Hiroshima
John Hersey
Contributed by Fernande Huls
Chapter 2
Summary

Immediately after the explosion, Mr. Tanimoto calms his terror by helping others: he leads an old lady holding a small boy to a grammar school that had been designated an emergency hospital, where he finds many people already waiting to be treated. He thinks that many bombs must have been dropped at once. Mrs. Nakamura fights to free her children, Toshio, Yaeko, and Myeko, from the debris of their collapsed house, and, thankfully, none of them is hurt. Before she runs from the house, she takes her sewing machine—her family’s entire livelihood—and tries to preserve it by plunging it into the cement tank of water in front of her house, constructed in case of a possible fire raid.

Mrs. Nakamura and her children evacuate to a nearby park, passing the Jesuit mission house and Father Kleinsorge as they do. After the explosion, Father Kleinsorge helps free the family of M. Hoshijima, the mission catechist, from the ruins of their house. Then he returns back to the mission house to grab a suitcase of important items that he had hidden, which has surprisingly survived the bombing unscathed. He puts it in the mission’s air raid shelter. One priest in the mission, Father Cieslik, tries to get another injured priest, Father Schiffer, to Dr. Fujii’s private hospital, but fire stops them from reaching it.

Dr. Fujii hangs on to the ruins of his hospital, which has now crumbled into the Kyo River. At last, he manages to get himself up onto the riverbank. He encounters a friend, Dr. Machii, and they speculate that it must have been something the Japanese call a "Molotov flower basket," which is a self-scattering cluster of bombs. They cannot figure out why they see so few fires, but there are so many injured people.

Here, Hersey interjects with information for the readers: the fact that so many of Hiroshima’s doctors, like Dr. Fujii, were injured or killed, their hospitals destroyed, and their equipment scattered, explains why so many hurt citizens of the city were unattended, and why so many who might have lived did not. Only six doctors in the city’s largest hospital, the Red Cross, were able to function, with Dr. Sasaki being the only one completely uninjured. In the aftermath of the bombing, he works with frenzied speed to patch up the wounded doctors, nurses, and patients in the hospital, doing the best he can, but eventually realizing that all he can really do with these terrible injuries is stop people from bleeding to death.

A brief paragraph tells readers that Miss Sasaki is still trapped under the fallen bookshelves at the East Asia Tin Works, unconscious. Then perspective returns to Father Kleinsorge, who patches up Father Schiffer’s large wound as best he can. He attempts to help a woman free her husband from a burning house, but they cannot find him. He and one of the theological students drag Mr. Fukai, the secretary of the diocese, out of the mission house, and to the park. Mr. Fukai runs away from them when they reach the park, and they cannot stop him from heading back towards the fire.

Mr. Tanimoto, at first trying to reach his family and his church, runs past hundreds of terribly injured, disfigured people fleeing the fires. He is ashamed that he is unhurt while so many others suffer. He runs nearly seven miles and swims across the Ota River before finally, by some stroke of luck, meeting his wife and infant son. His wife says she is going back out to Ushida, but Mr. Tanimoto stays to see his church and take care of the people in his Neighborhood Association. Moving around the fire toward his church, he passes through the East Parade Ground evacuation area, and works hard to carry water to suffering strangers calling for it. Finally, he manages to get away, cross the river, and find some members of his Neighborhood Association.

In the tin factory, Miss Sasaki finally regains consciousness, still trapped. After a long time, some men are able to free her and pull her out. Her left leg is badly broken and cut, hanging askew below the knee. A man builds a makeshift lean-to and places her under it, along with two other horribly wounded people. No one comes back for them.

After attempting to help Dr. Machii’s injured daughter, Dr. Fujii heads toward the suburb of Nagatsuka to his parents’ house, but its roof has fallen in and the windows are all broken. Throughout the day, injured survivors are pouring into Asano Park, believing the wooded area to be the best sanctuary if the Americans should come back and bomb again. Mrs. Nakamura and her children are among the first to get there. They drink from the river, but the water unfortunately makes them nauseated, and they are terribly sick for the rest of the day. The priests arrive at the park as well, and Father Kleinsorge is stunned by the silence of all these suffering people.

