When Mother Teresa (1910-1997) visited Nagasaki in 1982, she stared intently at a photo panel in a museum. The old black and white image that captured her attention was of a man who had burns all over his body, having survived the 1945 Nagasaki atomic bombing. Thirty-seven years later, that same man, Senji Yamaguchi, stood next to Mother Teresa, serving as her guide in the museum. Mother Teresa told Yamaguchi that God kept him alive so he could continue his venerable mission.
Two months later, Yamaguchi became the first hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) to deliver a speech at the United Nations headquarters. Showing a photo of his body covered with keloid scars, he concluded his speech by shouting, “No more Hiroshima! No more Nagasaki! No more war! No more hibakusha!” The world heard him.
Yamaguchi died on July 6 at age 82. He was 14 when the atomic bomb hit. He dragged his badly injured body, found his feet and devoted his life to support hibakusha and rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Before Yamaguchi became an activist, he tried to take his own life out of desperation. In the summer when Yamaguchi was 20, he slit his wrist with a razor and prepared to die. When he regained consciousness, he found his shirtsleeve caked with blood. The realization that he was once again saved became his new starting point and reason to live.
Yamaguchi once published a personal history titled “115,500 square meters of skin.” The unusual title comes from a rough estimate of the total area of skin that was burned by radiation based on the number of people who were killed or injured in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
“In addition to bodily injuries, how can the depth of distortion to individual ways of life be measured?” he harshly asked in the book.
The only way to eliminate vicious weapons that humans have invented is for humans themselves to eradicate them. There is no such thing as a magic wand.
This August marks the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II. I want the next generation to keep burning the torch of mission that Yamaguchi left behind.