Paquita Maria Sanchez's Reviews > Hiroshima

Hiroshima by John Hersey
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bookshelves: actuals-n-factuals

This book will:

1) Make you cry. A lot. You will cry on your cigarette break at work so that when you go back to your desk, your coworker will see your ragged eyes and think you just got dumped over the phone or found out your cat died. No, you were just reading about something roughly one googolplex worse, but you won't even bother trying to explain because your coworker couldn't give two shits about world history, and hadn't even heard about the 2011 mass murder in Oslo until you explained it to her a few weeks ago. Blind, me-centric America, folks. Scenes from this book will return when you are stuck in traffic, and you will cry some more. Do not operate a motor vehicle under the influence of this book.

2) Humble you. Calling my problems 'problems' is a little more difficult after reading this book, which is a high achievement in any artistic endeavor. Witnessing the sober-minded, empathetic will of the survivors, and the nation itself, after suffering one of the most blind, unfathomably enormous single blows dealt in all of military history really manages to put the term 'grace' into perspective.

3) Anger you. Arguably the most stomach-dropping scene in this two-part journalistic piece is not one told from the ground where Hersey largely concentrates, but years later on a television set in America. The scene featured a spot-lit survivor of the atomic bomb, a minister, a man who put tireless efforts toward assisting his fellow survivors through worldwide fundraising despite the impediment of living as a hibakusha, a sufferer of the for generations felt, infinitely complex and boundless in physical manifestations, lifelong, crippling beast that is radiation sickness, a man who championed the notion that hatred of America and anger toward the attack(ers) is a knee-jerk reaction and that it is the notion of Total War rather than that of American militarism in general or atomic warfare specifically which should be the target of emotional examination and legal action, and which should be fought against by redirecting all the power of concentrated anger rippling through Japanese society after the bombs were dropped toward the goals of peace, acceptance, and precautionary measures taken for the future of the world, a man who stood in front of the United States Senate and prayed to them for their welfare, congratulated them for their role as the leaders of Planet Earth, and thanked them for bringing peace, stability, and democracy to his nation. Here this man sat, thinking he was on a local television station promoting his charity designed to raise money for female a-bomb victims suffering from physically deforming keloid burn scars on their faces, as this is what he was told. He was lied to, to the extent that a pre-show rehearsal was conducted without his knowledge in preparation for this major television event. Little did he know, he was actually on a popular television show (similar to, say, Oprah or Real Time) in front of millions of American viewers, stunned to find that as cameras stared at his face--a face which heroically attempted but quite understandably failed to mask his sheer horrified astonishment--in front of a live studio audience he was introduced to and practically forced to shake hands and have a nice little chat with the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, a tears-feigning man who was late and drunk during the taping because he was angry when he found out he was not receiving a big paycheck for his appearance on the show, so he just got lit and showed up all tousled and disoriented. Talk about media exploitation. Man, it has been a long time since I read something which disgusted me so much, and that is saying a lot. Oh, I'm getting flushed with anger just typing about it. A lot of pathetic parading of ugly humanity happens here. Prepare yourself.

4) Scar the visual landscape that is your mind. The imagery in this thing, as told through the recollections of 6 survivors, illustrates with emotional restraint in a dry, respectfully factual narrative account, just what an atomic bomb does to a populace. Having grown up in Oklahoma City, I have seen the mind-boggling destruction which results from a large, targeted bomb attack, and distinctly recall being in math class 10 miles away from ground zero, yet feeling myself shifted in my chair at the moment of explosion. I remember wandering into the halls and, within twenty minutes, hearing the radio and television accounts, and witnessing students and faculty alike dropping to the ground in hysterics upon finding out that the city block or even the very building where their husband, mother, father, older brother, cousin, or best friend worked had been annihilated in a breath, those close to them incapable of knowing where they were or if they were. I remember my father pulling my brother and I out of school, and taking us to witness the destruction, so massive in scope, so emotionally trying, so brain-stretching and perspective-building in a way which a 13 year old girl had never even thought she would be forced to face, or had even considered in her silly, pre-adolescent mind. Reading Hersey's piece, I remembered that time, the surreal nature and bottomless melancholy of it all, and tried to imagine it multiplied by so many times it is a number I am incapable of even estimating. Hersey illustrates: kimonos permanently scarring flesh with ornamental patterns, practically faceless soldiers marching with oozing eyes before dropping to their deaths, a pan of a city of moans, of pleas for assistance which are drowned out by roaring fires which consume a landscape predominantly composed of rubble, a blazing trash heap of screams, forcing people to make non-stop me or them decisions, shadows burned into concrete, burial tombs uprooted, a sole doctor left to make decisions about who he can save, and who he absolutely cannot save with his limited resources, working nonstop for days and days with no food or water or sleep or even a single break. There was no FEMA dropping in to assist these people. There was a small handful of uninjured doctors and nurses dealing with a miles-stretching feed-line of wounded souls, many doomed to death before they even burrowed their way out of the wreckage. Sickening.

