Published: 3 June 2015The Revd Kiyoshi Tanimoto having coffee with Hiroshima Maidens after landing at Mitchel Air Force Base in New York, May 9, 1955 Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
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The first person to communicate to a global audience the experience of being in a nuclear holocaust did not come from Japan, where the misnamed Civil Information and Education Section of General MacArthurs occupying army exerted a muddled but intimidating censorship. Nor was he a scientist, though researchers had poured into the area. Instead, the news was brought to the world by an American Wasp in his late twenties: tall, handsome, sporty, popular, a member of the most exclusive of Yales secret societies, married to a rich ex-girlfriend of John F. Kennedy. John Hersey told the story in the New Yorker, most of whose readers were either a bit like him, or aspired to be. Published in August 1946, soon after the first anniversary of the bombing, that issue of the magazine famously broke precedent by containing ads and listings apart only his 30,000-word article. It quickly sold out. Albert Einstein, who had already begun his anti-nuclear-proliferation pressure group the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, ordered 1,000 copies to distribute but had to make do with facsimiles. The article was reprinted in scores of newspapers and magazines, published as a book and translated all over the world. (Japan, though, because of the censorship, had to wait a couple of years.) How did Hersey come to write it?
Some of the answers are to be found in a fat cardboard box normally kept in a secure, temperature-controlled warehouse in Hamden, Connecticut. This is the depository of much of the vast collection of rare books and manuscripts held by Yales Beinecke Library, a beautiful building, though one which Czesaw Miosz, whose own papers are there, compared to a monumental tomb. In a sunken quadrangle outside the reading room stands a three-piece white marble sculpture by Isamu Noguchi, who like almost all other Japanese Americans spent the Second World War in an internment camp. His Zen-influenced The Garden (Pyramid, Sun and Cube) symbolizes what the catalogue of Yales public art calls a balance of cosmic forces and a synthesis of East and West. A similar synthesis is found in box 37 of the Hersey Papers.
Herseys as yet uncatalogued archive fills seventy-one boxes of different sizes; this one weighs a relatively modest 8 kg. In it are fourteen individual file-folders, miscellaneous in contents and dates except that all are to do with Herseys Hiroshima: letters from readers some friends, many strangers; page-proofs, contracts, telegrams from overseas publishers; attempts to unravel a 1948 report that General MacArthur had denied preventing the books being published in Japanese; details of a Braille edition; a list of eighty-plus periodicals that carried the original article in full. (Hersey gave the residual income profits on newspaper serialization and book-club sales to the American Red Cross, but the tax authorities caused a long hold-up in the process and took their slice. Lengthy legal and bureaucratic correspondence about this is kept in another box.) Some of the material in box 37 comes from later years: letters from children who had read the book at school; details of a grisly US tour arranged in 1955 for the Hiroshima Maidens, otherwise known as the Keloid Girls (keloid is the name of a particularly disfiguring type of scar and these twenty-five women, all of whom were at school in Hiroshima ten years earlier, were given reconstructive surgery in the States). One folder, though, is more coherent, and revealing about the processes of research and writing.
Among other documents, it contains, in this order:
A military authorization dated May 21, 1946 for Hersey, until recently a war correspondent for Time magazine, to proceed from Shanghai to Tokyo;
The Pacific edition of Time magazine for February 11, 1946. On small, flimsy paper, the issue six months earlier than the famous New Yorker number reprints from a Jesuit journal an article by Fr Johannes Siemes, SJ, a German missionary in Hiroshima, describing his experience of the explosion and its aftermath. A carbon copy of Siemess typescript is also in the folder (Ill come back to the question of why this piece didnt have as much impact as Herseys);
The calling cards of some Japanese contacts, with handwritten transliterations in English: Dr. Sasaki, Dr. M. Fujii;
Photographs of disfigured survivors;
A mimeograph copy of a Japanese technical report written in English headed Statistics of Damages Caused by Atomic Bombardment Aug. 6, 1945. Foreign Affairs Section, Hiroshima City;
Laboratory reports on tests of blood taken from another Jesuit priest, Wilhelm Kleinsorge, in the months immediately after the bombing;
An offprint of a scientific article of 1926 by Masao Tsuzuki, at that time Assistant Professor of Oral Surgery in the Medical Department of the Imperial University, Tokyo, entitled Experimental Studies on the Biological Action of Hard Roentgen Rays, from the American Journal of Roentgenology and Radium Therapy, vol. xxvi, no. 2, pages 134150;
An extract, annotated by Hersey, from United States News dated July 5, 1946, titled: Atomic Bomb. First Official Report on damage to Japan. Full Text of U.S. Strategic Bombing Surveys Findings;
A note in English to Hersey from Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a US-educated Japanese Methodist minister in Hiroshima, apologizing for not having been at home when Hersey called, suggesting a meeting the following day, and enclosing a hastily handwritten account of his experiences of the bombing;
A Preliminary Report Prepared by the Research Commission of the Imperial City of Kyoto on the Disaster in Hiroshima City Caused by the Atomic Bomb, again with Herseys annotations.
