I want to tell you a story—a true, personal story. (To save time, I’ll just tell you I’m 73!)
I was one year old when nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Six years later our family moved to Hiroshima. My father, Dr. Earle Reynolds, was a scientist. The Atomic Energy Commission sent him to study the effects of radiation on children exposed to the bomb.
For 3 years, Dad studied 4800 children. In his spare time he built a 50-foot yacht named Phoenix of Hiroshima. In 1954 Dad submitted his findings on the dangers of radiation to the Atomic Energy Commission. Then our family sailed the Phoenix around the world. Three young yachtsmen from Hiroshima went with us. This was only 9 years after our countries had been at war with each other.
We sailed around the world for 3-1/2 years. Two of our Japanese crew flew back to Hiroshima but Niichi Mikami stayed with us. When we reached Honolulu in 1958, we were looking forward to sailing home to Hiroshima.
But the United States was testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. Our government had just issued an injunction forbidding American citizens to enter that zone. It covered 390,000 square miles of ocean. We had to sail through that area to get back to Japan.
The same Atomic Energy Commission which had hired Dad to find out the dangers of radiation was in charge of testing nuclear weapons. My dad had written up his findings that radiation causes cancer and is not healthy for human beings. He knew that added radiation from each nuclear test was poisoning the world’s air and seas for decades to come. But the Atomic Energy Commission had suppressed Dad’s findings so they could assure the American public that nuclear tests are safe.
My father the scientist became my father the activist and our pleasure cruise became one of protest. In 1958 I was 14, my brother Ted was 20. Our family and Niichi Mikami chose to sail the Phoenix into the test zone as a protest against nuclear testing. Dad was arrested, tried and convicted of trespass. Our government would later blackball him so he never got a job in his field again.
In 1961 we sailed to Nakhodka, USSR to protest Soviet nuclear testing—a normal American father, mother, 23-year old son, 17-year old daughter, a yachtsman friend and two cats. (I wonder what the Russians thought when they saw us coming!) By this time we had letters and telegrams from hundreds of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, appealing for a nuclear ban. We had a good talk about peace with the captain of the Soviet Coast Guard boat which stopped us. But he refused to take the appeals. He turned us away.
Back in Japan, we felt we had made no difference. My mother, Barbara Reynolds, felt a responsibility to get the appeals to the leaders of the world. On Christmas Day, 1961, she sat in the Hiroshima Peace Park, at the foot of the monument dedicated to the children killed by the atomic bomb. She fasted and prayed there all day, appealing to whatever Supreme Being or Higher Power there was—for wisdom to know what to do with all the appeals of the hibakusha, the bomb survivors.
The answer came: the hibakusha themselves–the only human beings to live through a nuclear attack–must take these appeals to the world! With the city’s blessing, my mother accompanied two survivors on a Peace Pilgrimage to the leaders of the nuclear nations and to the United Nations. Then she accompanied 25 of them, from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on a Peace Study MIssion. When my mother died, the grateful hibakusha erected a monument to her in the Peace Park—their Ground Zero.
The Phoenix of Hiroshima, the brave wooden boat that took us into the Pacific test zone and to the USSR, is now at the bottom of the Sacramento River. Many people are trying to raise and restore her as a historic artifact, a piece of history. Our website is phoenixofhiroshima.org.
Now, finally, we have hope. The United Nations is considering a ban on nuclear weapons. The children my dad studied when I was a child myself are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. They are coming to the UN with an appeal signed by nearly 3,000,000 people, their own unique, single, heartfelt message: Don’t let what happened to us happen again anywhere to anybody!
Let us stand in solidarity with the hibakusha: No more Hiroshima! No more Nagasaki!
Jessica Renshaw firstname.lastname@example.org