Legendary avant-garde fashion designer Issey Miyake was 7 years old when the U.S. dropped the "Little Boy" atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the city where he was born. Miyake has never publicly discussed the events of August 6, 1945. Until now.
Writes the 71-year-old designer in today's New York Times:
When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape — I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.
I have never chosen to share my memories or thoughts of that day. I have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to put them behind me, preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy. I gravitated toward the field of clothing design, partly because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic.
I tried never to be defined by my past. I did not want to be labeled "the designer who survived the atomic bomb," and therefore I have always avoided questions about Hiroshima. They made me uncomfortable.
But now I realize it is a subject that must be discussed if we are ever to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Miyake's op-ed, a moving plea for nuclear disarmament, was inspired, he says, by the speech president Obama gave this April in Prague calling for a future without nuclear weapons. "Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century," said Obama. "And as nuclear power –- as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
"His words," writes the designer, "awakened something buried deeply within me, something about which I have until now been reluctant to discuss. I realized that I have, perhaps now more than ever, a personal and moral responsibility to speak out as one who survived what Mr. Obama called the 'flash of light.'" The death toll from the Hiroshima bombing had reached 140,000 by the end of 1945; in Nagasaki, which was bombed on August 9th, 80,000 people were killed. In both cases the casualties were overwhelmingly civilians. The Japanese government counts around 240,000 living survivors of the bombings — including one man, 93-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived Little Boy while on a business trip, and returned home to Nagasaki just in time to be hit with Fat Man.
Miyake, whose essay was translated from the Japanese by members of his staff, cheers the pledge that Dmitri Medvedev and Obama made to work towards a nuclear-weapons-free world, and to reduce their own nuclear stockpiles by between a quarter and a third. But he raises concerns about nuclear-armed rogue nations, like Japan's neighbor North Korea. "For there to be any hope of peace, people around the world must add their voices to President Obama's," says Miyake, which is of course the truth.
The Japanese designer ends by asking Obama to spend August 6th, the 64th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing and Universal Peace Day, in Hiroshima. "If Mr. Obama could walk across the Peace Bridge in Hiroshima — whose balustrades were designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi as a reminder both of his ties to East and West and of what humans do to one another out of hatred — it would be both a real and a symbolic step toward creating a world that knows no fear of nuclear threat," says Miyake. "Every step taken is another step closer to world peace."
It would indeed be a meaningful gesture for a proponent of nuclear disarmament — and the leader of the only nuclear-armed nation to have ever used a nuclear bomb in war — to walk across that bridge come August 6th.
A Flash of Memory [NY Times]
Remarks By President Barack Obama In Prague As Delivered [The White House]