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Wednesday, May 16,2012

A-bomb survivor keynotes OU’s International Week

By Brooke Bunce
Photo Credits: Photo by Ian C. Bates.
Photo Caption: International Week keynote speaker Koko Kondo poses for a portrait before her speech on Monday.

To kick off Ohio University's International Week, keynote speaker Koko Kondo gave an emotive and energetic address to a packed Baker University Center Ballroom Monday night.

Kondo is the youngest survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. At 8 months old, Kondo cannot recall the day of the disaster but has devoted much of her adult life to speaking out against the horrors of war and advocating for peace.

Before Kondo took the stage, Christopher Thompson, chair of OU's Department of Linguistics, briefly introduced Kondo. Thompson grew up in Hiroshima, incidentally right down the street from Kondo's family, then known by their family name, Tanimoto.

"Koko is no stranger to Ohio University students," he said, showing off pictures of Kondo with OU students during peace study tours in Japan. "Ohio University has been indebted to the Tanimoto family already, and so it's about time that Koko come here in person."

When Kondo came forward to speak, she tearfully clutched her chest and thanked the audience for allowing her to share her experiences.

She first explained her and her father's role in journalist John Hersey's book, "Hiroshima." Kondo's father, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, was a Methodist minister who was recognized for his relief efforts after the blast. When a group of NYU students were polled in 1999 about books that should be carried on to the next generation, Kondo said, Hersey's novel was the top pick. 

Kondo, who stands no taller than 5 feet, defiantly told the story of correcting Hersey when he referred to Kondo as a male in the novel's final chapter, "The Aftermath," written 40 years after the bomb.

"Mr. Hersey, I am not a boy, I am a girl!" she declared, a statement that led to Hersey personally crossing out the mistake and correcting it in Kondo's edition of the book.

Because she was only 8 months old during the time of the catastrophic nuclear blast, Kondo had no recollection of the event, but pieced together the aftermath as she grew older, she said.

"I could not ask my parents to recall that day… They could not sleep in the night over and over… I gathered information little by little."

Kondo said she first realized the harmful effects of the bomb through her father's work with the Hiroshima Maidens, a group of 25 young women who were disfigured as a result of the atomic bomb but sought reconstruction surgery in the U.S.

"These girls were so sweet; they would brush my hair … I would look at their hands and all their fingers would stick together," Kondo said. "Some of them, the eyes were attached to the forehead, some of the lips to the chin. As a child, I was scared at first."

ONE OF THE MOST MONUMENTAL moments in Kondo's life was an appearance on the television show, "This Is Your Life." On the show, she, her father and her mother were situation face to face with the co-pilot of the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb, Air Force Capt. Robert Lewis. At the time, Kondo was only 10 years old.

Before that instance, Kondo said that it was her childhood quest to find the man who dropped the bomb and "give him a punch or a bite or a kick!" Because, as she put it, her personal mantra was "I am the good one; the other one is the bad one."

However, seeing Capt. Lewis changed her mindset tremendously, Kondo explained through watery eyes.

"Until that moment, I hated him," she said. "Seeing him, I thought, he is just a guy. I cannot hate a human being… After the show I went up to him, and I just touched his hand. It was a big hand, it was warm."

Kondo explained that while she was in school in the U.S., Capt. Lewis became ill, and she still regrets not taking the effort to see him in the hospital.

She also recounted her time at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, or ABCC. There, Kondo said she faced humiliation and was furious that she had to stand on a stage to be examined, nearly naked, in front of a group of doctors and people.

"Yes, I was in Hiroshima but I didn't start the dumb war! Why do I have to show my almost naked body to the people?" said. "The tears came down from my face." 

Kondo explained more about her father and his advocacy efforts after the bomb dropped. Her father, being a well-known minister in the town, was away at the time of the explosion and ran back to his home, thinking only of his daughter and his wife. His resentment that he could not help others, Kondo said, drove him to work for peace and recovery.

To conclude her talk, Kondo relayed a message of peace to the audience. "I'm depending on you; I'm putting everything on your head. I know you can make a better world. Our world is so small."

She also called for abolition of the use of all nuclear weapons. 

Kondo's closing comments prompted a standing ovation from the entire ballroom audience.

International Week will continue with a variety of events that include:

Thursday, May 17

• International Student Union Talent Show, 6-9 p.m., Baker Center Theater.

Friday, May 18

• International Studies Forum: International Music Fusion or Music as an International Bridge, 3 p.m., Anderson Auditorium (Scripps Hall, Room 111); Ryan Skinner, assistant professor of musicology (ethnomusicology) at Ohio State University will be speaking on the topic.

Saturday, May 19

30th International Street Fair from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Court Street between Union and East Carpenter; over 30 student groups and community organizations will be selling international food, crafts and more, making this the biggest street fair yet. A stage will be located at the intersection of Court and Washington to showcase global music and dance.

Sunday, May 20

World Cup Soccer Championship and free BBQ lunch, 2-8 p.m., Peden Stadium OU.


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