Hiroshima

Hiroshima Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the Hiroshima bombing, Hatsuyo Nakamura struggles to support her children. She repairs her sewing machine and earns enough to support her family. Then, she is forced to sell the machine to pay for her medical treatment, which she later describes as the “saddest moment of her whole life.” Afterwards, she becomes a “hibakusha”—literally, an “explosion-affected person” (in particular, one who lives in harsh economic conditions as a result of the explosion). The Japanese government does little to help hibakusha until 1954, when it passes a relief law.
Originally, Hiroshima ended with Chapter Four; forty years after the bombing, however, Hersey published another magazine-length essay on Hiroshima in The New Yorker. In a way, Nakamura’s experience after the bombing is exemplary of what other hibakusha had to endure: she was penniless, injured, and had no government assistance.
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The postwar years in Hiroshima are bleak, and there is a strong prejudice against the hibakusha, because they are believed to be sick and weak. During these years, Nakamura often tells herself, “It can’t be helped,” and maintains a strange sense of her own powerlessness to challenge the Japanese state. She almost seems to think of the bombing as a natural disaster, for which nobody can be blamed. Nakamura finds jobs peddling food and collecting money for paper deliveries.
In the face of society-wide indifference to her plight, Nakamura came to regard the Hiroshima bombing with a stoic, grudging acceptance. Instead of regretting the logic of war that led to her city being bombed, Nakamura conceived of the bombing as an inevitable part of her life, much like a storm.
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In 1951, Nakamura is assigned to live in a brand-new house. This enables her to take better care of her children. Yaeko and Myeko grow up anemic as a result of radiation poisoning, but none of her three children has any of the more serious complications of radiation sickness. Toshio begins delivering papers to support himself through high school. Later, Nakamura begins working for the Suyama Chemical factory. The work is tiring and often sickening, but she works hard and makes more money.
Nakamura managed to support herself and her family by taking a menial job at a chemical factory. Even though she was still impaired by her experiences in the bombing (she must have faced a lot of prejudice when applying for jobs, for example), the Japanese and American governments didn’t provide her with compensation or reparations of any kind.
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In 1954, the American military accidentally injures a boatful of Japanese citizens sailing near Bikini, where the U.S. military has been testing nuclear missiles. In the ensuing outrage, the Japanese government begins providing medical care for victims of radiation sickness. Many hibakusha speak out against governmental neglect for their pain, and in 1957, the government passes a comprehensive Atomic Bomb Victims Medical Care Law. Nakamura is now eligible for various free medical treatments, and—later on—monthly allowances. Over time, Nakamura’s children grow up and get married. Interestingly, “like their mother, all three children avoided … antinuclear agitation.”
The Japanese government began providing for Hiroshima victims after the U.S military accidentally detonated an atomic bomb near a boat of Japanese citizens. Recognizing that it couldn’t convincingly demand that the U.S. care for these Japanese citizens when Japan didn’t even provide for its own citizens, the Japanese government began giving the hibakusha the care they desperately needed. After this point, Nakamura’s life became markedly easier.
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In 1966, at fifty-five, Nakamura retires from the chemical factory. She’s earned a decent wage, and her children aren’t financially dependent on her anymore. She takes up embroidery and goes dancing. In 1967, she visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to the spirit of the Japanese people who’ve died fighting for their country. Nakamura still struggles to accept her husband’s death—“she returns home in an uneasy state of mind.”
Even after she gained some financial stability in the 1960s, Mrs. Nakamura hadn’t entirely made peace with the events of the war. For example, she couldn’t accept that her husband wasn’t coming home, although he’d been dead for over a decade. Many other survivors of the war struggled to comprehend their own experiences, refusing to accept the painful truth.
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In the 1960s and 1970s, Japan’s economy is on the rise. Nakamura begins to receive more money from the government. In the fortieth year after the bombing, she participates in a folk-dance festival. Later on, she feels “woozy,” and her friends take her to the hospital. At the hospital, she says she is fine, and is permitted to leave.
Mrs. Nakamura’s story ended fairly happily: she gained some financial stability, raised three happy children, and kept up with her friends. Even so, she continued to suffer from radiation sickness, perhaps symbolizing the ongoing presence of the bombing in her life. There were tens of thousands of other hibakusha, furthermore, whose life stories weren’t as pleasant as Nakamura’s, and who suffered severely as a result of the bombing.
