Hiroshima: The New Yorker, 1946
May 21, 2016 6:30 PM   Subscribe

A year after the bomb was dropped, Miss Sasaki was a crippIe; Mrs. Nakamura was destitute; Father Kleinsorge was back in the hospital; Dr. Sasaki was not capable of the work he once could do; Dr. Fujii had lost the thirty-room hospital it took him many years to acquire, and had no prospects of rebuilding it; Mr. Tanimoto’s church had been ruined and he no longer had his exceptional vitality. The lives of these six people, who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same.--originally published in The New Yorker, August 31, 1946.
posted by MoonOrb (29 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cacofonie at 6:53 PM on May 21, 2016

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:03 PM on May 21, 2016

This chapter in The Making of the Atomic Bomb is titled "Tongues of Fire."

posted by Bringer Tom at 7:06 PM on May 21, 2016

posted by slater at 7:07 PM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I read this at Christmas and it blew my mind. Although I grew up with Hiroshima being very much a part of history the horrific scale of it didn't truly strike me until I read this article. A lot of terrible things were done to people in the 20th century (and since) but something about the scale and force of the atomic bombs is almost impossible to comprehend.

I used to read a lot of science history in college and, to my shame, I had never put together the awe at the discoveries of Feynman et al with the sheer human devastation of what was wrought.

I have been reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb to try and make sense of it but still my mind boggles.

posted by roolya_boolya at 7:21 PM on May 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I spent quite a lot of time with this text in my magazine writing (or editing?) class in college - our final assignment was to choose one person from the six and edit his or her story down to 1000 words. From what I understand, it wasn't just originally published in the New Yorker, but it comprised the entire magazine that week, replacing all the usual columns and features, because the editors thought it was that important.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:26 PM on May 21, 2016 [13 favorites]

I didn't realize this was originally published in the new Yorker. The six people portrayed here were instantly familiar to me as the main characters of a full-length book we read in eighth grade in the 90's. The book format may well have cited the new Yorker but I wouldn't have remembered.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:35 PM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by ChuraChura at 8:47 PM on May 21, 2016

In October 1946, a few weeks after "Hiroshima" was published in The New Yorker, it was rushed into book form by Alfred A. Knopf, the same company that had published A Bell For Adano. Within the next year, "Hiroshima" had been translated and published nearly worldwide. Hiroshima has sold over three million copies and has remained in print for fifty years.

The one notable exception to the book's early global distribution was Japan, where the book's publication was discouraged (if not actually banned) by the American occupation government. ... Hiroshima was finally published in Japan in 1949.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 10:24 PM on May 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

A final section, "The Aftermath", was written by Hersey and published in the New Yorker in 1985. It usually appears in the books, but it's only online behind the magazine's paywall. In the chapter, Hersey follows up on the lives that each of the original survivors went on to live, in the context of the Cold War and the looming spectre of nuclear doom that was conjured into existence at Hiroshima.
posted by Panthalassa at 10:45 PM on May 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Last week I was talking with a friend about these things and more. His mother was pregnant with his sister when Hiroshima was bombed. They were hosting guests from Tokyo who had fled the firebombings.

Since my friend's father was at work and his mother was out shopping, they survived. Their house was destroyed along with their guests. His mother always blamed herself for inviting them to stay in a safe place like Hiroshima.

She suffered temporary radiation effects. His sister was born with some difficulty and the radiation's effects on her development were pronounced.

My friend lost all his grandparents, two uncles and their families, an aunt and two cousins. His parents' home was destroyed and though his father's place of business survived it was shuttered for lack of custom.

I told him my grandfather's brother had worked on the Manhattan Project and that guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki helped trigger the psychological episodes that led him to institutionalization and an early grave. I didn't consciously choose to live in Hiroshima out of a sense of atonement or redress. It's just a beautiful city and a great place to live.

