Hiroshima

by: John Hersey

Chapter Five: The Aftermath

Summary Chapter Five: The Aftermath

Analysis

Each of the characters whose stories Hersey traces shows a different aspect of postwar Japanese life. With Nakamura-san’s story, Hersey chronicles the plight of the hibakusha, who receive almost no help from the Japanese government in the postwar years. Not until 1954 is any kind of political action taken on behalf of the victims. Even then, many people, such as Nakamura-san, are reluctant to become involved in the politics of the movement. She does not even begin using the medical benefits given her until ten years after they are available. It is almost as if she, along with many others, resents her own government and wants to make it by herself.

Cold-war politics play a big role in Hersey’s narrative style in Chapter Five. Mr. Tanimoto’s story in particular is crosscut with important milestones in the nuclear weapons race among America, the Soviet Union, India, and others. These facts heighten the futility of what Mr. Tanimoto tries to accomplish with his peace project, especially since the Red Scare made even the best-intentioned peace efforts dangerous. In a reprinted memo from Tokyo to the American Secretary of State, Mr. Tanimoto is labeled as a possible “source of mischievous publicity” in his efforts to raise money for the peace center, and another memo from the American Consul General says that Mr. Tanimoto might “pursue a leftist line.”

It is ironic that Mr. Tanimoto is now thought of as a threat in Cold War America, since his peace project could not be more pro-American. In the speeches he delivers in America, he describes America as “the greatest civilization on earth” and thanks the country for its generosity. His speeches imply that he and Japan were thankful for the bomb. Again, while Hersey does not blatantly state his own opinions, he provides us with a picture of a country that is either passive about the bomb, like Nakamura-san, or that blames its own leaders for involving the country in a “rash and doomed aggression.” Moreover, a number of the characters, such as Dr. Fujii, Sasaki-san, and Mr. Tanimoto, form close ties with Americans in the postwar years.

This portrayal is not disingenuous; it is true that the general spirit in the postwar years was one of reconciliation with America, and not hostility. Nonetheless, it is interesting that he did not find or include a single person who criticized the decision to drop the bomb, or one who still harbored resentment for President Truman or the American government. In the last chapter, Dr. Sasaki expresses his desire to put the Americans on trial for war crimes. We wonder whether Hersey found such voices but decided not to include them, or whether he is intentionally trying not to rock the boat after forty years of goodwill and cooperation between the two countries.

Hersey does not erase the memory of the bomb, however, and his notes about the escalation of nuclear development among the major superpowers are important reminders that another such tragedy could happen at any time. The effects of the bomb continue to touch the lives of many Japanese in significant ways. Mr. Tanimoto’s daughter Koko, as a hibakusha, must have a checkup every year at an American clinic, and when she is an adolescent, she is ogled by the doctors as she stands naked. Later, she is unable to marry the man she falls in love with because his father forbids his son to marry an A-bomb victim; when she does eventually marry and become pregnant, she has a miscarriage and has to adopt. By including these stories about Koko, Hersey reminds us how the bomb’s effects persist for generations.

Stylistically, Chapter Five is a break from previous chapters in that it tells each story completely, with no crosscutting from character to character. Whereas each previous chapter took place in a relatively short period of time, the postscript covers the characters’ lives in the last forty years. Thus, Hersey’s project in 1985 is significantly different from that of 1946; here he attempts to give as complete a portrait as possible of each individual character. As a result, one might argue that his style is less successful because it tends to be more inclusive than selective—he includes many random details about a character’s life instead of keeping only details relevant to the experience of the atomic bomb. On the other hand, one might also argue that the last chapter is a more impartial account because it involves fewer authorial decisions. When writing the first four chapters, Hersey first had to narrow his characters down to six and then decide which moments of their experiences he was going to include, and in what fashion. In the fifth chapter, however, he seems to directly report more of what these characters tell him.