torsdag, april 02, 2009

The Luckiest or Unluckiest Man in the World? Tsutomu Yamaguchi, double A-bomb victim

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato are either the luckiest or the unluckiest men alive, and after three days in their company and long hours of conversation, I still had no idea which. It is sixty years since their monstrous ordeal and all three are well into their ninth decade. Mr Sato, who is 86, uses a wheelchair after injuring his back, and 89-year old Mr Yamaguchi is almost deaf in one ear. But all of them exude the dignified vigour of elderly Japanese, the world’s healthiest and longest living race. “I was a heavy smoker,” Mr Yamaguchi told me during our first meeting, “but I gave up smoking and drinking when I was 50. I didn’t expect to live to 80. And now I’m well over 80.” The miracle is not that he is alive now, but that he made it past the age of 29.

Mr Yamaguchi and his friends are freaks of history, victims of a fate so callous and improbable that it almost raises a smile. In 1945, they were working in Hiroshima where the world’s first atomic bomb exploded 60 years ago this morning, on 6 August 1945. 140,000 people died as a result of the explosion; by pure chance, Mr Yamaguchi, Mr Sato and Mr Iwanaga, were spared. Stunned and injured, reeling from the horrors around them, they left the city for the only place they could have gone – their home town, Nagasaki, 180 miles to the west. There, on 9th August, the second atomic bomb exploded over their heads.