In the final stages of World War II, the Japanese were living in anxiety, wondering if they were to survive the next few days or if they were going to be thrown into tragedy by American missiles and atomic bombs. This case was especially prominent for individuals living, in the city of Hiroshima, who knew that their last days were upon them. On August 6, 1945, the American B-29 bomb dropped onto their city, leaving eighty thousand casualties along with the loss of about ninety percent of the city. “Hiroshima” written by John Hersey, is a non-fiction that addresses the combined effort of the citizens to piece together the remnants of their beloved city. Through Hersey’s writing, readers are able to feel a sense of warmth and sadness for the journey of survival and unity of different cultural backgrounds. Hersey jumps into the book by introducing its long list of characters. This includes two women, Hatsuyo Nakamura, and Toshiko Sasaki, two doctors, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, and Dr. Terufumi, and two church prospects, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge and Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto.
The story starts by explaining the character’s situations minutes before the bomb attack. After moving safe place to safe place, Nakamura allowed her three children to rest as she debated whether to evacuate the area. She decided to give her worn-out children some more rest until they receive another warning. The other characters are carrying out their everyday lives by helping their neighbors move, reading the newspaper, or catching the train. The bomb suddenly hit with only a blinding flash of light as a signal, no noise, and no warning. The citizens are thrown into mayhem as they get stuck under building pieces and furniture or frantically finding shelter to protect themselves. Tanimoto was sent to take cover in a rock garden, Fujii was blasted into a nearby river, Kleinsorge was safe due to precautious procedures, Terufumi survived and tended to other civilians’ wounds, Nakamura’s three kids and Sasaki are toppled by pieces of furniture. Through Hersey’s description of strife after the attack, readers get a sense that technological advances are not the only harmful weapons in society. In fact, traditional objects and humans may be the worst weapons of all. This can be seen through the anxiety that the Americans bring to Japanese society due to their superior firepower. The constant atomic attacks on Japan causes its people to remain on edge, constantly worrying about which city would be attacked next. Not only this but after the attack, people fell victim to the furniture and infrastructure that collapsed and killed many. Back to the story, in Chapter 2, the characters rushed to find their families in the midst of chaos. Tanimoto, completely uninjured, ran through the city in hope of finding his wife and kids; it is revealed that they were also unscathed. Nakamura continued to find her children in the depths of the ruins of her home, in which she, much like Tanimoto, was successful in getting them out unharmed. On the other hand, Father Kleinsorge suffered from his minor injuries as he tried his best to evacuate his fellow religious followers out of the burning building. Due to his own injuries, he was unable to stop one follower from jumping back into the fire.
At this point in the book, the reader can truly see the citizens of Hiroshima band together in order to get back on their feet right after a calamity. The citizens took haven at Asano Park and used its river water to put out fires and quench their thirst. Those who were unharmed began to help move those who were disabled due to the attack. In continuation of their efforts, Tanimoto, Terufumi, and Fujii do their best to rescue more people and tend to their wounds. Here, a doctor tells Tanimoto, “The first duty is to take care of the slightly wounded” (Hersey 71). He said this because those who have minor injuries are more likely to live than those who are heavily injured. In this context, you can see the mindset of the citizens of Hiroshima. Although it seems cold, it was the best plan of action in order to save more of their people. This line written by Hersey shows insight into the thought process of the Japanese citizens. In many countries, the severely injured would be put in utmost importance, however healing the lightly injured allowed them to save more people than, in a sense, waste time on those who could not be helped. After three days, another bomb dropped on Nagasaki, during this time citizens were finally able to make it to hospitals and novitiates in order to recuperate from the damages they received during and after the bombing. The Nakamuras, although alive, were weak and suffering from PTSD in a novitiate. Their mother found out that her family has been presumed dead due to the attack. Meanwhile, Tanimoto encounters, his enemy, an anti-Christian man named Tanaka, who was introduced at the beginning of the book.
Although Tanaka was against the teachings of God, he listened to Tanimoto and read a psalm as he laid on his deathbed. During this time, other families, such as the Kataoka kids, were reunited with their families. As the deaths and reunions continued, the Emperor finally made a long-awaited announcement that the war was over. In this chapter, the readers were able to see that the B-29 did not only affect people physically but also mentally. Witnessing that many deaths caused people to sustain emotional trauma that inhibits them from moving on from the bombing. It left a tie to the event and a stain on their hearts. Now that citizens were settled in medical shelters, the characters gradually got into the swing of their new lives and some felt the first signs of sickness due to the nuclear effects of the B-29 bomber. They began to have symptoms of fatigue, hair loss, small hemorrhages, and low white-blood-cell counts. Out of all the characters, Father Kleinsorge was predicted to pass away two weeks from his diagnoses, however, he ended up surviving the fatal symptoms. Due to his constant fluctuation in health, he became a huge medical miracle. As radiation symptoms began to hit all over Tokyo, physicians began to observe the disease and areas that were destroyed. Moving to Sasaki’s story, she is still severely injured and constantly moves around to different hospitals.