Mr. Tanimoto is in the park as well, because he cannot get past the fire to reach his church. He finds a boat that he can use to ferry the most severely injured people across the river and away from the fire. He works at this for several hours. When the fire comes close to the park, he organizes a team of less injured men to fight it. There is a rain storm, which stops everyone’s work for a time, but it soon ends. Father Kleinsorge sends the theological student to the Jesuit Novitiate at Nagatsuka to see if they can bring the injured priests out there for help. Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge go off to find rice to feed the many hungry people, and manage to find rice, potatoes, and pumpkins in the mission shelter.

Before nightfall, Mr. Tanimoto runs into Mrs. Kamai, his young next-door neighbor, cradling her infant daughter, who is clearly dead. She begs Mr. Tanimoto to find her husband so he can say goodbye to the baby. Although he knows her husband was in the army and that many of the soldiers are gravely wounded, he promises her he will try.

Analysis

While Chapter 1 zeroed in on the moment the bomb hits, this chapter focuses on the immediate aftermath of the attack. It conveys the terror, panic, confusion, and pain that the citizens of Hiroshima felt as they watched their homes crumble and their neighbors die, with no knowledge of what had actually caused the destruction. While the initial impact of the explosion shattered buildings and tore down houses, it has now brought upon a new problem: fire. Fire is quick and deadly, and does not discriminate in its destruction. In order to evade fire, people from all walks of life must come together to help each other: class, age, gender, and all sorts of other social boundaries seemingly disappear.

Asano Park is a symbolic setting in this piece for a number of reasons. First, it is the place where a handful of these six characters’ stories come together. Mrs. Nakamura, Mr. Tanimoto, and Father Kleinsorge all converge on the park, helping and supporting each other as members of the wider Hiroshima community. Father Kleinsorge and Mr. Tanimoto team up to seek out food for those who are hungry. The park is green, quiet, and soothing, standing in stark contrast to the raging fire and crumbled buildings around them. The people of Hiroshima fight together to protect this safe haven from fire, to preserve it—saving it, though they could not save the rest of their home.

Although this is a piece of journalism, it also is a story, and, like any story, it relays important messages about life and humanity. One of these themes is the way people respond to a disaster. There are elements of both selfishness and selflessness present in the aftermath of the bombing. People certainly become selfish in the face of tragedy, helping only themselves or their families even though others may be in graver need. This truth is evident in how long it takes people to come to Miss Sasaki’s aid and pull her out from under the toppled bookshelves. However, they can also become incredibly selfless, as evidenced by Mr. Tanimoto’s actions. The things he does are small—bringing water to thirsty people, ferrying the injured across the river, etc.—but they have a huge impact at a time when most people are focusing only on their own health and safety. The presence of both selfish and selfless actions in the aftermath show how polarizing of an effect this bomb had on its victims.

Hersey does not spare his readers any details, including the gruesome accounts of badly injured people whom his subjects encounter. He describes their conditions thoroughly, painting pictures of people missing limbs, vomiting, bleeding from deep wounds and sporting terrible, festering burns. Readers must remember that this event was real, and that actual people truly suffered terribly in this way. It is more than just a story, and its horrors must be solemnly remembered in detail to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Another interesting element that Hersey examines in this piece is the Japanese sense of shame and honor, which might have been an unfamiliar concept for his Western readers. Mr. Tanimoto feels not relief, but rather immense guilt and shame at the fact that he has survived unscathed while so many were injured or killed. This is because at the core of Japanese society lies the desire to lead an honorable life, and, particularly during wartime, sacrificing oneself for the sake of your neighbors and country was seen as the peak of honor. Thus, to survive such a tragedy uninjured is, in a way, shameful, and Mr. Tanimoto is driven to try to atone for this anomaly in whatever ways he can by helping others. Shame is a driving force behind Japanese social order, and understanding this part of society is an important part of understanding Japan.

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