I first read this book as a sophomore in high school for my World History class. When it came up in Apple Books as suggested reading, I thought it was a good time for me to revisit this text.
Hiroshima was originally published as a long form article in a periodical in 1946. Composed just a year after the atomic bombs were used, the author follows the stories of six survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. For publication, the book is expanded with a sort of, “where are they now,” fifth chapter that traces the stories through the post-war period and up until about 1985.
Many Americans, perhaps people of all nations, tend to regard the use of atomic weapons as inevitable, necessary, and historical. The thought process is limited to the abstract concept of dropping a bomb, albeit a very powerful one. The focus is on the weapon itself, with a passing thought of newsreel footage of the mushroom cloud. It’s a 30,000 foot view of the subject.
Author John Hersey removes us for the viewpoint of the bombardier and places us right on the ground. He opens the work with a preview of how each of the subjects started their day. Then, from the moment of impact, he follows each thread as they struggle to comprehend the event which will forever change and define their lives.
The writing details the gruesome nature of the attack. No longer an abstraction, he gives the personal details that articulate the human cost of atomic weapons. This wasn’t just a simple bombing mission, this was the employment of a weapon that forever changed warfare.
Proponents of atomic weapons live in the abstract. Was the necessity of dropping the bomb inevitable? Perhaps. There’s no question that the tactics of the Imperial Japanese Army amounted to organized crime. The murder, rape, pillage, are to this day still inconceivable. Fire bombing of major Japanese cities was also morally dubious. In a way, we need to trust that the leaders were acting on the best information at the time.
Regardless of the reader’s position on the use of atomic weapons, few can come away from Hersey’s story telling with the stomach to continue in their support. Despite being mortal enemies of the United States, the very human experience that is relayed throughout the book is overwhelmingly persuasive.
Many survivors of the Hiroshima attack have aptly made a distinction in their advocacy for peace. They focus not just on the moral question of the use of atomic weapons, but more broadly on the evil of war.
Hiroshima is a gut-wrenching, compelling story that would be of interest to any student of World War II, but more importantly, it’s a story written so that we all might have a better, more particular understanding of the devastation of weapons of war.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★