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Letters from Hiroshima: The people of an A-bombed city write to President Obama, Part 3

Nanako Yoshida (Mainichi)

During his visit to Japan for the May 26 and 27 G-7 Summit in the Ise-Shima region of Mie Prefecture, United States President Barack Obama is to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. The Mainichi Shimbun's Hiroshima Bureau has asked atomic bombing survivors and other related individuals to write letters to Obama with their thoughts.

The third letter in this series is from 17-year-old Nanako Yoshida, a second-year student at Notre Dame Seishin Senior High School in Hiroshima, who lives in the city's Aki Ward. Yoshida learned about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima from her grandfather, Michiaki Shoji, who was exposed to radiation from the bombing while working on the deconstruction of a building. He died six years ago at the age of 81. She says that when her grandfather would talk about the atomic bombing, he would speak earnestly with gestures, looking straight at the other person.

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Dear Mr. President,

When the atomic bomb was dropped at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, my grandfather, aged 16 at the time, was 1.7 kilometers away from the hypocenter. He was hit by an intense blast of searing hot wind. He described the experience as pandemonium, and like being in hell.

My grandfather's feet and hands were hideously burned, and as he lay there close to death, numerous people came to offer him help. One person -- despite having also sustained burns -- carried him to safety, while another performed emergency treatment on his wounds by rubbing them with a raw grated potato. And because my grandfather was unable to move, someone eventually took him back home via bicycle-drawn cart.

When my grandfather told these stories, he always expressed how deeply grateful he felt toward these people. And then he said: "People have to help each other."

To me, these words are the very root of peace itself. As my grandfather was in the midst of horror, what saved his life was the thoughtfulness of other people. And because of those people, I myself am alive today. By helping each other, then, we actually save many lives.

So what I would like to ask you, President Obama, is to please help make people around the world understand the importance of helping each other. Please tell the world that in order to stop wars, we do not need nuclear weapons. What we need, rather, is a sense of caring toward other people.

Your diplomacy and your disarmament efforts -- such as the speech that you gave in Prague -- have greatly inspired us. Your actions have been like a ray of hope, and in order that this light does not become extinguished, I would like to ask you to once again reconsider the military situation as it stands at present.

If nations make efforts to resolve the antagonistic relations that exist between them, and if more discussions are held than are taking place at present, I believe that nuclear disarmament can be achieved. And I believe that this type of cooperative diplomacy is something that the United States is in the best position to achieve.

More than anything, however, I want you to know about the atomic bombing -- and to tell the rest of the world about its horrors.

What we have here in Hiroshima is the raw pain and sadness of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), rather than data about the bomb's ability to kill and wound people. And this is not something that can be felt until you have seen their relics and heard their voices speaking to you directly in person.

Before the last hibakusha dies, then, please meet with them directly. If you do so, it will provide a chance for many people to begin to question the existence of nuclear weapons.

I am currently involved in petition drives and letter-writing campaigns aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons. And even as I see how little progress is being made on this matter, I continue to engage in these actions because I believe that by doing so, our goal is still a possibility. And many others in Hiroshima feel the same way as I do.

As a United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Youth Ambassador, I have many opportunities this year to speak on this matter -- and I intend to use them to make Hiroshima's powerful message known.

Finally, I would like to tell you that up until his death six years ago, my grandfather did not talk much about the permanent damage that was inflicted upon his body as a result of the atomic bomb. He did not mention the pain he suffered during his long battle with cancer, or the fact that he had to give up his dream to become a chef because of the keloids that remained on his arms. These stories I heard not from him directly, but from my grandmother.

More so than the savagery of the atomic bombing, I believe the reason why my grandfather did not talk about these things was in fact because he preferred to talk about the art of creating a peaceful future.

I believe that we now have the responsibility to practice this art, and put it into action. And in a peaceful world that has been created through our caring for one another, we need neither nuclear weapons nor the desire to compete with each other.

Please, President Obama, can we hear you say "Yes, we can!" one more time here in Hiroshima?

Thank you very much.

Yours sincerely,

Nanako Yoshida, second-year high school student

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Nanako Yoshida

Yoshida learned about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima from her grandfather. He wore long sleeves because he was self-conscious about keloid scars on his arms left from his injuries in the bombing. He wanted to be a chef but said that people wouldn't eat his food when they saw the scars, so he gave up the idea and was instead involved in managing a taxi company. Yoshida became interested in peace activities after visiting Nagasaki on a field trip during her third year of junior high school. She began working as a UNITAR Youth Ambassador together with another high school student in April this year. She is learning about diplomacy through visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to embassies, and intends to send out messages of peace through workshops.

"If I, a third-generation hibakusha, call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, then everyone may take notice," she says. "Those from my generation are doing their best and I believe our dream is not unachievable if we work hard together."

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