Air Date: January 7, 1997 Program 9701


Michael Moore, editor, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Hideko Tamura Snider, author, One Sunny Day: A Child's Memories of Hiroshima

(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

HIDEKO TAMURA SNIDER: The day of the bomb was a beautiful sunny day.

KEITH PORTER, Producer: Living with memories of Hiroshima and the atomic bomb on this edition of Common Ground.

SNIDER: Your school is gone, your neighborhood is gone, your house is gone. Everything is gone. When the total loss takes place, you will break down if you let everything be felt.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter. There is a new book out titled, One Sunny Day and it begins with these words: "Every year when the days begin to stretch and the penetrating heat of summer rises to a scorching point, I am brought back to one sunny day in a faraway land. I was a young child waiting for my mother to come home. On that day, however, the sun and the earth melted together. My mother would not come home." The author of those words is Hideko Tamura Snider.

SNIDER: I was looking to the 50th anniversary of atomic bomb and my very welling up feeling was, gee I miss my family who are no longer with me, including my mother who perished on the day of the bomb explosion. But it was also my wish to leave something about my background. Not just that I escaped atomic bomb but something about myself for my children. So I began to chronicle little pieces from my childhood memories and it just kind of kept on growing.

PORTER: We are joined by Michael Moore, the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Early excerpts from the book One Sunny Day, were published in the bulletin.

MICHAEL MOORE: Her account was just profoundly human. So many accounts about the atomic bomb describe what happened on that day and the days following, but she picks up long before the bomb is dropped. She picks up in pre-war Japan and she talks about life during the war and leading up to the bomb and she talks about how the kids were sent away to safety in the mountains and how she and a friend came back. And of course, she talks about that day and then she tells it in a very simple but terrible way and that impressed me. But I guess more than anything else perhaps, I was impressed by what happened afterwards in the years that followed and how she came to grips with what had happened to her and how she worked through her anger and began to achieve a very human perspective on things.

PORTER: Something I found so fascinating about your book is your description of life in Tokyo and Hiroshima before the end of World War II, at the time when you were such a young child and it's... you describe it so well. And it seems so different than the upbringing I think that American children were having at that time or have been having since that time. Can you share some things with our listeners about that experience? About what you recall in those years before you were ten years old.

SNIDER: Yes. In Tokyo before my father's being drafted prompted us to move to Hiroshima, we lived in a little house. My parents, unlike others, married because they loved each other and it was not arranged marriage. Of course I, as a small child, was unaware of all of these kinds of things until later, but most, even little house, Japanese homes, have little gardens and I remember little gardens usually have rocks and trees and little garden that we lived in had even a small pond and it was a very tranquil place. Now when we moved to Hiroshima, the scale was quite a bit larger as my grandfather, who's estate this was, was the CEO of Tamura industrial group. It was a huge, huge estate made up of several gardens. For their garden was a marble driveway and wooded areas. You could not see the house from outside and I used to really find this a wonderful place to do adventure, looking for little insects or little creatures and play with my childhood chum, Hideyuki and of course household routine was quite different. It was a large household with the elder son, my cousin's father, his wife and ours, my mother and myself and to begin with my father, and I believe there were about three maids, domestic help, who lived in the house, and grandmother, grandfather and aunts and so forth. We would congregate in the huge kitchen for breakfast, well actually in the dining room, but before we ate we chanted and burned the incense at the Buddhist altar and more serious worship in the evening before supper and it was a grand scale household. When I look back, I guess there is very few places I would see in this country or elsewhere that is anything like this unless you lived in a large dormitory.

PORTER: Even the women, especially it sounded like the older women, wore very traditional costumes.

SNIDER: Yes, that's right, that's right. My first introduction to the Tamura household included my running into my grandmother, who actually wore wigs and I didn't realize that and I saw somewhere from her back view sort of like bald-headed and three or four women you know painting her face and draping Japanese kimono around her and then I was so terrified, who could this most terrifying lady or creature I actually called her, ran back to my mother and reported this. You know, how there was something dreadful going on in this place and then she kind of chuckled and sort of whispered into my ear, "You know, that was your grandmother."

PORTER: And besides being exposed to this traditional lifestyle, then you also had a lot of western influences in your early childhood as well.

SNIDER: Right. Because my parents were great admirers of western civilization and they read very widely and my father is a graduate of Keio University where he studied law and my mother attended girls' schools that train teachers. So they were well educated and well read and very much interested in the ways of individualities and modern thoughts.

PORTER: And you were familiar with Tom Sawyer and...

SNIDER: Yes, right, right. I grew up with western fables as well as Japanese, yeah.

PORTER: Right. Well, I know that certainly writing about some of your experiences must be painful and I'm sure that reliving them and retelling them is certainly not easy also, and I don't want to pry things out of you, but what can you tell our listeners today about the day of the bomb in Hiroshima?

