LosingTheWar.doc

Day hersey glosses a japanese expression as common as

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day; Hersey glosses: “A Japanese expression as common as, and corresponding to, the Russian word nichevo: It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.” Hersey doesn’t say so directly, but he appears on the surface to agree. He presents the bombing neutrally, without commentary, as though it’s a new species of natural disaster, motiveless and agentless. As far as any reader of Hiroshima can tell, the bomb came out of nowhere, was dropped by nobody, and had no purpose. This allows Hersey to avoid any explicit debate about the morality of dropping the bomb — which would just get in the way of his desire to record what it meant to the ordinary people who were its targets, rather than to the usual subjects of military history, the godlike decision makers who were safe from its effects on the other side of the world. But this silence, deliberate or not, still amounts to a kind of debating position. Page after relentless page carefully and unhysterically records the grotesque damage done by the bomb — the radiation burns, the alien rot of radiation sickness — and as you read, an unambiguous message comes through: there’s no point talking about the reasons for the bombing because no reason could possibly be good enough. Victory in the war wasn’t worth such cruelty. The bomb should never have been dropped on Hiroshima. It’s an argument that stands on the dividing line between two worlds, the world of the war and the world after. Hersey was one of the first to write out of a dawning sense that the dropping of the bomb wasn’t the culminating moment of the war — it was the point at which the war’s graph of escalating destructiveness finally went off the scale and rendered everything that had happened before trivial. He draws this moral with typically understated eloquence at the climax of his first chapter, when he recounts what happened to all his characters at the moment of detonation. Strangest of all, he says, was the fate of Miss Sasaki, who was hit by a falling bookcase in the reference library of the factory where she worked: “In the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.” Well, what of it? All over Hiroshima people were at that moment being pummeled to death by erupting walls, boiled alive by hurricanes of steam, and flashed into nothingness
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in the glare of a thousand suns. Why does it seem so ironic to be struck by flying books? Because books stood for the past — they represented the whole of the dead weight of history and culture that had just been annihilated. The bomb wasn’t the end of the last war, but the beginning of the final war to come. That may be why there’s something forced about Hersey’s compassion for his subjects. He hadn’t really surmounted the hatreds of the past decades; he was just so frightened he’d forgotten about them. The moment the bomb went off at Hiroshima, the unbridgeable cultural divisions between Japan and America were erased — not because their citizens
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