How John Hersey Revealed the Horrors of the Atomic Bomb to the US

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The non-fiction book Hiroshima by John Hersey is one that comes with an overwhelming amount of emotions. John Hersey’s Hiroshima had many themes such as fear, panic, grief, disgust, and hope. The book describes the stories of six survivors’ hours before the bomb and weeks after, with a conclusion of their lives forty years later. This essay will critically analyze John Hersey’s book Hiroshima which will bring awareness to its readers about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan through all six survivors’ real-life experiences.

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The first chapter of the book named the A Noiseless Flash opens with the events of the six survivors’ hours before the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Throughout chapter one the readers become acquainted with the six individuals: Miss Toshiko Sasaki a twenty-year-old clerk who worked for East Asia Tin Works and was 1,600 yards from the center of the bomb. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge a German priest who was having difficulty adjusting to the Japan life and was about 1,400 yards from the point of the explosion. Dr. Masakazu Fujii a physician of a prosperous single-doctor hospital was situated about 1,550 yards from the epicenter of the explosion. Dr. Terufumi Sasaki who shares the same surname as Toshiko but not related, a 25-year-old Red Cross hospital surgeon situated 1,650 yards from point of explosion. Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto a pastor at Hiroshima Methodist Church, fluent in English, was at the point of the explosion over 3000 yards. Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura a tailor’s widow raising her children, who loved only 1350 yards from where the atomic bomb was dropped.

The second chapter named The Fire continues with the events that occurred directly after the explosion. After the atomic bomb hit fires rapidly spread through Hiroshima causing more chaos for six survivors. This chapter details their attempt to escape the rapidly growing fires and help fellow victims. The individuals are divided into a division of those who are in tremendous agony, and those who feel an intolerable amount of guilt for not being as injured as those around them.

The third chapter titled Details Are Being Investigated shows the realizations of the six individuals as they deal with the chaos that surrounds them. Mr. Tanimoto works tirelessly to carry an individual from one side of the river to the other in order to escape the flames. The Nakamura’s suffering from sickness learn that all their family is dead. Due to his help during the explosion, Father Kleinsorge is accepted amongst the Japanese. Miss Sasaki lying helpless outside the factory until someone spots her, calls for help then is taken helps to a hospital. The city is overtaken with corpses, while Dr. Sasaki, overworked and severely sleep deprived, attends to an overwhelming number of patients. Meanwhile, Dr. Fujii sleeps inside his family’s collapsing house and is seriously injured. The chapter ends with the defeat and surrender of Japan.

The next chapter called Panic Grass and Feverfew begins twelve days after the attack and the rapidly continues to the rehabilitation of the city and six survivors. The secondary effects of the radiation from the atomic bomb are now appearing in the survivors. The six individuals and all affected began to come down with malaise, hair loss, nausea, pain, and fever. Little did they know that they developed what later became known as radiation sickness. Feelings of anti-American sentiment spread throughout the Japanese communities until it was announced that the radiation levels were safe enough for individuals to return to Hiroshima. A theory by Dr.Sasaki and his colleagues suggested that the unprecedented diseases unfolded in three stages. The chapter ends with the summary of the six survivors lives a year after the atomic bombing. Miss Sasaki was still disabled, Mrs. Nakamura was poverty-stricken, father Kleinsorge was once again in the hospital, Dr. Sasaki the only surgeon was often times overworked, Dr. Fujii had lost the prestigious hospital that took him many years to acquire, and Mr.Tanimoto’s had been ruined with no means to rebuild.

The last chapter called The Aftermath takes place forty years after the atomic bombing. This last chapter highlights the anti-semitic feelings toward survivors who were now called Hibakusha that literally translated to explosion-affected person. These Hibakusha were treated with prejudice by employers since they were prone to many ailments and needed many days of rest. The government did little to nothing to provide physical or economic relief for the survivors until 1957, twelve years later a law called the Diet was passed. Despite their many setbacks, the six survivors achieved somewhat a degree of happiness.

Reading this book affected me in many ways. The way John Hersey described the events that unfolded through the eyes of the survivors made me feel as if I was witnessing the tragic moments right before my eyes. I felt extreme grief as each individual detailed their own accounts immediately after the bombing. During Mr.Tanimoto’s account with the individuals that were stuck in the mud, he said On the other side, at a higher spit, he lifted the slimy living bodies out and carried them up the slope away from the tide. He had to keep consciously repeating to himself, these are human beings (Hersey 45)after reading this quote I came to realize just how grotesque the conditions of the victims were. Mr. Tanimoto, despite the disgust he may have felt helping the slimy individuals did so because they were human which made me feel a sense of sympathy for Mr.Tanimoto. As I read their accounts I would imagine myself in their position and came to have anger toward the American military and President Truman for allowing such an atrocity to occur. I felt even angrier that for many years the Japanese government did nothing to help the victims of the bombing physically or economically for many years after the attack took place. At times I had to stop and take a break from the book because of the deep sorrow I felt. Towards the end of the book, I felt a sense of hope for the six survivors. Despite all their ailments that sometimes enabled them, they went on with their lives as best as they could. Reading accounts such as these makes me realize just how much worse my life could be.

The book, in my opinion, left out the also important views of the American people. I see how tremendously the Japanese people suffered but, he fails to mention the sufferings of the American people at Pearl Harbor and the death march at the Bataan Camps that lead to the atomic bombing. He failed to give me a chance to develop a fair opinion since he left out the perspectives of the American people. Despite the exclusion of the American perspective, I would highly recommend this book to other individuals. This book details important historical events that impacted humanity. John Hersey interestingly described the tragic events of the six survivors that kept me wanting more. I feel that books such as Hiroshima should be read by everyone to prevent such horrendous events from occurring again.

From reading Hiroshima, I learned the importance of history in my life today. I learned that humans can be sympathetic, helpful, and put aside their differences to overcome such a tragedy. I also learned that humans can be cruel and selfish just as the Americans who bombed Hiroshima without a thought about the consequences.

This book relates to this course in the theme of chapter 26 called Containing the Japanese. In this section, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor is brought up along with the attack on America’s reaming air power in the Philippines prior to the American attack on the Japanese.

The lives of the individuals were all tremendously affected, but they all eventually achieved a degree of happiness. Despite their lives being negatively affected by the travesty of the explosion, all six survivors found a way to go on. Although Hiroshima was written in a fictional setting it is important to remember that these accounts Hersey is writing about are in fact true. John Hersey does not give his own opinion and leaves the reader yearning for more answers. John Hersey’s intentions in writing this book were to prevent us from repeating history and hopefully give more thought before the use of a nuclear weapon on civilians is made. In conclusion, the book reminds us humans of the powerful horrors of weapons of mass destruction.

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How John Hersey Revealed the Horrors of the Atomic Bomb to the US. (2019, Jul 31). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from
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