Saturday, January 9, 2010

The only official "double A-bomb survivor" dies at age 93

Tsutomu Yamaguchi might have been called the unluckiest man in the world: He was getting off a streetcar in Hiroshima, Japan, which the 29-year-old was visiting on business, when the atomic bomb known as Little Boy was dropped on that port city on August 6, 1945. He believes he was less than two miles from the blast's epicenter.

His eardrums busted and suffering burns on his upper torso, he spent the night in a bomb shelter before returning to his home in Nagasaki the next day. On August 9, 1945, he was in his boss's office telling him about the Hiroshima blast when the atomic bomb known as Fat Man was dropped on that city.

Though the number of "twice-bombed people" (nijū hibakusha) may have numbered 165, he was the only one officially designated as such. In interviews later on, he said he thought the mushroom cloud had followed him from Hiroshima.

From the AP:
The mayor of Nagasaki said ''a precious storyteller has been lost,'' in a message posted on the city's Web site Wednesday. Yamaguchi died Monday morning of stomach cancer, the mass circulation Mainichi, Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers reported.

Yamaguchi was the only person to be certified by the Japanese government as having been in both cities when they were attacked, although other dual survivors have also been identified.

''My double radiation exposure is now an official government record. It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die,'' Yamaguchi was quoted as saying in the Mainichi newspaper last year.

In his later years, Yamaguchi gave talks about his experiences as an atomic bomb survivor and often expressed his hope that such weapons would be abolished.

He spoke at the United Nations in 2006, wrote books and songs about his experiences, and appeared in a documentary about survivors of both attacks.
He lived to the age of ninety-three, dying eventually from stomach cancer. His wife also suffered in Nagasaki, but she, too, lived to the age of eighty-eight. Despite his unique perspective on the bombings, his good health made him feel bad about speaking out on the issue of the bombings. From the New York Times:
In his later years Mr. Yamaguchi spoke out against atomic weapons, though he had earlier avoided joining antinuclear protests because of the attention he might have attracted, Ms. Yamasaki told The Independent. “He was so healthy, he thought it would have been unfair to people who were really sick,” she added.

Mr. Yamaguchi rarely gave interviews, but he wrote a memoir and was part of a 2006 documentary about the double bombing survivors. He called for the abolition of nuclear weapons at a showing of the documentary, “Niju Hibaku” (“Twice Bombed”), at the United Nations that year.
I haven't had a chance to visit Nagasaki yet, but I've visited Hiroshima twice so far. The museum and adjoining peace park carry with them a heavy theme of the horror of nuclear bombs in general, the lack of necessity of atomically bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki either as military targets or to end the war, and the need to rid all the world of nuclear weapons today. (They also — as I mentioned here — provide a fair amount of focus on the suffering of Korean victims of the A-bombs.)

Read that last link for my own take on "the Hiroshima narrative" of Japan's imperial history, with which many South Koreans, I believe, would find common understanding. Frankly, I don't know how accurate is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial account's debunking of the military necessity of bombing Hiroshima, but I haven't seen the debunking debunked either. At any rate, the museum is a must-see for anyone visiting Japan.


  1. What amazing misfortune. May he rest in peace.

  2. Misfortune mixed with tremendous fortune, methinks.

    I don't know if his ear drums recovered or not, but he managed to live to the age of 93 despite his exposure to two atomic explosions.

    Yet for the past 64 years, he has lived with the pain of having experienced such horror. In my two visits to Hiroshima, it seemed inescapable the way that the atomic blast informs so much of the city and its identity. That's my feeling as a visitor, and I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to grow up and live there with your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, etc., having experienced the horror of the attack and all the death that befell the city.

    Misfortune, perhaps.

  3. Very lucky, indeed.

    If not for the Japanese “supposedly” sneak attack at Pearl Harbor and their cohort’s blitzkrieg across Europe, who knows how the history of the A and H bombs would have unfolded—if at all or the shape of the world after their eventual invention? And what was Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi’s business? Was it war related at the time? Even if it wasn’t, his country was murdering countless innocents who did not want to wage war in the first place.

    As the men who invented the controlling influence of the Christian religion wrote, “you reap what you sow,” especially since the planters of these repercussions did so in the name of expanding an Imperialistic Empire at all costs. And can you “honestly say” that those two bombs didn’t save countless more lives (throughout the Pacific Rim) than the destruction that they caused? I know I lost one uncle at Pearl and a prolonged war might have cost me four more if an invasion of Japan was necessary.

    William Tecumseh Sherman wasn’t pulling any punches when he said, “war is hell,” but can you imagine the fallout today if an invasion of Japan had happened based on Sherman’s "scorched earth" policies (which even included buffalo eradication to destroy the Plains Indians)?


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