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Small thinking, big consequences

by Giles Jackson

Bob Legvold, the veteran Columbia University Russianist, told the FT he’s never felt so alarmed about the future. We are living through “a crisis of small thinking” and “global irresponsibility”. The world faces the highest risk of use of nuclear weapons than at any time since the cold war.

“Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, the world is entering a new nuclear age. Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear-weapons powers (America, Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry” ~ The Economist

“It’s just unbelievable how much energy’s released”, says Greg Spriggs, a weapon physicist on a mission to hunt down thousands of decomposing films capturing nuclear tests at 2,400 frames per second. “We hope that we would never have to use a nuclear weapon ever again. I think that if we capture the history of this and show what the force of these weapons are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them”. Just how devastating? Little Boy, which flattened Hiroshima, was 15,000 kilotons. Russia’s Tsar Bomba, whose 1961 test shattered windows in Finland, was over 50,000 kilotons. Russia’s new RS-28 Sarmat thermonuclear missile ups the ante. They claim it can wipe out an area the size of Texas or France.

Albert Wohlstetter, an American nuclear strategist, wrote that, “We must contemplate some extremely unpleasant possibilities, just because we want to avoid them”. But what’s missing from the narrative is the survivor’s voice. This is chillingly conveyed in And the River Flowed as a Raft of Corpses, a collection of poetry by the late Yamaguchi Tsutomu, survivor of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

On the morning of August 6 1945 Yamaguchi was walking alone in a field when he heard the sound of B-29s and looked up at the sky. As told by his translator, Chad Diehl, “he saw something fall from the planes and a few seconds later there was an immense white flash, followed by a roaring and thunderous blast that blew him back and knocked him unconscious. He recalled years later that at that moment he saw his wife and son appear before his eyes like images on a movie reel”.

Awakened by the excruciating pain from burns on his face and left arm, he looked up at a massive column of smoke.  He made his way through the irradiated wasteland that was Hiroshima, stumbling on a corpse whose legs had been burned to the bone and its torso ripped open. In a cruel twist of fate, he survived the first blast only to relive the horror three days later. Yamaguchi turned to poetry as a way of coping with the double trauma.

The stories of the 165 nijyuu hibakusha, or doubly atomic bombed, were absent from the narrative about the World War II bombings until Inazuka Hidetaka produced the documentary film Twice Bombed, Twice Survived in 2008. Alarmed at the growing nuclear threat, I set about designing our anti-nuclear tartan, which transforms the conventional nuclear hazard sign into a radiant symbol of hope.

The inspiration for this design was the peace memorial ceremonies held every August in Japan and around the world, when lanterns bearing messages of peace are floated to commemorate those who perished in the attacks.

Yamaguchi cushions in multiple colours

Inazuka Hidetaka put us in touch with Toshiko Yamaguchi, who kindly granted us permission to name the tartan in honour of her father. Yamaguchi’s dying wish was for a nuclear-free future. If this seems impossible, try ridding the world of small thinking.

The writer is co-founder of Liberation Kilt Company

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