Hiroshima, Mon Ami: “History’s Most Awkward Handshake”

In August of last year, the blog Conelrad Adjacent, which traffics in what it calls “Cold War strangeness,” posted a story that attracted much well-deserved attention.* It described a 1955 episode of the infamous TV show This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards. For those too young to remember, the show, Conelrad Adjacent explains

. . . would flabbergast an ordinary citizen or a celebrity by telling him or her that they were on live, national TV. From the stage of the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, the genial emcee would then proceed to reveal the subject’s biography with the help of the This Is Your Life scrapbook. The most emotionally resonant component of the show was when Edwards would dramatically unveil the identity of a mystery guest who had some deep sentimental connection to the subject.

Believe it or not, This Is Your Life actually based an episode on the Hiroshima bomb, which

. . . focused on Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Japanese-born, American-educated Methodist minister who had a parish in the doomed target city. Fate spared Tanimoto on that August 6, 1945 morning [and he was] able to bear witness to the hideous aftermath. John Hersey’s landmark 1946 book, Hiroshima, documents how Tanimoto, without regard to his personal safety, aided his wounded and dying countrymen in the hours and days following the bombing [and] large portion of the updated version of Hersey’s book concerns Tanimoto’s life-long mission to promote peace and help the hibakusha (the Japanese term for survivors of the atomic bomb).

How exactly, you may be wondering, did This Is Your Life imagine it could pull off showing sympathy for survivors without incurring the wrath of much of America? Then, even more than today, many Americans believed that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the bow that tied the gift of Japanese surrender in World War II. In fact, This Is Your Life basically let the chips fall where they may. Conelrad Adjacent explains.

After the minister recounted how he and his friend had disregarded the commonplace air raid signals . . . a loud, disembodied Brooklyn-accented voice was heard from offstage: “At zero six hundred on the morning of August 6, 1945, I was in a B-29 flying over the Pacific. Destination, Hiroshima.” . . . Edwards explained to his confused guest . . . that what he had just heard was “A voice of a man whose life is destined to be woven up in the threads of your own, Reverend Tanimoto. We’ll meet him later in your story.” Tanimoto still looked confused and . . . worried.

After the commercial, with

. . . a harp flourish, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay walked out from behind the sliding door and shared history’s most awkward handshake with Tanimoto. The audience applauded this unprecedented meeting.

Perhaps mindful of his fund-raising tour and, as a man of the cloth disposed to forgiveness, Reverend Tanimoto was gracious enough. Meanwhile, turns out that, perhaps unique among the Enola Gay crew, Robert Lewis was a tormented soul. Later, fellow crew members accused him of selling them out, not only in regards to their shared mission, but financially because Lewis sought to profit from his story. For instance, according to Conelrad Adjacent, he nearly cancelled his appearance on This Is Your Life because it refused to pay him a fee.

Makes today’s reality TV, however over-the-top, seem tame in comparison, doesn’t it?

*The term Conelrad was taken from an emergency broadcasting system deployed in the United States during the Cold War.