Why Senji Yamaguchi--A Survivor of Nagasaki--Should Win the Nobel Peace Prize

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Mr. Abrams is the author of The Nobel Peace Prize 1901-2001 and is eligible to nominate candidates for the prize as a university history professor emeritus at Antioch College and University. Below is his adaptation of the letter of nomination for 2005, which he sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The deadline for submission was February 1, 2005.

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This year is the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, as well as of the coming five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it is good that several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize of 2005 have been made with the threat of nuclear weapons in mind, whose use could result in the extinction of human life on this planet.

The American Friends Service Committee has nominated Nihon Hidankyo, the international confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers; Senator Richard Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn have been nominated for their effective program of dismantling Soviet nuclear warheads; and it is likely that Dr, Mohammed El Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been nominated again. He was a favorite last year and is currently active concerning nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea

My own nominee, however, is Senji Yamaguchi, a victim of the Nagasaki bombing himself who has been an international leader in the popular campaign to ban nuclear weapons. A prize for him would not only add to the Nobel pantheon of peace an extraordinarily courageous man who has given most of his life to the effort to prevent any future Hiroshimas and Nagasakis, but whose vivid tellings of his own experience of sufferings can help the rest of us better understand just what a nuclear weapon can do to a human being.

The photograph of Yamaguchi's badly burned body has been widely circulated in the campaigns against nuclear weapons. Before his many surgical operations, he had to avoid looking at his scarred face in the mirror and his appearance so scared children that they ran away from him. He tells how when the once beautiful young woman who had been in a hospital bed near him was finally to be released, she was found in the woods outside the hospital having hanged herself. Like other survivors, whose mental and physical agonies have never left them, Yamaguchi thought often of suicide. Once he actually came very close to killing himself. But, for himself and other survivors, as he has explained, "the campaign against A and H bombs has been one of the reasons for not throwing away their lives. "

In Yamaguchi's "Welcoming Address at a World Conference Against A and H Bombs," he described the dreadful spectacle that confronted him in Nakasaki when he came to his senses after the bomb had left him unconscious. The scene was the same as it had been in Hiroshima: "On that fateful day in August, Hiroshima was truly a living hell. Its seven rivers were crammed with corpses. The ground was covered with charred bodies and people with red skin peeling off them. Bodies scattered everywhere - decapitated, split open, stomachs swollen like drums, eyes popping out of heads: a hell on earth such as has never been depicted by the art of human hand. This was the terrifying world that unfolded on that day."

Senji Yamaguchi was a high school student, 14 years old, when that bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, which killed so many thousands at that moment and so many more in later months and years. He miraculously survived, but with severe bodily and psychic wounds. In 1956 he was able to help organize the earliest organization of bomb survivors, then a youth association. Today he and the other such victims, called the Hibakusha, are of average age more than 70 and will not be with us much longer to tell their personal experiences of the horror of the bomb, still another reason why a prize for Yamaguchi would be so important this year.

Despite his injuries, Yamaguchi went on to help organize and lead associations of bomb victims and to speak, representing Nihon Hidankyo, and even the city of Nagasaki, at national and international meetings protesting nuclear weapons, sometimes having to rise from a hospital bed to attend them and returning there afterwards, always delivering a memorable speech, made more moving by reference to his personal experiences. He has explained, "Whenever I deliver a speech, I am exhausted and feel numb when it is over. I want to communicate all my feelings, outrage, sadness and hope, in a condensed way. I put all my strength into delivering a speech. The images of charred bodies of children and other victims cross my mind one after another. I want others to understand the feelings of those who died."

In 1982 he addressed the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. In 2002 during the commemorative ceremony in Nagasaki, a major television network cut off the speech of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in mid-sentence to interview Yamaguchi. This tells us something about how he is regarded in his own country. As the title of his autobiography, Burnt, Yet Undaunted, indicates, it is the story a man who crept out of that "hell on earth" and has fought for the very survival of the human race ever since.

Another anniversary this year is the 1955 declaration of prominent world scientists, most of them Nobel laureates, who opposed the use of nuclear weapons and their testing. Called the Russell-Einstein Manifesto after Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, the chief signatories, the statement recognized that nuclear bombs, now much more powerful than those used in Hiroshima-Nagasaki, could put an end to the human race. Speaking as world citizens, beyond the partisanship of the Cold War, they appealed "as human beings to human beings. Remember your humanity and forget the rest."

In 1995, Joseph Rotblat, one of the original signers of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, was granted the Nobel Peace Prize. In his Nobel lecture he quoted the final passage of that Manifesto, which was issued when Yamaguchi was still recovering from his bomb injuries but about to help organize the association of young victims which became the organization of survivors of atomic and hydrogen bombs. In the 21 years up to 2002, Yamaguchi was every year elected co-chair of that organization in the annual elections.

The nuclear weapons are still very much with us, with the threat of their use not lessened since the Cold War ended. A prize for Senji Yamaguchi would give world attention to his personal story and to the cause for which he has worked most of his life --- "No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!" It might bring that cause nearer to achievement by helping the world's leaders hearken to the words with which Joseph Rotblat ended his Nobel lecture,"Above all, remember your humanity."



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