An analysis of Hiroshima by John Hersey

“Plaster, dust, blood, and vomit everywhere. Patients dying by the hundreds, but there was nobody to carry away the corpses.” That was how John Hersey described just a minor fraction of the horrors in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima in his book Hiroshima. The story of Hiroshima is that of six survivors and their journey through the horrors following the detonation of the little boy bomb. In this essay, I will be analyzing Hiroshima and its look into the impacts of the Hiroshima bombing on the civilians who experienced it.

Hiroshima came when propaganda and anti-Japanese hate were still very widespread. It served to give us a human look into the people affected by the bomb instead of some Americanized disconnected view. From the first paragraph, this is demonstrated. This paragraph serves to show us what the survivors were doing just before the bomb went off. “Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital” They weren’t doing sadistic things, they were doing everyday things. This is in stark contrast to the dehumanized view of Japanese people held by most Americans during this time. This feeling is best described by James J Weingartner when talking about Japanese POWs and the American’s “conviction that the Japanese were ‘animals’ or ‘subhuman’”.

Despite trying to just tell an unfiltered account of the events John Hersey was still creating a story of events meaning he had to decide when and how long to focus on certain elements. One such element was the suffering and brutal nature of the aftermath. He did this by not only describing in detail the horrors that occurred but by also including a looming sense of defeat and hopelessness. “he decided that all he could hope to do was to stop people from bleeding to death” This is a quote that functions as an example of that hopelessness. It is a quote describing Dr.Sasaki’s thoughts as the Red Cross hospital is engulfed in the wounded. In this moment faced with endless amounts of the wounded he had to decide to focus on not healing and recovery but just keeping them from dying and then moving on to the next.

All of this fits into what I interpret as the theme of this novel which is how one action can affect so many people. John Hersey does well showing this by including lines such as “In a city of two hundred and forty-five thousand, nearly a hundred thousand people had been killed or doomed at one blow; a hundred thousand more were hurt.” Now take into account that the population of Hiroshima was approximately 255,000 at the time of the bombing you can see how the majority of its civilians were affected directly by the bomb. But that’s only first hand you also need to look into people affected by the bomb in a second-hand way. What I mean by this is that you didn’t have to be physically affected by the bomb to be affected. I should state however those civilians affected secondarily are not very focused upon in this book. Despite that, the book still emphasized the true amount of people affected. This is shown best when the Red Cross hospital is discussed being described as overflowing with people. “patients lay and crouched on the floors of the wards and the laboratories and all the other rooms, and in the corridors, and on the stairs, and in the front hall, and under the porte-cochère, and on the stone front steps, and in the driveway and courtyard, and for blocks each way in the streets outside.” This is a long but important quote that Hersey chose to write in his book. It makes the point to go through every possible place for the injured to be and how those places are all full. All of these details were deliberately put into his book and all show how many people were affected by one thing, the bomb.

In conclusion, Hiroshima effectively shows not only how people were affected by the bomb by describing the injuries and long-term consequences of the radiation but it also shows how all of this was caused by one thing. It wasn’t an air raid it was one flash. A flash that left hundreds of thousands scarred and left a permanent mark in history.