My friend says there are fringes on the left and right who vocally demand apologies and satisfaction. Most people who live here don't. Everyone was effected and most people say that's where war takes us. Let's not do it again. He thinks there's a reason I'm here, just like there's a reason he's here.

He wishes his mother could have overcome the guilt.

I read that the A-bombing burned away grasses and plants but left the roots intact under the top layer of soil. The radiation spurred the growth of grasses and plants so that within a week the city was green again. While citizens were still finding the ashes of their neighbors and searching for missing loved ones, the ruins were in bloom.

I don't know if it's true but I accept it because a good metaphor is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once.

Hiroshima is a baseball town. People here love their Carp. I live across the train tracks from the stadium, and when there's no game we're welcome to walk around the park and take a look at the field and stands. Between the main entrance and the trainyard there's a bronze statue of a group of kids and their dog sitting on a corrugated metal pipe, watching a ballgame.

When the team was established in 1950 they gave most of their profits to local orphanages, and invited the kids to come see all games for free. So their first fans were tramloads of kids who lost their moms and dads in the war and the atomic bombing, who like every kid needed something to cheer about and someone to look up to.

Those orphan kids are grandparents and great-grandparents now. They run this place.

From the window of my office I can see where the river forks and the land rises toward Hijiyama park. I know those rivers were full of people trying to escape the burning, and I know Mt Hijiyama was a place of refuge for so many frightened and displaced survivors.

Today the sun is shining, kids are giggling while they chase each other along the riverbank, and if you squint you can almost miss seeing the ghosts.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:52 PM on May 21, 2016 [120 favorites]

posted by biogeo at 11:16 PM on May 21, 2016

posted by limeonaire at 11:51 PM on May 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

To put down some of my thoughts in actual words: Anyone contemplating our collective future during this American election year should read this. Actually, all of the presidential candidates should read this and be intensely questioned to ensure they understand it. They should weep at the prospect of using such weapons. Nuclear weapons aren't mere "cards on the table" or some bloodless "deterrent." I felt such deep horror when they got to the part where the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, because while I always academically knew it had happened and was horrible, these accounts qualified the horror. How we could do this twice... I'd been feeling uneasy lately about the prospect of another cold war, given some of the idiotic posturing from politicians this year, but now I'm just afraid. This is both Earth's hottest year on record and, from my perspective, the year during which the planet is in the most potential peril since the cold war due to political machinations. Everyone should read this.
posted by limeonaire at 12:11 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Bought this for £1 a few years -
the November 1946 publication by Penguin.
posted by lilburne at 1:18 AM on May 22, 2016

Here's some more background on the decision to publish Hershey's piece in this particular way.

Hersey had arranged it as a four-part article to be run in four consecutive issues, with separate introductions for the second, third, and fourth parts. Shawn felt the introductions interrupted the flow of the story and would lessen the effect, so he asked Harold Ross, the founder and editor of The New Yorker, if the piece could be published in a single issue. This would require nearly all of the editorial space in the entire issue.

Ross deliberated for a week. He worried about disappointing readers with the loss of their familiar features, and he was not interested in doing something so extreme merely for the shock value. On the other hand, omitting all of the editorial content for the issue did solve the awkward situation posed by running cartoons and other non-weighty matter in proximity with the piece.

The decision to devote the entire issue to a single story was shocking and unprecedented, all the more so because the pleasant illustration on that week's cover gave no hint to its contents.
posted by How the runs scored at 5:31 AM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

How we could do this twice...

We were very arrogant and stupid. Nobody knew exactly what would happen when an atomic bomb was dropped on a city, and Trinity was almost defiantly arranged to prevent us from finding out. When the Soviets started testing bombs they put realistic structures, war machines, and animals in the blast zone to see what the effects would be. For Trinity we only built hardened bunkers, so we got all kinds of data on radiation and the pressure wave and scientific data about the explosion itself but we didn't really know what those things would do to ordinary structures and living things.

