“Fire and fury like the world has never seen before.” — U.S. President Donald Trump, August 8, 2017
“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” U.S. President Donald Trump, September 4, 2017
When U.S. President Donald Trump escalates rhetoric from an ocean away, it’s North Korea’s neighbours who get ulcers thinking about consequences. It’s not lost on observers that when North Korea shot a missile recently, it flew straight over Japan — and not in the direction of the U.S. airbase in Guam.
When North Korea reportedly detonated the hydrogen bomb, said to be seven times more powerful than the bomb in Hiroshima, the people in the neighbouring countries are the ones who lose sleep, imagining where this will lead.
Trump’s casual “fire and fury” rhetoric is very saddening to me as a Japanese-Canadian.
They called it the "pikadon"
I grew up watching footage of atom bomb victims and heard their stories on Japanese language news. As a child, I was horrified by the details described by survivors. They called it the “pikadon,” or the ‘flash-boom.’ First, a huge eerie white burst of light in the sky... then a deafening blast.
Those who weren’t blinded saw ‘hell-on-earth’ imagery of charred victims wandering the streets in a daze, their skin peeling off. A child walking while clutching his stomach to keep his intestines from bursting out. Survivors lying in pain in stuffy, cramped rooms in the hot summer heat, flies and maggots assembling on their wounds. Thirsty burn victims drinking “black rain” that showered the city, not realizing the water was radioactive.
There are anecdotal stories about how the bomb affected people for multiple generations. Young survivors lucky enough to have come out of the a-bomb without keloid scars nonetheless faced discrimination as they left Hiroshima, and were rejected as marriage candidates because of radiation health risks.
There are some images in particular that remain in my mind, like that of a mother whose body was described by a witness, Mitsuko Taguchi, a 30-year-old in Hiroshima at the time whose story is documented in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Taguchi illustrated the woman and wrote: “She must have been carrying her baby and couldn’t run away in time. Her hair stood on end like a lion’s mane, and she sheltered her baby under her chest. Her eyes were wide open, almost as if she were still alive, and to this day I can’t forget her.”
Then there’s the image of dead boys piled “like lumber” in a circle. Their school uniforms indicated they were students in Grade 7 and 8. The witness Kiyomi Kono — 14 at the time — was shocked by the sight, and continued to place flowers in front of this site in Hiroshima for years after the bomb.
I blame ignorance
It’s unclear if Trump, sitting in Washington watching Fox News, has ever imagined a nuclear weapon being used on his fellow Americans. Has he ever pictured his own voters in places like Ohio wandering the streets in a daze, their bodies radiated and cities flattened as the result of a reckless war?
When nuclear powers raise the stakes with belligerent words, it’s people in cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki who feel revived PTSD for being the only places on earth to have suffered a nuclear bomb.
In Newsweek Japan, a columnist noted, “Trump’s rhetoric echoes that of U.S. President Truman right before he dropped the atom bomb.”
“In Hiroshima, 140,000 lives were lost, and in Nagasaki, 70,000,” the author wrote. “Now is the time that Trump should learn the lessons of history.”
I partially blame Trump’s apparent ignorance on the sanitized accounts of war he may have heard about the U.S. using the atom bomb on civilians.
Whenever nuclear bombs are discussed in the U.S. news, someone inevitably points out that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs “saved lives." Some Japanese, including the authors of Hiroshima Peace Media, reject the 'a-bomb as life-saver' narrative as having no basis in fact, used to legitimize the bombing.
Trump is goading the hostage-taker
Do people like Trump, Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner really think of nuclear war as something that could directly affect themselves, or their children? Some White House staff don't like accepting refugees into the U.S.... where do they imagine people will flee to if North and South Korea and Japan become a war zone?
It doesn’t go unnoticed by Japanese media that the Trump administration’s ‘preoccupation with North Korea’ is ‘troublesome for Asia.’ Thousands of South Korean (and American) lives are at risk in Seoul, South Korea, if war erupts. More than 136,663 U.S. citizens live and work in South Korea, including the Pusan National University associate professor whose online BBC interview, interrupted by his children, went viral this year.
North Korea is like a hostage-taker that Trump is taunting and goading, and the hostages are the neighbours who will suffer the consequences if talks don’t happen soon. Before dismissing the option of peaceful talks, decision-makers need to take a hard look at images showing the human cost of nuclear war.
According to a BBC report, Trump has long thought about nuclear weapons. Even though his advisors have told him these weapons can't be used, he's refused to take the option off the table. The dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be quaking in their graves to hear of the possibility of another nuclear conflict, as if the lessons of history weren't tragic enough to pay attention to.