5) Terrify you. Though I always try my best to keep my ear to the ground concerning current politics, particularly the seemingly endless stream of wars conducted in the name of future peace, this book perked my ears up even more to the subject of nuclear warfare. It's so easy to hear that a nation has or could soon have nuclear capabilities and feel only the faintest, most abstract fear at the notion. It can additionally be such a distant knowledge that what was presumed to be one of the most human rights embracing nations in the world, this, my country of origin, is the only nation in the world throughout all of history to have made the decision to unleash such massive rage and suffering against fellow human beings in pursuit of dominance and stability. This supposedly great nation conducted this and one other mission, permanently damaging the genetic makeup of thousands upon thousands of people, and it terrifies me about what's to come. This book terrified me.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 10, 2012 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 52 (52 new)


message 1: by rachel (new)

rachel Wow.


message 2: by rachel (new)

rachel (by which I mean that 3 is Horrifying.)


Paquita Maria Sanchez I know! And disgusting.


message 4: by Adam (new)

Adam Floridia Amazing review.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Read this book!


message 6: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie It is a deeply affecting book - I read it many years ago and still remember how it made me feel. And, it is so strange how all the people he focuses on were just a few hundred metres from epicentre of the explosion.


TK421 well said.


message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny You know... I really like this review, and a close friend of mine went to school in Hiroshima and got to know many hibakusha, and I am completely for nuclear disarmament... and yet, having read a fair amount about it, I think that President Truman made the right decision to use the atom bomb against Japan in 1945. He didn't know then what we know now, and he saw it as the best chance to avoid the deaths of millions of people in the planned invasion of Japan. It is so hard to think back to his historical context. From his point of view, it would have been crazy not to use this miraculous new weapon.


message 9: by Manny (new)

Manny I have heard the theory advanced before, and I am looking forward to reading the relevant part of Quigley! I must get back to that book...


message 10: by Paquita Maria (last edited May 11, 2012 02:48PM) (new) - added it

Paquita Maria Sanchez Oof, I'm staying out of this one. You boys have fun. Well, okay...I'm no hippity dippity who thinks that there is some means of Bringing About World Peace to where there is never another war ever again and everything is just roses, I understand the importance of nations asserting themselves and not just snoring with their pants down, etc, but I would just sort of sliiiide it out there that we have managed, everyone has managed, warring at various intervals and shifting power back and forth since the dawn of time without it requiring the utter annihilation of a civilian population as some sort of symbolic bitch slap, like God drowning the whole world save for this random asshole family just because some of those drowned people had pissed him off. Then again, I also understand WW2 would have very likely continued on for many years had it not happened that way; I understand the argument in a sober, emotionally detached sense. Still, man. Jeesh, this is why I didn't even want to go here. Yes, it's complicated for all of us, a swirling mess of strategy and humanity conflicting, the cold and calculating greeting the collective conscious, etc. Yes, messy.

(Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beings if ya didn't have some pretty strong feelings about nu-kyoo-lur combat.)


message 11: by Manny (new)

Manny It is horrible and almost impossible to think about. But consider that the immediate casualties from Hiroshima - the ones that could be anticipated - were probably less than those from the Mar 10 firebombing of Tokyo. I do not think that people had any understanding at that point of radiation sickness or genetic damage.

I read about WW II, where there are many, many incidents that are dreadful on a scale I cannnot even comprehend, and I wonder how we could get so agitated about 9/11 that we thought it justified changing all the rules of our society.


message 12: by Judi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judi You write very well.


message 13: by Mir (new)

Mir Mariel wrote: "Black Rain is great but I know some of my Gr friends really disliked the quality of the translation. I didn't mind. It touched my brain places."