The constant hospitalization and no work from her fiance causes her to be out of character. This causes her friend to send for Father Kleinsorge in a fit of worry. Sasaki’s talks with Father Kleinsorge slowly converted her to Catholicism and she lost her constant yearning for her lost fiance. Meanwhile, Tanimoto returns to Hiroshima, the Nakamuras found a home but struggles to make ends meet, Father Kleinsorge rebuild his mission, and Terufumi slowly gets back into society by getting married. Finally, the book moves onto its last chapter. Here, Hersey enables the reader to peek into the lives of the main characters forty years after the rebuilding of Hiroshima. Nakamura was living with her children and her run of financial problems continued. However, she was able to get a better job and house. Terufumi opened his own practice and continued to help the victims of the attack by helping to remove their scars. Sasaki got surgery for her leg in order to walk correctly and she decided to live her life devoted to God as a sister or nun. Fujii continued the way he lived previously by enjoying everyday activities, running his practice, however, he lost consciousness one too many times and became mindless due to a tumor in his liver. Next was Tanimoto, who went on a speaking tour around America and set up a peace center dedicated to the bombing. Overall, while reading the book I was able to identify a few lingering features. One, the way that Hersey wrote the book to describe how the attack affected those from different backgrounds. Hersey wrote the story from a third-person point of view, cycling through his six main characters.
Although all six characters went on different paths to recovery, he finds a way to bring them together and show that it takes a community to recuperate from a devastation. After the attack, Father Kleinsorge describes the city as “the grove by the river, where hundreds of gruesomely wounded suffered together, [this] was one of the most dreadful and awesome phenomena of his whole experience” (Hersey 55). This line allows the readers to envision the situation at hand. While there were people who were heavily injured and on the edge of their death, there were also people who were willing to help although they were in pain. Bringing me to point two, Hersey makes sure that his writing ties back into the initial theme of the book: in order to get through tough times, more is better than one. Relating this to my first point, he was able to allow each character to depend on each other and aid each other to recovery. For example, Father Kleinsorge was able to help Sasaki find a new purpose in her life through the word of God. Thirdly, Hersey highlights the theme of luck as a main motivator for the six survivors. In the book, a “feeling they did seem to share, however, was a curious kind of elated community spirit” (Hersey 115).
This spirit and luck that they felt for being survivors allowed the citizens of Hiroshima to band together in order to rebuild their city from the ground up. In my additional research, I also found that Hiroshima has left a part of their city unfixed to remember the effects of the war. Lastly, I want to point out Hersey’s overwhelming effect on my heart as he described that “the lives of these six people, who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same” (Hersey 115). Throughout the novel, I was unable to not reread the stories of suffering citizens. I sympathized with the characters who went on tremendous journeys to, in the end, find out they are the only ones left in their family. This was especially true when Mrs. Nakamura only had her children to lean on during this time of hardship. These stories made me reflect on my own life and ask myself, How would I feel if I woke up one morning with a bookcase on my leg, my family was screaming for help under a pile of furniture, and lose my loved one in a blink of an eye due to American war efforts? Unlike the survivors, I would not be able to withstand the pain that comes along with these effects, however, this might simply be a cultural difference. While reading the book, I also thought it was similar to the stories of Native Americans. Like the citizens of Hiroshima, Native Americans were too, forced out of their land with aggressive manners by the American government.
Many of their tribe members were killed in order to threaten them into a forfeit for their land. Although they went through numerous tragedies, they were able to get back onto their feet by creating confederations that allowed different tribes to stand together. In the book, people from different backgrounds banded together in an effort to restore their lifestyle after it was destroyed by an American attack. In conclusion, John Hersey creates a cycling storyline that allows readers to see the effort of a community during a catastrophe. Throughout the story, Hersey builds up the message by allowing characters from different lifestyles to come together as one of the only survivors of the B-29 bomber attack on Hiroshima. Together, they assist each other to heal mental and physical wounds and find peace in a new life. All in all, the non-fiction endorses the message of community togetherness to its readers in a series of heartbreaking stories. It is a definite re-read.
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Edited by History.com, History, A&E Television Networks, 18 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki. Hersey, Jonh. Hiroshima. Penguin Books , 1946, ia801408.us.archive.org/35/items/hiroshima035082mbp/hiroshima035082mbp.pdf.
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