PIQUA — In the name of social justice and peace, Edison State Community College hosted an award-winning author’s visit to discuss her nonfiction work covering the acute details and long-term effects of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
Susan Southard, 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize (DLPP) nonfiction award winner, visited on Thursday as part of Edison’s Peace Week, which the English department hosted. Inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, the DLPP is the only international literary peace prize awarded in the U.S. This was Southard’s first speaking engagement since being named a prizewinner for her book “Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War.”
“My book follows the story of five survivors,” Southard said.
Southard said that her book took 12 years to complete. She was surprised how she had not been able to find a book documenting the long-term effects of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Southard said that while World War II had ended in May 1945, in August of that year “the war in the Pacific was still going on, it was raging horribly.” Simultaneously, the U.S. was developing in secret — so secret that the vice president did not know about it — the first nuclear weapons, also known as the Manhattan Project.
The U.S. bombed Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Nagasaki was bombed three days later.
“Nagasaki is much less known than Hiroshima,” Southard said.
Hiroshima is located on Honshu, the largest island of Japan, and approximately 70,000 people died during the bombing, not including those who later died due to injuries and radiation poisoning. Nagasaki is in a more remote location than Hiroshima on the Japanese island of Kyushu.
“It’s 200 miles from the Korean peninsula,” Southard said. “It had the largest Catholic church in the east at the time.”
Southard described Nagasaki, which was surrounded by hills, had rice fields near it, a train station that was later destroyed in the bombing, and a Mitsubishi Munitions plant.
“In Japan, by 1945, all the men in up to their mid-40s were deployed in the Pacific to fight Japan’s aggressive war to take over the far east,” Southard said. “So there weren’t very men in the whole country and also Nagasaki. And also any child 14 years or older had to leave school and … were assigned jobs to do for the war effort.”
In the bombing of Nagasaki, approximately 35,000 people died within the first minute after the bombing, which destroyed the northern part of the city.
Southard read three excerpts from her book, including what the first 60 seconds of the bombing was like in Nagasaki.
“The five-ton plutonium bomb plunged toward the city at 614 miles per hour,” Southard read. “Forty-seven seconds later, a powerful implosion pushed the bomb’s plutonium core to compress from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a tennis ball, generating a nearly instantaneous reaction of nuclear fission.”
The bomb detonated a third of a mile above the Urakami Valley. The flash was visible over 10 miles away, and an explosion followed that was the equivalent of 21,000 tons of TNT.
“The entire city convulsed,” Southard continued. “At its first point, the center of the explosion reached temperatures higher than at the center of the sun, and the velocity of the shock wave exceeded the speed of sound. A tenth of a millisecond later, all of the materials that had made up the bomb converted into an ionized gas and electromagnetic waves (and) were released into the air.
“The thermal heat of the bomb ignited a fireball with an internal temperature of over 540,ooo degrees Fahrenheit,” Southard went on. “Within one second, the blazing fireball had ignited from 52 feet to its maximum size of 750 feet in diameter. Within three seconds, the ground below reached an estimated 5,400 to 7,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Directly beneath the bomb, infrared heat rays instantly carbonized human and animal flesh and vaporized internal organs.”
Southard explained how the blast “crushed much of the Urakami Valley.” It created winds that were two and a half times faster than a Category 5 hurricane, and pulverized buildings and everything their path.
“In every direction, people were blown out of their shelters, houses, factories, schools, and hospital beds, catapulted against walls and flattened beneath buildings,” Southard said. People outside were blown off their feet or struck by debris. An iron bridge moved 28 inches downstream, Southhard said.
The bomb sparked fires that burned down much of what the bomb had not managed to flatten.
Southard described the months to follow, when survivors and nearby residents began to feel the effects of radiation poisoning, although they did not realize what it was at first. The symptoms included high fevers, dizziness, whole body weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding, and more. Their hair began falling out, and people became sick with leukemia. Pregnant women “suffered spontaneous abortions” and fetal anomalies, according to Southard.
“Fear gripped the city,” she said. At first, many people believed that the illnesses were contagious, so many survivors seeking shelter were turned away from family members. Many of the survivors lived in the city in shacks with no running water or heat on top of what Southard said was “charred human bones.”
In addition to high rates of cancer, the atomic bombing had an extreme psychological effect on the survivors.
“Suicides were common, especially within the first decade,” Southard said. “How do you even define what normal is in the face of nuclear annihilation?”
Southard also noted that the American media was censored from this aftermath as public officials in the U.S. deflected the discussion of what was happening in terms of radiation poisoning. Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose even told the media that the atomic bombing was “without undue suffering, a very pleasant way to die,” according to Southard. Public officials also reminded the public that Japan had been the one to start the war with the U.S.
One of the survivors that Southhard documented in her book was a then-13-year-old boy, Yoshida Naoji, who plummeted 130 feet backward and whose face and body was scorched during the blast. Southard said that Naoji’s mother cared for him for four months before he received medical treatment. He then underwent three skin graft surgeries on his face. He returned home in 1947 at the age of 15.
“He stayed hidden in his home,” Southard said.
This was common among survivors, Southard said, as there was discrimination against them in terms of marriage and employment. Both employers and potential spouses did not want to risk the long-term health problems. Potential spouses were also scared about genetic effects on children.
“It was really very devastating,” Southhard said.
Naoji did marry, though, after his mother reached out to a distant relative of an in-law. It was an arranged marriage, and Naoji had one lunch with her before she agreed to marry him.
“He was elated. He said he felt very lucky,” Southard said.
As time went on, Naoji joined other survivors to speak about what had happened at Nagasaki to educate people about the bombing and its aftermath, as well as to advocate for peace and the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
Southard ended by reading a quote from Naoji, who would explain to students to look up and understand the meaning of “peace,” even during peacetime. He said, “Our greatest enemy is carelessness. We need to pay attention to peace.”
Reach Sam Wildow at [email protected] or (937) 451-3336