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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/4/20

John Hersey's Hiroshima

Author 89170
Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

' Yes, people of Hiroshima died manly in the atomic bomb, believing it was for Emperor's sake.'

A surprising number of people of Hiroshima remained more or less indifferent about the ethnics of using the bomb.

John Hersey, Hiroshima

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In 1946, on August 31 st , T he New Yorker dedicated editorial space to an article on what happened under the mushroom cloud in Hiroshima.

On this August day, journalist John Hersey's 30,000-page non-fiction story featuring six people living in Hiroshima is published. The six are survivors. Of the atomic bomb cooked up at Los Alamos and order to drop, to detonate, to blow up, and disintegrate, burn and maim structures and, most important, human beings, livestock, pets, it's affectionately known as "Little Boy" to the Americans flying it over Japan.

Einstein orders a thousand copies to know and to disseminate what happens when the mushroom cloud forms over a city inhabited by 137,197 human beings.

Hersey leaves for Japan in the later half of 1945. He sees the devastation. He meets with survivors. One and then another. The writer with a heart, sees a story that must be told. It's a story told from the point of view of the survivors. It's an account of what "the bomb does" to people. To humans. By other humans.

August 6 th , 1945, Japanese time"

There's Toshiko Sasaki, clerk, seated at her desk; Dr. Masakasa Fujii is reading the Osaka Asahi ; Mrs. Hatsuxo Nakamura is standing at her kitchen window looking out at a neighbor; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge is a German priest, relaxing in his missionary house; Dr. Terutumi Sasaki, walking carefully back to the laboratory, has bottles of blood in his hands; and Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto is unloading a cart in front of the home of a wealthy man who left the city thanks to one too many air raids.

100,000 people died.

And so Hiroshima begins with these people, with a flash no one really hears. "At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6 th , 1945, Japanese time"

The six survivors are still wondering why them by the time Hersey arrives in Hiroshima to interview them. "Each of them," he writes, "counts many small items of chance or volition, a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one street-car instead of the next that spares him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lives a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time none of them knew anything."

But history tells us about the Empire of Japan, about Germany and Italy and march of fascism, and that newly nation guided by a belief in its Manifest Destiny doctrine. White Supremacy shaking hands and collaborating with commerce. Profits and resources.

Citizens of Hiroshima slept restlessly the night before because they'd heard the rumors. "Americans were saving something special for the city."

So they knew something"

Tanimoto studied theology at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia, Hersey tells us. He graduates in 1940. He speaks "excellent English."

On that day, Tanimoto is accompanied by a Mr. Matsuo and the two are pushing a cart to the house of the man who has left the city earlier. And then a flash. Tanimoto recalls how it seemed to travel from east to west. Both men, Hersey writes, react in terror. They run to hide in separate locations. Tanimoto feels "pressure," but the men, hearing nothing at all, witness the sky above them grow darker and darker.

Nakamura prepares her three children for a little nap in their bedrolls. The oldest is a boy. Ten. The girls are eight and five. All hear the planes overhead. And then the siren. It was seven in the morning, Nakamura recalls. But at eight, she soon realizes it's a false alarm. Again.

She leaves the children and enters the kitchen and soon "everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen."

One thousand and three hundred yards from the center , Nakamura is already running toward her children when she's picked up and flown into the next room. Reaching her baby girl, "she could see or hear nothing of her other children."

Dr. Fujii "had been allowing himself the luxury of sleeping until nine or nine-thirty" but had to see a guest off to the train on this morning of August 6 th , 1945. So he wakes at six to walk his friend to the station. On his return home, at seven, he hears the sirens. He reaches his home. He has time to eat breakfast. In his hospital, there are only two patients remaining: a woman and a young man. But six nurses are present, attending to the seemingly lucky two patients. And lucky, too, were his wife and children living outside of Osaka.

So Fujii sat down to read the newspaper.

