NEW YORK – As long as there is breath in his frail body, 90-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi vows to keep pressing for peace.
And now the survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings has taken his message to the United Nations for the first time.
Arriving by wheelchair but then descending the stairs on foot with a cane to an auditorium at the U.N. headquarters, the lithe, energetic man wowed the audience with his emotional tale of survival.
“What I mean to say here is that as a double atomic bomb survivor I experienced the bomb twice, and I sincerely hope that there will not be a third,” he told the gathering Thursday at the Dag Hammarskjold auditorium to watch a screening of “Niijuuhibaku” (“Twice Bombed, Twice Survived”), a 50-minute documentary in which he is featured along with other double atomic bomb survivors.
Yamaguchi was clearly emotional as he delivered his message of peace.
“My message is that the use of atomic weapons should be abandoned completely and my wish is that each and every one of you here will think about this and agree with my message to support world peace,” he said.
As a 29-year-old employee of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries working in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, he had just stepped off a tram when he was suddenly knocked unconscious by what he described as a tremendous “ball of fire.”
Just 3 km from the epicenter, he came to with burns that seared his body and saw his singed hair fall out. After the initial shock, his thoughts quickly turned to his young wife and 5-month-old child he left behind in his native Kyushu.
As he made his way through Hiroshima he encountered horrific scenes of frantic survivors, whose flesh seemed to melt off their arms and hung like “giant gloves.” Still haunted by what he described in his poetry as the “human raft,” he cried uncontrollably during a segment of his interview in the film while remembering the swollen corpses that he stepped on to cross a river and escape the city.
After a long journey the determined husband and father finally made his way to Nagasaki, where his family lived. When his surprised mother returned home after an air raid she thought a ghost was sitting at her table because Yamaguchi was covered in gauze from head to toe except for openings over his eyes and mouth.
When Yamaguchi went to his supervisor’s office later to describe his ordeal and how Hiroshima had been flattened, he witnessed the bright flash after the second bomb was detonated. As he took cover under a desk he first thought that “the mushroom cloud had chased him to Nagasaki.”
After seeing the film and listening to the elderly survivor’s powerful words, Randy Rydell, a senior political officer at the U.N. department of disarmament, said he believes the film gives viewers “lessons not just about the horrors of the past, but also a vision for a better world in the future.”
As someone whose professional life is dedicated to helping rid the world of nuclear weapons, he was especially inspired by Yamaguchi’s message. Rydell said he wishes Yamaguchi could speak with leaders in countries such as North Korea, which is suspected of having built a nuclear arsenal and test-fired seven missiles on a single day.
Toshiko Matsukawa, an Osaka native who has spent more than 25 years in the United States, said after watching the presentation that she believes more people could benefit from exposure to Yamaguchi’s story of survival.
Although too young to have lived through World War II, Matsukawa said she remembers growing up watching many antiwar films and believes Americans should learn more about the negative impact of the atomic bombings and the great human toll it took.
Yamaguchi still suffers physically from the aftereffects of the two atomic bombs and points to his “badge of courage” (burns on his arms), but he is confident he is carrying out a mission that destiny has carved out for him.
“God planted the path for me so it was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey the message to the younger generation,” he said.
Matthew Lee, a reporter for Inner City Press, said he was impressed with the simplicity of Yamaguchi’s message and the positive path he has chosen in life.
“His message is a simple yet necessary one and he is the perfect person to deliver the message.”
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