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In a way, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki spends the rest of his life distancing himself from his memories of the bombing. He continues to work in the Red Cross Hospital, but also works on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Hiroshima. In all, it takes him ten years to receive a medical degree. His family has plenty of money, and they support him during this period. However, his marriage doesn’t go well; he has his pick of eligible partners, but, after he marries, he finds that his bride “was wiser and more sensible than he.”
Dr. Sasaki distinguished himself as a doctor in the immediate aftermath of the bombing; however, he didn’t get his degree until the 1950s. Furthermore, Hersey suggests that Sasaki remained traumatized by the memory of Hiroshima and attempted to forget what had happened by burying himself in his studies and later his medical practice.
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Dr. Sasaki spends the next five years at the Red Cross Hospital working on treating keloid scars, a common problem for hibakusha. However, doctors later realize that a better treatment is to wait for the scars to shrink over time and then remove them. In 1951, Sasaki quits working for the hospital and begins working for his father in the town of Mukaihara. For forty years, he almost never speaks about the bombing.
Dr. Sasaki’s silence speaks volumes about his attitude toward the bombing—forty years later, it continued to haunt him, to the point where (very understandably) he couldn’t talk about it openly.
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Dr. Sasaki tries to open his own clinic, but finds that he can’t get enough credit; as a result, he opens a clinic in his wife’s parents’ house. His practice does very well, and within a few years he’s receiving more than a hundred patients a day. In 1954, he opens up a proper clinic building, and his practice continues to prosper for many years.
In spite of his trauma, Sasaki led a highly successful career as a private practitioner. As with Mrs. Nakamura, Sasaki’s life story was fairly optimistic: he found ways of moving past his experiences at Hiroshima and living a long, rewarding life.
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By the 1950s, the medical community is well aware that radiation poisoning can cause long-term damage. Leukemia is especially common in hibakusha, as are other forms of cancer. Children who’ve been exposed to the radiation grow up shorter than expected, and many mothers who were pregnant on that day gave birth to children with shrunken heads. Dr. Sasaki, however, doesn’t treat or pay much attention to hibakusha—in a way, “he lived enclosed in the present tense.”
Radiation poisoning continued to afflict the Japanese population for many years, a constant, painful reminder of the overall devastation caused by the bombing. By and large, Sasaki’s response to the memory of Hiroshima was to avoid thinking about it altogether—instead, he buried himself in medicine and refused to dwell on the past.
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In 1963, Dr. Sasaki visits with the director of the Red Cross Hospital in Yokohama, Dr. Tatsutaro Hattori. Hattori had once been Sasaki’s boss in Hiroshima, but he’s contracted radiation sickness and moved to Yokohama. Hattori suggests that Sasaki get some X-rays, and the X-rays reveal that Sasaki has lung cancer. Hattori recommends immediate operation, and “when Dr. Sasaki came out of the anesthetic he found that his entire left lung had been removed” due to surgical complications. Shortly after the operation, Sasaki almost dies from a burst blood vessel. Dr. Sasaki later thinks of his near-death experience in 1963 as the defining event of his life, not the Hiroshima bombing.
Even though the Hiroshima bombing was a catastrophic event, Dr. Sasaki didn’t come to think of it as the defining experience of his life—he actually came much closer to dying in the 1960s, due to surgical complications. It’s odd to think that anyone could live through the Hiroshima bombing and not think of it as the deadliest experience in their entire life. This might suggest that Dr. Sasaki, simply by virtue of the fact that he survived without injury, isn’t truly representative of the experiences of other bombing victims.
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In 1972, Dr. Sasaki’s wife dies of cancer. Sasaki is devastated by this, but he throws himself back into his work; in particular, he begins focusing on elderly care. In 1977, he gets a bank loan and founds a brand-new clinic, hiring his two sons (both doctors) to assist him. Even in his old age, he works long hours, seeing as many as 250 patients a day. He lobbies to build an old-people’s home, but is turned down by the county medical association; later, someone else in the association builds a similar home. Undaunted, Sasaki builds a beautiful bathhouse near his clinic.
As he grew older, Dr. Sasaki became even more invested in his medical practice. He developed a powerful desire to help other people, especially the elderly. In psychological terms, one could argue that Dr. Sasaki was trying to compensate for his experiences on the day of the bombing, when he lacked the resources or training to care for everyone in the Red Cross Hospital.
