The Scars of War

Every so often, current events intersect with a book I’ve edited. At the moment, the event is President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Japan, and the book is Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson, which releases on October 1.

In thinking about Sachiko’s story and the press coverage of Obama’s visit, a well-known quotation from William Faulkner keeps coming to mind: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A college English professor first introduced me to the quote, but I don’t think I truly understood it until this year.
Sachiko begins in early August 1945 when Sachiko is six years old, living with her family in Nagasaki. Just days later, the atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9). The book ends in August 1995. It took fifty years for Sachiko to make peace with what she’d experienced and to find the courage to speak out. Sachiko’s journey was not a passive one–she sought out wisdom from Helen Keller, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. For Sachiko, the key to recovering from war was studying peace.

Sachiko, at about age 12. In the years after the
bombing, she lived in a small shack with
her family, and she would often sit outside
on a rock to study. 
From all the press coverage and controversy surrounding Obama’s trip, it is evident that for many people, the scars of war still remain.

Caren Stelson first met Sachiko in 2005, and telling Sachiko’s story took her years as she interviewed Sachiko on multiple trips to Nagasaki, researched, and wrote. I asked Caren to share her thoughts on Obama’s visit in light of all the time she has spent studying Sachiko, war, and peace. She said:

“I applaud President Obama’s historic decision to visit Hiroshima this week. Obama’s visit reminds us of the critical work of peace ahead of us for the world to survive intact. The destructive capabilities of the atomic bombs the US dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are puny compared to today’s nuclear capability.

“Let us remember that most of the people who died in these cities were civilians—including women and children. The hibakusha,the survivors, have much to teach the world about nuclear holocaust, if only we take the time to listen. No one on earth would want to live through what the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced. Today, with the spread of growing political extremism, power struggles, racism, and technological advances in weaponry, are we headed into the same abyss of seventy years ago? Let us heed the cry of the only people in the world who have experienced nuclear war, the aging hibakusha: ‘Never again. Never again.’ May President Obama repeat those words loudly, ‘Never again.’ And may the new leaders of the world take heed.”