Memory: Fragments of a Modern History talks about what happens when people actually touch your brain.


message 14: by Jim (new)

Jim Manny wrote: "It is horrible and almost impossible to think about. But consider that the immediate casualties from Hiroshima - the ones that could be anticipated - were probably less than those from the Mar 10 f..."

For example, the fire bombing of Dresden - 135,000 killed in a single attack. Witnessed by PFC Vonnegut and inspired him to write Slaughterhouse-Five.

As horrific as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, conventional warfare kills everyday, in one form or another. I'm living in the southwest of France in an area not far enough from an airbase. Everyday, Mirage jets fly overhead - sometimes causing sonic booms that rock the house - and I'm reminded just how unpeaceful the world really is - nuclear or otherwise...


Paquita Maria Sanchez Jim wrote: "I'm reminded just how unpeaceful the world really is - nuclear or otherwise..."

Yeah, I've been listening to NPR at work for most of the day every day for the past few weeks, and I think it may be giving me an ulcer.


message 16: by Szplug (new)

Szplug Another game for Milos!!!!


message 17: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller I visited the memorials at Hiroshima and had a look at the museum there. Heartbreaking.

Good review.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Thanks, Traveller. I know it would be inappropriate given the subject of this book to comment here about how completely jealous I am that you've been to Japan, so I won't do that and you will never know...


message 19: by Mir (new)

Mir I would love to see some Tokyo urban scenes photographed by you, Paquita.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Some day? I have been motivated slash mildly depressed by something I learned on Friday: my boss's son is fluent, yes, fluent in English, French, Russian, and German. Oh, and he's 9. Time to get back to the books! There's a whole wide world out there just waiting for people to stop fretting over the fact that they have to crazy glue their front bumpers back on, sitting around staring at walls and smoking cigarettes while stewing. People do things sometimes. I want to do things!


message 21: by karen (new)

karen don't worry - that kid will peak when he is eleven and it will all be downhill from there


Paquita Maria Sanchez karen wrote: "don't worry - that kid will peak when he is eleven and it will all be downhill from there"

Hah! Well, I don't want to believe that in this particular case. She's such a cool lady and so airy and nice and one of the easiest bosses ever that I find it hard to believe she's driving him off a mental cliff with the whole wonderchild training. She's French, so he was immersed at home, he knows English because he is growing up in America, pretty sure his dad's side of the family has something to do with the German, and he knows Russian because my boss just couldn't manage to find an Austin pre-school which taught Mandarin. Talk about first world problems, sure, but again: she's awesome, and he still seems all bubbly and young and unaware of the world rather than like some hardened, suit-wearing, poorly developed horror movie kid. Shit, I wish I'd been immersed in something, anything while I was that young. If he ends up famous and insane and coked out one day, I'll totally point him out to you "THAT'S HIM!!! You totally nailed it!" You can count on it.


message 23: by Mir (new)

Mir People do things sometimes. I want to do things!

ME TOO! I probably won't, but I encourage you!


message 24: by Traveller (last edited May 13, 2012 07:32AM) (new) - added it

Traveller Paquita Maria wrote: "karen wrote: "don't worry - that kid will peak when he is eleven and it will all be downhill from there"

Hah! Well, I don't want to believe that in this particular case. She's such a cool lady a..."


I really hope that won't happen. As long as his emotional and social development is well balanced with his intellectual development, there's no reason to believe that it should. It's not always such an easy balancing act, though.

Oh, it wasn't really for that long, PM, not nearly long enough; Japan is so complex that a short visit only leaves you with a sensory impression really.

There's so many places I have not visited that I'd like to, so no worries, really.

Yes, the Hiroshima part was really sad, but Japan is a beautiful country generally.


message 25: by Brendan (new)

Brendan O'sullivan Best review I've ever read!


message 26: by Hourig (new) - added it

Hourig https://twitter.com/amberinzaman/stat...
Amberin Zaman, wrote:
Hope 4 day when #Turkish leader hugs #ArmenianGenocide survivor, if any left. "Obama Greets Hiroshima Survivors"


Bisrat This review made me rethink the book. Very beautiful review!


Paquita Maria Sanchez Thank you!!!


message 29: by Judi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judi Just started this book. May we ever be forgiven for what we did???


message 30: by Hunter (new)

Hunter Smoking is bad for you!


message 31: by Raheeq (new) - added it

Raheeq Essa Omg!!! I’m reading it now


message 32: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer I loved reading this review. Thank you for sharing!


message 33: by Gina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gina That 'this is your life' bit! I couldn't quite believe the stupidity of the people behind this.


message 34: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Very good review.


