Authors: Setsuko Thurlow, Yumi Kanazaki
Publisher: Iwanami Shoten
Price: 1,800 yen (plus tax)

By Kiyomi KAWANO

Hikari ni mukatte hatte ike—Kaku naki sekai wo oimotomete (Crawl toward the Light—Pursuing a World without Nuclear Weapons) is an autobiography of a hibakusha, Setsuko Thurlow, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who represented the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) at the award ceremony in December 2017, whose brave figure (?) at the reception speech is still fresh in our minds. The book was compiled by a journalist Yumi Kanazaki.

The book starts off as her reminiscence of childhood, but as it goes through her experience of the atomic bombing, it gradually unfolds the bird’s eye view of the global antinuclear campaign involving the government and private sectors. Basing on her own experience as an antinuclear activist, rallying together with the government and sensible people, perhaps this is the first book that teaches us the worldwide movement from a global perspective regarding what she calls “activism” that is not merely an empty theory on a paper. Expressing solidarity and prayers to the dead while undertaking responsibility as a survivor, the book provides a fantastic learning opportunity for anyone and everyone!

After moving to Canada, Setsuko obtained a master’s degree in social work and worked through the board of education as a social worker at elementary, junior high, and high schools. Having the same educational background, the commenter (myself) soon gets filled up with the feeling of understanding and compathy. Let me confess to you readers; I’ve got a premonition that this would be a looooong review, which is a bad habit of mine. So, dear readers, please bear with me.

By the way, just as a side note, when something happens at school these days, people tend to get apprehensive all too easily about the trauma children might get (I call it over-pathologizing) and call out counselors. In my opinion, however, it is a social worker, not a counselor, who is to be called in to schools. And this is one of the things that I’d like you to write about someday, Ms. Setsuko, your experiences as a social worker. Nine lives wouldn’t be enough, you know.

Let’s go back to the story. As a matter of fact, I have the experiences of participating in the United Nations meetings, sometimes as a member of an NGO to such meetings as the World Conference on Women, or the International Conference on Population and Development, while other times as a special correspondent with a press pass to cover the government sessions. To be honest, as far as I’ve seen, the working group plays around with the final agreement document behind the scenes for adoption at the plenary session, and thus, just as Setsuko has claimed, it often gets watered down. Government delegations and leaders are, in a way, just figureheads. In the United Nations, government and nongovernment meetings are separated, but it is NGOs—us—rather than government representatives, who have great power. It is not the group of people who would “prioritize the intensions of the states and powers of the time and trample down human rights and dignity of life all too easily” (page 13), but rather, it is the energetic people of NGOs that are filled with love for humanity. What I have heard is that a sensible government may commit to nuclear disarmament, but once the regime changed, things would all too often come to naught.

Setsuko is well aware with these circumstances. It is bewitching to see her taking out her anger toward Toshio Sano, Japan’s disarmament envoy at the Third Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, who said, “The idea that the atomic bomb makes it impossible to give first-aid treatment is too pessimistic. We could come up with better ways to assist the victims.” I beg your pardon? Are these the remarks made by the ambassador who represents the only nation in the world that has been bombed? As a Japanese myself, I feel pathetic. Take a look at the photograph of Setsuko approaching toward the ambassador (page 139). Ms. Setsuko, your angry face is beautiful. After all, the Japanese government has said that it will not ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons because of its relationship with U.S. allies who promise a nuclear umbrella.

The term “banality of evil” appears in this book, which is the phrase coined by the philosopher Hannah Arendt to describe the Nazi operant Eichmann’s trial in Israel. Indeed, there is no philosophy behind the Nazis who slaughtered (a particular) humans, or the use of A and H bombs, which could totally eradicate the humans with only several detonations. Both are nothing but the banality of evil.

This July, I paid a visit to Toronto on account of some business and was invited by a local feminist friend to visit Setsuko’s home for lunch. We held hands and offered a prayer of thanks, but there must have been a prayer for world peace in the hearts of the three of us as well. The next day, when I called Setsuko to thank her and report on my safe trip back home, she said, “I finally finished the proofreading of my book early this morning! What a sense of freedom I feel! I’ve been working for seventy years, you know, but I guess I deserve a relaxing moment like this sometimes.” Absolutely!

Currently, the world seems to be involved with competitions over the primacy in space, but do the mankind still continue the skirmishes even in the outer space, leaving the earth behind? I must tell you, we should first make an effort to bring peace here on earth so as to completely break away from the banality of evil.

The title Hikari ni mukatte hatte ike (Crawl toward the Light) comes from the encouragements Setsuko received from a soldier when she was trapped under the smoldering rubble at the army headquarters where she was mobilized at the time of the bombing. She heard the soldier speaking to her, “Don’t give up! See the light? Keep pushing and crawl toward it!” It is absolutely true. The tribulation of antinuclear activities (Light) cannot be done if you are just standing still. Keep crawling on the ground—what a fabulously evocative revelation!

Brava to Setsuko and to this book!

Translated by Miho TAJIMA
Original article in Japanese