By Contributor on March 14, 2011

By Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Keiko Ogura writes me from Japan: "The number of hibakusha is increasing." The Japanese term, which was once used to refer to the atomic bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has come to mean any person poisoned by radiation in nuclear testing, accidents or acts of war.

It will be years before we know the true number of new hibakusha.

Keiko herself is a hibakusha -- one of many I interviewed when I lived in Hiroshima in 2001. She was 8 when the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. She saw the black rain. She gave water to the dying. Her father cremated piles of bodies for weeks. She has devoted her life to peace activism, and is the founder and leader of the Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace.

In August 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 170,000 people were killed immediately, but the total number of "bomb-affected people" peaked around 380,000. These are people who may not even have appeared sick immediately, but have suffered high rates of cancer, blood disorders, fatigue and other ailments over a period of years. They were not all in the city centers when the bomb was dropped; some came in later to search for family members and help with rescue and cleanup.

What we know about radiation exposure and its effects on living creatures comes from Japan. The fact that there is so much that is not common knowledge is also Japan's legacy. After the bombs were dropped, pictures and video were censored, confiscated and classified, and news reports limited.

America did not see the charred bodies clogging the rivers, or the people with their skin hanging off like rags. The American and Japanese governments established the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission to study the immediate and long-term effects in humans, according to age, location and other factors. My great-aunt worked for this organization as file clerk and, sometimes, translator -- traveling with the doctors, asking for the bodies of the dead babies. She was very proud to be helping until she realized the data was being classified and medical care was not being provided.

In 1957, the Hibakusha Medical Law allowed for examinations and treatment at the Japanese government's expense. As a result, doctors in Japan have more experience than anywhere else in the world with identifying and managing radiation-related illnesses. They cannot, however, provide a cure. Radiation cannot be healed, nor does it go away.

The official talk about "acceptable radiation levels," as a way to downplay the threat to human health, does not serve anyone. If we downplay the effects of radiation, and change our modeling to allow for higher acceptable levels, as some scientists are calling for, we only desensitize ourselves and put ourselves at greater risk of accidents, fallout from nuclear testing, and the potential use of nuclear weapons in war.

We have already made this mistake once: If we had been able to witness the horrors that the atomic bomb victims suffered, I believe there would have been no public support for the nuclear arms race or for nuclear energy. We must support all the hibakusha, and especially the new ones, by being honest about the effects of radiation on our health.

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto is the author of the memoir "Hiroshima in the Morning," which was a finalist for this year's National Book Critics Circle Awards. Her first novel, "Why She Left Us," won an American Book Award in 2000. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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