After Hiroshima’s Carnage, Setsuko Thurlow Devoted Her Life to Peace

After Hiroshima’s Carnage, Setsuko Thurlow Devoted Her Life to Peace


Ms. Thurlow’s favorite sister and 4-year-old nephew died in the bombing, and she saw their bodies tossed into a pit and cremated en masse. Her father, who was out fishing in Hiroshima Bay that morning, survived. So did her mother, after being rescued from the family’s collapsed house.

Just two months after the bombing, Ms. Thurlow returned to her Christian girls school. She also met Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Methodist pastor profiled by the journalist John Hersey in “Hiroshima,” his book about the bombing and its aftermath.

After the bombing, Ms. Thurlow said, she questioned the God worshiped by so many Americans. But at the school and with Mr. Tanimoto, she was surrounded by Christian adults who supported her emotionally. “Because of them, I was able to deal with that crisis and came out of that trauma,” she said. Three years after the blast, she converted.

On a volunteer expedition to build a community center for coal miners in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, she met her future husband. Having learned English in school, she decided she wanted to study social work in the United States, and earned a scholarship to what is now known as the University of Lynchburg in Virginia.

After she arrived and told reporters of her anger about the American hydrogen bomb tests, she received unsigned hate mail, some of it demanding she go back to Japan.

“How am I going to live in this new land?” she wondered. “I can’t put a zipper over my mouth.”

When she appeared at a Lions Club meeting later that autumn to speak, the headline in the local newspaper read: “Jap Girl in Plea Against A-Bomb’s Use,” according to archival research by Charlotte Jacobs, a Stanford medical professor who is writing a biography of Ms. Thurlow.

Offensive headlines were only part of the racism she experienced after coming to the United States.

When Mr. Thurlow, who had remained in Japan teaching, arrived a year later, interracial marriages were prohibited in Virginia. So the couple married in Washington and moved to Toronto, where they raised two sons.



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