Finding this book on various summer reading lists I decided to read it. Everybody else has, I'm told. It caused a stir when it was first printed in the New Yorker magazine and sold well when published in 1946. It has never been out of print.
Hersey found half a dozen or so people who were in the city when the atomic bomb fell and interviewed them. Two doctors, some Jesuits, a Methodist minister, a shop girl, a mother with her children. They told him their stories, where they were when that blinding flash of light occurred, how they made their way out of the wreckage, how others helped them and they helped others.
The story of the Methodist minister was particularly sad. He was almost unhurt in the blast and he spent much of the first day trying to help other people. He brought water to those who were badly burned and were dying. When he encountered some doctors who were working to save people he asked them to help the people who were most badly hurt. But they paid no attention to those people: they were going to die no matter what the doctors did.
So the minister helped the people he could. Some wanted to get across the river so he found a boat and a pole and brought many of them across only to see the water rise rapidly and down many of them. After the blast there were many fires, an extremely high wind, and the typhoon. There were many ways to die in Hiroshima that day.
Hersey went back to Japan 30 years later to find some of these people. The priests were continuing to run their hospital and a German priest had become a Japanese citizen. The minister was trying to ccreate a peace institute but was at odds with the city government. The doctors were running their hospitals and prospering. The shop girl, whose leg was very badly hurt and then unattended to for weeks, healed and went on with her life.
There was very little controversy in the US after the war about our dropping the bombs on civilians. It was understood that when the invasion of Japan took place there were no civilians. Everyone would fight to the death. On the day of the blast Japanese soldiers were digging trenches and caves in the city in preparation for the fight.
It is now fashionable to deny that the bomb was dropped to convince the Japanese to stop the war immediately and controversy has been raised about bombing of civilians. But for Americans and the British and their allies and even for many Japanese, there was no controversy. It is estimated that millions of Allied servicemen would die in the invasion and many more millions of Japanese. The relief when the Japanese surrendered in reaction to the bombing was enormous. Paul Fussell, who was on a troop ship on his way to fight in Operation Downfall later wrote an essay, "Thank God for the Atom Bomb."
2012 No 101