Copyright 1946 by John Hersey
Hiroshima originally appeared in The New Yorker
I A Noiseless Flash
A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. (P.4)
The morning was perfectly clear and so warm that the day promised to be uncomfortable.
[The people paided no attention to an air raid siren] since it sounded every morning at this time, when and American weather plane came over.
Hiroshima was a fan-shaped city , lying mostly on the six islands formed by the seven estuarial rivers that branch out from the Ota River; its main commercial and residential districts, covering about four square miles in the center of the city, contained three-quarters of its population, which had been reduced by several evacuation programs from a wartime peak of 380,000 to about 245,000. (P. 7) Factories and other residential districts, or suburbs, lay compactly around the edges of the city. To the south were the docks, and airport, and the island-studded Inland Sea. A rim of mountains runs around the other three sides of the delta. (P.8)
Like most homes in this part of Japan, the house consisted of a wooden frame and wooden walls supporting a heavy tile roof.
Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It seemed a sheet of sun. Both he and Mr. Matsuo reacted in terror - and both had time to react (for they were 3,500 yards, or two miles, from the center of the explosion) (p. 8)
He felt a sudden pressure, and then splinters and pieces of borard and fragments of the tile fell on him. He heard no roar. (Almost no one in HIroshima recalls hearing any noise of the bomb [but a fisherman 20 miles away heard thunder]
Such clouds of dust had risen that there was a sort of twilight around. (P. 9)
Under what seemed to be a local dust cloud, the day grew darker and darker. (P. 10)
As Mrs. Nadamura stood watching her neighbor, everything flashed witer than any white she had ever seen..She had taken a single step (the house was 1,350 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, from the center ofthe explosion) when something picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room...
...because the morning was already hot, [Dr. Masakazu Fujii] undressed down to his underwear and went out on the porch to read the paper. (P 13)
Dr. Fujii sat down cross-legged in his underwear on the spotless matting of the porch, put on his glasses, and started reading the Osaka Asahi...He saw the flash. To him - faced away from the center and looking at his paper - it seemed a billiant yellow. Startled, he began to rise to his feet. In that moment (he was 1,550 yards from the center ) the hospital leaned behind his rising and, with a terrible ripping noise, topped into the river. (P. 15)
...all the buildings round about had fallen down except the Jesuits' mission house, which had long before been braced and double-braced by a priest named Gropper, who was terrified of earthquakes...(P. 18)
He was one step beyond an open window when the light of the bomb was reflected, like a gigantic photographic flash, in the corridor...Just then (the building was 1,650 yards from the center), the blast ripped through the hospital.
The hospital was in horrible confusion; heavy partitions and ceilings had fallen on patients, beds had overturned, windows had blown in and cut peple, blood was spattered oon the walls and floors, instruments were everywhere, many of the patients were running about screaming, many more lay dead. (P. 20,21)
Just as she turned her head away from the windows, the room was filed with a blinding light. ...(the plant was 1,600 yards from the center.) Everything fell and Miss Sasaki lost consciouseness. The ceiling dropped suddenly and the wooden floor above collapsed in splinters...(P. 22, 23)
II The Fire
He tought of a hillock in the rayon man's garden from which he could get a view of the whole of Koi - of the whole of Hiroshima, for that matter - and he ran back up to the estate.
From the mound, Mr. Tanimoto saw an astonishing panorama. Not just a patch of Koi, as he had expected, but as much of Hiroshima as he could see throught the clouded air was giving off a thick, dreadful miasma. (P. 25)
(except at the very center, where the bomb itself ignited some fires, most of Hiroshima's citywide conflagration was caused by inflammable wreackage falling on cookstoves and live wires.) (P. 28)
The only building they saw standing on their way to Asano Park was the Jesuit mission house. (P. 29)
But at the same time, he and his friend observed something that puzzled them, and which , as doctors, they discussed: although there were as yet very few fires, wounded people were hurrying across the bridge in and endless parade of misery, and many of them exhibited terrible burns on their faces and arms. (P. 32)
There had been no breeze earlier in the morning when Dr. Fujii had walked to the railway station to see his friend off, but now brisk winds were blowing every which way. (P. 32)
On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns - of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos. (P. 39, 40)
Mr. Tanimoto saw, as he approached the center, that all the houses had been crushed and many were afrire. Here the trees were bare and their trunks were charred. (P. 40)
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. (P. 45)
Others were also nauseated: they all thought (probably because of the strong odor of ionization, and "electric smell" given off by the bomb's fission) that they were sick from a gas the Americans had dropped. (P. 47, 48)
(This alarm stemmed from one of the theories being passed through the park as to why so much of HIroshima had burned: it was that a single plane had prayed gasoline on the city and then somehow set fire to it in one flashing moment.) (P. 52)
The asphalt of the streets was still so soft and hotfrom the fires that walking was uncomfortable. (P. 53)
III Details are being investigated
He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like-pieces.
