Never Again

When you hear those in power trying to convince you that Nuclear bombs and weaponry are necessary please read this.

Akiko Seitelbach was 22 years old, and working at Mitsubishi Electrical as a volunteer, when the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki.

On 9 August 1945, I was working in the supply office. I was a little tired, so I got up to stretch my legs and walked over to the end of the office where there was a big window looking over Nagasaki harbour.

The scenery was beautiful, the sun was shining brightly and I was looking across the bay.

Then suddenly I saw this flash of light, above the railway station, and my boss yelled at me: ‘Get away from the window!’

So I turned and tried to walk back to my desk. Then suddenly the building was hit with such force it was like a small boat in a storm – it shook.

And I threw myself face down on the floor to cover my head with my hands, something we were trained to do.

A shockwave came and the air was filled with acrid dust. The building kept shaking, and things were falling on my body and head. My mother had died the year before and I prayed to her.

Then after a while it stopped, so I got up and looked around. The air was still filled with yellow dust and I ran downstairs towards the air raid shelter.

I ran through the factory. I felt something was very wrong – it was so bright. When I got to the shelter it was dark, as the electricity had gone, but I could feel people moving around.

My boss came and found me and said: ‘Oh you are safe.’ He said: ‘They are calling for you – you volunteered to do first aid.’

So I said, ‘Oh heavens I did!’ I got up and went to the other end of the air raid shelter. There was a doctor, and although he was wounded, he was also trying to help other people.

People were sort of dazed, their clothes torn to shreds, their bodies burned and just standing there silently.

The doctor pointed out one man. All his clothes were torn and his body was covered in burns. He was shivering and said: ‘I’m cold, I’m cold’. So I put some ointment on him, but I thought: ‘This isn’t going to help.’

Then the doctor said: ‘Go and stay with that young boy on the makeshift bed.’

They used high school kids as volunteers in the factories. He must have been about 15. He had a big gash on his neck. He opened his eyes and said: ‘You know I’m going to die.’

I said: ‘Your mother’s coming, you’re not going to die.’ He said: ‘Can’t you hear my blood dripping? I know I’m going to die.’ Then he was gone.

Altered landscape

Later on, at about 5pm, my boss suggested we try to get home. I didn’t know it had been an atomic explosion.

We walked out of the shelter, passed the destruction and onto the road in front of our building. I knew something was very wrong, something terrible had happened.

I looked out across the bay, and Nagasaki was a big bonfire, just burning, and then I thought about Hiroshima.

I thought: ‘Maybe it’s one of the new bombs.’ But I didn’t have any feelings about that. When you’re shocked you don’t feel anything. I wasn’t even scared.

We couldn’t get our bearings because all the familiar landmarks had disappeared. And when we ran through the roads between houses still burning on both sides, the scorching heat nearly overwhelmed us.

I didn’t see any living creatures or green plants. We ran and ran through these empty spaces.

Then suddenly I stopped.

Something was coming toward me. It was a man but he didn’t look like a man. He had no hair, his face was swollen to about twice the normal size, and loose skin hung down from his arms and legs like seaweed.

He was walking towards me and I was so scared I tried to avoid him.

I heard him saying ‘Water, water’ as he passed me. So I turned around to go to him but he had collapsed, dead.

The next day we tried to catch a train north, but train after train was filled with burns victims and wounded.

And they told us about their experiences – the blast and the incinerating heat, and the black rain that fell from the sky. It was weird and sort of supernatural.

This interview is from the series ‘August 1945’, from 3-14 August on BBC Radio 4, at 8.55 BST Mondays-Saturday, and at 9.55 BST on Sunday.

As posted at the BBC.

7 replies on “Never Again”

  1. Yes nuclear bombs are horrible. However, all bombs are horrible. I don’t see how this is evidence that those dropped on Japan were a mistake. I also don’t think this answers the argument of what to do if you don’t have nuclear weapons but your enemies do.

  2. Jason:

    Number 1: I never said or indicated Nagasaki or Hiroshima were a mistake.

    #2: You have to look at who your enemies are and their real capabilities. Does NKs 4 or 5 nukes make them able to defeat the United States? Of course not. In fact, it’s far more likely that Russia would destroy the US in one fell swoop… by ACCIDENT… then a North Korean nuclear tipped missile hit Seattle.

    But we can be sure that as long as the Russians and US have 10s of 1000s of nukes there will be plenty of other people who will want to be in the club.

    The only way to rid ourselves of the possibility is to show that we have no interest in using them… something the US and Russia have failed miserably, over the past few years, to do.


    The Rape of Nanking. Never again. 400,000 innocent Chinese civilians, men, women and children slaughtered by the Japanese army as a matter of policy and government. Never again. Japan will be at war no more.


    “The only way to rid ourselves of the possibility is to show that we have no interest in using them… something the US and Russia have failed miserably, over the past few years, to do.”

    Chris, who do you mean by “we”?

