Recently in correlation with a Humanities project, I was tasked with reading the novel Hiroshima by John Hersey. A short introduction to the book would be that it is the retelling by the author of the stories of six survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, compiled in the year following the event, and then later modified to show their stories around 40 years later.

I believe that the first thing that we should establish from the text is the theme, or what we think the author wants to tell us or make us think. I believe that while this text is primarily classified as journalism, it is irrefutable that the book is framed from the perspective of survivors of the bombing, without much show of any alternative point of view. This makes it hard to weigh the ethics like a truly neutral journalistic interpretation of the events would strive for. I don’t think that you could counter this by claiming the argument is the middle ground logical fallacy either, since there is no attempt to discredit an alternative argument. This leads me to believe that the theme of this text must be: to act as a source in highlighting the at the time overlooked tragedy of the bombing and its consequences, which unfortunately fell on the deaf ears of the powers and governments of the world, who continued in their pursuit to acquire more and more destructive weapons. This would be a far more future and preventative based outlook on the events than debating the ethics of them, which is reflective of the lack of international opinions, since that would work as an alternative to make the book a more neutral source of information.

That’s my modern interpretation of the theme, but it’s important to recognize that nowadays being this many years from the war, the book does lack as much value in countering an anti Japanese hive mentality stirred by the events of the war. Not knowing that this is probably the context, may skew the modern interpretation of the theme. We could best get an interpretation of this mentality of the time from propaganda posters like the one below, which is one of the least racially insensitive of the many.

Seeing that the message is one of preventative activism, I think that the writing does a powerful job of showing this. The third person style while repeatedly dropping the name of the character we’re following makes for a more immersive story. This is because it is a reminder of the human aspect of the character which makes it easier to connect with them. Another point related to the form of writing, which I heard from discussing with others about the book, is the omniscient form of narration which shows the character’s feelings in a full and powerful way. Furthermore, the consistent emphatic tone glues the book and the 6 survivors’ stories together into a common cause. The book is also clearly aiming for stories over statistics, as it throws no numbers out—which you likely couldn’t fully comprehend the scale of, and just tells the stories bluntly.

The last section of the book puts a strong emphasis on the long term effects of the bomb. Every individuals’ story mentions long term radiation sickness issues which they had for the rest of their lives(or long periods), and we can see from quotes like this, ““If a person says to me that he is weary [darui], if it is a hibakusha who says it, it gives me a different feeling than if he is an ordinary person. He doesn’t have to explain….He knows all of the uneasiness—all of the temptation to lose spirit and be depressed—and of then starting again to see if he can do his job….”, that the shared experience and problems of survivors stick with them, while a non survivor may not understand what they’ve been through, similar to the reader of the book. And yet throughout Mr. Tantimoto’s story in this harrowing section, we see messages about more and more countries creating nuclear weapons. This map below shows which countries have ignored calls for nuclear disarmament and produced the weapons.

My personal conclusion from reading this book, is that it serves as an effective medium for spreading a message of warning to the world to think carefully about using weapons of mass destruction, or else face the severe consequences felt by the residents of Hiroshima, but on a far greater scale.

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