Award-Winning Author on Nagasaki Bombing, Nuclear Abolition, and Peace Literacy

By |2019-12-06T13:38:55-08:00December 6, 2019|

Caren Stelson, a new Peace Literacy supporter, is the award-wining author of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. This striking work of narrative nonfiction was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. The New York Times Book Review called Sachiko “Magnetic and chilling in its simplicity.” Starred reviews included the influential School Library Journal, “Sensitive and well-crafted,” and Booklist, “A story of staggering hardship and extraordinary resolve…Luminous, enduring, utterly necessary.”

She first learned the true story of six-year-old Sachiko Yusai’s survival of the Nagasaki atomic bomb on August 9, 1945 and its heartbreaking and lifelong aftermath when she heard Sachiko speak in 2005 at a welcome dinner and at the Lyndale Park Peace Garden in Minneapolis. Sachiko had been invited by the Saint Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings and end of World War II.

Stelson’s own childhood nights had been interrupted by her father’s nightmares from World War II and she was researching his war experiences in Germany. Now she felt the urgent need to tell Sachiko’s story, an unending nightmare filled with unspeakable trauma but also, Stelson explained, filled with “healing, insights, and hopes for peace.”

She would always remember Sachiko’s words, “What happened to me must never happen to you.”

Fortunate to have received a scholarship to attend the 2012 Hiroshima Peace Symposium at Hiroshima City University, Stelson would travel five times to Nagasaki to interview Sachiko Yasui, who wanted to look into her eyes. As they developed trust, Sachiko shared through both a Japanese and an English translator an extraordinary level of personal details. Stelson devoted five years of research to this project, which also explores Sachiko finding inspiration from Gandhi, Helen Keller, and the later growing influence of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“A perfect read for young adults and an older adult book club because it is an important ‘true’ story, powerfully told, and with great historical detail,” said NAPF member Walter Enloe, the Gordon B. Sanders Professor of Education at Hamline University in St. Paul, and the former Headmaster of the Hiroshima International School who grew up in Hiroshima. He helped to encourage Stelson to emphasize the historical context “so that the book both informs/entertains and ‘teaches.’” An in-depth study guide is provided on Stelson’s website.

A String of Errors and Human Experiments

In her research Stelson learned and reported how the bombing mission of Nagasaki, from a military perspective, was a string of errors. Over 74,000 people died, following 140,000 in Hiroshima, as the nuclear arms race had begun.

She was shocked to find out that the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) created by the U.S. Government used atomic bomb survivors as human experiments. Stelson explained, “American scientists and medical personal had survivors come to the ABCC offices in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for observation and data collection. Doctors were under orders not to provide any medical care to the men, women, and children who suffered from the effects of radiation and the cancers that followed. When Sachiko described her experiences at the ABCC offices, it was the only time I saw her visibly upset.”

Peace Literacy as a Global Vision

Stelson attended the Minneapolis Peace Literacy workshop in June 2019 with co-facilitators NAPF Peace Literacy Director Paul K. Chappell and Oregon State University professor and Peace Literacy Curriculum Coordinator Sharyn Clough. Stelson called it “both grounding and inspiring. So often ‘teaching peace’ in a classroom setting is piecemeal, an add-on, without an overarching paradigm of human understanding and without a vision of Peace Literacy as a universal right. For me, the philosophy of Peace Literacy as a global vision and necessity was my greatest ‘’take-away.’

“Chappell sees globally, as do our military leaders. By shifting his time-tested West Point education to wage war to a philosophy of waging peace, Chappell offers educators a clear mission—to strengthen the muscles of our humanity and fight against dehumanization… This is what impressed me: Chappell’s wide-open lens.”

How Do We Get to “Never Again”?

“As I listened to Paul Chappell and Shari Clough, I reflected back on my experiences interviewing Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors who witnessed as young people the apocalypse of nuclear war. Their stories always end with ‘Never again.’ But how do we get to ‘Never again’? In the United States the word ’’peace’ can be a throwaway word. Not in places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Given that nuclear war is still a possibility, given the climate crisis is coming, given unbridled technology is here, Chappell’s compelling and urgent philosophy of Peace Literacy offers a curriculum, a vocabulary, and a universal skill set for survival so we can live in the world together.”

“I see the concept and role of Peace Literacy as essential to the education of a nuclear free world…The concept of Peace Literacy is that we need to spend as much time teaching peace as we do teaching reading. I started my career as a Title 1 Reading Specialist and classroom teacher. I’m also a parent and grandparent. I know how much time we spend teaching literacy to young people because being literate at all skill levels of decoding, comprehension, research, and writing is crucial to surviving and thriving in today’s world. Given the existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, we also must teach all skill levels of peacemaking.”

What Makes Peace Literacy Different?

“What makes Peace Literacy different from other peace and conflict resolution philosophies and curriculums? I would suggest (1) the deep understanding of purpose and meaning that motivate human behavior; (2) the attention to trauma, both personal and historical, and the tangled, negative behaviors trauma produces; (3) the recognition of community and belonging as fundamental to well-being; (4) the acknowledgement that peacemaking is a discipline, that we need both a vocabulary for peace and practice to build ‘muscles for peace;’ (5) the insights into technology, future technologies, and the human challenges of artificial intelligence; (6) the knowledge that the world’s humans have the capacity for peace if we teach peace.”

Peace Literacy—A Way to Live One’s Life

“When I first heard the phrase ‘Peace Literacy,’ I knew I had heard words authentic to peacemaking. In my mind, Peace Literacy is a way of living one’s life. I recognized the discipline of Peace Literacy in my readings and research of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  among other peacemakers who learned to embody peace at the cellular level. I recognized this quality in Sachiko Yasui too. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’ve come to see the book Sachiko as an exploration of Peace Literacy.”

“…. Studying Peace Literacy, discussing its core philosophy, and practicing the skills have helped me stay stronger in the face of the winds of moral corruption. Peace Literacy also has helped me be more empathetic toward those whose trauma has produced aggression, depression, addiction, and isolation. The next question I’m grappling with is this: How do those of us studying Peace Literacy come together to become more effective community members and engines for peace in our schools and other community institutions?”

A Bowl Full of Peace

Stelson is currently working on strategies to expand Peace Literacy within her own community. Also up next is the publication of a picture book of Sachiko’s story called A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story, to be published in May 2020, in time for the 75th commemoration of the atomic bombings and the end of World War II. This book has been written for the next generation of peacemakers.

Several years ago Sachiko offered this advice to the young people of the world:

What Is Peace?

What Kind of Person Should I Be?

Keep pursing answers to these questions.

As we contemplate her insistence that what happened to Sachiko must never happen to us, let us continue to work towards putting into practice, “Never again!”


To learn more about Sachiko and A Bowl Full of Peace, visit carenstelson.com

To learn more about Peace Literacy, visit peaceliteracy.org