I’m sure that the majority of you who are reading this have heard about Hiroshima, it was the first ever use of an atomic weapon on a population and the first time the world had ever witnessed such power. I’m also sure many of you have also read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey and have had to face the terrible reality of how devastating this type of weapon holds. I actually read Hiroshima myself this year as part of our project surrounding the Manhattan Project and throughout the reading we were challenged with questioning and analyzing the text. I had many different thoughts and reactions while reading the book but today I will be going a step deeper and taking a critical look at Hiroshima.
While reading this book we were often told how impactful this text was when it was released, seeing as it was really one of the first times the American people had seen the war from the Japanese perspective that would make sense. As one article by the National WWII Museum said “Hersey’s graphic and gut-wrenching descriptions of the misery he encountered in Hiroshima offered what officials could not: the human cost of the bomb.” Throughout the book we are shown the terrible injuries and sickness that had come with the atomic bomb. In fact, there is a whole chapter dedicated just to showing the affects of radiation sickness. And at the time of it’s publishing, 1946, most of these details would stun the American public, not just because of their graphic nature but because it was happening to real people with hopes and dreams like the rest of us.
As with most wars, propaganda was a big part of the war effort, the Japanese were completely dehumanized. So much so that even when the numbers of dead and injured Americans only celebrated the marvel of American advancements. To see these people going through their regular lives and being struck by tragedy, it was a story many at the time could sympathize with. It makes sense why people still to this day talk about how much this text impacted the American public. However, while researching this book I noticed that many still regard this text as if it still hold the same impact it did when it was first released. An option I do not share.
The main problem I have with this idea is that you need to consider the context in which Hiroshima is being read. As I said before, for most reading that article in 1946 they hadn’t seen the Japanese as people and had only been getting the censored media from the occupying forces in Japan. Throughout the text you can see how John Hersey wanted to change this perspective, in the first chapter most of the story is completely focused on who these people were. Giving small details about their lives and their personality right up until the dropping of the bomb.You can see how he is drawing parallels between the lives of the Japanese and the Americans, showing how similarly they’ve been affected by the war and forcing the readers to empathize with them. That’s why when one reads this in modern times a lot of the purpose of the book is lost. We do not need to be reminded that the Japanese were people, there has been enough time between the end of the war and now for newer perspectives to take hold. There is also the fact that close to none of those alive today would have lived through WWII, we have only heard the stories passed down from relatives who they themselves were only children during the war.