The world has al­ready seen ‘fire and fury,’ Mr. Pres­i­dent

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY TED GUP

Hear­ing Pres­i­dent Trump threaten North Korea with “fire and fury” took me back some 23 years to an Au­gust morn­ing at the Fu­nairi Mut­sumi Nurs­ing Home in Hiroshima. There I sat across from 85-year-old Shima Son­oda, a frail woman whose words were care­fully mea­sured and whose emo­tions had long been con­tained. She was one of that ever-shrink­ing num­ber of hi­bakusha — sur­vivors of the A-bomb.

On that morn­ing she told me of an­other Au­gust morn­ing — that of Aug. 6, 1945 — when the bomb det­o­nated over­head, and her city, her home and nearly ev­ery­one she knew were in­cin­er­ated. Some­how she sur­vived, though buried un­der rub­ble.

In the mo­ments af­ter the blast she pawed through the de­bris that had been her home, search­ing for her 4-year-old daugh­ter, Akiko Osato. There was noth­ing to be found of her, she told me — not then, not ever. Min­utes be­fore, her daugh­ter had been in her arms ask­ing for a can of tan­ger­ines that had been set aside as an emer­gency ra­tion. But Son­oda had de­nied her daugh­ter the tan­ger­ines, lest con­di­tions — al­ready dire — should worsen.

It was a day that she had al­most never spo­ken of, though it was a con­stant part of her, as were the shards of glass she said were still embed­ded in her head. Each morn­ing, even decades later, she would be­gin her day be­side her small Bud­dhist al­tar and con­se­crate a can of tan­ger­ines to the mem­ory of her daugh­ter. As she spoke, she gen­tly dabbed a tis­sue to catch the tears.

She is the first one I thought of upon hear­ing the pres­i­dent speak of “fire and fury,” like some car­toon god of war. Other mem­o­ries too then came to mind — the is­land or­phan­age where chil­dren who lost both par­ents were taken in the days and weeks af­ter the blast, where they had grown up, spent their en­tire adult­hoods within its nar­row con­fines and died, their bomb-in­duced keloids plainly vis­i­ble, their deeper scars hid­den away. I thought of the mas­sive sil­ver vats — cooled by, what was it, liq­uid ni­tro­gen? — that held the DNA of numer­ous sur­vivors, re­tained for fu­ture sci­en­tists whose more ad­vanced tech­niques might de­ci­pher the long-term ef­fects of ra­di­a­tion ex­po­sure de­nied to re­searchers of the present.

All this came to mind hear­ing the pres­i­dent’s threat to un­leash the un­speak­able ter­ror of nu­clear weapons. He said it from the club­house of a Bed­min­ster, N.J., golf course, a uni­verse away from Hiroshima’s skele­tal dome, a tes­ta­ment to the un­think­able.

The pres­i­dent spoke of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” But the world has seen it. Son­oda saw it. So, too, did a cou­ple hun­dred thou­sand other souls, nearly all civil­ians, whose ev­ery­thing was oblit­er­ated in an in­stant. And stand­ing at the hum­ble stone mon­u­ment mark­ing the ex­act spot 1,900 feet above which the sun it­self seemed to det­o­nate, the tem­per­a­ture ris­ing to 5,000 de­grees, un­leash­ing cy­clonic winds, I also felt the shiver that never leaves that place.

It is a pity that Son­oda is no longer with us, that she can­not speak to the pres­i­dent and share with him her mem­o­ries, tell him that there is no re­cov­er­ing from such dev­as­ta­tion, that some things are not to be used for rhetor­i­cal ends, that they must, in the name of hu­man­ity, be placed beyond the games­man­ship of bul­lies.

Be­tween Kim Jong Un’s her­mit king­dom, now bristling with mis­siles, and the U.S. coast­line lies Japan, where Trump’s words landed with sin­gu­lar im­pact and where Kim’s mis­siles would find a likely tar­get.

There was some­one else who came to mind hear­ing the pres­i­dent’s threats. His name is Lt. Col. Bernard T. Gal­lagher. He lit­er­ally wrote the book on nu­clear weapons for the Air Force, flew for the Strate­gic Air Com­mand and later ran the moun­tain re­doubt in Vir­ginia — Mount Weather it is called — where gen­er­a­tions of pres­i­dents, jus­tices of the Supreme Court, Cab­i­net sec­re­taries and an en­tire shadow gov­ern­ment were to take shel­ter for months, if need be — and still may — should Wash­ing­ton be erased by The Bomb.

In his fi­nal days in 2000, Bud, as he was known to his friends — and I would like to think I was among them — shared with me his thoughts of such weapons. Like Son­oda, he knew whereof he spoke. As a pi­lot and “cloud sam­pler,” he had flown through a dozen mush­room clouds. He had swal­lowed a ra­di­a­tion-sen­si­tive plate, sus­pended by a string that hung from his mouth and that mea­sured his ex­po­sure. He had wit­nessed the “fire and fury” close enough to feel the force of its winds, to see en­tire atolls over­whelmed and to know that this was some­thing that must never, ever be used in war again.

I was with him within days of his fi­nal breath, and even then, at 78, he quoted the Bha­gavadGita and the lines that came to him each time he saw the “fire and fury” of The Bomb, and for­ever af­ter: “Now I am be­come death, the de­stroyer of worlds.” I hear those words and the pro­fan­ity of the pres­i­dent’s words, spo­ken at a golf course, their re­sound­ing ig­no­rance of his­tory send­ing shock waves out across the think­ing world.

Ted Gup is an au­thor and jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor at Emer­son Col­lege.


Pa­per lanterns float on the Mo­toy­asu River at Hiroshima Peace Me­mo­rial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6.

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