'I Survived a Nuclear Bomb. Putin Risks God's Punishment'

With no warning at all, a single bomber plane appeared, and dropped one atomic bomb, detonating it in mid-air. At 11:02 on August 9, 1945, it destroyed the city of Nagasaki.

I was 3.2 kilometers from the hypocenter.

I was exposed to the atomic bomb while on the second floor of a building. I heard the sound of a bomber plane, and immediately after, I was surrounded by white light from the explosion, with no sound at all. Within seconds, I ran downstairs and lowered myself to the ground. Shortly after, I lost consciousness.

I have no recollection of the explosion's sound or blast. When I came to, I was pinned under a large glass door. Miraculously, the glass was not broken, and I survived without serious injuries.

Nagasaki picture after the atomic bomb
The hospital at Nagasaki Medical College, located only 800 meters from ground zero, was destroyed when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city at the end of World War II on August 9, 1945. Only the reinforced concrete buildings remain standing. CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

As there were hills in between I could not directly see the tragedy of that day. But three days later, I entered the area of the hypocenter. I will never be able to forget the scenes I witnessed, of the dead and seriously injured lying in all places within a two-kilometer radius, with no relief provided.

I understand that if the damage was not fatal at close range, the degree of the inherent health conditions and disabilities of the Hibakusha—as survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are known—varies. Fortunately, I did not later develop cancer or other A-bomb diseases due to radiation exposure.

At the time of the bombing, my family was comprised of five people—my mother, my brother two years older than me, myself, and two sisters, two and six years younger than me. Our father had passed away of illness seven years earlier, but the four of us who were at home at the time—my brother was away at naval school—suffered almost no direct damage, or radiation-induced atomic bomb sickness later on.

But my father and mother each had an older sister, and the families of both of my aunts were living close to the hypocenter. Of six family members, five died within 10 days of the bombing. One 19-year-old cousin of mine was seriously injured, but she recovered, and lived to just over 80 years old.

My father had been a soldier, but following Japan's defeat, the pension provided for our family was suspended. With the deaths of my aunts and other family members who had supported us both materially and emotionally, our family lost all income completely.

My brother returned to the fourth year of secondary school, and he, my mother, and I all worked to support our family. There were many days in a row where we had nothing at all to eat. Poverty continued until I finished my secondary and high school studies and was able to work and earn a regular income.

So, for me, the damage caused by the atomic bombing was being forced to live in extreme poverty.

But major developments in science and technology in the course of World War II changed the nature of weapons. The destruction of cities and the catastrophic destruction and brutal mass murder of the population, who were non-combatants, began.

The emergence and use of nuclear weapons is a prime example of this. To accept warfare that uses such weapons is to carry out words and acts against humanity. I believe that this becomes possible because people and their leaders do not attempt to imagine those who are directly impacted by war, or that the destruction and killing could happen to themselves.

People who speak of nuclear war are always speaking of it from the shadows. They, nor those around them, ever think that they could also be victims. Those people who talk about a nuclear war with no qualms must gain experience that develops their empathy so they can truly understand its consequences.

The Hibakusha have persistently wished, demanded, and shouted for the creation of a world without nuclear weapons and war. Nuclear weapons must never be used. They must not be allowed to exist on the earth. War must be prevented.

It is said that Russia's President Vladimir Putin is a committed Christian and that he believes that what is doing now in Ukraine is acting in his role as a messenger of God.

"You would certainly be punished by the God you believe in."

That is what I would tell Putin.

Vladimir Putin and Russian nuclear capable ICBM
In the image on the left, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Council of Lawmakers at the Tauride Palace, on April 27, 2022, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. On the right, Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers parade through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. Contributor/Getty Images/ ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Nuclear weapons cannot coexist with humanity. Destruction and killing by nuclear weapons is something that human beings must not do. It concerns the very existence of humanity. The leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states—U.S., Russia, China, U.K., and France—must recognize their joint statement signed in January 2022 not as words, but as facts.

"We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," says one passage of the statement. "As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented."

If Putin orders the use of nuclear weapons and they are indeed used, one of the countries opposing Russia would be in a situation of having to use nuclear weapons in retaliation. If no nuclear retaliation were to take place, this would itself be denying deterrence.

Even an initial use of tactical nuclear weapons, with a smaller scale of destruction and killing, would still be nuclear weapons. Any first use of a nuclear weapon could easily lead to a nuclear war on a global scale.

So, I call upon the leaders of the nuclear weapon states to make efforts to prevent Russia from using these weapons. And, to then resolve to abolish nuclear weapons immediately.

At this moment, I fear a prolonged war. I fear the destruction of cities and harsher living conditions for citizens. I fear global economic turmoil and an increase in corrupt financiers. I fear the collapse of what has historically accumulated regarding the state and human rights; a disregard for the country's order under law, and the survival and dignity of each individual; exposure of the negative aspects of humanity—prejudice, discrimination, and inequality.

And, I fear a delay in the realization of a world without nuclear weapons and war.

The world should learn from the experiences of those of us who suffered the atomic bombing of Japan. Disputes between nations must be resolved through dialogue. War must be eliminated and the spirit of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution—in which Japan renounced the sovereign right of our nation to wage war or to threaten or use force to settle international disputes—must become a global norm.

Terumi Tanaka survivor of Nagasaki bombing
In this picture taken on July 28, 2020, 88-year-old Terumi Tanaka, who survived the Nagasaki atomic bombing in 1945, poses for a picture at Zojoji Temple in Tokyo. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images

I have learned from my experiences that the most important things in life are to recognize the diversity of people, to hide things as little as possible, to value people's positive aspects, and to trust each other.

I suffered extreme poverty after the atomic bombing, but even when I did not seek to rely on others and made various efforts, assistance was naturally extended to me. I have always felt like a natural creature—eating, exercising, not relying on medicine as much as possible, and trying to strengthen my body, both muscles, and organs. I think this is the source of my long life.

Now, I hope for the world to become a diverse, free, and democratic union of groups of citizens, not concerned with ethnicity or nation-states, built upon relationships appropriate to each culture and economy. I hope for a world that is free, equal, and fraternal to be created.

It is important to be kind to people and to make a positive effort in all you do. In the end, life is a series of coincidences; serendipity. If you make positive efforts, good coincidences will happen. While I do believe it is important to have a big, gradual plan and to have hope, I don't believe any life can ever go as planned.

Terumi Tanaka is a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing and a lifelong campaigner against nuclear weapons. He is a co-chairperson of Nihon Hidankyo, a Japanese organization for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as Hibakusha.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.