Hiroshima by John Hersey provides the reader with a front row seat to the devastation that atomic power can cause. This book tells the story of the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on that fateful day in August, 1945, through the eyes of various survivors. Through the eyes of those survivors, we are able to see a glimpse of the horror that occurred on August 6th, 1945. We are able to see how devastating atomic power can be, not only structurally and physically, but also the long term repercussions as well. The force of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 was absolutely devastating.
The pressure from the explosion “varied from 5. 3 to 8. 0 tons per square yard”, and “had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. ” The bombs blast was forceful enough to move gravestones, knock over railroad cars, and move concrete bridges. The heat of the bomb at its center “must have been 6,000i?? Celsius. ” The bomb caused concrete to become discolored to a “light, reddish tint, had scaled off the surface of granite. . . and left prints of the shadows left by its light. ” Over 2,500 yards away from the center, a shadow was found that had been “projected by the handle of a gas pump. There were also a few “vague human silhouettes” found near the center.
Over 62,000 buildings were destroyed, and nearly 6,000 were devastated beyond repair. “In the heart of the city. . . only five modern buildings. . . could be used again without major repairs. ” Houses had been knocked down, whole city blocks had collapsed, fire engulfed everything, and “gas storage tanks went up in a tremendous burst of flames. ” There was “four square miles of a reddish-brown scar” where everything burned down. On the roadways there were “hundreds of crumpled bicycles, shells of streetcars and automobiles, all halted in mid-motion. Of the 245, 000 people that lived in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped, 100,000 died and another 100,000 were injured.
This number was much greater than the original estimate that “78,150 people had died, 13,983 were missing, and 37,425 had been injured. ” As more and more corpses were recovered from the wreckage, the death toll raised to over 100,000. It is calculated that “about 25 per cent had died of direct burns from the bomb, about 50 per cent from other injuries, and about 20 per cent as a result of radiation effects. Of those that died, there were hundreds of school girls who had been enlisted to clear fire lanes, 65 out of 150 doctors, 1,654 out of 1,780 nurses died (or were to injured to work), and at the Red Cross Hospital there were only 6 doctors and 10 nurses able to work. The injuries sustained from the bombing were primarily burns, but also injuries from falling debris. Some burns had formed patterns onto persons skin as “white [clothing] repelled the heat of the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin. Burns caused directly by the bomb itself caused a persons skin to slip off in “huge glove like pieces. ”
The burns were “first yellow, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally. . . suppurated and smelly. ” Upon coming across 20 soldiers, it was stated that their “faces were wholly burned, their eye sockets were hollow and the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks. Their mouths were mere swollen, pus covered wounds. . . ” Nausea and vomiting were profound, caused by the “odor of ionization. . . given off by the bomb’s fission. Many more drowned in the river while trying to escape the raging fires.
Once in the river, the found themselves to weak or injured to badly to cross and drowned when the tide came in. Many people were told that “there is no hope for the heavily wounded. They will die. We can’t bother with them. ” Help was primarily given to the lightly wounded as it took less time, and therefore, more lives could be saved. For the most part, only saline and iodine were used to treat injuries, as there was a severe shortage of medical supplies. There were thousands of injured persons that had no one to help them.
Although people were dying by the hundreds, there was nobody to carry away the corpses. The scene of hospitals was that of the living laying among the dead, and in their state of shock it was difficult to tell them apart. Doctors were overwhelmed with the “thousands of patients sprawled out among [the] corpses. ” Although there were many that were “gruesomely wounded”, there were also many that died while having no apparent injuries. The remains of the deceased were eventually cremated, the placed in envelopes with their name upon it.
Time was taken to do this because “disposal of the dead, by decent cremation and enshrinement, is a greater moral responsibility to the Japanese than adequate care of the living. ” The few who were not seriously injured felt a sense of guilt for their lack of injuries. Many people only helped their own family, unable to “comprehend or tolerate a wider circle of misery. ” Hysteria and shock began to set in, many became numb to their surroundings. They were “so emotionally worn out that nothing could surprise them. ” To many ‘the bombing almost seemed a natural disaster. . . as the terrible aftermath and human suffering “reached so far beyond human understanding. ” Many of the survivors suddenly felt sick about one month after the bomb was dropped.
They came down with the “strange, capricious disease which came later to be known as radiation sickness. ” This unprecedented disease had 3 stages. The first stage was a direct reaction to the bomb going off. These were the many “apparently uninjured people who died so mysteriously in the first few hours or days. ” This is what “killed 95 per cent of the people within a half mile of the center [of where the bomb was dropped], and many thousands who were farther away. Although they may have had burns, these people died from the radiation, not the burns. The radiation caused their “nuclei to degenerate”, basically, every cell in their body broke down. The second stage of radiation sickness began 10-15 days after the bombing. Signs exhibited included hair loss, diarrhea, and fever. Then 25-30 days after the bombing, new symptoms began to develop. These symptoms included blood disorders, a drastic drop in white blood cell count (WBC), a rise in infections due to the drop of WBC, hemorrhages, slow healing of simple wounds, and anemia.
The third stage followed after, and lasted anywhere from one week to several months or longer. The primary symptom was the fluctuation in the white blood cell count. After the WBC had stabilized, wounds would finally begin to heal. As the burns healed, keloid scars formed. Keloid scars were “hideously ugly, thick, itchy, rubbery, copper-red crablike growths. ” There was, at that time, no reliable literature on treatment for these scars. Doctors found that if they removed the keloids, the often returned. Yet, if left untreated, the keloids would sometimes become infected and affect the surrounding muscles.
The survivors also had a higher incidence of leukemia- 10 to 50 times higher than the norm. Other types of cancer were also higher among the survivors. Many survivors developed “A-bomb cataracts”, children’s growth was stunted, as well as various long term heath problems like “anemia, liver dysfunction, sexual problems, endocrine disorders, and accelerated aging. ” “The Japanese tended to shy away from the term ‘survivors’. . .. ” and instead referred to them as “hibakusha”, or “explosion affected persons. ” The hibakusha’s “lived in an economic limbo” as the Japanese government didn’t want to acknowledge them.
By not acknowledging them, the government didn’t have to accept “moral responsibility for the heinous acts of the victorious United States. ” At this point, “the anger of many hibakusha. . . modulated towards their own government. ” There were no special provisions provided for the hibakusha until 1957. In 1957, the A-Bomb Victims Medical Care Law was established. This provided support, free medical treatment, and eventually monthly allowances for the hibakusha’s. However, many hibakusha’s initially rejected it as they had “a suspicion of ulterior motives. ”
Employers developed a prejudice against the hibakusha due to their “A-Bomb sickness; a nagging weakness and weariness, dizziness now and then, digestive troubles, all aggravated by a feeling of oppression, a sense of doom. . . ” Surprisingly, there was a divided opinion about the use of the bomb on Hiroshima. Father Siemes stated that, “Some of us consider the bomb in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civilian population. Others were in the opinion that in total war. . . there was no difference between civilians and soldiers. . . ”
Hiroshima was engulfed by devastation from the instant the atomic bomb went off, and for many years to follow. Over 100,000 lost their lives, and the survivors, or hibakusha, lost the lives they once knew. As we move forward with new technology, we must look to the ahead to see the future outcomes new technologies could hold. Hopefully, as we look to the future, we remember that atomic power can be devastating. It is amazing that something so small could nearly level an entire city, cost thousands their lives, and still has reverberating effects long after the dust has settled.