SNIDER: Well, the day of the bomb was a beautiful sunny day and that's why the title is One Sunny Day. And I had just returned the previous day from the country where I had been evacuated. My best friend, Miyoshi, and I really begged our mothers to bring us back because life in the country was really quite hard and there we just became I guess very homesick. Our mothers really would rather have stayed one more day and rested in the country, but we insisted, "Oh we just can't wait to be home." So we had come home the previous day late in the afternoon and this was the first day of my most wonderful dream come true of being home. My mother had to step out to do something that had to be done and was called. To... I didn't know at that time exactly where but turned out to be close to the center of the city and there was a warning for small planes headed our way. Then it was called off. They turned around and it was quite safe and the announcement on the radio was "You can go back outside; it's safe."

And so I called out in the hallway just so people could hear, the warning is off; everything is safe and you know we can go back outside or whatever. And it was shortly after that. I was reading a book, suddenly without any warning, there was a horrendous flash and explosion almost simultaneously and you know some of you probably have seen the movie of the Twister. That's—minus the explosion I suppose. It's I suppose like tornado just staying on top of you and not leaving for a short duration was what... I was in the house, you know, house shattered and the ground shook and everything became dark and just sort of broke down. And out of this, when everything stopped, I managed to crawl out and to make a long story short, I made my way out by myself.

PORTER: Later you were reunited with your father.

SNIDER: Yes, yes.

PORTER: And you at that point had discovered that your mother had not survived.

SNIDER: Well I had not accepted that. My mother had not been found and of course so we went trekking from rescue station to rescue station looking for my mother and I went with my aunt and uncle who were looking for their only son, my cousin Hideyuki because he didn't come home either.

PORTER: I'd like to ask Mike Moore here, reading about stories like this and hearing about them are painful, fascinating, yet when you imagine yourself in the situation, it's painful and you meet survivors and you wonder how they were able to survive something like that, why is it important that we hear these stories Mike?

MOORE: War had become very impersonal by the time the atomic bombs were dropped. The atomic bombs are considered by most people to be a watershed event and certainly in my magazine the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, believes that. They were a watershed event and that atomic weapons were used for the first time against human beings. But in another way they were part of a process that had been going on for several years. The British first and... the British nor the Americans have really come to grips with this... but the British first and then the Americans began a policy of bombing cities. They called it area bombing, attacking civilian morale, that kind of thing, dehousing workers. But really it was a strategy aimed at killing civilians. It began in Germany and the British pioneered firebombing strategies and the Americans picked it up in late 1944 and by 1945, the Spring of 1945, we were very much engaged in burning down Japanese cities. And again, these were area attacks. They weren't designed to hit any particular factory; they were designed to burn down cities and to kill people. The atomic bombings were in a way just a more efficient way of doing that instead of taking three hundred planes to burn down a city, it just took one plane to burn down a city.

Her book is valuable. Her kinds of experiences are valuable because they put a human face on what is a very cold process. The bomb crews, after all, were high in the air over Germany and over Japan. They couldn't see the victims; all they could do was see the flashes of light and sometimes these flashes were quite pretty. They were often compared to fireworks when incendiary bombs went off. But down below, there were people. We firebombed Tokyo a few months before the atomic bomb attacks and killed well over 100,000 people in that one attack. This is something to be kept in mind that when we have total war, even moral people can do very terrible things. We have to remember that.

PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground with Hideko Tamura Snider, author of One Sunny Day: A Child's Memories of Hiroshima. Also joining us is Michael Moore, editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

Hideko Tamura Snider is now a psychotherapist in private practice and a social worker in the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Chicago Hospitals. There are more than just miles separating the devastation of Hiroshima and a comfortable life in Chicago.

SNIDER: There's been 51 years so that was a very long, long journey. I think the thing that people do when they go through massive loss, you know, not only does someone just die who were important to you, but your school is gone, your neighborhood is gone, your house is gone, everything is gone. When the total loss takes place, you will break down if you let everything just be felt. So I think what people do, as many western books describe, there is a psychic numbing and you desensitize yourself. So I think for a long time that process took on. Unfortunate thing about that is that when you desensitize yourself from griefs, you also desensitize your ability to experience profound joys. So you're sort of somewhere roaming like souless soul. And so my life tended to be kind of gray and I describe in the book, but certainly to the point where I despaired that I might run to the railroad and jump in front of a moving train, which was stopped because some very despairing elderly man had jumped in ahead of me and I didn't achieve the goal. But it went on in a very grayish color of anxiety, tremendous fatigue, not having energy even when you have worthwhile goals, you're lacking in energy to get there and you are moving just like mechanical being, trying to put your foot on the floor so you will be up and do the next thing. And I might say there, the very harsh military training that we as children were put through, curiously came in handy because in the military academy that I was in during the war, there was no such thing as "teacher I can't do it." You did it until you ceased to fail.

