I am Keni Sabath. And I am just a high school student. Well, I am also a high school debater. From the perspective of debate, I have witnessed a peculiar phenomenon that occurs only within the high school interscholastic debate community: an obsession with nuclear war.
To win a debate, a debater must prove that her or his theoretical “world”—one where a certain policy is or is not implemented—is somehow better than their opponent’s theoretical world. “Big impact” arguments—those whose net effects harm more people, cause more destruction, are generally more horrendous, or continue for a longer period of time—are considered the most persuasive arguments…and that debater wins the debate. Thus, debaters strive to prove that the policy plan of their opponent or opposing team “will” result in nuclear war with its attendant nuclear annihilation—the “biggest” real-world big impact that debaters can imagine.
Typically, we debaters make these arguments in our debate rounds so flippantly, so offhandedly, and with so little forethought that audience members often think we are joking. But we are not joking. Only one thing matters to the serious debater: winning. Many policy debaters were devastated when 9/11 occurred, because 9/11 severely changed the political landscape. Much of the research they did on political and international affairs over the summer had to been thrown away because a terrible harm had actually occurred in the status quo. The “threat” of such devastation did not count anymore because it had actually occurred in the real world and could no longer be used as a theoretical argument.
How callous. How sickening. How awful is a mentality that causes us to regard death and destruction as a means to winning! And yet that’s what happens every weekend at high school debate tournaments.
However, there is something even more repugnant: a collective mentality that allows our government leaders to really use the lives and security of innocent men, women, and children to pursue various foreign-policy interests. I am talking about political interests. Corporate interests. Impersonal interests. Financial interests.
This mentality is the reason we remember August 6 and August 9. It is the reason we maintain nuclear arsenals today. My own grandmother, Tomiko Shoji, was herself used as a mere means to achieve foreign policy goals. She is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. You see, I understand the real effects nuclear weapons can have because my family was personally affected by them. I understand. I will not forget. I will take action now.
I would like now to briefly share with you my grandmother’s account of what happened on August 6, 1945. The moment the bomb exploded, the sky was filled with a brilliant flash of light, which was immediately followed by a thundering “Boom.” Buildings fell down. People who were inside were now buried alive under the rubble, if not killed instantly. The blast, so powerful that it threw people in the air along with their bicycles and dropped them a city block away, knocked down the heavy, concrete railings along the bridges. Trolley cars full of people were blown ten feet off the tracks. And inside, the passengers were burned to death in seconds as the city soon became a sea of fire. People sought refuge from the fire in the emergency water tanks and rivers, only to be burned to death in them. At the end, all that remained in the tanks after all the water evaporated away was charred bodies, still standing erect. Melted skin hung from the hands and the bodies of people who were irradiated with the initial flash, as they, with their clothes ripped to shreds and their sex undistinguishable, walked around amidst the fire and smoke as if ghosts in hell. There were people with hundreds of glass pieces stuck in them, as if they had just been blasted in a sand storm of glass.
Tomiko Shoji was 18 years old, volunteering in a tobacco factory in Hiroshima as a secretary. When the bomb exploded, she suffered internal bleeding all over her body. In addition, since she remained in the city for six months following the bombing she was exposed to the radioactive-polluted air of Hiroshima. She feels perpetually cold, even to this day. Her internal organs have a lowered ability to function, and she must rely on physical therapy to attain normal levels of physiological functions. Having dentures at the age of 40, along with hearing aids, reading glasses, etc., her aging proceeded ahead of others her age by years. She was hospitalized in Japan’s national hot springs hospital dozens of times. The scenes of the living hell mentioned above never left her mind, as she suffered from mental difficulties and a state of confusion for nearly 30 years with repeated nightmares and feelings of being crushed by an enormous pressure. She says that the “loss of ability to support myself or my family, and to live on my own has been the biggest wound in my heart, and the cross of my life.”
My grandmother however does not blame anyone—not the Americans, nor the Japanese whom she accepts as the aggressors in the war. While in the hospital, she received a Bible which had been a gift from the U.S., one of many which had been distributed to the survivors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima by the “A-bomb Pastor,’” the Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto. She has been a devout Christian ever since. In addition to her strong sense of forgiveness, she does not waste time focusing on the past. Whenever she gives her testimony she always remarks, “We now live in a world where there are constant threats of conflicts and wars in which nuclear weapons may be deployed. Given that today’s nuclear weapons are thousands of times more powerful than the Hiroshima type, my experiences should serve as a warning to today’s generations about the problems they face. The A-bomb does not concern just our family. Nor does it merely concern Hiroshima, Japan, or the United States. It is, rather, a concern for the whole human race.”
I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it: Nuclear weapons are indeed a concern for the whole human race. To commemorate the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, please sign Global Zero’s petition to world leaders asking them to cut nuclear weapons, not the services we really need: http://cutnukes.globalzero.org