John Hersey and the Invigoration of the Atomic Bomb
Submitters name: Scott Wong
Age Grouping: Grades 9-12
Date Written: June 11, 2007
Hiroshima and the Invigoration of the Atomic Bomb
Just before dark, Mr. Tanimoto came across a twenty-year-old girl, Mrs. Kamai, the Tanimoto’s next-door neighbor. She was crouching on the ground with the body of her infant daughter in her arms. The baby had evidently been dead all day. Mrs. Kamai jumped up when she saw Mr. Tanimoto and said, “Would you please try to locate my husband? He loved our baby so much. I want him to see her once more.” (Hersey 40-41)
When Hiroshima was designated to become the first military target for the atomic bomb, thousands of Japanese families were still unaware of the catastrophic event that would change their lives forever. The bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. In just a blink of a flash, much of the city was destroyed, leaving tens of thousands dead, wounded, and missing. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Tens of thousands more were massacred. Back at the home front, American newspapers, journals, and radio broadcasts were filled with headlines about the atomic bomb. The headlines were usually uncompassionate, however. Many newspapers of the time simply provided statistics about the aftermath of the bomb drop, with relatively little information from the points of view of the survivors. The popular American attitude towards the Japanese was usually unsympathetic. One writer, John Richard Hersey, traveled to Hiroshima in 1946 to begin writing Hiroshima. Unlike the other thousands of stories written about the bomb, Hiroshima was different. The book is a breakthrough between traditional views toward nuclear weaponry and literary modernism because of its sympathetic tone accounting the experience of six Hibakushas during the bombing.
Hibakusha translates to “explosion affected people” in Japanese. The term was first used after the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, replacing the original term “survivors.” As John Hersey notes in Hiroshima, “the Japanese tended to shy away from the term ‘survivors,’ because in its focus on being alive it might suggest some slight to the sacred dead” (92). Hibakushas were defined as:
those who had been in the city limits on the day of the bombing; those who had entered an area within two kilometers of the hypocenter in the first fourteen days after it; those who had come into physical contact with bomb victims, in administering first aid or in disposing of their bodies; and those who had been embryos in the wombs of women in any of the first three categories. (Hersey 97)
When Hersey was in Hiroshima in May 1946, he “interviewed thirty men and women in all and chose six for his report” (Sanders 15) because of the very detailed experiences they communicated through and because of language barriers with the other twenty four people. The idea and decision to visit Hiroshima first came from the managing editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn, who was “astonished that in all the millions of words being written about the bomb-how and why the decision was made, how the bomb came to be built, whether it should have dropped at all-what had actually happened in Hiroshima itself…was being ignored” (Rothman 4). After interviewing the six survivors: Miss Toshinki Sasaki, Dr. Masakuza Fujii, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, Father Wilheim Kleinsorge, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, and Reverend Mr. Hiyoshi Tanimoto, Hersey later states that “I felt I would like to write about what happened not to buildings but to human beings” (qtd. in Lifton and Mitchell 87-88). Unlike other accounts about the Hiroshima bomb, Hersey here decides to focus on writing his article about the points of view from the survivors, not just regurgitating similar information about the effects of the bomb from dozens of other writers.
On August 31, 1946, Hiroshima was first published in The New Yorker, and its publication greatly impacted the American public. It quickly sold out within the first few hours of its distribution, and many people demanded reprints. “Albert Einstein ordered 1000 copies of the book, Bernard Baruch ordered 500, and numerous other readers purchased multiple copies” (“Hersey, John: Introduction”). The one main reason for its success was the contents that the article has: tracing the point of views from the survivors instead of from Americans. Rather than emphasizing what happened to the Hibakushas, other journals and newspaper articles of the time often details about the damage done to buildings and bridges instead. Hiroshima, on the other hand, puts little details about the characteristics of the atomic bomb. Instead of describing the bomb as a mushroom cloud, Hersey refers to it the majority of the time as a “noiseless flash.” The significance of the mushroom cloud is easily identified by the American public during the months following the explosion, especially when pictures were later released by the media. The mushroom cloud perspective symbolizes destruction, an eyewitness account of the bomb from a faraway distance from the center of the explosion. The reference of a “noiseless flash,” however, offers a different perspective from the Hibakushas within the sight of the explosion. While most Americans stereotype the atomic bomb as a gigantic mushroom cloud, the Hibakushas see it as a quick, destructive flash. This distinguishes the American perspective from the Hibakushas’ perspective, where Hiroshima becomes the “breakthrough” in provoking the American public more to further disapproval uses of nuclear weapons.