Hans Reinalda Well said, and frightfully true.


message 36: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith I am trying to recall if the Japanese have asked for forgiveness for their Rape of Nanking, or the many Korean girls taken to Japan to be used unwillingly as prostitutes, or Pearl Harbor, or Bataan, or.......

Why do the Japanese feel the need to forgive the US? When will they forgive themselves for starting a war that required an atomic bomb to get them to cease their barbarism?


Paquita Maria Sanchez Talk of other countries' barbarism in war from Americans is pretty disingenuous. No other country has brought and continues to bring as much military aggression and destruction to the modern world as the US. Oh, and maybe dig into the sexual assault stats--particularly in Japan--surrounding US military bases, and you may feel a need to park your highhorse for a time.

But yes, the Japanese military/government committed some horrifying acts during the war. "There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead" as they say. But if you think there are none in Japan who feel horror and shame for Japanese actions during the war, then you are desperately short on information about that country's culture and history, and in particular its arts.

And anyway: https://www.thenation.com/article/wor...


message 38: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith I thought the review was about Hiroshima. My comments were limited to WW2, as should have been obvious from the list of Japanese atrocities I listed.

Japan's policy at that time was barbaric, wreaking all kinds of inhumane actions on people who did not have the good fortune to be born Japanese.

I am also aware that atrocities occur in wartime, committed by all combatants. The difference is that in WW2 Japan, it was national policy.

I have seen individual Japanese express remorse for activities in WW2, but I have also seen interviews with individual Japanese who think that the atomic bomb was only dropped on Japan out of racism - completely oblivious to the racial superiority assumptions the Japanese held (and to certain extent some still do).


Paquita Maria Sanchez What does it matter if you limited it to WWII? Does the US now deserve to get nuked for our present atrocities, since we're the bad guys these days? I only meant to point out that "how dare you, sirs" about other countries' war crimes are pretty rich coming from an American at any point from WWII on.

It seems that essentially, you are of the opinion that they brought this on themselves? Even though surrender was already inevitable at that point? Because that kind of blanket justification is sloppy, and an eye of an eye is an antiquated concept. It seems pretty clear at this point that the bombing (let alone bombings plural) was unnecessary, and that the point was to send a message to the rest of the world (particularly the Soviet Union) regarding American might, not to rein an already cowed Japan.

I also take issue with the notion that a government's "national policy" justifies the indiscriminate incineration of thousands of innocent civilians. We have an evil fuck president right now, and I sure as hell don't want to die for his sins. I don't support him or what he stands for, and I certainly don't want to take his lashings.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Also, I would just like to say that the justification of mass murder is an extremely weird hill to die on.


message 41: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith Once again, you keep insisting that my comments about a book titled "Hiroshima" are only relevant if I agree with your heated opinions about everything but Hiroshima.

Why must you insist on attributing to me things I have not said, or even implied? Is your psyche that fragile?

As a matter of fact, yes, I do believe the Japanese brought much of their misery on themselves due to their merciless treatment of Chinese, Filipino, and Korean citizens as well as POWs of all nationalities. Which treatment was a direct of their racist worldview.

Japan is a much different country now, and more power to them. Your rant about Trump and other irrelevant topics really detracts from your review of Hersey's book.


message 42: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith Correction: "Which treatment was a direct outcome of their racist worldview."


Paquita Maria Sanchez Haha, sure. We only selectively apply our logic. Because it works for you in this one case, we use it in this one case. When it no longer works for you (when we pan out juuust a smidge and attempt to apply our idea to more than an isolated case we're trying to make), we throw it out. That's sound.

And it's funny that you think my psyche is fragile when you're the guy who barrels into an EIGHT YEAR OLD somber discussion about, as a matter of fact, Hiroshima, and start talking about how the dead deserved to die, because you just can't stand the idea of a stranger on the internet feeling otherwise. But you do you.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Wait, you haven't even read this book?! Amazing.


message 45: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith I read the book years ago. What did I say th as t led you to believe I never read it?

I thought I saw a comment from 2019, but I wasn't wearing my glasses so it's possible I misread it.