Some of the things that catch the eye among these relics are what the first readers of Herseys article noticed, too. United States media, including Herseys previous employers, Time-Life, had needed little encouragement from Washington to portray the Japanese as a race of cartoon monsters, bug-eyed, big-toothed, rapacious. (Times lead story on Pearl Harbor, personally overseen by the proprietor, Henry Luce, described the event as premeditated murder with a toothy smile.) Here we find that among these ogres were doctors, scientists, clergy people not unlike readers of the New Yorker, or for that matter of Time and Life. Hersey interviewed Tanimoto as well other Japanese survivors and incorporated some of their narratives, including those of Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailors widow with three children, and Toshiko Sasaki, a twenty-year-old woman engaged to a soldier. The article eventually interlaced six peoples experiences a structure he said later he had taken from The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, the narrator of which tells the stories of a group of (invented) individuals linked only by their fate: they were all on an Inca rope bridge when it collapsed into a Peruvian ravine in 1714. But Herseys war reporting had always been about recognizable people, arbitrarily conjoined and seen in all their variety and, especially, simplicity. Harold Nicolson commented on the latter aspect with a touch of envy in an article for the Spectator about an earlier book of Herseys: American writers have a gift, which we do not possess, of portraying simple-minded people in a way which renders their absurdities quite dignified.
This is the first of the things that distinguish Herseys article from Johannes Siemess, vivid though that is and, thanks to Times Pacific edition (specially printed for US troops in the region, who received it free), widely available though it had been. Siemes was writing for his co-religionists, and although his experiences were authentic, for writing, as W. G. Sebald later insisted, thats the least of qualifications: what matters is how well you write. The differences are apparent within a few lines. Siemes opens:
August 6th began in a bright, clear summer morning . . . . I am sitting in my room at the Novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Nagatsuka; during the past half year, the philosophical and theological section of our Mission had been evacuated to this place from Tokyo. The Novitiate is situated approximately two kilometres from Hiroshima . . . . From my window, I have a wonderful view down the valley to the edge of the city. Suddenly the time is approximately 8:14 the whole valley is filled with a garish light that resembles the magnesium light used in photography, and I am conscious of a wave of heat. I jump to the window to find the cause of this remarkable phenomenon . . . .
At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the South East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At the same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital . . . . Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailors widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbour tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid defense fire lane . . . .
Its quietly done but Hersey immediately gets more in: information, irony (those futilely self-sacrificing air-raid precautions), suspense and, above all though here theres a caveat attention to Japanese people. There were also two surprises. In 1946, readers did not expect an American to deal so sympathetically with this subject. And whereas Time was a news magazine, the New Yorker as many reports on the story commented more or less facetiously at the time was generally associated with light entertainment. (One subscriber complained, I look forward to my weekly New Yorker, not for an informative Treatise, but fun and relaxation. Promise this [the Hiroshima number] is the end of such.) Still, Hersey was helped by and quotes from Siemess piece, which also crucially alerted him to the Jesuit mission as a useful source of contacts. The next character he introduces in his article, in fact, is Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclin[ing] in his underwear on a cot. Hes the man whose ominous lab reports are also in this folder: 19/9/45 W[hite] B[lood] C[ount] 3,600. Haemoglobin 50%. Polymorphs 35% . . . . Blood Colour Index 0.67%. Fr Kleinsorge would be a key figure in the narrative. In a section added forty years later, Hersey described the long, painfully various illnesses these clinical measurements gave the priest warning of.
The decision to focus solely on people physically affected by the bomb came early on, so Herseys cast of characters does not include Masao Tsuzuki, the author of the 1926 paper on radiation which he nonetheless read and filed. In the 1920s, the point of radiation was to benefit people by looking inside their bodies the procedure found so astonishing in its intimacy by Thomas Manns Castorp in The Magic Mountain and by attacking anything bad that was growing there. Unwelcome side effects of such treatment soon became a concern and it was these which Tsuzuki had examined in a series of experiments on rabbits: tests of various levels of intensity, some using the hardest rays such as are employed in the so-called modern deep therapy and observing their immediate and later consequences: numbers of deaths, Average Living Days, effects on different parts of the rabbits bodies including their lymphatic system. After irradiation, he noted, all animals look as if they were exhausted and gradually become thinner, frequently suffer from diarrhea, and their vital resistance is so much weakened that they die from the slightest injury . . . few of them show power of recuperation. At the time, Tsuzukis US colleague-critics defensively pointed out that whereas in medical treatment only part of the patient is irradiated, in his procedures the whole body of the rabbit was exposed, but in 1945 his methods proved to have more relevance than anyone could have anticipated.
By then, Tsuzuki still based at what is now the University of Tokyo headed the medical section of the Japanese Research Council. Immediately after the explosion he had travelled to Hiroshima and, as best he could, begun a research programme there, mentioned by Hersey, into the impacts of the event, chiefly of heat, blast, primary radiation and what he called radioactive poisonous gas, on people who were now in hospital. His entire career had been an unconscious preparation for this event, and because of what he was finding out and his eminence, he quickly became an embarrassment to the occupying power. The popular wisdom about radiation was summed up, the month after the bombing, in a jaunty letter to Hersey from one of his war-correspondent friends, boasting about having been among the first into both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The atomic bomb was all that everybody said it was, he wrote, except I dont think that it leaves any lingering radio activity [sic]. At least I hope not. At least I hope it doesnt make everybody sterile. At least I hope it doesnt make me that way. Everything was done to keep Tsuzuki quiet, while American scientists, or so he claimed, busily pinched his results. All this is another story, told briefly but vividly in a book by a science historian, M. Susan Lindee: Suffering Made Real: American science and the survivors at Hiroshima (1994). And while Hiroshima doesnt involve Tsuzuki, it draws on his and other Japanese research summarized in this folder particularly the citys official investigation into the damage done by the bomb.
The earliest American enquiries tended, as Hersey pointed out, to lay most emphasis on material damage: Scientists swarmed into the city. Some of them measured the force that had been necessary to shift marble gravestones in the cemetery, to knock over twenty-two of the forty-seven railroad cars in the yards at Hiroshima station, to lift and move the concrete roadway on one of the bridges, and to perform other noteworthy feats of strength. Here and elsewhere among his papers, by contrast, are notes on interviews with his human informants during the six weeks he spent in Hiroshima. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a graduate of Emory, was, like Wilhelm Kleinsorge, especially valuable both for accounts of his experiences and for introductions to other survivors. (Through him, Hersey later distributed his considerable Japanese royalties among his main informants.) Tanimotos story is marked above all by his indefatigable-seeming efforts on behalf of other people rounding them up, bringing them water, rowing them to what he hoped was safety. Both his and Kleinsorges endeavours brought the men into contact with others in the story so that they become a way of linking the different narrative strands.
In Tanimotos case, though, theres also his voice, spoken and written, with its touching modesty as well as its confusions and linguistic errors. He was, Hersey tells us in one of his rapid, vivid sketches, a small man, quick to talk, laugh, and cry. He wore his black hair parted in the middle and rather long; the prominence of the frontal bones just above his eyebrows and the smallness of his moustache, mouth, and chin gave him a strange, old-young look, boyish and yet wise, weak and yet fiery. Its this unlikely hero who plunges into something like hell and saves everyone he can. And the attention to his hair, his bones, his skin on this early page unobtrusively prepares our responses for the kinds of damage we are soon to encounter: people with their hair on fire, melting flesh, broken and putrefying bodies. Reading the finished text against its sources one sees with what subtlety Hersey preserves the idiosyncrasies of Tanimotos account while resisting the easy colour of just quoting it. Still, the ministers own words, written for Hersey that summer night in 1946, carry an emotional charge all their own. God help and take them out of the fire, Hersey quotes Tanimoto as having prayed as he necessarily ignored the hopeless in favour of those for whom he might be able to do something. But while Hersey gives us the essence of what immediately follows in Tanimotos hastily scribbled version, he doesnt reproduce it. Here is Tanimoto:
In the result I made a long round way. As far as I went there were full of wounded people, men and woman, boy and girls, even babies. I was only one who was completely safe. Passing through among them I repeated in my mouth, Excuse me for having no burden like you do.
