REVIEW : Hiroshima – atomic catastrophe

Erica Commisso | Contributor

Hiroshima, in the United States, was considered a victory. The scientific development that was the Atomic bomb broke records and effectively solidified victory in World War II for the Americans. What is long forgotten, however, is that August 6, 1945 changed the lives of many Japanese people. With one detached soldier pressing his hand to a cool, metal button and dropping the bomb, the lives of many Japanese people had been turned upside down. Literally.

Pulitzer Prize winner John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima, explores how bombing the Japanese city affected the lives of real people, and follows them as they fight to re-order their lives, knowing full well what they have lost, but not what they suffer from. Hersey brings their struggles to reality, choosing not to forget the lives of people who suffered an insurmountable tragedy. He brings to light several human rights violations, the measures people had to take to survive, and the bravery of people who chose not to give up. Toshiko Sasaki, for example, was a mere 1600 yards from the centre of the explosion and spent days with her leg trapped under a bookshelf as a result of the chaos. When she was finally freed, she found that she had suffered breakage in her leg, along with swelling and several infections. She spent several months in and out of hospitals, and her injury disintegrated her engagement, her career, and many of her everyday capabilities. With one foul sweep, the bomb came, sent her into shock, and left her ordinary life in its wake.

Hersey describes every character and every scenario in a manner that makes the even frighteningly real to the readers. He establishes a connection of sorts between each person and the audience, evoking an empathetic feeling from the reader. He notes that it took a long while before survivors, or “hibakusha”, could open up about their experience during the bombing. He also recognizes the more permanent damage the bomb caused.

 “It would be impossible to say what horrors were embedded in the minds of the children who lived through the day of the bombing in hiroshima. On the surface, their recollections, months after the disaster, were of an exhilarating adventure,” (page 90).

In the beginning section of the book, Hersey places you right into the action. He descriptively outlines where each person he interviewed was when the bomb hit Hiroshima. It feels almost as though he entered their brain, processed each memory and each emotion, and describes them as if they were his own. The latter section goes on to chronicle the lives of his interviewees during their recovery, and long after the bombing itself. Some succeed, some continue to struggle, but, as one could imagine, every single “hibakusha” walks away from the attack having learned a lesson, and appreciating life itself. Survivors learned that life alone is something to be grateful for, and that material things are replaceable and relatively invaluable in comparison to human interaction and relationships. War is called into question as a means of attaining victory, control, or peace, and the questioning comes from both survivors and Hersey himself.

“It seems logical that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?” (page 90).

The final few chapters of the book, however, take on a tone that one would expect from a novel directly relating to human rights. In a non-fiction novel, transformed from magazine article (published in The New Yorker in August 31, 1946), the climax is immediate, so a different focus entirely tends to emerge at the end. Hersey encourages the Americans, the Japanese and the worldwide population to never forget the atrocities that occurred as a result of the bombings in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He reiterates that they are people, just like everyone else, who suffered an extensive ordeal. They witnessed mass fatalities, had everything they knew blown away with one flash of light, and many lost their lives. On that fateful day in 1945, an estimated 130,000 people lost their lives, and another 80,000 were injured. The the lives of the injured, however, were drastically changed forever. Bones were broken and radiation poisoning swept society. Some women were sent to the United States for plastic surgery to remedy their severe disfigurement, and many had lifelong symptoms that were caused by the atomic bomb. But, they only learned of the cause of the illness far after the bombing.

Forty years after the initial publication of the book, Hersey went to back to see what had become of the survivors he wrote about. He then included their fate in a new edition of Hiroshima, published in 1989.

 We still see threats of nuclear bombs in modern times. The war in Iraq is a prime example, however a miscommunication. The United States, led by George W. Bush, felt that there were weapons of mass destruction being harboured by Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government. Though no such claim was ever substantiated, the fear of an alleged nuclear bomb became overwhelming. This fear, for the most part, came from knowledge of the damage caused by a nuclear bomb.  Long term effects of the explosion, as witnessed first-hand by the people in Hiroshima, include a contaminated water supply and medical issues. radioactive fallout occurs over a wider area because of prevailing winds. Hiroshima’s survivors presented the intense damage to an international stage. They were affected in the name of war and in the name of national dominance, to serve no peaceful purpose or greater good. That, Hersey argues, is why Hiroshima should never be forgotten.

 Editor’s note: Some tragedies in history are forgotten by people who have never witnessed them. Therefore it is books, such as Hiroshima that record the stories of people to remind us of what catastrophes wars could lead to. Though an old book of reporting, this story is an important one to be told and examined in our present day. 

What are other books you feel should still be mentioned? write to us in the comment section below.



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