You claim to be opposed to the US militarism post-WW2, and there is certainly a lot wrong there. But Trump hasn't started any wars, declined to attack Iran when they shot down one of our drones and has shepherded some historic Middle East diplomacy. Is that what you consider evil? I consider those all good things, regardless of my opinion of him.

You seem to have gone off the deep end when originally all I did was mention the incongruity of an American apology to Japan when Japan was the barbaric, criminal instigator of war against us and its Asian neighbors.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Can we just cool it with the ad hominem accusations of hysterics, seriously? I'm calm, man. I'm just talk-typing. And as you keep insisting, this book/the topic of this whole thread and review is the bombing of Hiroshima. When I stray from that subject at all, the subject of the book, the immediate aftermath for the civilians of the bombing of Hiroshima, you act like I've committed some grave offense, but your opening move was straying from the subject with whataboutism: why should we apologize for doing bad things when the Imperial Japanese Army also did bad things?

You accuse WWII-era Japan of racism, but don't seem to catch the irony that America's foreign policy is also rooted in racism, then act like I'm going "off the deep end" when I make the point that I (as an American civilian) don't want to get nuked (like Japanese civilians) because my government is killing brown people at an astounding clip, unnecessarily. Ya know, being barbaric and bringing misery on others. It should not stretch your brain too much to see the parallel, but what does that matter when you're honestly just being willfully obtuse.

But yes, I am glad Trump hasn't taken us into additional wars. In that regard, he has kept his word.


message 47: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith I'm consciously obtuse? Well, I'm certainly glad we are avoiding ad hominem arguments. 

All I did was comment on the (what I found odd) Japanese minister who forgave the US for the atomic bombing. I'm not sure we need forgiveness for that, in fact I am pretty sure we don't.

I have seen documentaries that interviewed survivors of both bombings, and it wasn't a rare view that the only reason we bombed Japan was for racial reasons. This was the attitude I was getting at with my original comment. Surely you have seen the photos of the Japanese army's atrocities in China? I find it hypocritical to object to racism directed at themselves but blind to their own, especially since many more civilians were killed by Japanese conventional weapons then Japanese by the American a-bomb.

How you got from that to ranting about Trump escapes me.

But I do want to apologize if I jumped into a thread that was 8 years old. As I said, I wasn't wearing my reading glasses and it is possible I misread dates.

Don't get old.


Paquita Maria Sanchez First of all, two sentences is not ranting by any measure. It's two sentences. My initial comments on Trump were two whole sentences.

Speaking of criticizing arguments no one was making, I never said (in my review or otherwise) that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because of racism. As I said, I think it was dropped as a muscle flex to say to the world, and the USSR in particular, that "we are in charge now, bitch." I think it was a human medical trial and a flex (two for one!!), and that repulses me. You continue to not address anything I've said about, or the article I linked about, how the dropping of the bomb was after surrender was inevitable.

And I wasn't saying you are obtuse, I was saying you are choosing to be about this case, acting like the striking comparison between what Japan did (which apparently justified a nuclear bomb) and what the US did and is doing (which apparently doesn't?) is some sort of crazy rant by a lady on the sidewalk, despite the fact that you surely know better.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Tim Smith wrote: "But I do want to apologize if I jumped into a thread that was 8 years old. As I said, I wasn't wearing my reading glasses and it is possible I misread dates. Don't get old."

On this, we're all good. And to be straight with you, I don't think this world is going to give me a chance to get old(er), so while I appreciate your kind advice, I don't think it's needed. (That was sincere.)


message 50: by Tim Smith (new)

Tim Smith I will read my messages again, but I don't think I said that you blamed the bombing on racism. I was referring to Japanese survivors of the bombings. They are the ones who said it. Not all of them and not even a majority of them, but it was said by several of the survivors.

The debate about whether Japan was ready to surrender or not was held at the time and continues. I'm sorry but one article in The Nation is not going to convince me. I've read numerous books and articles addressing that issue and I still believe that however horrendous an ordeal the survivors endured, many hundreds of thousands or possibly millions would have died during a land invasion.

Surrender was inevitable, but not imminent. The Japanese were (and are) tenacious and clever and a land invasion would have been bloody and horrific.

Speaking of whataboutism: wasn't it you who essentially said, "yeah, the Japanese may have been kinda bad, but whatabout the evil US and its racist foreign policy since then?"


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