Much of Hersey’s text incorporates imagery with narration. The first chapter of the book, titled “A Noiseless Flash,” tells what happened to six Hibakushas on the moment before the bomb was dropped. The chapter provides a firsthand connection and identification of the survivors. Mr. Tanimoto woke up early on August 6, 1945. The day before, Mr. Matsuo assisted Mr. Tanimoto in delivering his piano to Koi, and in return, Tanimoto promised to help Mr. Matsuo by hauling out his daughter’s belongings. In the minutes before the explosion, the air-raid sirens suddenly went off, and a “tremendous flash of light cut across the sky” (Hersey 5). Mrs. Nakamura was at home early that morning, watching her neighbor tearing down his house. A few years ago before the atomic bomb explosion, Mrs. Nakamura’s husband died in Singapore, who enlisted for the Japanese army. Since then, she has been supporting her children by taking in piecework using the sewing machine she has kept from her husband. As Mrs. Nakamura stood in front of the window watching her neighbor, everything suddenly flashed white. Her first reaction was to secure her children at home. Dr. Masakazu Fujii owned a private, single-doctor hospital. It was hot that morning. He ate breakfast, and undressed down to his underwear and read the Osaka Asabi on the porch. Then suddenly, a terrible wave pushed him into the river beside the hospital. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, like Dr. Fujii, undressed down to his underwear that morning to read the Stimmen der Zeit in a room of the third floor in the mission church house. When the big flash came, Father Kleinsorge went out of his mind, and noticed that all buildings collapsed except for the Jesuits’ mission house. Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, the Red Cross Hospital Surgeon, was performing a Wasserman test on a patient. While walking up to the third floor to get incubators for the test, he felt a reflection of the flash from a nearby window. Everything collapsed. He was not hurt, thanks to where he stood during the explosion. Miss Toshiko Sasaki was in her office, and concentrated on some papers to make entries of new employers. The blinding light suddenly filled the window screen, and she next found herself under stacks of books as the ceiling collapsed. The events that next follow the six individuals are horrifying, tragic, and gruesome, but they also display heroism, courage, and a sense of community. Instead of providing a brief summary of the Hibakushas’ details, Hersey’s use of imagery helped the American public to identify and connect with what really happened to the thousands of Hibakushas in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hersey’s narration in the text offers a new unfamiliarity that most Americans expect to see within an atomic bomb story. After the first chapter, Hersey gives a detailed account of the six Hibakushas’ struggles for survival. What lacks between traditional literary works and Hersey’s works are the drama and gruesome scenes that Hiroshima is populated with within hours after the bomb explosion. By using an omniscient, narrative tone, Hersey’s transition from the description of the bomb in the first chapter to the inevitable struggles for survival in the second chapter enabled his reader to explore a new form of human experience away from traditional attitudes of the atomic bomb.
One of Hersey’s main strategies in stimulating sympathy for the Hibakushas is by creating a route between his readers and the six Hibakushas. Hersey describes the “noiseless flash” six times in the first chapter from each of the Hibakusha, and immerses his readers in an experience like no other. In one particular passage, Mr. Tanimoto, unaware of the bomb’s origin and its overall destructive force on the city of Hiroshima, attempts to save as much people as possible:
Mr. Tanimoto greeted the priests and then looked around for other friends. He saw Mrs. Matsumoto, wife of the director of the Methodist School, and asked her if she was thirsty. She was, so he went to one of the pools in the Asano rock gardens and got water for her in his basin… Soon he found a good-sized pleasure punt drawn up on the bank, but in and around it was an awful tableau—five dead men, nearly naked, badly burned, who must have expired more or less all at once, for they were in attitudes which suggested that they had been working together to push the boat down into the river. Mr. Tanimoto lifted them away from the boat, and as he did, he experienced such horror at disturbing the dead—preventing them, he momentarily felt, from launching their craft and going on their ghostly way—that he said out loud, “Please forgive me for taking this boat. I must use it for others, who are alive.” (Hersey 36-37)
By using imagery as a weapon, Hersey evokes not only the experience of six Hibakushas, but also of the whole population of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. This sets a predominant mood in the book that the readers identify a sense of horror, as well as the love of community in an area devastated by an atomic bomb.
The heroes that emerged from Hiroshima were not just the six Hibakushas who struggled for survival, but everyone that fought to live on and those whose main reaction was to aid the wounded. Dr. Sasaki, unhurt thanks to where he stood during the explosion, did not know the extent of the power of the bomb until he stepped outside the Red Cross Hospital. His main reaction, like Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge, was to save people:
Dr. Sasaki worked without method, taking those who were nearest him first, and he noticed soon that the corridor seemed to be getting more and more crowded… At least ten thousand of the wounded made their way to the best hospital in town, which was altogether unequal to such a trampling, since it only had six hundred beds, and they had all been occupied. The people in the suffocating crowd inside the hospital wept and cried, for Dr. Sasaki to hear, “Sensei! Doctor!,” and the less seriously wounded came and pulled at his sleeve and begged him to go the aid of the worse wounded. (Hersey 25-26)
Certainly, a sense of community must have formed after the explosion in Hiroshima. Hersey carefully examines this community in writing Hiroshima for his American audience. Dr. Sasaki, for instance, emerges as a hero in the Japanese perception when compared to the American perception as a military target. The heroes that emerged in the United States were the military figures of the war, the scientists of the Manhattan Project, and the bomber pilots who dropped the atomic bombs. This narrative offers the readers an understanding of people totally different from them, and further developing a humaneness attitude that lacked in wartime periods.
Each page in Hiroshima offers an appeal to pathos, which Hersey decided to use as his main device for the American audience. According to Patrick B. Sharp in From Yellow Peril to Japanese Wasteland: John Hersey's "Hiroshima, he states that “Hersey was also heavily influenced by the imagery of literary modernism, which provided a familiar vocabulary for discussing the effects of war and technology on individuals” (442). In discussing about the various impacts that the bomb has on the Hibakushas, rather than targeting the importance of the atomic bomb, Hersey invoked a breakthrough from traditional views toward nuclear weaponry to literary modernism. Traditional views of nuclear weaponry emphasize the support of its use on enemy bases and vengeance towards the attack on Pearl Harbor. Little sympathy was accentuated on the Hibakushas in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Literary modernism offers a different perception. By deciding to focus his narrative on six Hibakushas, Hersey’s text highlights the antipode of a typical American response to the bomb and the tragedies of thousands of other survivors. These opposing views include a strong attention towards the sufferings of the Hibakushas and especially a lack of humanist values and concerns for a difference race.
Back at the home front, little sympathy was directed towards the survivors of the bomb experiments. Most Americans appreciated the power of the atomic bomb, which ensured the victory of a long war that left millions of people worldwide in despair. Yet, for vengeance of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was appropriate for the Americans to use the bomb in order to end the war quickly with little casualties. In the postwar period before the publication of Hiroshima, the majority of Americans generally desired to use the bombs’ destructive force in Japan. From August 10-15, 1945, a Gallup Poll asking “Do you approve or disapprove of using the new atomic bomb on Japanese cities” (Gallup 521) was conducted on about 1000 American adults nationwide. “The poll results showed that about 85 percent approved, 10 percent disapproved, and 5 percent were unsure of the decision to use the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (Gallup 521). There were also similar surveys from other sources conducted throughout the year, but the statistics usually indicate that the majority of Americans approved the atomic bombings. This reveals that most Americans regarded the Japanese as an enemy, especially following the intensifying, vengeful mood that built up after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In retrospect, most Americans in 1945 were unconcerned with what the bomb did to the victims in Hiroshima, but concerned more about winning the war.