When I reached the bank of the river Ota, I jumped myself into the river, knowing no bridge to cross on account of fire. But the river was too wide and deep for me. The stream run as fast that I was about to be drowned, having lost my strength to swim. When I arrived at another bank, I was necked, no shirt and no shoes to wear.
Finally I got back to Sentei, the bank of Ota River, next to my residential section of the city. As I had told my neighbours, they got together and gathered there. It was my first concern to see my church and parsonage. I thrust into the fire and run about 100 yards, but on behalf of fierceness of the blaze I gave up my desire to see the church.
On having returned to the bank, I found a Jemma-sen, Japanese boat, on the rocks. There were five men who were already dead. With a short prayer I took out these dead bodies and pulled down the boat into the river and rowed across with a bamboo bar instead of oar and let the wounded people cross the river all the day long.
Hersey born a century ago last year was in Hiroshima as a reporter, one who had spent the entire war describing military action, often at frighteningly close quarters. He already knew much more about the region than most Americans. Until he was ten he lived in Tientsin, where his parents were Christian missionaries a background that proved useful to his research for, and is strongly felt in, Hiroshima. In 1939, his then employer Henry Luce whose formation was almost exactly the same: the China mission field followed by boarding school at Hotchkiss, then Yale sent him to report on China and Japan for Time and Life. By then, even on an official count, the countries had been at war for two years. After Pearl Harbor, Hersey wrote for Luce about various phases of the Pacific conflict and was embedded, as we would now say, with a platoon of Marines at the battle of Guadalcanal. Things went badly for them, though the (at this stage) propagandizing Hersey did his best to tell the story in ways that gave them credit, both in magazine articles and in his first book, Into the Valley, which appeared in 1943. He was a self-effacing man and didnt mention his own role, for which he was officially commended by the Secretary for the Navy:
during heavy fighting in a ravine [over two consecutive days], and while severe casualties were being suffered by our forces, you left your own assignment and went to the assistance of the wounded. On each occasion, without regard for your own safety and above and beyond your own obligations, you braved extremely fierce enemy fire in the front lines in order that you might assist in the evacuation of casualties from the ravine to an aid station. For your heroism and valor on these occasions, I wish to express my highest commendation, and the gratitude of the Navy Department.
Hersey, who had spent a year at Clare College, Cambridge, after graduating from Yale, covered parts of the European war, too. Journalism apart, a novel his first based on events in a small Sicilian town under Allied occupation, won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a successful stage play and, later, a film. A Bell for Adano is sharply critical of General Patton and satirical about the invaders ignorance and high-handedness. The need for more and better education was an increasing theme with him all his life. A letter to his wife, written en route to the Mediterranean but which somehow escaped censorship, says that the troops he was with
are never told where they are going, much less anything at all about the nature of the people they will come up against in the theater where they are going. They go to the cities of Europe deaf, dumb and blind, intent only on spending the dough theyve saved.
We had a movie tonight which insulted the intelligence of morons and ten-year-olds. It was called Adventure in Iraq, and it concerned an oriental potentate, an ex-flying tiger, a drunken but sporting Englishman, two priestesses in a trance, etc. etc . . . . It certainly affords our fighting men a sad brand of stimulation before going into battle to keep the world free or whatever they go into battle for.
Excuse the homily. It makes me sore.
