Last week, The New Yorker made available online the John Hersey Hiroshima article he wrote for the one-year anniversary of the August 6, 1945 atomic blast on Hiroshima.
I may have read it years ago, but I don’t recall having done so. And I can’t imagine forgetting what he wrote. Having just been in Hiroshima last month, I was drawn to the re-release of Hiroshima and read its 31,000 words in one sitting.
It’s a masterpiece.
Hersey focuses on six ‘survivors’ of the atomic blast:
Miss Toshinki Sasaki, a personnel clerk at the department of the East Asia Tin Works;
Dr. Masakazu Fuji, a physician at a private hospital;
Mrs. Masakazu Nakamura, a widow;
Father Wilhem Kleinsorge, a German priest;
Dr. Terufumi Saski, a surgeon (no relation to Miss Toshink Sasaki); and,
The Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church.
While more than 100,000 people died in the blast and much of Hiroshima was obliterated, Hersey chose to do what had not been done in most of the accounts of the bombing: he told the story of six people who escaped death. While you also learn about the destruction of the city and how many of its citizens died, there is no attempt on the author’s part to discuss the moral, ethical, or political/strategic issues. Hershey simply provides the reader insight into an aspect of the bombing that had not been previously told.
Hersey, who at the time was a war correspondent (he had yet to write his Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Bell for Adano), wrote these profiles without resorting to emotion or to sensation. In vivid detail, he chronicles what happened to six inhabitants of Hiroshima both that day and over the succeeding year. What Hersey thought is not part of Hiroshima.
In choosing to let the ‘survivors’ tell their story and in transcribing what happened to each of them, Hersey has given us what has to be the clearest and most unforgettable description ever written of life after a nuclear blast.
The New Yorker article, which took up virtually the entire August 31,1946 issue of the magazine, was soon turned into a book and has been in print continuously ever since.
In addition, Hersey returned to Hiroshima 40 years later and found all six of the individuals he had written about in 1946. He tells their continued stories in an article also printed in The New Yorker (published July 15, 1985). That Aftermath article has not been made available online, but you can read it as an added chapter (Chapter V) in the Vintage edition of Hiroshima. However, know that Hersey here departs from just letting the six individuals tell their story. He injects himself and ‘a point of view’ to what had previously been simply a direct, vivid account of the after-effects of the destruction of Hiroshima.
If you haven’t read the original article, you have missed a powerful and haunting account of the results of what happened for those who ‘survived’ the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.
Joseph Chamberlin said:
I remember reading “Hiroshima” in high school. It was a captivating read. To imagine the destruction wrought to avoid more is still perplexing. I had heard that Pres. Truman did not even know about the bomb. I also heard that we could have sent the Japanese a movie of the bomb’s capacity. Not sure why we dropped the second before allowing time for the impact of the first to be fully felt.
It always amazes me that we are the only country to use the ultimate weapon.
Thanks for the post.
william Plitt said:
Thanks Rick for passing on this piece of historical record. I don’t believe I have ever read such a powerful account of the attack by our B-29’s over the city of the people of Hiroshima as this. Obviously, our leaders, particularly those who seek military solutions to present day conflicts, haven’t read this either. Should they do so, I doubt if a bomb would ever be dropped anywhere, for any reason without dignified conversations between conflicting sides. The passage that leaped out from the context of human tragedy was this response by the natural world by one of the survivors, Ms. Sasaki, the personnel clerk at the tin factory:
Even though the wreckage had been described to her, and though she was still in pain, the sight horrified and amazed her, and there was something she noticed about it that particularly gave her the creeps. Overevery thing—up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks—was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city’s bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of plants intact; it had stimulated them. Everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane and clotbur and sesame and panic grass and feverfew. Especially in a circle at the center, sickle senna grew in extraordinary regeneration, not only standing among the charred remnants of the same plant but pushing up in new places, among bricks and through cracks in the asphalt. It actually seemed as if a load of sickle-senna seed had been dropped along with the bomb.
Therein lies the hope. A steadfast witness. BP