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On August 6, 1945, the
American army decimates the city of Hiroshima with a bomb of enormous
power; out of a population of 250,000, the
bomb kills nearly 100,000 people and injures 100,000 more.
In its original edition, Hersey’s Hiroshima traces
the lives of six survivors—two doctors, two women, and two religious
men—from the moment the bomb drops until a few months later. In 1985,
Hersey added a postscript that now forms the book’s fifth chapter.
In this chapter, Hersey reexamines these six individuals’ lives
in the forty years since the bomb.
The Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a community leader
and an American-educated Methodist pastor, is uninjured by the explosion.
As fires spread around the city, he helps get people to safety at a
small park on the outskirts of the city. Tanimoto is aided by Father Wilhelm
Kleinsorge, a Jesuit priest. Despite his own illness, Father Kleinsorge
consoles the wounded and brings water to those who need it. Many
of the victims are too weak or wounded to move, and in the absence
of any official help, people like Father Kleinsorge and Mr. Tanimoto
are left to protect them from encroaching fires, whirlwinds, and
the rising tide of the river. Among the victims they help are Mrs.
Hatsuyo Nakamura and her young children.
Miss Toshiko Sasaki is a young clerk whose leg is fractured
in the blast. Her wound becomes terribly infected, and she receives
no real medical help for weeks after the explosion. The bomb kills
more than half the doctors in Hiroshima and injures most of the
rest; Dr. Masakazu Fujii, for instance, is unable to help anybody
but himself for a long while. Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, on the other
hand, remains the only uninjured doctor on the staff of the Red
Cross Hospital, and in the months after the explosion he barely
leaves his post, trying to stem the tide of death rising around
Weeks after the explosion, after Japan capitulates and Hiroshima
begins to rebuild, a new terror strikes: radiation sickness. Victims
become nauseated, feverish, and anemic; many people, such as Mrs.
Nakamura, watch their hair fall out. The disease baffles everyone,
and many, including Father Kleinsorge, never fully recover. Still,
the people of Hiroshima try to return to their normal lives. In
his added postscript, Hersey traces the lives of these six characters
in the forty years after the atomic bomb. Father Kleinsorge and
Dr. Fujii die from sudden illnesses years later. Mrs. Nakamura and
Miss Sasaki scrape their way up from the bottom to become happy
and successful. After working hard and supporting her family, Mrs.
Nakamura lives comfortably on a pension and a government allowance,
and Miss Sasaki becomes a nun. Dr. Sasaki and Mr. Tanimoto devote
their lives to helping people. Mr. Tanimoto in particular plays
an important role in trying to help the victims of the bomb—most
notably the Hiroshima Maidens, whose burns are so bad that they
require plastic surgery. He becomes a minor celebrity in America
and somewhat unsuccessfully tries to spread a message of peace in
a time of nuclear escalation.
In the end, Hersey finds that the horrors of nuclear
war are far from over—the citizens of Hiroshima still suffer from
aftereffects, and nuclear escalation continues to threaten the entire
world. Hersey also finds that these six people show, in the aftermath
of the bomb and the war, remarkable feelings of good will, reconciliation, and
Ace your assignments with our guide to Hiroshima!