Hiroshima was the science fair experiment where we would learn what it did to a city. There are many indications, such as the timing and wording of the Potsdam Declaration, which make it pretty clear this was our intention. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and a few other cities were actually spared from Curtis LeMay's conventional firebombing to preserve them as pristine targets for the Bomb. We didn't just want to find out what the bomb would do; we wanted to make sure the Russians would know as well, and we didn't want conventional damage confusing the results.

As for why we did it twice, the damage was so profound that it took time for word to get out, and what the survivors described was hard to believe. So the Japanese government was still arguing about whether it was even real when Nagasaki was hit.

After that two things happened about simultaneously. The Emperor interceded in the squabblefest among his generals and told them it was over, and on our side Truman quietly ordered a halt to the atomic bombings even before we had the surrender. Henry Wallace wrote in his diary that Truman didn't like the idea of "killing all those kids."
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:32 AM on May 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

Like Tandem Affinity above, I remember reading this (maybe an excerpt or condensed version) in school. 1970's, probably 7th grade. At the time the events seemed historically distant, but I realize now they they were still fresh in the minds of many; Hirohito was even still the emperor of Japan. I haven't heard Bringer Tom's thesis that the bombs were dropped in Japan as a test of their effects before; if true, it is even more horrific. And it needs to be pointed out that the bombs of that era were very primitive by today's standards. None of those people would have probably survived if a more powerful modern bomb had been used.
posted by TedW at 6:04 AM on May 22, 2016

My understanding had been that the second bomb was intended to demonstrate a larger atomic arsenal.
posted by Songdog at 6:35 AM on May 22, 2016

Ice Cream Socialist, that was beautiful. Maybe there is a reason you're there.
posted by Songdog at 6:37 AM on May 22, 2016

I read the 1946 Penguin version of this as a precocious 8 year-old- right after the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think it had belonged to one of my parents in college. It scared the living bejeesus out of me. I sill remember the mental imagery of the skin coming of the survivor's hand 'like a glove in pieces'. My mother had an absolute shitfit when she found out I had read it.
posted by pjern at 7:17 AM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Though it's no longer free, I would recommend this episode of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast, with the caveat that I wasn't emotionally able to listen to it all the way through and it made me hate humanity for at least three days after.

Hi thesis is that he atomic bombings were not unique in the scale of their destruction or in the callous disregard for human life, but a "logical" progression of industrialized warfare, of the strategic bombings that already had caused so much horrific and senseless death and any answer to the question of the morality of the atomic bombings needs to address the fact that we were already way across the line.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:29 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hi thesis is that he atomic bombings were not unique in the scale of their destruction or in the callous disregard for human life, but a "logical" progression of industrialized warfare

Richard Rhodes makes this very clear in TMotAB and Dark Sun. Far more people died in conventional firebombing than died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and these mass killings were justified with tales of distributed manufacturing with drill presses in every home, making residential areas a "proper military target." Nuclear weapons changed war much the same way internal combustion changed transportation; you could have done all the same stuff before, as Curtis LeMay proved well before the Enola Gay flew, but with nukes you can do those same things much more quickly and efficiently.
posted by Bringer Tom at 8:05 AM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well there goes my morning, rereading that.

The only thing about Hiroshima that has come close to affecting me as much as Hershey's piece is the manga Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.
posted by Quasirandom at 9:16 AM on May 23, 2016

This was gripping, as someone who's been to the peace museum in Hiroshima I can only say there's a reason nobody subjects themselves to this twice. It is both abjectly horrifying and strangely sorrowful. I can only suppose that Nagasaki happened due to ignorance. Even in 1945 terms had the scale and completeness of this destruction been given even 3 weeks to become known the second bombing would have seemed a ghastly war crime.
posted by axiom at 1:31 AM on May 24, 2016

I wonder if he is related to Smedley Butler.
posted by TedW at 4:34 PM on May 27, 2016

« Older Because rent in SF isn't high enough already   |   Wide Awakes in America Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments