Tsutomu Yamaguchi emphasised a philosophy of malice towards none
t was August 6, 1945. Colonel Paul Tibbets eased the throttle of the Bomber B-29 Superfortress, ‘Enola Gay’. The aircraft picked up speed and lifted off into the dark night sky from the Tinian airbase, a small North Pacific island, dotting the Pacific Ocean, 1,500 miles south of Japan.
In the cargo bay of the bomber aircraft sat a 10-foot tall metal structure, code-named the ‘little boy’ the first ever atom bomb, with 64 kg uranium-235 at its core. Fifteen minutes into the flight, captain William S. Parsons started arming the device. The final countdown of a highly secret mission was on, a mission to test the destructive power of an atomic device. An atomic device had never been field-tested till then.
At 7.25 in the morning, the aircraft, flying at an altitude of 26,000 feet, reached its destination over the town of Hiroshima and started its final decent. At 8.16, it released the bomb which detonated at 1,900 feet above the ground. Colonel Tibbets, now back on his home run, saw a massive mushroom of smoke and felt the aftershocks. The bomb flattened everything in a five-mile radius of the town, killing 70,000 people instantly, taking the lives of 80,000 more in the subsequent months. The destructive power of bombs is expressed in terms of TNT. One kg of TNT can destroy everything in a 6X6 ft room. Thousand kilograms make a tonne. The Hiroshima blast had a power of 20,000 tonnes of TNT.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi, an employee of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, was on a business trip to Hiroshima and sleeping comfortably in a guesthouse that fateful day when the atomic bomb fell, barely 2 km away from the epicentre of the blast. He skin was badly burnt, palms were blistered, hair was singed and hearing lost, but miraculously he survived. He spent the night in relief camp and after basic medical treatment limped back 180 miles to his hometown to join his wife and children.
An unfortunate town called Nagasaki.
On August 9, the second atomic bomb the code-named ‘fat man’, struck the quite town of Nagasaki. Made of more sophisticated plutonium, the bomb had a fire power equivalent to 30,000 tonnes of TNT. But thanks to the irregular terrain of the town, the casualty was less. An estimated 50,000 dead on day 1, and 25, 000 more were badly injured. But Yamaguchi survived once again, perhaps to tell the story to the generations to come. Atomic blast survivors are called Hibakusha in Japanese. There are only a few hundreds of Hibakusha in Japan. But there are very few who are niju Hibakusha (double survivors) or double hibashuka.
Yamaguhci was one of those. But the best of him came out when he was invited to deliver a speech on nuclear non-proliferation in the United Nations, where he talked about disarmament but emphasised a philosophy of malice or grudge towards none. Despite the fact that he was suffering from an incurable gastric cancer. He died on January 4, 2010.
On Hiroshima day, let us remind ourselves that a few milligrams of uranium, which is enough to power an entire city for a year, can also destroy one, in a minute. All depends on how we use technology. But let us also not forget about the strength of the human mind that can fight the worst of technological catastrophes, an infinite Hibakusha.
The Yamaguchi hallmark.
(The writer is Head, Dept. of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)