But anyway, I think it really take away your human ability to LIVE and enjoy being alive. And I'm not sure how I made it but I think not giving up did help and as a person, you know even as a child, I was a child of great curiosity. And somehow I had some sort of a nature that just wouldn't give up, you know. And it's no great accomplishment; it's just barely living from one day to the next. And somehow doing what was given for that day and then making it to the next.

PORTER: When you were still in Japan, in the book you wrote about a turning point in your life when you heard a speech by Dr. James H. Robinson of the Presbyterian Church. What realization did you come to at that point when you heard the speech from Dr. Robinson?

SNIDER: Yes. I think the fact that this minister was an African-American man and I was not prepared and I was just not well informed about racial differences and social binds and so forth in this culture prior to that time, so everything that I heard, that due to you know his own race and background, he was unable to even have a full education and he kept on being taken out to the fields or other hardships but in spite of it, by identifying with something that was greater than himself, he was able to arrive at a spiritual point where he can make contribution to his community and to his people. It was very striking to me because he also addressed people of Hiroshima, although this was a student body, he said, "I know you have had hard things happen to you and I know you must get very discouraged. But even just one person can rise above and not because that person is great, but because when you identify with something greater than you, you can move forward." And I was very impressed by that.

PORTER: Mike Moore, we're on the campus of the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago has an interesting part to play in some of this story, at least. What was the role of the University of Chicago played in the development of nuclear weapons?

MOORE: Well the Manhattan Project—they had a bomb project—really got its first organized start here. In the early days of the war, there were people around the country at universities doing research into the possible uses of nuclear energy for weapons. And the Dean of Physical Sciences here at the University of Chicago was asked to pull all these projects together and he did so here at the university. Then of course the project became so big that another big laboratory was set up in New Mexico, Los Alamos, New Mexico. But the two big laboratories were here and in New Mexico. The first manmade, self-sustaining chain reaction took place here December of 1942. That was put together by a very eclectic group of people, people from Hungary and Italy and the United States and all sorts of places provided scientists who were part of that. And they remained part of it all through the war. And after the war, many of these scientists, these same scientists who created the bomb, became devoted to making sure that such weapons were never again used in war. And that's when the Bulletin was founded as well as some other organizations.

PORTER: Where we are right now, how far away roughly from the spot of the first controlled nuclear reaction?

MOORE: Oh, we're about a mile.

And I have Hideko's card here and it says, Hideko Snider and right at the bottom, it says the University of Chicago Hospitals. Now do you find it at all odd that you are walking around the campus where all this happened and no doubt run into people at times who even worked on the project?

SNIDER: Well the only time I feel slightly at odds with is when I pass by you know Henry Moore's sculpture. Other than that, this was the campus of my graduate work and I lived at International House and I really you know haven't obsessed on the connection. I feel slightly uncomfortable whenever I pass by the sculpture because the shape of it resembles so closely to the mushroom cloud.

PORTER: And Mike, the sculpture is to...

MOORE: It marks the spot where the first chain reaction took place. Looks kind of like a mushroom cloud or a tooth ripped from its socket. I'm not sure which, but it is an ominous looking thing.

PORTER: Yeah, I think that the connection there is so strange. I know in the book you write about the fact that you did at one time run into a gentleman who worked on a timing device or something.

SNIDER: Oh yes. That was after the article on the Bulletin came out last year. One of the physicists who worked on the device, just when the bomb should explode, and he just introduced himself and I had seen him so we used to greet one another with a nod and smiles and then he just opened up. He said, "you know I read your article and I don't know if you knew this, but I was at Los Alamos" and so forth. I was just shocked. I hadn't known that.

MOORE: I've met a great many people who worked at Los Alamos and for the most part, they are decent and gentle people and in a sense, working or being part of the Bulletin community all these years, these people are trying to I suppose make up for it. And of course, they built the bomb because they thought Germany was going to build a nuclear weapon of some kind and by the time we knew that Germany didn't have one, the momentum was so great that nobody could really stop the project. But there is a real dedication among many of these people to make sure that it never happens again.

PORTER: Well, we're almost out of time. Hideko, I'd ask you what is next? You've published the book; what kind of reaction have you gotten to the book? Have you, are you involved in some of these anti-nuclear weapon movement activities?

SNIDER: Well you know I have not been a political activist at this point. I don't think I will begin to, but so far the responses have been very kind. The sharings when I have the opportunities to do, usually are very gracious and I've heard people being very moved and very appreciative that I did this sharing. I did want to say that whenever I do the sharing of my experiences and journey which is I think the journey of my soul, and my heart's sharing, is that I feel great deal more reconciled and I like to share this reconciliation among those who may remember this event and may feel even the slightest of discomfort. I would like to promote the sense of collective healing and I would like to share this message with as many people as I can.

PORTER: That is Hideko Tamura Snider, author of One Sunny Day: A Child's Memories of Hiroshima. The book was published by Open Court Books. Our other guest was Michael Moore, editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

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