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Every once in a while you hear a speech that completely blows you away. My colleagues and I experienced that feeling on Friday afternoon here at an editorialists’ conference in Orlando.
The speaker was Koko Kondo, a Hiroshima survivor. Kondo was all of eight months old when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on her hometown on August 6, 1945. Her father was a minister, and her mother was talking to some parishioners that fateful morning when the building they were in completely collapsed. The mother fell unconscious, and when she regained consciousness, she realized with horror that the baby she was hearing cry was her own. She managed to dig out a hole and emerge from the rubble with her little girl.
Kondo said that, of course, she learned all these details only later from attending her father’s sermons and lectures, since her parents never spoke to her directly about what happened. (Her family’s story is featured in John Hersey’s classic “Hiroshima,” though Kondo is misidentified as an infant boy in the book.)
As a three or four year old, she remembered seeing teenage girls at her house whose eyebrows or lips were melted. Kondo said that she was filled with rage and determined to take her revenge from that early age by finding the pilot of the plane that dropped the bomb.
In an incredible coincidence, she did. In 1955, Kondo was invited with her father to appear on the popular American TV show “This Is Your Life” alongside Captain Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
Lewis’s attitude toward the Hiroshima bombing was quite different from that of Paul Tibbets, the chief pilot of the plane, who was unapologetic till the end of his life. (I wrote about Tibbets when he died in 2007.) Lewis reportedly recorded in the official plane logbook the lament: “My God, what have we done?”
“I saw his tears as he recalled the moment,” Kondo said of their meeting on the show. “He held my hand with his warm hand.”
Kondo said that the encounter with Lewis changed her life because it ended her anger and instead made her determined to work for peace. Her one lifelong regret has been that she didn’t visit Lewis while she was a college student in the United States decades later and he was hospitalized in ill health.
But Lewis did set her on her life mission. She has been to countries such as India, South Korea and Iraq (right before the Gulf War) in her attempts to spread a message of peace and disarmament.
“I understood,” Kondo concluded tearfully, “that nuclear weapons need to be abolished.”
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Japan to Join No Nuke Club."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter