Hiroshima by John Hersey

It was on August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the United States of America. All of us have a fair idea of the damage it caused, or even a fair imagination of what terror it may have unleashed, but never before did I ever realise the ramifications of the destruction caused by a nuclear weapon.

John Hersey, a war correspondent, was commissioned by The New Yorker to visit Hiroshima in May 1946, wherein he interviewed six survivors, and tried to understand how they were spared in an incident that killed over 60,000 men, women and children, injured over millions, and destroyed an entire city, while the residual effects of the weapon were a story unto its own. For over a month, Hersey conducted interviews and visited the many sites in the city, and it was on August 31, 1946, when The New Yorker published only its advertisement material and Hersey’s 30,000-word story on the city ravaged by the ‘Little Boy’. The book describes how the magazine first wanted to publish the story in parts, but in a moment of inspiration, they decided to print the entire story in one issue.

It was during my first session with BYOB aka Bring Your Own Book at the Japan Foundation when I came to know of John Hersey’s Hiroshima. And since I have a strange attraction towards Japan, its culture and history, I had to but read this. It was an eye opener for me.

The story is based on six individuals who survived the attack in 1945: a German Roman Catholic missionary priest, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge; while the others were Japanese – a Red Cross hospital doctor, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki; another doctor with a private practice, Dr. Masakazu Fujii; a tailor’s widow, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura; an office girl, Miss Toshiko Sasaki and a Protestant clergyman, Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto.

A noiseless flash is the first chapter, where Hersey tries to recreate the position of each individual at the moment of detonation. “… a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky… It seemed a sheet of sun.” That morning, Tanimoto was helping move a friend’s belongings to another house, when the bomb struck, and he took cover in the rock garden; Nakamura and her three young children are home and are pommelled by falling debris and tiles, while Dr. Fujii was reading a newspaper on his porch overlooking the river. When the bomb struck, he along with his entire clinic topples into the river. Dr. Sasaki is the only person alive and safe in his hospital, and he immediately sets off helping the injured, while Fr. Kleinsorge is in his mission house, safe with the other priests. Miss Sasaki, who was in her office, loses consciousness. The ceiling of her office falls, while the floor beneath her collapses. The heavy bookcases behind her fell over her, leaving her leg twisted and broken. She was crushed by the weight of books.

They described a thick cloud of air over Hiroshima, it seemed almost like twilight. Fires had broken out in a number of places, screams of help could be heard by people and children under the rubble or trapped in houses on fire, while many decided to congregate at parks as those were the designated evacuation areas for their neighbourhood. Many lay naked, burnt badly and may have died almost at once.

“On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns—of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos.”

When Mrs. Nakamura and her children came upon a river, they felt thirsty and drank the water. Immediately they began to vomit and did so the entire day. Sometime during the day, it rained. The drops were described as being abnormally large, and with a city blazing, set more force to the wind and a gale added to everyone’s misery. Potatoes got baked under the ground, pumpkins in the garden were roasted.

Mr. Tanimoto wanted to help some people onto a boat, he realized they were too weak to move.

“He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces. He was so sickened by this that he had to sit down for a moment.”

At this point, I would like to add how as a school student, I was of the view that nuclear energy is important for development and key to our future. I was also a great follower of Greenpeace, and although I wished I could have embarked on their many save the marine animal projects, all I could do was sign their online email campaigns. However when I came to know that Greenpeace was actually against nuclear energy, it left me in a dilemma, and I must confess, I still am. I want to conserve the biosphere, however, somewhere I still stick to my belief that nuclear energy is necessary, and essential for India to be armed with nuclear weapons.

As a school student, I may not have come across the gory details of the effects of such a weapon, but the 1983-film Testament, will be unforgettable for me. It shows the gradual effects of radiation sickness, and it is terrifying.

If you want to read Hersey’s account, click here, and if possible, try and get your hands on this film. I had been aching to share this story with you, but while I may still be fighting my inner demons, I hope this makes it easy for you to choose a side.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

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