Though many articles in the media described the destruction of Hiroshima and what the Hibakushas suffer though, most of them deviated readers from connecting with the Hibakushas. When television broadcasts and newspaper headlines inform about the bomb, the statistics usually emphasized the destruction done to buildings and bridges. These preferences in statistical views exemplify the points of views from the bombers, government, and American public. In the US military, “When bodies were discussed, the tone of the language was objective and medical” (Sharp 439). Instead of detailing the catastrophic sufferings of the Hibakushas, the government tended to deviate from their points of view. The following passage, titled Hiroshima Gone, Newsman Finds, appeared in the New York Times newspaper on August 31, 1945:
Hiroshima was destroyed at one strike by a single atomic bomb dropped by a Superfort on the morning of Aug. 6. There is not a single building standing intact in the city, which had a population of 300,000… The death toll is expected to reach 100,000, and people continue to die daily from burns suffered from the bomb's ultra-violet rays. However, as I trod my way through the debris, wondering if my mother was still alive, I realized that in reality Hiroshima had been destroyed through the stupendous destructive power of a single atomic bomb. Two miles from the center of the city I found dwellings heavily damaged. Many of them were crushed, as if from heavily descending pressure. Another half-mile farther I found walls of dwellings smashed in and the roofs shattered, attesting to the air pressure the bomb created. (Nakashima)
Many eyewitnesses also continued to follow this similar view towards the aftermath of the bomb. Emphases on building statistics were usually dominant over death statistics. It is only through the publication of Hiroshima that broke readers away from the “mushroom cloud” traditional views of the bomb towards a more “noiseless flash” that the Hibakushas experience.
The point of views from the bombers and the US government, in particular, also focused on the “mushroom cloud,” in contrast with the “noiseless flash” that Hersey details in Hiroshima. As Patrick Sharp puts it, “The August 12 San Francisco Chronicle devoted the upper-right fourth of the front page to a picture of the "smoke cloud" taken by the American military at Hiroshima, with the subtitle ‘Monument to Victory’” (439). Captain William Parsons, one of the crew members of the Enola Gay, states that “I knew the Japs were in for it, but I felt no particular emotion about it” (Takaki 43). In the bomber’s point of view, many newspapers and magazines put large photos of the “mushroom cloud” on their headlines. After pictures were released to the media, except pictures that detail the wounds of Hibakushas, the following type was perceived in many articles as the attention grabber:
Fig. 1. Hiroshima Cloud. The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. 28 May 2007 <http://www.mbe.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/hiroshima.htm>.
Again, little emphasis was put on the Hibakushas in the media during the several months after the bombing. Rather than perceiving the atomic bomb in mass murdering hundreds and thousands of innocent Japanese, it is viewed as a destructive force. The public did understand about the destructive powers of the atom bomb, and some even were sympathetic towards the Hibakushas. As Steve Rothman puts it in The Publication of “Hiroshima” in The New Yorker, “most of these stories steered clear of details that would help readers identify with the dead or the survivors” (2). The media was more focused on the destructive powers of the bomb, rather than on what the bomb did to the victims. The media simply did not portray the full horrors of the atomic destructions, because most reporters and journalists of the time gave brief summaries of the tragedies in Hiroshima in contrast with Hiroshima.
The media also could not portray the full horrors of the atomic destructions. Patrick Sharp states that, “In the aftermath of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US government engaged in a long and protracted battle to control narratives about the atomic bomb. The military controlled the press releases and all other information about the atomic bombings” (438). In the weeks following the atomic attacks, access to certain highways and roads, which were mostly destroyed, were limited. Furthermore, the US military also practiced censorship and limited information, such as radiation sickness statistics, to the public. Therefore, most reporters and journalists could not grasp complete information about the sufferings of the Hibakushas, as the “government (and the military in particular) also attempted to squelch or refute reports about the effects of the atomic bombs on humans, especially the devastating and lingering impact of radiation” (Sharp 439). As information is limited, sympathy for the Hibakushas was also limited. Therefore, reporters could only supply newspaper headlines with the atomic “mushroom cloud” image, statistics of damages on buildings, and brief summaries of death numbers.
Prior to the Hiroshima disaster, the majority of Americans at home were fearless of the power of the atomic bomb. They regarded the atomic bomb as something similar to the use of conventional bombs. As Michael J. Yavenditti states in John Hersey and the American Conscience: The Reception of Hiroshima, “Americans had learned too little about the bomb to become aroused over its use against Japan” (30). While photographs revealed the “mushroom cloud” aspect of the atomic bomb, the media especially made Hiroshima seem like “just another” conventional bombed city. Censorship in the media limited information to the American public by pointing out that conventional bombs were similar to that of atomic bombs. Therefore, “Prior to Hiroshima, all the American public knew of the bombing was statistics—figures about explosive power, numbers of casualties—and that it had finally led to the end of the war” (“John Hersey”). Hiroshima, on the other hand, persuaded readers to believe that the atomic bomb was much more different from other kinds of bombs, which further stimulated readers to learn more about what the Hibakushas experienced.
