Thursday is the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. To mark it, we’ve made all of “Hiroshima,” John Hersey’s landmark 1946 report on the bombing and its aftermath, available online.
Hersey began working on “Hiroshima” in 1945, when William Shawn, who was then the managing editor of The New Yorker, pointed out that, although the bombing had been widely written about, the victims’ stories still remained untold. After going to Japan and interviewing survivors, Hersey decided to show the bombing through six pairs of eyes. Originally, “Hiroshima” was planned as a four-part series. In the end, however, it was all published in a single issue, in August of 1946. There was nothing unusual about the cover, which showed ordinary people enjoying summertime. Inside, however, there was only “Hiroshima”—no Talk of the Town, no cartoons, no reviews. The piece’s impact was immediate. Parts of it were excerpted in newspapers around the world, and it was read, in its entirety, on the radio.
Today, “Hiroshima” is undiminished in its intensity.
A novella-length article (I’ve seen people writing that it’s around 30K words) that reads much, much quicker, as all good journalism does. It’s an incredible document, obviously an astounding story, and, in my opinion, a must-read for any student of politics or history.
My tip—write down the six individuals' names and occupations (which Hersey explains in the first paragraph) so that you can go back and reference them the first couple of times he switches perspectives. And as is the norm with this piece, here’s the first paragraph:
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 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 that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.