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As Dr. Sasaki’s fortunes boom, he develops other plans for public works, including a hot-springs spa. In 1985, he obtains a loan and begins building. In his old age, he finds the strength to visit Hiroshima—a city that now claims more than a million people as residents, in which only ten percent of the population is hibakusha. Dr. Sasaki has made peace with his past, but he continues to regret that, on the day of the bombing, he’d been unable to keep track of all the corpses he’d seen in the hospital.
Over time, the city of Hiroshima began to heal from the wounds caused by the bombing—the population grew and the economy boomed. By the same token, Dr. Sasaki began to move past his traumatic experiences, even if he couldn’t entirely forget about them. Specifically, Sasaki seems to have been haunted by his inability to keep track of his hospital patients—a “failure” for which, Hersey suggests, he tried to make up later in his life by caring for the sick and the elderly.
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In 1946, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge goes back to the hospital for radiation sickness, from which he suffers for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he lives “this life of misery” with a “selfless spirit.” After being promoted to a new church in 1948, he devotes much of his time to comforting the dying. He is hospitalized two more times, and his colleagues wonder if he might be “too concerned for others, and not enough for himself.” He presides over hundreds of baptisms. As he spends more time in Japan, he begins to go by a new name: Father Makoto Takakura.
Both on the day of the bombing and for the rest of his life, Father Kleinsorge prioritized the happiness and well being of other people above his own. It’s interesting that, even after the end of World War Two, when Germany and Japan ceased their political alliances, Kleinsorge remained in Japan and went by a Japanese name. Kleinsorge faced plenty of xenophobia and discrimination in Japan as a consequence of being a foreigner, but perhaps in part because of his experiences on the day of the bombing, he developed a deep, compassionate connection with his adopted country’s people.
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In 1956, Kleinsorge’s health worsens. However, he continues to teach Bible classes to the children of Japanese families, many of whom adore him. During this time, he’s treated for leukopenia, caused by a shortage of white blood cells. In 1961, he’s transferred to a smaller church, where he’ll have more time to rest. The church is located in Mukaihara, the same town where Dr. Sasaki is practicing. Father Kleinsorge’s new church is lonely, and sometimes nobody shows up for Mass. His energy decreases, though he visits Hiroshima once a week for a checkup at the Red Cross Hospital. In Mukaihara, he wears Japanese clothes and goes by his Japanese name. In 1966, he hires a new cook for the church, a woman named Satsue Yoshiki. Yoshiki gradually becomes one of the key people in Kleinsorge’s life: “part daughter, part mother.”
Kleinsorge remained an energetic preacher even after his health deteriorated. Interestingly, and unlike some of the other main characters in the book, Kleinsorge made an effort to return to Hiroshima very frequently, suggesting that (unlike Dr. Sasaki, for example), he had no desire to forget about Hiroshima or the bombing. Kleinsorge remained a friendly and gregarious person even after he moved to a smaller town—in particular, he developed a close, loving relationship with his cook (Hersey doesn’t describe this relationship in any detail, however).
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In 1971, Kleinsorge is hospitalized again, this time for serious liver dysfunction. Hundreds of adoring visitors come to visit him. Then, in 1976, he slips and falls in the bathroom. After going to Dr. Sasaki for X-rays, Kleinsorge finds fractures in his vertebrae and is, from then on, bedridden. He spends the final months of his life reading the Bible, chatting with Yoshiki, and catching up with his fellow priests. He dies in 1977.
Kleinsorge died much as he’d lived: surrounded by friends and admirers, and immersed in Biblical teachings. He lived a happy, fulfilling life, attending to the needs of others and always prioritizing other people’s well-being above his own.
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In 1946, Toshiko Sasaki is beginning to recover from her injuries. Then, very suddenly, “a new blow came.” She’d previously been engaged to a young man—after the Hiroshima bombing, however, he disappeared. Now, he is back in Hiroshima, though he’s visibly shy around her. Sasaki suspects that her former fiancé’s family doesn’t want him to marry a hibakusha. The only comforting person in Sasaki’s life is Father Kleinsorge, who visits her often and inspires her to convert to Catholicism.
After the bombing, Toshiko Sasaki’s situation was probably bleaker than that of any of the other main character in the book: not only was her body injured, but she’d also lost her fiancé and her family. Like many people in times of crisis, Sasaki turned to religion for comfort and guidance.
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By 1947, Toshiko Sasaki has taught herself to walk without crutches. She sends her children to live in an orphanage, and then gets a job working as an attendant there. Sasaki enjoys her work, and she later transfers to another orphanage on the island of Kyushu. During this period, she spends more than a year in the hospital, receiving additional leg surgery. Afterwards, her leg continues to irk her; however, she can now walk normally, since her legs are the same length again.