A remarkable factor of the publication of Hiroshima also lies in the background information that Hersey incorporated within his text. While many other Japanese cities were devastated by conventional bombs during the war, Hiroshima was relatively unaffected. Likewise, the inhabitants in Hiroshima did not seek shelter, as daily warnings in the city usually did not predict signs of potential threats. In Hiroshima, Hersey carefully delivers this message to his readers, encouraging them to view conventional bombings differently than atomic bombs. While many inhabitants did not seek shelter when daily warnings usually indicate minor threats, the explosion of the atomic bomb was a big surprise. Readers were aware that the atomic bomb was an enormous destructive force that differed from the familiar air raids of World War II. “Consequently, the atomic attack demonstrated the savage power of the new weapon in an almost laboratory-type experiment on human beings and seemingly confirmed a prior rumor among Hiroshima residents ‘that the Americans were saving something special for the city’” (Yavenditti 37). This indicates that many Americans discovered new information in Hiroshima that other writers of the time usually left out when writing about the atomic bombs. Furthermore, for the first time, Hiroshima compelled readers to recognize the Hibakushas as human beings, rather as enemies of war.
The justification of using the bomb was based on the foundation to end the war quickly with few American and Japanese casualties. In reverse, the decision to use the bomb resulted in much more casualties on the Japanese side. In his speech on August 6, 1945, after the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, President Truman indicates that:
The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet… We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war… If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware. (Truman)
Truman’s points indicate that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military targets, even when the Japanese were at the brink of surrender. With Germany and Italy defeated, Japan was left by herself with limited resources, men, and fighting spirit. According to Mick Hume, writer of Hiroshima: The White Man’s Bomb Revisited, the Strategic Bombing Survey argued that “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated” (Hume). “Navy Admiral William F. Halsey, Third Fleet commander, was quoted in the press as saying that the Japanese had been on the verge of surrender before the atom bombs were dropped in the summer of 1945 and that the ‘atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment’’ (Rothman 11). The Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D Eisenhower, even assert that “the Japanese were ready to surrender and we didn’t have to hit them with that awful thing” (qtd. in Newsweek, 11 November 1963). Despite knowing that the Japanese were powerless to resist back with heavy force, the Japanese did not have a chance to survey Hiroshima before surrendering. After the bomb was dropped, the city was virtually devastated, making transportation very difficult in and out of the city. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, and the Japanese were forced to surrender.
Although President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb was for the benefit of the American population, the US government knew that the Japanese were at the brink of surrender. “In 1993 the author Gar Alperovitz obtained hundreds of pages of US National Security Agency intercepts of secret enemy wartime communications. These revealed that US intelligence knew top Japanese army officers were willing to surrender more than three months before the Hiroshima bomb was dropped” (Hume). Although the United States dropped the bomb because Hiroshima was a military target and because it would end the war quickly, there are more reasons for the justification of the decision. One other factor lies in the politics of racial superiority, by the reason that the bomb was designated to dropped in Japan rather than Germany. The Military Policy Committee, the head of the Manhattan Project to build the bomb, held a meeting in May 1943 to determine military targets for the atomic bomb. Germany was still relatively active in the war in 1943, but the decision of using the bomb in Japan was the preferred and first choice. This indicates that Japan was the main military target and that Germany was never effectively considered.
To the United States, Germany was only an enemy. The Japanese, however, were regarded as a different kind of people, an alien nation. On August 11, 1945, President Truman delivered another speech in regards to the atomic bombings. He states that “The only language the Japanese seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true” (qtd. in Gar Alperovitz 563). By treating the Japanese as “beasts,” Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was also justified by racial superiority, which sets the Japanese as a less advanced race compared to the Western powers.
