Hiroshima

by: John Hersey

Chapter Three: Details Are Being Investigated

In the week after the blast the doctors are still completely unable to cope with the thousands who are wounded. On August 11 Miss Sasaki is evacuated from the island military hospital and put on the deck of a ship. There, in the heat of the sun, the infection in her leg grows worse. At the Red Cross Hospital, the doctors are just beginning to get control of the number of dead bodies, cremating the corpses and stuffing the ashes into X-ray envelopes. The envelopes are labeled and stacked in a makeshift shrine in a hospital room.

On the morning of August 15, Japanese citizens tune in as Emperor Tenno reads the news over the radio: Japan has surrendered unconditionally, and the war is over.

Analysis

Chapter Three describes the general mood of confusion of the people of Hiroshima—they wonder what has happened and what to do next. Despite the broadcast over the radio that a new type of bomb has been used, most citizens still have no idea what has happened. The simplistic rumors of what might have caused the explosion contrast cruelly with the hard-to-imagine technological advancement of the atomic bomb. The citizens’ ignorance indicates Japan’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world at that time— it was decades behind the United States in industry and technology.

While Chapters One and Two deal with the immediate shock and confusion that follows the explosion, Chapter Three forces us to confront the stark reality of what has happened to thousands of people. It bears witness to some of the most gruesome effects of the bomb, with vivid accounts such as when Mr. Tanimoto tries to help a woman and gets a handful of her burnt flesh, and when Father Kleinsorge comes across the soldiers with melted eyes.

Hersey’s narrative shows how the extensive damage caused by the bomb compromises the victims’ sense of their own humanity. We encounter nameless, suffering victims everywhere. The hospitals are overwhelmed by corpses, and doctors can only treat the lightly wounded, choosing between displaying compassion for the worst victims and the ruthlessly economical decision to help only those who can actually be saved. Miss Sasaki does not even speak with the two severely wounded people with whom she shares the shelter; they are so badly hurt that they barely recognize one another’s common humanity. When Mr. Tanimoto is carrying the horrifically wounded people he tells himself over and over, “These are human beings,” reminding us as well as himself. To critics of Hersey who feel that his attitude toward his subjects was too distant and amoral, we might argue that the terrifying images in this chapter speak for themselves.

Hersey explores both the physical and psychological wounds caused by the bomb. Toshio Nakamura has nightmares about his friend’s death; Mr. Fukai, the man who had to be dragged from the mission house, probably threw himself into the flames; and Mrs. Kamai still clutches her dead baby in her arms, searching in vain for her husband. Since Hersey’s account is primarily concerned with those who escape the explosion relatively intact, both mentally and physically, these small sketches of minor characters are important in establishing the emotional wreckage left by the bomb.