Sasaki gradually adjusted to her new life, learning how to walk normally, providing for her children as best she could, and finding a decent job. Though her injuries were severe, her recovery mirrors the renaissance of the city of Hiroshima after the bombing.
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Toshiko Sasaki loves working at the orphanage, and she feels tremendous compassion for the children. Many of the children’s mothers were prostitutes, and others lost their families in the war. Sasaki holds an unusually bitter opinion about the atomic bomb, even for a hibakusha: she believes that too much thought is given to the power of the atomic bomb itself, and “not enough thought was given to” the overall injustice of World War Two, during which millions of civilians on both sides were “killed or maimed.”
Unlike many other hibakusha, including Dr. Sasaki and Mrs. Nakamura, Toshiko Sasaki exhibited little desire to forget about the catastrophe of the Hiroshima bombing; on the contrary, her work at the orphanage meant that she was constantly reminded of it. Furthermore, Sasaki never accepted the bombing as an inevitability in the way that Mrs. Nakamura did; instead, she seemed to take the extreme pacifist position that Hiroshima, and World War Two overall, was a crime.
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Toshiko Sasaki keeps in touch with her family in Hiroshima; during one of her visits, she runs into her old fiancé, but he refuses to acknowledge her. Father Kleinsorge asks her if she would consider getting married to someone else. By 1954, however, Sasaki has made up her mind to go into a convent. With Kleinsorge’s help, she moves to a convent in Misasa. She’s irritated to find that she’ll have to learn Latin and French, contrary to what Kleinsorge told her. Nevertheless, in 1957, Sasaki takes her vows and becomes Sister Dominique Sasaki.
After the bombing, Toshiko Sasaki arguably experienced a more radical transformation than any of the other characters: she embraced a new religion and found comfort and fulfillment in the life of a nun. While it would be too reductive to say that Sasaki became a nun simply to cope with the bombing, the bombing clearly inspired her to make big changes in her life—the biggest of which was her conversion.
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Toshiko Sasaki is assigned to work at a home for the elderly in Kyushu, where she wins a reputation for hard work. Perhaps her greatest strength is her ability to comfort the sick and dying—after witnessing so much death, she knows how to remain calm in a crisis. On one occasion, she sits with a dying man for three full days. In the 1970s, Sasaki spends two years as Mother Superior of her convent, and she later becomes the superintendent of a music school. She suffers from a variety of problems probably brought on by the bombing, including liver dysfunction and blood spots. In 1980, she is honored at a dinner celebrating the 25th anniversary of her becoming a nun. At the dinner, she says, “It is as if I had been given a spare life when I survived the A-bomb. But I prefer not to took back.”
As Hersey makes clear in this passage, Sasaki’s experiences during Hiroshima proved to be a major asset during her long, successful career as a nun: she’d experienced so much grief and devastation already that nothing could rattle her, and she was able to concentrate on her duties to other people. Instead of allowing the events of August 6, 1945 to wreck the rest of her life, Sasaki found ways to use these experiences for the betterment of others. And yet even Sasaki said that she’d prefer not to “look back”: while she wasn’t necessarily trying to forget about Hiroshima, she wasn’t trying to relive it, either.
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Dr. Fujii continues to practice medicine for the rest of the 1940s, and in 1948 he opens a new clinic where he treats about eighty patients every day. He continues to visit with his friend Father Kleinsorge. Two of his sons become doctors (the third becomes an X-ray technician), and both of his daughters marry doctors. Luckily, Fujii doesn’t suffer from radiation poisoning. To the extent that the bombing of Hiroshima affects him psychologically, it encourages him to enjoy life. He doesn’t work too hard, and he travels a lot. In 1956, he sails to New York, where he works closely with some of the women who were maimed in the bombing and are now receiving plastic surgery. Fujii acts as an interpreter and medical adviser for the women.
Dr. Fujii, no less than the other characters, spent the rest of his life trying to move past the events of the Hiroshima bombing. Superficially, at least, Fujii fully succeeded in “forgetting” about the catastrophe: he seemed to be living a perfectly happy, successful life, raising happy, successful children, making enough money to live a good life, and even donating his time and experience for the benefit of those who’d been wounded in the bombing.