The racial barriers between Japan and the United States are in fact, a huge contribution to limited American responses to the negatives of the atomic bomb. According to Mick Hume, “Allied propagandists made a clear distinction between their two major enemies. They showed the problem in Europe not as the whole German nation, but as Hitler and the Nazis. In Asia, by contrast, the enemy was ‘the Japs’ – an entire malignant race” (Hume). During this era, the Japanese were depicted as monkeys and dogs, and as President Truman indicates: “beasts.” These prejudices were also present before World War II, such as the 1906 San Francisco Japanese education crisis, which may have contributed to a growing negative sentiment towards the Japanese as tensions later grew between the United States and Japan. Aroused over the attack on Pearl Harbor, these racial barriers also likely diminished the values of protests against atomic bombings. It is through the publication of Hiroshima that drew more Americans toward a sympathetic attitude of the Hibakushas.
During World War II, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, of which the majority was United States citizens, were forced into internment camps scattered across the country. The primary reason for the migration was to protect US foreign activities by removing any possible sabotage in military facilities from Japanese citizens. Yet, with the extent of other past time tensions between Americans and Japanese, such as the 1906 San Francisco Japanese education crisis and the rejection of “Japan’s attempt to include a clause on racial equality in the covenant of the new League of Nations,” (Hume) the overall relationship between the Japanese and Americans is not too friendly during the World War II era. After a sense of vengeance stirred the American public after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is evident that few Americans were even sympathetic towards the Japanese. Perhaps, even viewing the Japanese as a less advanced race suggests that the bomb must be dropped to end the war quickly.
Traditional views of nuclear weaponry, which consist of the stereotypical “mushroom cloud” view and the emphasis of its destructive powers, can even be marked by a stance on racial superiority. While the majority of Americans supported the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it is evident that little tenderness was shown towards the Japanese Americans at home. The internment of the thousands of Japanese American citizens sparked a sense of hatred among many people in Japan. Although many Americans in the west coast of the United States did support the internment rule, very few Americans were actually sympathetic to the Japanese-Americans, even when they knew that the rule violates American principles of freedom. The following article, titled Japanese-American Troops Most Honored, was published in a newspaper in 1945 shortly after the Japanese surrendered:
Now that the war is over, combat statistics make the internment of Japanese-Americans seem doubtfully shameful. Nisei soldiers not only fought with great distinction, but the 33,000 men of the Nisei 442nd Regiment and the 100th Battalion also emerged as the most decorated men in American military history…More incredibly, despite heavy casualties there were no known frontline Nisei desertions as against an overall service rate of about 15 percent. In all, some 8000 Nisei joined the army after Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson announced in January 1943, that they could do so as volunteers in segregated units. (Clifton and Kirshon 728)
Nisei is a term referring to second generation Japanese-Americans living in the United States. While Japanese Americans did enlist in the war as segregated units, it is evident that the internment of Japanese Americans at home was indeed “doubtfully shameful.” There were no Nisei desertions in the units. The publication of Hiroshima, likewise, aroused regret for the discrimination towards the Japanese at home. Not only did Hiroshima created sympathy for the Japanese, but it also remind Americans of their responsibilities to protect laws under the Constitution. In dealing with the American conscience in the post war era, there is no writer as responsible as Hersey.
Another remarkable factor of the publication of Hiroshima also lies in the post-war era of the atomic bombings: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, and newborn baby deformities. In the first few seconds after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, tens of thousands were massacred. In one week, tens of thousands more died. The last effect of the bomb, radiation, took thousands more in the decades following the bomb explosion. Since the atomic bomb was a new weapon during World War II, the scientists of the Manhattan Project could not grasp the full power of the atomic bomb alone on human beings. One scientist wrote:
I wept as I read John Hersey’s New Yorker account of what has happened during the past year to six who were lucky enough to survive Hiroshima. I am filled with shame to recall the whoopee spirit… when we came back from lunch to find others who had returned with the first extras announcing the bombing of Hiroshima. That evening we had a hastily arranged champagne dinner, some forty of us; … [we felt] relief at the relaxation of security, pride in our part in ending the war, and even pride in the effectiveness of the weapon. And at the same moment, the bomb’s victims were living through undescribable horror (or rather, describable only in the simple, straightforward reportorial style used by Hersey). We didn’t realize. I wonder if we do yet. (qtd. in Rothman 11).
