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Learning from the survivors of Hiroshima

We recently sponsored two of our Global Health alumni to travel and attend the Nobel Peace Prize celebrations in Oslo, Norway. In this blog post, Miranda Liang reports from the Nobel Peace Lecture, discussing the moving moment when Hiroshima survivors spoke of their experiences of nuclear weapons, and what this means for global health.

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Setsuko Thurlow delivering her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Credit: Norwegian Nobel Committee
Setsuko Thurlow delivering her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Credit: Norwegian Nobel Committee

I was fortunate enough to get sponsored by Queen Mary this month to attend the Nobel Peace Prize celebrations in Oslo, where the Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for their significant contribution towards achieving a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

The Nobel lectures were divided into two parts, and my colleague Krishen has already written a blog post about Beatrice Fihn’s (Executive Director of ICAN) talk on receiving the award. But I was particularly moved by Setsuko Thurlow, who was speaking on behalf of the ‘Hibakusha’- those who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

Setsuko Thurlow started her lecture with her personal story as a witness when the atomic bombing happened in Hiroshima at age 13. Her lecture came with very tearful moments such as indicating that “above and around us, a great cloud of a quarter million souls, each person had a name and each person was loved by someone and let their death not be in vain.”

During her speech, there were several Japanese elders holding the photos of their beloved family members who had passed away or had been suffering from the effects of atomic bombing on site. For them, the Nobel Peace Prize Award marked a milestone of human beings taking a big step forward to making a peaceful world - if there is no war and no weapons, then no one will suffer.

Waiting seven decades for hope

I wonder whether, while we are living in an era of increasing human rights and awareness of humanitarian needs, we sense how cruel wars can be, as well as the value of each individual who might be affected.

Professor David McCoy, Miranda Liang and Krishen Samuel at the torch procession in Oslo, Norway
Professor David McCoy, Miranda Liang and Krishen Samuel at the torch procession in Oslo, Norway

The Hibakusha have been spending their whole life proving how nuclear weapons can destroy human beings, and their struggles of living and rebuilding their beloved homeland from nothing, as well as their hopes. The recovery process is time-consuming and the health hazards (such as cancer) stay with the residents and survivors throughout their lives. They have been waiting for seven decades to finally see hope that the nuclear tragedy may end someday.

Furthermore, considering health as a basic right for everyone, those Hibakusha whose life has been affected by the radiation, their basic right of being healthy has been automatically deprived and suspended. Any use or development of nuclear weapons is already against the spirit of the human right to health.

We also now face a continuing conflict between grasping the power to rule over others to prove greatness, and emphasising the equal right for everyone who deserves to be alive. More and more, we see security as a major concern, where the purpose of building up weapons is meant to protect countries. But this then becomes the standard formula for ensuring that everyone feels safe. People accept this information passively and then become short-sighted rather than considering the long-term impact of nuclear weapons.

‘No matter what obstacles we face, we will keep moving’

During the Prize Ceremony, the power and the influence of Youth was also seen from the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear Weapon (IPPNW) student representatives who attended from Germany, Kenya, India, Nepal and America. They showed us that we are all ready to continue the mission of changing the world and fighting until all threats are eliminated.

This also inspires me, as although my own influence may be small and there are many obstacles ahead, I am not alone and there will always be partners in different parts of the world who are working for the same thing.

As Setsuko Thurlow said in her Nobel lecture, “Let us follow each other out of the dark night of nuclear terror. No matter what obstacles we face, we will keep moving and keep pushing and keep sharing this light with others.”

The experience in Oslo has also reminded me of my recent Global Health studies at Queen Mary, and how peace ties into health. In fact, the slogan of the MedAct conference in York I attended this year was ‘Health Through Peace’. Only through peace, will we be able to achieve the goal of eliminating people’s suffering and improving their health status physically and psychologically.

Being aware of and alerted to global issues, such as these efforts to prohibit nuclear weapons, will help me become a better global actor, and carry this message to other people. It means I can continue working on becoming an advocate for human rights and always keep my faith in improving health condition.

More information

Miranda Liang (Yu-Shu) was a Global Health, Law and Governance MSc student during 2016-2017, having previously worked for Taiwanese Non-Governmental Organisations in Nursing, collaborating with the Taiwanese Government, national nursing associations and The International Council of Nurses.

Miranda is now focusing her work on policy making, related to how mental health, mental capacity and human rights relate to termination of life requests in terminally ill patients, an ageing population and individuals who live with mental illness.

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