Hiroshima Reaction Paper
Fall 2011 JOURn5313
He woke up at 7 o’clock that morning, got dressed, and went to work. Although the United States was at war, for many Americans, August 6, 1945, was a particularly normal day. However, the Japanese people living in Hiroshima experienced tragedy, disaster, and extreme devastation – a very different turn of events. In writing Hiroshima, John Hersey took a much different approach than the majority of journalists reporting the event. Most news reporting of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the resulting disaster focused on facts, statistics, and accounts from officials; however, Hersey told stories. Stories of six victims their lives intertwined in some way, shape, or form either before or after that horrific date – August 6, 1945.
Hersey uses the stories of six survivors, introduced at the beginning of the book, to show the horror and destruction resulting from the atomic bombing on Hiroshima. He illustrates their individual and collective experiences with specific accounts and meticulous details of their actions, thoughts, and decisions. Because his storytelling is so descriptive, at times, one must be reminded that it is non-fiction work. While it is not deemed typical journalistic writing, it accurately and objectively portrays the experience of the six survivors and other victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombings. Hersey’s storytelling and prose style evokes feelings of empathy. The author’s writing is from the point of view of those who lived the tragedy and the aftermath. The strength of the work lies in the consistent use of objectivity and maintaining the Japanese “hibakusha” point of view. By remaining an objective and unbiased writer, Hersey gives power to the reader to form one’s own opinion and ideas concerning the events, the tragedy, and aftermath of the bombing on Hiroshima. The author interjects facts and reporting in certain areas throughout the book, but he does so in the most beautiful and subtle ways, weaving news anecdotes into the character vignettes.
The characters are the foundation of the story. He uses each individual’s movements, sights, sounds, and experience to effectively describe what is happening all around them. Each sentence written describes “play-by-play” actions. The Japanese people living in Hiroshima were extremely stunned and unprepared unable to comprehend the magnitude of the damage. As seen from the accounts of the six individuals, they could not even begin understand the nature of the bomb or the attack, describing it in various ways: “the energy release when atoms split in two” or “gasoline sprinkled from airplanes.” The most clear and intelligible thing for them to do was to take immediate action and help others.
While he effectively writes about their conditions, actions, reactions, and routine following the bombing, Hersey rarely involves their emotions, personal thoughts, and opinions regarding the bombing and destruction surrounding them. When he does interject their personal thoughts, it is supplemented by an action. While he goes into great detail describing their movements and present situation, he rarely elaborates on their personal thoughts. For example, “Mr. Tanimoto ran past them. As a Christian he was filled with compassion for those who were trapped, and as a Japanese he was overwhelmed by the shame of being unhurt, and he prayed as he ran, ‘God help them.’” In this sentence, Mr. Tanimoto reveals a very personal thought and human emotion; however, the emotional aspect is barely touched on within the paragraph. The author lingers on the thoughts very briefly. In a way, because Hersey does not consistently harp on the personal emotions and conscience of each person and maintaining objectivity, the reader experiences the extreme urgency and call for action felt by the hibakusha. The six individuals were so intensely caught off guard and couldn’t comprehend the circumstances; they had little time to actually contemplate their personal feelings and emotions. Throughout the book, the author demonstrates the state of shock these people were in which led them to action and planning, rather than contemplating and brewing over the situation. The detailed and meticulous focus on their actions, reactions, and observations is the foundation of the book. The author’s prose style adequately and beautifully illustrates the horror and destruction through the eyes of the six hibakusha.
If you have studied or remember little involving the bombing of Hiroshima and the final stages of World War II, the stories of the hibakusha and the portrayal of the disaster, aftermath, and effects of the bombing do tend to make the reader forget “why” the United States bombed the Japanese. The history and reasons surrounding World War II are not the focal point and are rarely mentioned; therefore, the reader is left bereft of America’s military intentions. One puts down the book leaving with a gruesome and accurate portrayal of the scene in Hiroshima, which may jade American’s patriotic sentiment. The details of what these six individuals experienced following the bombing and how it affected their lives, make the reader feel sympathy, compassion, and stimulates a different reaction than reading entries written in history books. While many may point out this observational criticism, in hindsight it seems the author was hoping to accomplish a different goal than other reporters and journalists when the essay was originally written and published . The author intentionally left out certain facts and statistics and used the Japanese hibakushu and civilian point of view, to make Americans feel something, to humanize the horrific situation, and to illustrate to those living halfway across the world that there was serious damage done to communities and families. Furthermore, when the HIroshima was originally published in 1946, a year after the bomb was dropped, Americans had been bombarded with war propaganda and other reports which supported the decisions made by the United States government. This written account, allows Americans to actually comprehend the atomic bombing and its seriously debilitating affects on the lives of innocent human beings.
The six survivors were extraordinary individuals; and, while they shared a horrific experience, their stories “before” and “after” the bomb were very different. Their lives each intertwined in some shape or form, with Father Kleinsorge (Takamura) being the central connection; however, they each dealt with the physical, mental, emotional effects differently. Additionally, Hersey rarely speaks of any animosity or hatred harbored for the United States. This is an interesting aspect of the book and even in the concluding and final chapter, written many years after the original manuscript, these people had accepted the circumstance and moved forward with their families and lives. The final chapter is a necessary and welcomed addition to the essay. It concludes their journey and shows the tenacity, healing, and strength of the hibakusha.