In 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt to urge for the creation of an atomic bomb. Later, he regretted sending the letter, stating that “I made one great mistake in my life…when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them” (Clark 620). Though the actual dangers of the atomic bomb were not revealed until weeks after it was dropped in Hiroshima, it is evident that the bomb has created a much more lasting impact on the Hibakushas. Upon reading Hersey’s Hiroshima, Americans at home could feel the actual sufferings of the Hibakushas. The impact of radiation sickness not only provoked sympathy towards the Hibakushas, but also heightened American sensitivities over atomic warfare.
While Hersey carefully analyzes the differences between explosion deaths and radiation sickness deaths in Hiroshima, readers are especially surprised with the narration of Mr. Tanimoto, Father Kleinsorge, and Mrs. Nakamura in the refugee of Asano Park. As David Sanders state in John Hersey Revisited, “The roaring wind flattened trees in Asano Park and brought large raindrops after the great fire. At this point, the reader will be jarred from the survivors’ limited point of view to recall the phenomenon of ‘radiation sickness’ and so break some of the spell Hersey has cast” (18). Likewise, this transition in the book between the six Hibakushas’ initial reaction and points of view to the sickening details of hundreds of more Hibakushas dying from radiation compelled readers to not just sympathize with those six Hibakushas alone. Instead, Hersey’s description of Asano Park provoked readers to see the suffering community in Hiroshima as a whole, and not just being limited to a set number of connections they can make with the six Hibakushas. As the chapter progresses, Hersey continues to use this transition to expand the readers’ attention in Hiroshima, ultimately convincing them that the Japanese were human beings.
In 1985, Hersey returned to Hiroshima to write the final chapter of Hiroshima: The Aftermath. Decades after the bombing in Hiroshima, Hersey continued to supply his readers with the points of views from the six Hibakushas and their assimilations in new communities in the post-war era. Mrs. Nakamura found a new job at Suyama Chemical, where she makes a suitable amount of money a day. As Hersey notes, “though her energy still paid its dues, from time to time, to the A-bomb syndrome, the searing experiences of that day in 1945 seemed gradually to be receding from the front of her mind” (Hersey 96). Dr. Sasaki built himself a new clinic, where he hired three therapists, eight nurses, and fifteen paramedics. He also had a soaring credit wit the Bank of Hiroshima, where he had an idea to use the money to build hot-spring spas for his patients. Father Kleinsorge, who changed his name to Father Takakura because he was finally a registered Japanese citizen, continued to do charity work in the Mukaihara church. In 1977, he fell into a coma, and died of A-bomb syndromes. Miss Sasaki, whose leg recovered years after the atomic explosion, converted into a Catholic. She became a nun, stating that “I shall not dwell on the past. It is as if I had been given a spare life when I survived the A-bomb. But I prefer not to look back. I shall keep moving forward” (Hersey 126). Dr. Fujii, like Dr. Sasaki, built himself a new clinic and lived a happy life as a doctor. In 1973, he died peacefully from A-bomb syndromes. Mr. Tanimoto became dedicated to work for peace, and established the United World Federalists in establishing Hiroshima as a Peace Memorial City. “Hiroshima: The Aftermath was published in The New Yorker on July 15, 1985, and it was subsequently added to a newly revised edition of the book, published by Knopf later that year” (Rothman 16). Like the previous chapters of Hiroshima, The Aftermath attempts to help readers identify with the life of six Hibakushas. Hersey’s decision to write The Aftermath reflects on his decision to remind the American public about the nonhuman use of nuclear weaponry against people.
Looking back at World War II, Americans in the 21st century could still not forget the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the decades pass by, Americans learn more about nuclear weaponry, a movement that replaced the public mood during World War II. While scientific and technological advancements, as well as easier access to information on weapons of mass destructions, enabled Americans to see their misdeeds in Japan, it is certain that there is no writer as responsible as Hersey for changing the American mind in the post-war era. With the publication of The Aftermath in Hiroshima, people still continue to read it today. As Steve Rothman states:
Certainly the millions of people who have read “Hiroshima” during the last five decades have found a chilling and unforgettable description of life after nuclear annihilation. It is hard to believe that these readers ever felt the same way again about the possible use of nuclear weapons, and in some respect their understanding of the reality of nuclear war must have continued to have at least some impact on their social and political activities. (Rothman 19)
While other forms of education such as daily editorials in newspapers and post-war books about nuclear weapons did stimulate the American conscious in the years following World War II, Hersey’s decision in writing Hiroshima is remarkable. He achieved what no other writers thought of during his era: to capture the bomb’s impact by considering the points of views from the Hibakushas.
