Written by John Hersey, the book describes the experiences of six people in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Hersey does not try to inject pathos or indignation into his account but tells the stories of the six survivors in a matter-of-fact, objective style. Of course, the events described are so horrific and surreal that we can’t help reacting emotionally. Consider what Kiyoshi Tanimoto saw as he made his way into the bombed-out city:
The eyebrows of some (people) were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing. On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns—of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos.
One would think that the suffering of the survivors would have made them hate us Americans with an undying bitterness, but such hatred was by no means universal. Consider, for example, Hersey’s description of Toshiko Sasaki’s attitude some forty years after the bombing:
(she felt that) …too much attention was paid to the power of the A-bomb and not enough to the evil of war. …warfare had indiscriminately made victims of Japanese who had suffered atomic and incendiary bombings, Chinese civilians who had been attacked by the Japanese, (and) reluctant young Japanese and American soldiers who were drafted to be killed or maimed… She had firsthand knowledge of the cruelty of the atomic bomb, but she felt that more notice should be given to the causes than to the instruments of total war.
Echoing Sasaki’s line of reasoning, I’m not clear that the United States bears an unmitigated burden of guilt for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am clear that nuclear weapons and war should be banished from the face of the Earth. And I’m clear that Friends who share these concerns should read John Hersey’s book.
~ Richard Russell
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