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In the 1960s, Dr. Fujii seems to become less active and happy-go-lucky; he also quarrels with his friends and his wife. At the end of 1963, he hosts a New Year’s Eve party, and retires to bed just before midnight. The next morning, his family finds him unconscious in his bed, next to a gas heater, which is “turned on but not burning.” The family rushes him to the hospital, unsure if he’s made suicide attempt. In the hospital, Fujii makes comments suggesting that he thinks he’s back in Hiroshima during the bombing. He spends the next eleven years in the hospital as a vegetable—he seems to have no energy left. He dies in 1973, and shortly afterward his wife sues one of his sons over the inheritance.
Although Dr. Fujii had seemed to be a perfectly content, complacent person, Hersey gives readers reason to believe that he was still traumatized by the events of Hiroshima. Perhaps, beneath his calm, self-satisfied exterior, Fujii was still tormented by the bombing—this might explain why he tried to kill himself and eventually lost the energy to live a normal life. But Hersey doesn’t provide enough evidence for readers to decide if Fujii’s condition was or wasn’t a product of his experiences during Hiroshima. Perhaps Hersey is bending the evidence ever so slightly, in order to make Fujii’s later life seem more determined by Hiroshima than it really was.
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A year after the bombing of Hiroshima, the city’s residents begin to rebuild their former homes, and the political atmosphere begins to change subtly. Where before, Hiroshimans were primarily angry with America for attacking their country, many Hiroshimans now reserve their anger for their own government, which involved the country in “doomed aggression.”
Notice that, although Hersey briefly alludes to Japanese citizens’ anger with the United States, he gives much more space to their fury with their own government. Even forty years later, it could be argued, Hersey glosses over the U.S. government’s role in the Hiroshima catastrophe.
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In 1946, Kiyoshi Tanimoto is trying to rebuild his church. He has very little money, especially since his building hasn’t been insured for much, but he and other parishioners loyally set to work rebuilding. Meanwhile, on July 1, 1946, the U.S. military tests an atomic bomb near Bikini (it tests another bomb on May 17, 1948). Tanimoto corresponds with American classmates and arranges to travel to the U.S. to raise money for his church. On his voyage to the U.S., he begins planning a new life for himself: he’ll “spend his life working for peace.”
In the final pages of the book, Hersey discusses Kiyoshi Tanimoto, whose later life was more overtly influenced by the events of Hiroshima than those of other five main characters in the book. Tanimoto actively campaigned against the expansion of America’s nuclear arsenal, and used his influence in the United States to support a variety of pacifist causes.
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In America, Tanimoto campaigns for world peace, making emotional speeches and forging useful connections with American activists. In 1949, he publishes an editorial in the Saturday Review of Literature called “Hiroshima’s Idea.” Therein, he proposes the establishment of a World Peace Center—a “laboratory of research and planning for peace.” Shortly afterwards, the Japanese government passes a law establishing Hiroshima as a “Peace Memorial City,” complete with a memorial park.
In the period following World War Two, there were many pacifist movements around the world. Some movements supported nuclear disarmament in order to ensure that the events of Hiroshima would never be repeated; others supported the founding of the United Nations to ensure that countries never again use violence to settle their problems. Without committing himself to any single ideology, Tanimoto supported a World Peace Center, where people could research different ways of promoting peace.
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Tanimoto and Norman Cousins, the editor of the Saturday Review, launch a petition for the United World Federalists—a society supporting a world government—which gains more than 100,000 signatures. They submit the petition to President Harry Truman, who ordered for the bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima. Truman refuses to accept the petition, and a few months later, the Soviet Union develops its own nuclear weapons. By the end of 1949, Tanimoto has traveled to more than 200 cities, raising money for his church and lobbying for peace.
Tanimoto’s courageous activism resulted in many donations and supporters. However, he didn’t succeed in swaying the policies of the U.S. government; on the contrary, the United States (and later the Soviet Union) stockpiled nuclear missiles throughout the 1950s, sparking the Cold War, a decades-long conflict between the world’s two remaining superpowers, America and Russia.
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Back in Hiroshima in 1950, Tanimoto uses the 10,000 dollars he raised to build a new church, and he returns to the U.S. in 1950 to raise money for the World Federation. In Washington, D.C., he speaks to a group of U.S. Senators, one of whom says he’s astounded that Tanimoto has the courage to appear before the U.S. government and argue for peace.
Tanimoto was a passionate, charismatic speaker, and he knew how to use his experiences in the Hiroshima bombing to gain respect and authority over his audience—even an audience of American senators.