...and he remembered uneasily what the great burns he had seen during the day had been like: yellow at first , then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally, in the evening, suppurated and smelly. (P. 60)
...he saw there were about twenty men, and they were all in exactly the same nightmarish state: their faces were wholly burned, their eyesockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks. (They must have had their faces upturned when the bomb went off; perhaps they were anti-aircraft personnel. ) (P. 68)
...the Japanese radio and newspapers were being extremely cautious on the subject of the strange weapon. (P. 75)
IV Panic grass and Feverfew
The hospitals and aid stations around Hiroshima were so crowded in the first weeks after the bombing, and their staffs were so variable. depending on their health and on the unpredictable arrival of outside help, that patients had to be constantly shifted from place to place. Miss Sasaki, who had already been moved three times, twice by ship, was taken at the end of August to an engineering school, also at Hatsukaichi. Because her leg did not improve but swelled more and more, the doctors at the school bound it with crude splints and took her by car, on September 9th, to the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima. This was the first chance she had had to look at the ruins of Hiroshima; the last time she had been carried through the city's streets, she had been hovering on the edge of unconsciousness. Even though the wreckage had been described to her, and though she was still in pain, the sight horrified and amazed her, and there was something she noticed about it that particularly gave her the creeps. Over everything - up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks, - was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city's bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of plants intact; it had stimulated them. Everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane and clotbur and sesame and panic grass and feverfew. Especially in a circle at the center, sickle senna grew in extraordinary regeneration, not only standing among the charred remanants of the same plant but pushing up in new places, among bricks and through cracks in the asphalt. It actually seemed as if a load of sickle-senna seed had been dropped along with the bomb. (P. 90-92)
As the sym0ptoms revealed themselves, it became clear that many of them resembled the effects of overdoses of X-ray.
Whatever its source, the disease had some baffling quirks. Not all the patients exhibited all the main symptoms. People who suffered flash burns were protected, to a considerable extent, from radiation sickness. (P. 102)
They reported that 78,150 people had been killed, 13,983 were missing, and 37,425 had been injured.
...but the statisticians calculated that about twenty-five percent had died of direct burns from the bomb, about fifty percent from other injuries, and about twenty percent as a result of radiation effects.
In the heart of the city, they found only five modern buildings that could be used again without major repairs. This small number was by no means the fault of flimsy Japanese construction. In fact, since the 1923 earthquake, Japanese building regulations had required that the roof of each large building be able to bear a minumum load of seventy pounds per square foot, whereas American regulatoions do not nomally specify more than forty pounds per square foot.
Scientists swarmed into the city. Some of them measured the force that had been necessary to shift marble gravestones in the cemeterires, to knock over twenty-two of the forty-seven rairoad cars in the yards at Hiroshima station, to lift and move the concrete roadway on one of thebridges, and to perform other noteworthy acts of strength, and concluded that the pressure exerted by the explosions varied from 5.3 to 8.0 tons per square yard. Others found that mica, of which the melting point is 900 C. ,had fused on granite gravestones three hundred and eighty yards from the center; that telephone poles of Cryptomeria japonica, whose carbonization temperature is 240 C., had been charred at forty-four hundred yards from the center; and that the surface of gray clay tiles of the type used in Hiroshima, whose melting point is 1,300 C., had dissolved at six hundred yards; and, after examining other significant ashes and melted bits, they concluded that the bomb's heat on the ground at the center must have been 6,000 C. (P. 106, 107)
General McArthur's headquarters systematically censoureed all mention of the bomb in Japanese scientific publications. (P. 108)
Miss Sasaki herself brought it up the second time he dropped in on her...She asked bluntly, "If your God is so good and kind, how can he let people suffer like this?" She made a gesture which took in her shrunken leg, the other patients in her room, and Hiroshima as a whole. (P. 109)
Many citizens of HIroshima, hoever, continued to feel a hatred for Americans which nothing could possibly erase. "I see," Dr. Sasaki once said, "that they are holding a trial for war criminals in Tokyo just now. I think they ought to try the men who decided to use the bomb and they should hang them all." (P. 117)