Though Hiroshima has aroused millions of Americans to acknowledge their military role in international affairs, it is rather difficult to examine the varying effects that the book has on readers. As Rothman states, “No mass movement formed as a result of the article, no laws were passed, and reaction to the piece probably didn’t have any specific impact on U.S. military strategy or foreign policy” (Rothman 2). While this case may seem true, Hiroshima largely reflects on a moral and social change in the American conscious, rather than a political approach to change U.S. control of nuclear weaponry. The use of imagery, narration, and emotional contents, however, must have left the American public a sense of guilt and sympathy that was absent before World War II. Had Hersey never traveled to Hiroshima, the popular American attitude towards the Japanese might have prevailed for a longer period. If Hiroshima was never written, then surely millions of people would never fully grasp the horrifying events of the thousands of Hibakushas in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Americans today typically mark Hiroshima as a “classic.” Indeed, the book has definitely shaped the way millions of Americans think over the past several decades. Before the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, the Japanese were regarded as enemies of war, aliens, and “beasts.” Before Hiroshima’s publication, Americans at home stereotype the typical “mushroom cloud” view of the atomic bomb in contrast with the “noiseless flash” perspective of the Hibakushas. On August 31st, 1946, however, this popular attitude soon changed. The publication of Hiroshima revealed to the world that the use of atomic weapons on human beings was immoral and inhuman. Yet, the book has also pushed Americans to see the civilians of Japan less as enemies. By enabling its readers to connect and identify with the Hibakushas as people, Hiroshima is definitely a breakthrough between traditional views toward nuclear weaponry and literary modernism.
Clark, Ronald W. Einstein: Life and Times. New York: HarperCollins, 1971. 620.
Clifton, Daniel, and John W. Kirshon, eds. "Japanese-American Troops Most Honored." Chronicle of America. New York: Ecam Publications, 1992. 728.
Gallup, George. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1935-1971. Volume One. Random House: New York, 1972. 521.
Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, p. 563.
Hersey, John R. Hiroshima. New York: Vintage Reprint Edition, 1989. 1-160.
"Hersey, John: INTRODUCTION." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Deborah A. Stanley. Vol. 97. Thomson Gale, 1997. eNotes.com. 2006. 28 May, 2007 <http://lit.enotes.com/contemporary-literary-criticism/hiroshima-hersey-john>.
"Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Chart. PollingReport. 7 June 2007 <http://www.pollingreport.com/news.htm>.
Hiroshima Cloud. The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. 28 May 2007 <http://www.mbe.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/hiroshima.htm>.
Hume, Mick. "Hiroshima: the White Man's Bomb Revisited." Spiked 2 Aug. 2005. 23 May 2007 <http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CACD0.htm>.
"Ike on Ike." Newsweek 11 Nov. 1963.
"John Hersey." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 29. Gale Group, 1999.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC
Lifton, Robert Jay, and Greg Mitchell. Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial. New York: Avon, 1996.
Michael, Yavenditti J. "John Hersey and the American Conscience: the Reception of "Hiroshima"" The Pacific Historical Review 43 (1974): 24-49.
Nakashima, Leslie. "Hiroshima Gone, Newsman Finds: City Vanished Under Single Blow of Atom Bomb, He Says After Tour of Area." The New York Times 31 Aug. 1945. TimesSelect Archive. Boston. 28 May 2007 <http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00F15FE345F1B7B93C6A91782D85F418485F9>.
Rothman, Steve. "The Publication of “Hiroshima" in the New Yorker." 8 Jan. 1997. 21 May 2007 <http://www.herseyhiroshima.com/hiro.pdf>.
Sanders, David. John Hersey Revisited (Twayne's United States Authors Series). Boston: Macmillan Company, 1991. 12-22.
Sharp, Patrick B. "From Yellow Peril to Japanese Wasteland: John Hersey's "Hiroshima"" Twentieth Century Literature 40 (2000): 434-452.
Takaki, Ronald. Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995. 43.
Truman, Harry S. Speech. White House, Washington D.C. 6 Aug. 1945. 23 May 2007 <http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/index.php?documentdate=1945-08-06&documentid=59&studycollectionid=abomb&pagenumber=1>.