After Hiroshima Bombing, Survivors Sorted Through The Horror NPR's Scott Simon remembers the work of John Hersey, who visited with people who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima. His reporting filled an entire issue of the New Yorker magazine in 1946.
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After Hiroshima Bombing, Survivors Sorted Through The Horror

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After Hiroshima Bombing, Survivors Sorted Through The Horror

After Hiroshima Bombing, Survivors Sorted Through The Horror

After Hiroshima Bombing, Survivors Sorted Through The Horror

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/479747302/479824712" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Survivors of the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare are seen as they await emergency medical treatment in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. AP hide caption

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Survivors of the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare are seen as they await emergency medical treatment in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

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John Hersey went to Hiroshima in 1945 for the New Yorker magazine to talk to people who had lived through the world's first nuclear bomb. The magazine turned over its entire issue to his report in August of 1946; it's considered a classic.

John Hersey didn't try to second-guess the American decision to drop the atom bomb, a year after it ended the deadliest war in history. Simply and plainly, he described the stories of six people who survived in a city where so many thousands died:

"Early in the evening of the day the bomb exploded, a Japanese naval launch moved slowly up and down the seven rivers of Hiroshima," John Hersey wrote, "alongside the crowded sandspits on which hundreds of wounded lay..."

Mr. Tanimoto found about twenty men and women on the sandspit. He drove the boat onto the bank and urged them to get aboard. They did not move and he realized that they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces. He was so sickened by this that he had to sit down for a moment. Then he got out into the water and, though a small man, lifted several of the men and women, who were naked, into his boat. Their backs and breasts were clammy, and he remembered uneasily what the great burns he had seen during the day had been like: yellow at first, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally, in the evening, suppurated and smelly.

...he lifted the slimy living bodies out and carried them up the slope away from the tide. He had to keep consciously repeating to himself, 'These are human beings.'

It would be impossible to say what horrors were embedded in the minds of the children who lived through the day of the bombing in Hiroshima. On the surface their recollections, months after the disaster, were of an exhilarating adventure. Toshio Nakamura, who was ten, was soon able to talk freely, even gaily, about the experience, and a few weeks before the anniversary he wrote the following matter-of-fact essay for his teacher at Nobori-cho Primary School:

'The day before the bomb, I went for a swim. In the morning, I was eating peanuts. I saw a light. I was knocked to little sister's sleeping place...The neighbors were walking around burned and bleeding. Hataya-san told me to run away with her. I said I wanted to wait for my mother. We went to the park. A whirlwind came. At night a gas tank burned and I saw the reflection in the river. We stayed in the park one night. Next day I went to Taiko Bridge and met my girl friends Kikuki and Murakami. They were looking for their mothers. But Kikuki's mother was wounded and Murakami's mother, alas, was dead.'