He soon encountered much, much worse. From mid-1945 to early 1946 Hersey was Times Moscow correspondent. He chafed at not being allowed anywhere near the Russian westward advance and at being dependent, instead, on a combination of official Soviet sources and what he could either pick up or make up. (Had he been embedded with the Soviet army, he might have developed a cooler attitude to the regime.) But a Polish communist colonel took him to what was left of Warsaw the colonels home turned out to be still standing, though all the contents had been looted or trashed and Hersey wrote some painfully vivid pieces about people he interviewed there. In one set of notes he transcribed a dislocated conversation he had, through an interpreter, with two Jewish survivors of the ghetto: a Czech woman and a Russian-speaking Polish male doctor. They take turns to speak, a few sentences from one, a few from the next, then back again, and because they are talking in different languages there is no communication between them, no connection even of tone in their disconnected speeches hers heavily ironic, his flatly devastated. The doctor had run a hospital in the ghetto but in the end the Nazis took it all away: the patients to Auschwitz, such equipment as there was for their own purposes. Throughout the interview another male survivor, a labourer, perhaps an assistant, stood behind the seated doctor. When he spoke of the departure of his hospital the doctor took his glasses off and put his hands over his face. The heavily set laborer let [fall] a stream of tears without seeming to change his expression.
From the end of 1946, after the immediate brouhaha over his Hiroshima had begun to subside, Hersey embarked on a long, characteristically systematic programme of reading about Warsaw, about the ghetto, about the history of Poland and the history and theology and anthropology of Europes Jews. The outcome was The Wall (1950), the first American novel about the Holocaust and a book that at the time enjoyed almost as much critical and commercial success internationally as Hiroshima, not least with Jewish readers. (David O. Selznick paid $100,000 for the movie rights but in a comic saga involving Herseys refusal to accept Jennifer Jones, Mrs Selznick, in the role of his heroine Rachel, who he insisted had to be emaciated, fierce, and troubled in countenance the film was never made.)
When he began to research his Hiroshima article Hersey had, to Luces annoyance, left Time and was under contract to the New Yorker. Though published in one instalment, the Hiroshima story had been intended as a serial. Herseys investigations were rapid but, as the Beinecke files show, as diligent as for everything he wrote. There was something more. In this piece, Hersey became a war poet as much as a journalist. The power of his text is not just a matter of its raw material. There is his startling intimacy with the people he writes about: with poor, maddened Mr Fukai, determined to break free of his rescuers and run back into the flames to die; with Dr Sasaki, wearing the spectacles he has borrowed from a nurse, applying first aid to surviving patients and staff in whats left of the Red Cross hospital, while outside thousands of injured begin making their way there; with the clergys determination to rescue their sacred bits and pieces. Some readers, while understanding Herseys wish to engage his American readership, are impatient with the unrepresentative predominance of Christians in his narrative (the story even contains two conversions, or one and a half), though, while partly a matter of his own background, it was more to do with his means of access. By poetry, I mean something to do with language as much as sympathy. On the one hand, there is Herseys fastidiousness in deploying the idioms of witnesses such as Tanimoto. On the other, theres a poets alertness to what he finds and can use. In this folder in box 37 we see him searching not just for facts, but for words.
An example is an excerpt from the Hiroshima City Foreign Affairs Sections report which proved especially compelling to him. The heading is, On the Influence Upon Plants of the atomic Bomb in Hiroshima . . . by 4 botanists of Kyoto University. Herseys teenage letters home from his boarding school in rural Connecticut show an early responsiveness to his natural surroundings, to seasonal changes in densely wooded New England. Now he was faced with unnatural change: effects on the vegetation at different distances from the explosions centre, of temperatures previously unknown to botanical research but to which a surprising number of species proved resistant. It is striking, the botanists eloquently recorded, that
cassia tora was growing everywhere about the explosion center, as if this plant had been dropped together with the bomb. It stood not only in fragmentary rows among dead remnants of the same plant, but also here and there on riversides on the sites of burned houses. Owing to their hardness and very remarkable longevity, many seeds of this plant may remain ungerminated in the soil. So it is supposed that such resting seeds were stimulated to germinate by some agencies caused by the bomb.
Further out, 5002,000 metres from the centre of the explosion an area they called the second zone they noted:
Fire in this area. Wooden telegraph poles of cryptomeria japonica were charred on radiated side temperature must have been raised above carbonization point, which, for cryptomeria japonica is ca. 240 C. In this zone many plants were found to survive, such as cercis chinensis, fatsia japonica, buxus microphylla, wistaria floribunda, spiraea prunifolia, trachelospermum asiaticum, parthenocissus tricuspidata, ardisia japonica, celtis sinensis, rhododendron, quercus glauca, bambusa sp[inosa], lespedeza bicolor, aspidistra elatior, colocasia antiquorum, panicum miliaceum . . . . If not protected somehow, leaves were burned by fire or radiation. Trees, deprived of branches and leaves, were found to grow new shoots from the stem . . . .
