Students’ meeting at U.N. highlights atomic bombs

About 50 students from the United States and Japan gathered at the U.N. headquarters Friday to hear about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and discuss a world without nuclear weapons.

As the centerpiece of the program, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow, 84, recounted her own experiences on Aug. 6, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was dropped, telling students that “The entire city disappeared and everyone became homeless.”

The dwindling number of atomic bomb survivors, known as hibakusha, has prompted concern in some quarters that the younger generation will have less opportunity to learn about their experiences.

In 2010, Hidenori Watanave, an associate professor of system design at Tokyo Metropolitan University and visiting scholar at Harvard University, created the online “Nagasaki Archive” and later the “Hiroshima Archive” using students and volunteers to preserve such stories through technology.

Coinciding with the International Day of Peace, the youth peace conference brought seven Japanese high schoolers and six college students together with 34 New Yorkers for the first time.

“Specifically my generation, in particular, holds a lot more responsibility for hearing these sorts of stories because my generation is truly one of the last to be able to get this sort of hands-on communication,” Reese Graham said.

The United Nations International School 11th grader said the experience was “much more emotional” than reading a textbook and was positive about the potential of the digital archives.

During the program, students asked Thurlow a range of questions. When she answered one from a New York high school student whose Chinese relatives suffered under the Japanese during World War II, their interaction prompted tears, with Thurlow apologizing to the girl for what the Japanese soldiers had done.

For Hiroshima Jogakuin High School student Yuri Fujimoto, 15, the meeting was a reminder of the importance of not forgetting the past. “We want to keep the hibakusha’s experiences alive and pass them on to the next generation,” she said.

“The more information, the more knowledge disseminated, creates more interest for people to pick up books and to further study,” Thurlow said of the digital archives. “I think information and knowledge is the essence for finding a way to the solution.”


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