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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Book Review: Hiroshima


John Hersey

Easton Press
1946, 1985, 2007

Yesterday marks the sixty-seventh anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  It seemed to pass unnoticed in the media.

I first read John Hersey's Hiroshima in 1976, and at the time I was not really impressed with the destruction caused by the bomb.  I recall writing a book report about it, and that was the end of it.  I was disappointed to find that it was not a book about the glories of war, but rather a narrative about civilians coping with the aftermath of an explosion which destroyed most of the city's infrastructure.  It was boring.

In 2008, I got a copy of this book from Easton Press.  Below the title was the phrase "With a final chapter written forty years after the explosion."  In the extra chapter, Hersey reports on what happened to the men and women afterwards.  The book was a far more interesting read the second time around.

A few things struck me while reading this book.  One was that the people of Hiroshima had a feeling that their city was due for a bombing.  It turns out this was correct, as the American forces had decided to spare it so that they could see the effects of the bomb on an undisturbed city.  While cities all around them were getting bombed, Hiroshima was left alone.  It was near a staging area for bombers heading to other cities in Japan, so the people were used to hearing air raid sirens.  Hersey seems to imply that the populace had grown complacent, and were not prepared for a bombing.  On the morning of August 6, the alarms had gone off twice; once for a B-29 which was performing weather reconnaissance, and then later when the Enola Gay and the two bombers which accompanied it flew over the city.

I can't recall if it was in this book, but there is a story that some people saw the bombers turn away violently after dropping the bomb, and they thought that the aircraft had been shot out of the sky.  Actually, the Enola Gay was turning away to escape from the anticipated blast.  The other two aircraft were along to take recordings and photographs of the explosion and its aftermath.

The other thing which impressed me was how all of the people in the book kept on despite the effects of the atomic bomb on their bodies and souls.  While I would not agree with how all of them lived after the war, they still are examples of how one can overcome setbacks as large as a nuclear explosion.  I recommend this book for anyone who is considering military service; I encourage readers to get the version of the book with the follow-up chapter.

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