The book Hiroshima is by John Hersey and was written in 1946. It is an important book because of the history it records and the accounts of the people who were actually there. It is important the human element is not forgotten in this event. Pictures of the mushroom cloud made by the bomb have become an icon for Hiroshima and the atomic bomb, but do not allow a person to relive the experience through the eyes of someone who survived the actual event. It is important that people realize that this was not that long ago and could happen anywhere under the right circumstances.
The author, John Hersey, was a war journalist. He was born in Tientsin, China in 1914 to missionary parents. The Hersey family moved back to the United States in 1925 where John continued schooling and attended Yale University. After graduation he began work as a war journalist for Time magazine and later for Life and The New Yorker, as well. Hersey was one of the first journalists to arrive in Hiroshima after the bomb dropped. He was originally sent to get a story for the New Yorker regarding the bomb and its effects. What he gave them was a 48 page story covering the experiences of six bomb survivors.
This story was run in the New Yorker in its entirety, a first for a magazine like that. The story was made into the book “Hiroshima” not long after. The book is a non-fiction account of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. It follows the stories of the six people through the experiences before, during and after the bombing. It also contains a section regarding their lives and the bombs long term effects 40 years later. The people in the book were from different backgrounds and social classes but the bomb brought everyone to equal ground.
Among the survivors were: 2 doctors, a widowed seamstress and her children, a young, female factory worker, a German Catholic priest and a Methodist minister. The book begins with the day of the bombing and allows a look into the lives of everyday people doing everyday things. While there were sirens that warned of attack, the sirens had sounded an “all clear” a few hours before the bomb dropped. Many of the people had built bomb shelters in case of attack but these were little protection against an atomic bomb.
Most people at the time of the bomb were going about their daily lives with little thought of impending disaster. One of the things that most of the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing remember is the fact that the flash of intense light was not accompanied by any noise they could remember. One of the important parts of the book is the description of the devastation to the human population in Hiroshima. Depending on the distance from the center, people were incinerated, maimed, burned or injured from the blast and its repercussions.
“… he [Tanimoto] met hundreds and hundreds who were fleeing, and every one of them seemed to be hurt in some way. The eyebrows of some were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands…Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing… almost all had their heads bowed, looked straight ahead, were silent and showed no expression whatsoever. ” (Hersey 1946/ 1973) Over a hundred thousand people were killed by the bomb and thousands of others were injured. Aside from broken bones and internal injuries, the burns were the worst injuries.
Many people were so badly burned they were unable to escape from the fires that had broken out everywhere and swept through Hiroshima. Many others drowned when the river rose and they were too badly hurt to pull themselves off the ground to safety. People everywhere screamed for help but out of the “150 doctors in Hiroshima, 65 were dead and most of the rest wounded. Of 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were dead or too badly hurt to work. ” (Hersey 1946/1973) While it is grotesque, the images provided make you understand how horrible it really was for the survivors.
It was not just about the pain but also about missing family members, a loss of homes, and most importantly, a loss of personal security. The book does have a tendency to go into details that are not required to get the point across to the reader. Things such as “She once had several expensive kimonos, but during the war one had been stolen, she had given one to a sister who had been bombed out in Tokuyama, she had lost a couple in the Hiroshima bombing and now she sold her last one. ” (Hersey 1946/1973) It is these types of details that seem to be more information than necessary.
The six survivors in Hersey’s book give chilling accounts of their experiences before, during and after the blast: Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto was the pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church. He spoke excellent English, dressed in American clothes, had many American friends and studied theology at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia. Before the blast, he was standing at the door of a rich man’s house where he was going to store valuables from the church. The house was 2 miles from the center of the blast. During the blast, he was laying between two large rocks.
After the blast, he saw the house was gone and ran into the street. Soldiers coming out of a dugout in the hills were bleeding all over, dazed and silent were the first thing he was saw. Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura was the widow of a tailor who had been killed in the war. She was trying to provide for her three children: son, Toshio (10), daughter, Yaeko (8) and daughter, Myeko (5). She used her husband’s old sewing machine to earn money for food. Before the blast, she was looking out her window at a neighbor. During the blast, she was ? of a mile from the center of the blast.
She saw a bright light and was thrown into the next room and the house came down around her. After the blast, she dug herself out of the debris and heard Myeko crying. There was nothing from the other two until she began searching. She pulled them out and was relieved to discover none were hurt. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge was a German priest of the house of Jesus. Before the blast, he was reclining on a cot on the third floor of the parish house she shared with 3 others. During the blast, he was 1,400 yards away from the center of the blast.
He remembered seeing a flash of intense light but has no idea how he escaped the house. After the blast, he wandered around the vegetable garden. All the houses were gone except the Jesuit mission house. Dr. Terufumi Sasaki was a member of the surgical staff at Red Cross Hospital. Before the blast, he was 1,650 yards from the center of the blast. He was walking down the hall towards the lab, carrying a blood sample for testing. During the blast, he had just passed a window when he saw the flash of light and felt the blast rip through the hospital.
His glasses and shoes were ripped off but he was otherwise unhurt. All around him, however, were dead and dying people, collapsed walls and ceilings and blood. Miss Toshiko Sasaki (no relation) was a personnel clerk at East Asia Tim Works. Before the blast, she was sitting at her desk talking to a co-worker. During the blast, she was 1,600 yards from the center of the blast and rooted to her chair. She saw a great flash of light, everything fell and she lost consciousness. After the blast, she was buried underneath the large bookcases that had been behind her with her left leg twisted and broken beneath her.
Dr. Masakuza Fujii was the sole doctor of a private hospital. Before the blast, he was settling on the porch to read his paper. The hospital hung out over the river on wooden pilings and he currently had two patients in residence. His wife was in Osaka at the time so he was alone. During the blast, he was 1,550 years away from the center of the blast. He saw a brilliant flash of light and the hospital toppled into the river, taking him with it. After the blast, he was trapped between two long timbers, holding him across the chest like chopsticks. It was the only reason his head was above water.
This book increased my understanding of world history in regards to the damage that humans can inflict on each other and how we seem to get deadlier as history progresses. Looking at events like Hiroshima, the German camps and Pearl Harbor we understand that we are definitely doomed to repeat history if we cannot learn from it. Hiroshima was a horrible human tragedy but today, the atomic bomb is not the threat it had once been. This is largely due to the survivors of Hiroshima, who told their stories to prevent another occurrence. (Hersey, 1946/1973)
My understanding of world history has given me a deeper understanding and sympathy for the millions of people who have lived through or died in any major conflict. It is important that we understand the past in order to crate a better future for ourselves and our descendents. “Hiroshima” is a book that should be read by anyone who is interested in world history. Hiroshima is an important part of history and should be remembered as a warning of how devastation takes only a second but the aftermath continues forever.
Hersey, J. (1973) Hiroshima (J. Hersey) New York: Random House (original work published in 1946)