    I read a lot and try to keep up but I must confess that I’ve never heard a member of the US government indicate that the US was contemplating dropping nukes on on anybody as a matter of policy especially after the collapse of the USSR. I know, I know – the guy whose name escapes me at the moment – but he is a congressman (Tancredo?) who will never have the kind of power to make that decision suggested we mayl nuke Mecca to retaliate if Islamic terrorists detonate any kind of nuclear device within the US. But a first strike? Nuclear aggression? What are you thinking the US will do? I just can’t even begin to contemplate such an unthinkable act.

  4. “we” being the Western countries who brought them into being. Most of that responsibility falls on the US and Russia however because obviously they are the two with the largest arsenals in the world… and they are two driving development of new bombs.

    Yes what happened in Nanking was terrible… but if you’re trying to use that as a comparison to Hiroshima and Nagasaki… when you get into the sorts of numbers and suffering we’re talking about I personally think excuses and relativism start to sound very hollow.

    Why would the US and Russians have nukes if they weren’t prepared to use them at some point? They’re certainly not window dressing.

    The Russians have been developing more nukes to make up for the decrepid state of their conventional forces. And Bush and Rumsfeld and Co. haven’t been shy about taking about, or “deferring comment” on things like Bunker Busters, “Tactical nukes” and, of course… the constant undermining of the NPT and resumption of nuclear testing.

  5. Your post highlighted the horror inflicted on the Japanese and the survivor (and the nun) emphasised that killing Japanese civilians was barbaric. What was done to them directly resulted from their own barbarism. However, the atomic bombs saved lives, my countrymen’s lives. What did the Rape of Nanking achieve? It’s only natural that you fail to see the parallel or equivalency. After all in your ken, the evil we live with is primarily generated by western countries.

    I agree wholeheartedly that nuclear weapons are an absolute horror but your insistence that George Bush is the primary villian in this situation is not very convincing. It’s been more than a decade since the USSR fell and a few other national and world leaders coming before GWB have as much to answer for IMO when it comes to resolving our “nuke” problems.

    Anyway, dismissing Japanese aggression as insignificant compared to Hiroshima and Nagasaki is just not going to fly:
    Without Japan’s interference in China, we might have never had the horror of Mao and his reign of terror. Japan’s aggression had more than a negative impact on its mainland neighbor. It was disasterous.

    FOR NEARLY A HUNDRED YEARS, China’s history has been a history of frustration and suffering from both internal turmoil created by the Chinese themselves and external aggressions launched by foreign powers. These disasters from within and without were inextricably linked as cause and result — the chicken and the egg of the familiar conundrum. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the Japanese aggressions against China played a decisive role in changing China’s destiny.

    As early as the 1890s, in the initial period of China’s modernization, Japan mounted its first invasion „ the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, which completely destroyed the foundation of China’s development as a modern society.

    In the 1930s, at a crucial time when China had started once again to industrialize, Japan, driven by its militarism, launched a full-scale invasion – the “Manchuria Incident” in 1931, followed by the “Marco Polo Incident” in 1937, followed by all-out war and occupation. Once again, China lost its opportunity to transform itself into a modern and democratic society.

    For more than fifty years after the war, the Japanese public, and especially its intellectuals, have been expressing regret and remorse for what their government did to China during the war. But a coalition of conservative parties, bureaucrats, and business leaders has lacked the courage to admit Japanese war crimes, or to publicly apologize for Japan’s wrongdoing against her neighbors.

    “Japan must apologize for its aggression and offer compensation,” wrote Nobel Literature Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe in a New York Times Magazine article titled “Denying History Disables Japan” (July 2, 1995). “Without that rehabilitation we shall never be able to eradicate the ambivalence in our attitude toward our neighbors.” Here Oe fathoms a profound point.

    The Chinese have a tendency to forget their past. May this book awaken their painful memories, and also arouse the collective conscience and historical memory of the citizens of Japan.

  6. “Why would the US and Russians have nukes if they weren’t prepared to use them at some point? They’re certainly not window dressing” Chris

    One more comment and then I really have to go home. You obviously don’t appreciate the finer points of international diplomacy and the oh so subtle games that men love to play. MAD ring any bells? That’s what a large majority of the animal kingdom uses to keep potential threats at bay. A lot of posturing, growling, bared fangs, raised heads, pawing the air and aborted runs at each other. It’s about holding your territory, Chris. The US and the USSR developed the concept into a global stalemate meant to deter nuclear aggression.

    Nukes are the ultimate threat to keep your enemy from attacking. The problem now arises because it’s not the Western nations that seem eager to bomb anybody but our erstwhile Imans and Mullahs who don’t seem to mind turning their own country into a wasteland if it will cause suffering to their enemies and rid the globe of the hated Jews and infidels like you and I. At least that is what they have been saying the last couple of years.

    We invented bunker busters to get at nukes buried under concrete in an attempt to evade destruction – MAD is the common terminology. No doubt someother deterent is on the horizon – maybe a missle shield?

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