Koko Kondo (nea Tanimoto) was 8 months old when she was buried in rubble, trapped in her mother’s arms. The American crew of the Enola Gay had just detonated the first atomic bomb ever used in combat over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy”, delivered an explosion equivalent to 12-15,000 tons of dynamite. Koko Kondo’s house was leveled by the blast, but somehow she and her mother both survived.
Miraculously, her whole family survived the atomic bomb, included her siblings and her father, Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto. As a Methodist minister, he devoted his life to peacemaking and establishing the Hiroshima Peace Center.
In 1955, Rev. Tanimoto was the special guest on the American TV show “This is Your Life”. The TV host Ralph Edwards asked Rev. Tanimoto to share his story of surviving the atomic bomb and about his work helping the Hiroshima Maidens, the women who were disfigured from the bomb blast. In the background, the eerie sound of an air raid siren goes off, followed by the voice of a mystery man behind a privacy screen. “At zero six hundred, on the morning of August the 6th, 1945, I was in a B-29 flying over the Pacific. Desination: Hiroshima.” It was the voice of Captain Robert A. Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, who then waited backstage while Edwards began the next segment.
The host Ralph Edwards had flown Rev. Tanimoto’s wife and children to America to surprise him on live TV. The 10 year old Koko Kondo was also waiting backstage when she saw Captain Lewis. She asked her mother, “who is that man?” Her mother told her that he was the captain on the B-29 bomber that was responsible for the Hiroshima blast. Koko Kondo glared at Captain Lewis with intense hatred.
Captain Lewis now entered the stage to retell his recollection of the day of the Hiroshima bombing. Koko Kondo began to walk towards him, intending to confront him for all the pain that he had caused. His voice was shaky, as if he were trying to complete the mission of retelling history without breaking down in tears. Captain Lewis said, “At 8:15 promptly, the bomb was dropped. We turned fast to get away from the deadly radiation and bomb effects. First, there was a big flash in the sky. And then the two concussion waves hit the ship. Shortly after, we had turned back to see what had happened, and there in front of our eyes, the city of Hiroshima disappeared.” Captain Lewis was visibly upset and was silent for several moments. Koko Kondo stopped her approach when she saw the tears forming in the eyes of Captain Lewis. The TV host Ralph Edwards intervened saying, “And you entered something in your log at that time…” Captain Lewis continued, “As I said before, Mr. Edwards, I wrote down later…”, Captain Lewis stopped again as his voice quivered and he wiped the sweat from his forehead before saying, “…my God, what have we done.” Captain Lewis then offered his hand to Rev. Tanimoto who eagerly received his handshake.
Seeing the emotional testament of Captain Lewis helped Koko Kondo forgive him. She witnessed his humanity, realizing that the war itself was what she truly hated, not necessarily this man who was expressing his regret for the orders he had carried out.
Forgiveness is a very personal process. Each of us has a choice to either allow forgiveness to happen or to fight that process. As I heard the painful story of the Tanimoto family, and how that pain inspired both Koko Kondo and her father Rev. Tanimoto became peace advocates, I felt a softening in my heart. That feeling in my heart helped me to recognize that forgiveness is an act that takes enormous strength, and should never be misunderstood as an act of weakness.