Read John Hersey’s incredible 1946 New Yorker story about the bombing of Hiroshima

Read John Hersey’s incredible 1946 New Yorker story about the bombing of Hiroshima

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Seventy five years ago today, the United States detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, killing an estimated 140,000 people. A year later, John Hersey, a pioneer of "new journalism," visited the city to report an incredible feature for the New Yorker about the experiences of six people who survived the blast. The US had attempted to cover up the true devastation but Hersey expressed it so the world could know. (It was such a groundbreaking undertaking and achievement that there’s a new book, Fallout by Lesley M. M. Blume, to tell the story behind Hersey’s story.) From Hersey’s "Hiroshima" (1946), available in full at The New Yorker:

he former head of the Nobori-cho Neighborhood Association, to which the Catholic priests belonged, was an energetic man named Yoshida. He had boasted, when he was in charge of the district air-raid defenses, that fire might eat away all of Hiroshima but it would never come to Nobori-cho. The bomb blew down his house, and a joist pinned him by the legs, in full view of the Jesuit mission house across the way and of the people hurrying along the street. In their confusion as they hurried past, Mrs. Nakamura, with her children, and Father Kleinsorge, with Mr. Fukai on his back, hardly saw him; he was just part of the general blur of misery through which they moved. His cries for help brought no response from them; there were so many people shouting for help that they could not hear him separately. They and all the others went along. Nobori-cho became absolutely deserted, and the fire swept through it. Mr. Yoshida saw the wooden mission house—the only erect building in the area—go up in a lick of flame, and the heat was terrific on his face. Then flames came along his side of the street and entered his house. In a paroxysm of terrified strength, he freed himself and ran down the alleys of Nobori-cho, hemmed in by the fire he had said would never come. He began at once to behave like an old man; two months later his hair was white.

Early that day, August 7th, the Japanese radio broadcast for the first time a succinct announcement that very few, if any, of the people most concerned with its content, the survivors in Hiroshima, happened to hear: “Hiroshima suffered considerable damage as the result of an attack by a few B-29s. It is believed that a new type of bomb was used. The details are being investigated.” Nor is it probable that any of the survivors happened to be tuned in on a short-wave rebroadcast of an extraordinary announcement by the President of the United States, which identified the new bomb as atomic: “That bomb had more power than twenty thousand tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British Grand Slam, which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.” Those victims who were able to worry at all about what had happened thought of it and discussed it in more primitive, childish terms—gasoline sprinkled from an airplane, maybe, or some combustible gas, or a big cluster of incendiaries, or the work of parachutists; but, even if they had known the truth, most of them were too busy or too weary or too badly hurt to care that they were the objects of the first great experiment in the use of atomic power, which (as the voices on the short wave shouted) no country except the United States, with its industrial know-how, its willingness to throw two billion gold dollars into an important wartime gamble, could possibly have developed.

"Hiroshima" by John Hersey (The New Yorker, August 24, 1946)


image: the firestorm cloud engulfing Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 (public domain)

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August 7, 2020 at 02:58AM

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