By Neil Earle
On March 12, 2009 at Mt. San Antonio College I learned a new word.
The word is Hypocenter. “Hypocenter” is now the preferred word for the center of a nuclear bomb blast, in particular the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
Tommy Morimoto and Kikuko Otake were at Mt. Sacs last month to tell students about their experiences as survivors of the Hiroshima attack. The soft-spoken Morimoto firmly believes he has a guardian angel. You see as a 13 year old he had pestered his aunt incessantly to let him go with them that beautiful clear morning in Japan. His brother, grandfather and aunt were going to make the 1½ mile trip to the center of the city but he was ordered behind over his strident teenage protests. He had to baby-sit his little 3 year old nephew.
Tommy had been left in Furusihi City outside Hiroshima by his mother back in America. About ten years before she had taken her two sons back to Japan from San Francisco where Tommy was born. Then came Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 and the two boys were stranded in Japan as his mother had returned back to America earlier, intending to return for them.
It was just after 8:15 AM on August 6. Tommy was coming out of the restroom and saw a bright orange light over the city, then a giant explosion. The ground shook. “Windows were shredded, “he remembers, “Six minutes later I saw a cloud shaped like a mushroom and didn’t know what it was.”
People were screaming outside. He ran into the road. “People were burned black…their clothes torn...their skin hanging down loose.” His family straggled back home. “My grandmother was 100% burned. I don’t know how she made it home. So I made her bed and watched as the skin peeled away from her shoulder…I couldn’t do anything for her. There wasn’t any medicine. All she wanted was water. ‘I’m thirsty,’ she kept saying.”
His brother arrived next. Half his body covered in burns. Tommy put him to bed and gave him water…water…water…everyone wanted water.
His aunt struggled home somehow the next day. She passed away cradling her baby. The next day his grandmother died. Days later the air raid sirens sounded. His brother urged him to go to the shelter. When he returned his brother was dead. Left with a 3-year-old boy he discovered that heated rice and water made a nutritious diet.
In 1948 Tommy Morimoto returned to Lancaster, California with his mother. When the Korean War broke out he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In 1952 at the front he heard shrapnel exploding only five to ten feet away. Many of his buddies died. “I’m sure someone from heaven watched over me,” he concluded. “There is a God and he cares not just for me, but all of you.” He bowed deeply to the audience.
Kikuko Otake spoke next.
As a former Japanese instructor at Mt. Sacs she received a warm welcome. She was five years old when the bomb detonated that August 6, 1945. The irony that her father was a pacifist drafted into the Imperial forces and sent to Hiroshima was followed by the irony that her mother felt the air raids on Kobe meant they might be safer in Hiroshima.
That hot August morning Kikuko was playing outside with her brother. Her other brother was in the living room reading comic books. In a life-saving moment Kikuko went inside to talk to her mom who was doing the laundry. “The next minute the house collapsed and we were all knocked unconscious. Mother heard crying children and managed to dig herself out of the debris. She found my little brother and me buried up to our chests. I had a big gash in my head, and blood was spurting out like a fountain.”
The family bandaged themselves as best they could.
The bomb had exploded a mile away. The fireball reached nearly 2 million degrees. The explosion generated a wind that travelled 1000 mph. It flattened the city. “Anything combustible burned into flame…eyebrows, hair, clothes. “Mother took us to a nearby river where we were horrified to find grotesquely burned people. Many had skin hanging from their fingertips.”
Professor Otake said the victims would walk with their arms held out in front as their fingertips were above their hearts and didn’t throb from pulsing blood. Because the attack took place during Monday morning rush hour many were incinerated in their streetcars. Her father’s posting was very near Ground Zero. Still, her mother left the children on the sandbank and went into the city to look for him.
Kikuko noted that temples and schools were turned into relief stations. The air soon grew thick with flies. “No words can describe the horror of an atomic bomb.”
The educator showed slides of paintings done by Hiroshima survivors. It was like scenes one imagines from Dante’s Inferno. “The whole city was a sea of fire. The river near the sandbank was filled with swollen corpses.” The drawings made the point vividly.
Kikuko added that today’s nuclear weapons are 25 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast. “These bombs will destroy the world,” she concluded.” There is no way for survival but peace. Let there be peace.”
Tommy Morimoto is 76. Kikuke Otake is 69. There are still a few of those telling their heart-rending stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to hear them. Their gripping testimony cries out for a response. But what kind?
Mt. SAC's students helped send 1000 paper cranes to the Children’s Peace Museum in Hiroshima. The Japanese believe that anyone who folds 1000 cranes will be granted a wish.
What about Christians?
There are usually one of two reactions. Pre-Millennialists, those who believe Jesus will return to initiate a 1000 year reign on the earth as indicated in Revelation 20, too often adopt a passive “wait and see” attitude. “Jesus will fix all this so don’t get too excited,” is one reaction. But that doesn’t seem to be true to the spirit of the man who gave the world the Parable of the Good Samaritan. As Bishop N.T. Wright alluded to on the Stephen Colbert Show last year, "If your son says he has appendicitis it doesn’t help to say, Cheer up, Sunday we’re going to Disneyland." Some actions need to be taken now. Jesus commended the Unjust Steward because he took quick effective action (Luke 16:8).
But you and I are only one small voice in a world of nuclear-armed powers. Can we make any difference on the international scene?
The Postmillennial reaction was favored by America’s founding religionists who saw the beginnings of society in the New World as a possible seed bed for the Kingdom of God to get started. As a City set on a Hill, American Puritans hoped to play a part in helping the Kingdom along. This idea is still around but doesn’t grab people like it used to. The City on a Hill doesn’t look like Utopia almost 400 years after Massachusetts Bay colony got started.
Still it would be unwise and hasty to fall between the two stools of passive watching and trying to engineer world peace on our own. The point is Christians are expected to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), people zealous for good works. A sincere cry for peace should not go unnoticed.
Maybe we don’t all have political power but each and every one of us has influence. That can begin around the kitchen table, the board room table or the cabinet desk. As Christians we are called to be ambassadors for Christ, ambassadors of understanding, ambassadors of a different Kingdom that will indeed cover the earth one of these days (2 Corinthians 5:20). The thing to do is get started now, to be checking our own hard-heartedness and all too human tendencies to not get involved. Ask for the stony heart to be removed, said Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus wept for Jerusalem and its future fate, where the long-term trends were turning grim (Luke 19:41).
The point is we can get involved. We cannot do everything but we can do something. We may feel alone but in reality we are not. One person with zeal can sometimes make a majority whether you’re anti-slavery agitator William Wilberforce or an Erin Brokovich. We can resolve in our own lives to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. We can turn the emotion these survivor’s stories generate into a motivational force to put us on our edge, to answer the call to service when the opportunity arises. This is where prayer comes in and we are reminded often to pray hopefully. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” Paul told one of his congregations. “Here I am, send me,” the prophet Isaiah told God.
Empathy and caring and concern all by itself can make a difference because these attitudes can sometimes positively affect others who do have power to act. Millions have found that just being in a receptive mode sets new forces in motion. “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God” prayed the founder of World Vision after seeing starving children in Korea. Look at the results.
Spiritual preparation for good works and a renewed Christian voluntarism can work wonders, whether we are talking about a local Habitat for Humanity Project or the ending of slavery in the 1800s. “Lord, make us instruments of your peace,” we sing in Church. From that perspective, then, our work is cut out for us.