Setsuko Thurlow was only 13 years old when she survived an atomic bombing in her city that would go down to become one of mass historical proportions. Since her survival, she has dedicated her time towards campaigning to prevent the use of nuclear weaponry. Her efforts will be honoured with a Nobel Peace Prize on December 10 in Olso, Norway which she will be collecting on behalf of The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), this year’s laureate.
On August 6, 1945, Thurlow’s home, Hiroshima, was destroyed by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States.
Thurlow said of her experience,
“It’s not easy to carry these memories. We learned how to step over the dead bodies.”
She recalls Japanese soldiers handling the bodies of her lifeless sister and nephew, Ayako and Eiji respectively, into a grave, covering them in gasoline and tossing in a match.
Thurlow had some truly traumatizing memories from the event. She had to watch family die as her home burned away, and her childhood memories surviving only through what her mind could retain. At 13 years old, she seemed to have lost everything.
Thurlow has been living in Toronto since the 1950s and campaigning against nuclear weapons for seven decades.
She has been open about her disappointment in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s views surrounding the disarmament of nuclear weapons. She has urged him to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but Trudeau has called it a “well-meaning but ineffective process.”
Despite 122 countries who are members of UN were in favour of the disarmament, countries including the United States and Canada — as well as other countries with nuclear weapons except the Netherlands — were not in favour.
Thurlow compared Prime Minister Trudeau’s actions with the contrasting ones of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, saying the latter’s views were more open about disarmament. Talking about Pierre Trudeau in an interview in August 2016 with the Globe and Mail, she says, “He didn’t make himself very popular – with the Americans especially. But he was gutsy enough to be able to say that at the UN. But this time, his son is hiding behind (U.S. President Donald) Trump. He hasn’t said boo.”
ICAN says of Thurlow,
“Thurlow has been a leading figure in ICAN since its launch in 2007. She played a pivotal role in the United Nations negotiations that led to the adoption of the landmark treaty outlawing nuclear weapons in July.”
ICAN’s win is made more relevant and significant amid the conflict regarding nuclear weapons pertaining to Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and a more recent threat from Trump on Iran’s “violation” of its nuclear program. Many have compared the strife between Trump and Kim Jong-un to potentially becoming the next Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a devastating prediction.
Thurlow’s work as a campaigner fighting against the use of nuclear weapons has found many successes, including becoming a member of the Order of Canada. Her experiences have deepened her perspective on the issue, and her story humanizes a tragic historical reality. For the last 7 decades, she has been fighting for the disarmament of nuclear weapons with great diligence and dedication. Her survival is not simply a survival, a continuation of a typical life; from her survival has been borne a champion campaigner and woman of fierce strength and devotion. Her work is significant in the fight for a more peaceful world. Thurlow has been a winner since long before this Nobel Peace Prize, but of course, a prestigious world-renowned award is very deserving of Setsuko Thurlow and her relentless courage and commitment.