sending our beloved children and grandchildren to the battlefield. He is interpreting our pacifist constitution in a bizarre way so that we may be able to wage war. It is deplorable.

KUHN: Moriuchi says he regrets not taking a stand on these issues at a younger age, so he's trying to make up for lost time. He successfully sued the Japanese government for support, educated young people and campaigned against nuclear weapons. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Nagasaki.

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