Physics Honors, San Leandro High School, San Leandro, USA
Shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese during World War II, the US decided to respond to the action. On August 6, 1945, the US dropped its first atomic bomb on the island of Hiroshima at fifteen minutes past eight in the morning of Japanese time. This bombardment destroyed the city of Hiroshima, ended the lives of hundred of thousands of civilians as well as impacted the health of thousands of its survivors (Cobban 2000). In John Hersey’s Hiroshima (Figure 1), he depicted the real-life experience of six survivors on the day of the bombardment and their lives over the four decades since the bombardment.
Hersey told the experience of six of the Hiroshima bombardment survivors individually yet organized in a way that follows chronologically of what happened on of the day of the bombardment. The six survivors that the author chose to write about were: Miss Toshinki Sakaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, and Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. These six survivors were innocent civilians whom were not in any way directly related to the war or to the attack of Pearl Harbor. Miss Sasaki was a clerk in a personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works; Dr. Fujii was a physician who owned his private hospital; Mrs. Nakmura was a tailor’s widow who had to take care three little children; Father Kleinsorge was German priest who belonged to the Society of Jesus; Dr. Sasaki was a young surgeon at the Red Cross Hospital; and lastly, Reverend Tanimoto was a pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church. None of these victims were aware of their fate in the morning of August 6, 1945, and were doing their daily routines.
Hersey divided the book into five chapters. In Chapter 1 – A Noiseless Flash, Hersey wrote about the six survivors’ daily routine right before the atomic bomb was being dropped. After the bomb was dropped fifteen minutes past eight in the morning of August 6, 1945, the first thing these survivors noticed as something unusual: a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. In order to give the readers a better idea of the location of the each of the six survivors, Hersey gave specific distance that these survivors were away from the center where the bomb was dropped. Hersey did the same thing in the following chapters, continued to give readers a clearer picture of what was going on with these survivors. Followed by the flash, an explosion had occurred. Although these survivors were not close to the center of bombing, they were able to feel and see the impact of such an explosion. Buildings started to collapse and things started to fall from the ceiling. Many of them got hit and went into unconscious.
In Chapter 2 – The Fire, Hersey described the situations after the explosion of the atomic bomb through his six characters. The whole city was destroyed and many civilians had died. The ones that had luckily survived were badly injured, needing help as well as hoping to find their loved ones. What are being described in this chapter correspond with the pictures under the appendix (Figure 3, 4, & 5). Chapter 3 – Details are being Investigated, was about how the survivors helped each other and gather together, waiting to get help from the government. On the way to where these six survivors as well as the rest of the survivors hoping to find safety, they had witnessed the unbearable of the corpus as well as some of the badly burned civilians lying on the streets, not yet dead but cannot seek survival. Chapter 4 – Panic Grass and Feverfew talked about Hiroshima and its civilians days and months after the bombardment. Hersey focused on his six characters and reflect their surroundings. Lives for these people were not the same anymore, besides losing all their properties, some of them had lost their families as well as got themselves injured. Only that they were not aware of the huge impact that the radiation caused by the bomb would caused later on, in decades, on their health aspects.
The last chapter of Hiroshima, Chapter 5 – the Aftermath, was written four decades after the explosion. Hersey went back to these six survivors after the bombardment to take a look at their lives after the explosion in order to conclude the book. Although these characters were not what they used to be anymore after the explosion, all of them were strong enough to carry on and moved on with their lives. In this final chapter, readers could see how the Japanese were a group of determined people. They did not bargain or blame anyone for what the bombardment had affected them; rather, they simply listened and respected their government’s decision of ending the war and rebuilding the city. Hersey, besides writing about his characters, also provided some information about the negative impacts of the radiation. Many of the “Hibakusha”, explosion effected survivors had developed life-long diseases that were related to overdose of radiation on and after the days of the explosion. At the end of the story, Hersey gave the statistical average lifespan of a Hibakusha, which was 62, a number that were below average international lifespan, thus was far below the one within Japan. His purpose was to reinforce the impacts of the use of the atomic bomb.
Through the experiences of the six of the Hiroshima bombardment survivors, Hersey was trying to communicate his points of view toward the use of weapons of mass destruction. It was obvious that the action of bombing had caused negative impacts on the innocent civilians. Hersey especially chose the kinds of survivors who were in no way related to the tragedy that had happened to Pearl Harbor and were victims of the atomic bomb. Hersey’s persuasion was effective, since his method to get his ideas across was based on both sentimental aspects as well as statistical evidence of the event. The stories about these six survivors were very truthful and personal. Similar experience can be found throughout other sources regarding the bombardment (Shintani & Hayakawa 1997; Sakama 1995). Furthermore, what these survivors had witnessed and the health aspect of their lives being described can be verified by creditable Internet sites and database articles. Hersey’s style of writing was showing the readers of what had happened instead of telling. He successfully brought to attention to the public one of the most concerned topics about weapons of mass destruction, lives of the innocents as well as the health aspects of the survivors.
Cobban, Helena. (2000). Looking at Hiroshima: tough, touching. Christian Science Monitor, 92, 9.
Hersey, John. (1973). Hiroshima. New York: Random House, Inc.
Sakama, Motoko. (1995). Hiroshima" Legacy: the Story of One Japanese Family. Christian Science Monitor, 87, 10.
Shintani, T., & Hayakawa, N. (1997). High Incidence of Meningioma in Survivors of Hiroshima. Lancet, 349, 1369.