Hersey marked some of the Latin names and, in the margins, provided English equivalents: sickle senna for Cassia tora; hairy-fruited bean, bluets, purslane. Whether he depended, here, on prior knowledge, a reference book or informed guesswork, he let his imagination free, a little. Parthenocissus tricuspidata is known in the West as both Japanese Creeper and Boston Ivy. Either way, its not the same as Tanacetum parthenium, feverfew (a corruption of febrifuge). Feverfew, though, is how Hersey glossed it. As for Panicum miliaceum prosaically, a form of millet he decided that the more or less literal panic grass fitted the situation better, and so it went into what was originally his books last section, where characters we have come to know for their resilience and resource begin to falter (their hair falling out, little haemorrhages appearing on their skin, gums starting to bleed, wounds reopening) while the vegetable world takes on an eerie exuberance. A little more than a month after the bombing, Miss Sasaki is moved by car back into the city for treatment of her leg, painfully swollen by a compound fracture which has still not been properly set. The passage works together the botanists report with parts of her own narrative, recounted to Hersey through a translator:
This was the first chance she had had to look at the ruins of Hiroshima; the last time she had been carried through the citys 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 bomb had not only left the underground organs of the 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.
Panic Grass and Feverfew became the title of this fourth chapter (the words have in turn engendered a small jungle of unreliable explanatory notes on websites devoted to the book). Its one of many moments when this work of observation inevitably reads like science fiction. You often hear it spoken of as a novel, a description that exasperated Hersey.
His combination of subdued, empirical fact-telling and unobtrusive fantasy is what gives the short book much of its power. In the 1960s he included it in a selection of his pieces optimistically titled Here To Stay: Studies in human tenacity. Optimism isnt what most readers have felt as they put down Hiroshima. True, among his New Yorker colleagues one or two remained apparently untouched. Brendan Gill wrote, Dear Johnnie: All of us are delighted to see . . . that you have more or less put an end to the possibility of war. We can breathe easier now. But most said how moved they were, how proud to be professionally associated with the piece. Even the magazines beady-eyed European correspondent, Janet Flanner, wrote soberly to her editors, Harold Ross and William Shawn, about the impact on war-hardened correspondents in Rome: the impression at the Stampa Estera building here where the foreign press has its offices was like a blow. The installments [she means individual sections] created complete silence around each man reading, even in the bar.
In practical terms, perhaps it made no difference. True, there has been no great enthusiasm to use nuclear weapons, but they have scarcely gone out of existence. Arguments continue over the justifiability of deploying the bomb in 1945, both at Hiroshima and in combination with the similarly unwarned-of, bigger weapon at Nagasaki. We now know far more than people did in 19456, not only about the cost of last-ditch resistance by Japanese troops to American attacks from the sea at the time, the least unacceptable argument for using the weapons but about the hideous destructiveness of previous, conventional bombing raids on other mainland Japanese cities, in the context of which Little Boy and Fat Man were from a military point of view just one more thing after another. And then there was the need to discourage the fast-developing Soviet invasion of Manchuria. Afterwards, Japanese officials were able to present their people as hapless victims of a war crime, to a degree that helped them shrug off condemnation of atrocities Japan itself had committed in the long Second World War, some long notorious in the West, such as those associated with the building of the BurmaSiam Railway, others less familiar to us but well remembered in China, where Japanese incursions from the early 1930s on had involved chemical weapons, the torture of captives and the widespread use of rape as a weapon against civilian populations.
At bottom, the issue was and is less strategic than apocalyptic. Human beings have always imagined some kind of world-ending event but whatever form it was thought likely to take, until 1945 it was always supposed to be beyond human control. Divine anger might destroy everything; so might a cosmic collision. Now, it seemed, a trigger-happy head of state would suffice. And if we began to realize how easily it could be encompassed, we learned from Hersey what it would be like. All that, presumably, is what silenced the hacks in the Stampa Estera bar. Hiroshima still has similar effects. It has never gone out of print.