One thousand and fifty-five yards from the center, his hospital begins to lean left. Then it topples into the river. The doctor thrown first forward and is swirled around before he, too, lands in the river. "The remains of his hospital were all around him in a mad assortment of splintered lumber and material for the relief of pain."

And he, the doctor, felt pain in his left shoulder. And where were his glasses?

Kleinsorge wasn't feeling well that morning anyway. It was the Japanese war-time diet, he surmised. It did little to sustain him. Kleinsorge woke up at six, thirty minutes later than usual for him, so he hurries to say Mass in the mission's chapel where he finds only one worshiper.

There's the housekeeper and the secretary, of course. He's a fellow priest. So Kleinsorge isn't alone. After Mass, he seats himself beside his colleague, and they talk.

It was hot. After Mass, Kleinsorge decides to change into something more comfortable. Relaxing.

When he rises to walk toward another room, there's a flash.

One thousand and four hundred yards from the center and the flash, Kleinsorge remembers, was "terrible."

How did he end up outside the house? He was in the vegetable garden! In his underwear! And there's blood. His! Cuts are on his body!

He looks up to see the morning turn dark. He hears the housekeeper crying, "' Shu Jesusu, awaremi tamai ! Our Lord Jesus, have pity on us!'"

Dr. Sasaki, surgeon, hears the cries around him, too. And he tells himself to be brave. "'Sasaki, gambare! '"

That morning, he's running errands. He now carries some blood samples to the Red Cross hospital. He's now in the corridor. "He was one step beyond an open window" when the light the bomb was reflecting seemed to him like one "gigantic photographic flash." Ducking down on one knee, the hospital, he sees, is one big mess of crumbled partitions and fallen ceilings. Blown-out windows and walls asunder. And underneath if all, dead patients.

At 1, 650 yards from the center, Dr. Sasaki recalls he was missing his eye glasses.

A Ms. Sasaki (no relation) sitting at her desk at the East Asia Tin Works is in charge of the personnel department. There is to be a meeting soon. She's prepped for the meeting , of course. So she's talking to the girl in the next seat over when the window becomes filled with light. "Blinding light."

She's 1,600 yards from the center.

Ms. Sasaki losses consciousness only to awake again to find that "in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age," she is may be the one or first human being ever "crushed by books."

In Hersey's Hiroshima , August 6 th becomes August 7 th and then 8 th and then 9 th and then 10 th and then 11 th and then 12 th and then 14 th " ( Hiroshima deserves to be read again on this 75 th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing).

August 15 th , word reaches the dazed, maimed, almost dead. The survivors.

"'What news?'"

"'The war is over.'"

"'Don't say such a foolish thing, sister.'"

The war is over. We, Japan, are defeated.

So we are told, the war is over. Th at war and the wars we have witnessed and witness. Over. Only we have come to know better.

Hersey ever the journalist and witness to the catastrophe that is human and a bit of our diabolical heartlessness, asks the following question in Hiroshima: Is any war justifiable? "Even when it serves a just purpose." Is it justifiable?

"Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequence which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?"

In the meantime, writes Hersey, there are consequences.

"A year after the bomb was dropped, Ms. Sasaki was a cripple; Mrs. Nakamuru was destitute; Father Kleinsorge was back in the hospital; Dr. Sasaki was not capable of work he once could do; Dr. Fujii had lost the thirty-room hospital it took him many years to acquire" Mr. Tanimoto's church had been ruined and he no longer had his exceptional vitality."

Then there's the human spirit, devastated only to rise , not always, but when determined humans come together. There's a "curious kind of elated community spirit" arises like that of the Londoners after their blitz, writes Hersey. The people managed to survive the unthinkable. They had "stood up to a dreadful ordeal."

Here in the US, we are rising from our ordeal, too. Our own war that has never come to an end. There's a "curious kind of elated community spirit," here, too.

Someday, a generation of our successors will write of our standing up to "a dreadful ordeal."


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Dr. Lenore Daniels Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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