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Hiroshima survivor recalls atom bomb

Nuclear weapons are the “devil’s weapon” and should be banned from the planet, one atomic bomb survivor said in an Oct. 15 speech at DU’s Driscoll University Center.

“We have to learn from the past to help live our future,” said Keijiro Matsushima, who was 16 when the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing nearly 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. The bombings led to the end of World War II.

Matsushima’s DU visit was one of a handful of Colorado stops the retired English teacher made throughout the week. The 80-year-old, who still lives in Hiroshima, routinely travels around the world urging peaceful negotiation as a means of conflict resolution and cites his first-hand knowledge of the Hiroshima attack’s devastation to make his case.

Before the bombing, the war made everyday life in Japan difficult, Matsushima explained. Japan was losing the war and things got “worse and worse.”

“They were very miserable days. Food was a big problem and I was always hungry,” he said. School and education for him came in waves because he had to spend time working in a factory to help provide for his family.

He and other Hiroshima residents never thought the city was important enough to the United States for them to make a move there. “Well, Hiroshima was very important for them,” he said.

Matsushima was 15 minutes into his school day on Aug. 6, 1945, when his life — and the world — changed.

“This very strong flash attacked me,” he said. Then he was overcome by shock and heat waves.

“I was scared to death. I didn’t understand what was happening. I was crawling around on the floor saying ‘Help me, mother,’ ‘Help me, Buddha.’”

It was pitch-dark and he couldn’t see much, he said. While the floor of the school was stable, he said, the roof collapsed onto the students.

“Those days we didn’t know much about big bombs like that,” Matsushima said. “It felt like a bomb was dropped right next to me.”

Matsushima suffered from delusion and some physical ailments but said his bones were
OK enough to walk; however, many of his classmates were bloody and burned. When Matsushima found his way out of the school’s rubble, he was shocked by the grim scene before him.

Houses were destroyed. Everyone was bloody and walked in a zombie-like state with their arms straight out not sure of where to go or how to get help. Many had flesh hanging from their limbs.

“They were swollen up like pigs,” Matsushima said.

Matsushima said he had no idea what to do, so he started walking his to his mother’s house on the outskirts of Hiroshima. “I just wanted to leave as soon as possible.”

After walking for hours, he crossed a bridge and turned to see the city behind him. At that moment, he said, “I could feel Hiroshima dying.”

He arrived at his mother’s house around midnight. His mother was overjoyed to see him because she assumed he was dead, Matsushima said.

The next day, Matsushima awoke to a high fever and bloody diarrhea — the effects of radiation. It subsided after about a week.

Atomic bomb survivors suffer from cancer and other health problems at much higher rates. Still, Matsushima considers himself extremely fortunate and says he holds no ill will toward Americans for the deadly attacks.

“Until the end of the war, we had very strong anger and hostility toward Americans, of course,” Matsushima said. “But it was never toward the people of the United States; people are people.

“It’s not a time to argue about things of the past, but to think about what we can do in the future.”

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