Mary Dickson: Let there be no more Hibakusha

(Kyodo News via AP) A man prays for the atomic bomb victims in front of the cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park during a ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary of the bombing, Aug. 6, 2019.

Fifteen years ago, on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I spent two weeks in Japan with American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute.

After I spoke at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, a woman who had been an infant when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima approached me in tears and told me I was an American Hibakusha — the Japanese word for survivors of the bomb.

That day, I realized that I, too, am a Hibakusha. I am a survivor of the atomic bombs exploded on American soil by our own government — all in the guise of protecting us.

Like tens of thousands of other Americans, I grew up under the clouds of fallout from nuclear testing and later developed cancer. How were any of us to know that a silent poison was threading its way through our bodies when our government repeatedly assured us that, “There is no danger.”

How were we to know that the radioactive debris in those awe-inspiring, towering mushroom clouds would devastate families and communities across America? We blithely went about our lives assuming we were safe.

What’s always been hard to reconcile is that our government knew the facts about what testing did to people and lied to us for decades.

We were expendable.

Which is why it outrages me that this administration, which I doubt knows the staggering human cost of our nuclear past, is considering resuming nuclear testing. And for what? There is no military purpose. We possess the most powerful nuclear deterrent in the world.

The president’s budget for the next year proposes a 19% increase for nuclear weapons. The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes $10 million to prepare for an explosive nuclear test. A Defense Department official has said such a test could be conducted within months, if ordered.

This is utterly immoral, given what we know. Sounder minds have introduced the PLANET Act (Preserving Leadership Against Nuclear Explosives Testing) in the House and Senate to prohibit the use of funds for such tests. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, is a House co-sponsor of PLANET. He also successfully pushed the House to include language in the FY 21 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill blocking any spending on nuclear testing. Our other representatives voted against including that language.

What I can’t understand is why McAdams alone in our entire congressional delegation is actively working to prevent the resumption of nuclear testing. Do the others not understand how many of their constituents have suffered?

This is, and always has been, a bipartisan issue. Republicans have been part of the opposition to nuclear testing. It was George H.W. Bush who halted nuclear testing in 1992 and Ronald Reagan who wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Ironically, the consideration of resumed testing comes at the same time bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), so that it includes downwinders in the entire state of Utah and other states.

Again, McAdams is the only one of our delegation who has signed his name to RECA expansion. When I wrote to my representative, Chris Stewart, asking him where he stood on these important questions for Utahns, I didn’t get a response. His challenger, Kael Weston, on the other hand, has made these issues part of his campaign.

The story of nuclear testing and its consequences is not included in American history books. Unfortunately, Most Americans — and that includes our elected representatives — don’t know the full story.

On the 75th anniversary of America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, my hope is that those of us who understand the tragedy of nuclear weapons demand that the mistakes of the past never be repeated and that no government ever again sacrifices innocent human beings to nuclear weapons.

Let there be no more Hibakusha.

Mary Dickson

Mary Dickson is a Salt Lake City writer whose award-winning play, “Exposed,” puts a human face on the human cost of nuclear testing. She was recognized by the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility for her lifetime work on behalf of downwinders.