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Tanimoto returns Japan and sets to work founding a Bible study group for his proposed peace center. He raises money to provide plastic surgery for people who were maimed in the explosion, collaborating with a journalist named Shizue Masugi. Together, Tanimoto and Masugi raise funds for nine girls to receive surgery. Meanwhile, in 1952, Great Britain concludes its first atomic bomb tests; in 1953, the Soviet Union tests its first hydrogen bomb. Around the same time, Tanimoto begins to face criticism from his peers: he’s accused of spending too much time in America and of being more interested in self-promotion than in helping others. Some wonder why only women are receiving surgery.
The passage juxtaposes Tanimoto and Masugi’s attempts to raise money for pacifist causes with the slow buildup of nuclear weaponry in other countries. The implication of the passage is that, admirable as Tanimoto’s pacifist activism may have been, it didn’t prevent countries from preparing for another World War. Oddly, Tanimoto—the same man who acted selflessly during the bombing—gained a reputation for being self-absorbed. Hersey doesn’t clarify if this is a fair assessment of Tanimoto’s behavior, or whether others were merely trying to discredit his activism.
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In 1954, a Japanese boat is “showered with radioactive fallout” from a nuclear test near Bikini. Norman Cousins, still in contact with Tanimoto, travels to New York to raise funds for more plastic surgery—he wants New York doctors to perform the surgeries, meaning that these doctors will have to choose from a long list of candidates the women who stand the best change of benefitting from surgery.
The politics of providing plastic surgery for the female victims of the bombing—the so-called Hiroshima Maidens—proved highly contentious. Cousins wanted American doctors to provide the surgery, symbolizing American society’s compassion for the Japanese. Others argued that Japanese doctors should perform the surgery on its own citizens.
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In 1955, Tanimoto travels to America with some of the women who are to receive plastic surgery. He appears on “This is Your Life,” the NBC talk show, where he talks about his experiences on the day of the bombing, and—to his surprise—sits next to Captain Robert Lewis, the copilot of the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the bomb on his city. Between questions, ads sell nail polish remover. At one point, Lewis buries his head in his hands—millions of viewers assumed he was crying, but in fact, he was just drunk. Several of the female victims of the bombing appear on the show, as well.
Tanimoto’s unexpected encounter with Robert Lewis on an NBC talk show is one of the most surreal episodes in the annals of the Hiroshima bombing (it can still be viewed on YouTube). Hersey conveys the crassness and tawdriness of the event, with NBC cutting back and forth between tacky ads and emotional, intense questions about the bombing. Many Japanese people thought that Tanimoto had cheapened the pacifist movement by appearing on NBC, and they accused him of simply wanting to be famous (although, as Hersey explains, Tanimoto didn’t know that he’d be sitting next to Robert Lewis, or that the format of the program would be so vulgar).
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The day after the interview, the Japanese government telegrams the United States, explaining that Tanimoto is “something of a publicity seeker,” more interested in raising funds for a memorial peace center than representing his country honorably. American government officials worry that Tanimoto might “pursue a leftist line” during his campaigning.
Tanimoto was caught between a rock and a hard place: his American connections increasingly thought of him as a dangerous radical (at the time, many who opposed the U.S. government’s military policies were unfairly accused of being Communists and un-American), while his Japanese connections thought of him as an attention-monger. In other words, neither side took him, or his plans for a peace center, too seriously.
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Tanimoto’s tour of the United States raises lots of money—from the TV interview alone, he earns fifty thousand dollars. He gains a reputation for being energetic—not usually a quality associated with hibakusha. However, Tanimoto realizes that Norman Cousins has more control over the funds than he does. Cousins corresponds directly with the Japanese government, bypassing Tanimoto. Around the same time, one of the women scheduled to receive plastic surgery dies while under anesthesia in New York—later, her father isn’t even invited to her funeral. Tanimoto becomes something of an outcast in Japan: because he’s a Christian, he is never a big part of the left-wing antinuclear movement, and because Norman Cousins has more power with fundraising, he has no clout with the government. Meanwhile, in 1957, Britain conducts its first hydrogen bomb tests.
Hersey never takes a firm position on whether Tanimoto was or wasn’t as starved for attention as other people portrayed him to be (although, based on Tanimoto’s behavior in the first four chapters of the book, it’s pretty hard to imagine that he was). During the fifties and sixties, the antinuclear movement, both in Japan and in the U.S., was predominately a left-wing project, meaning that Tanimoto’s Christian ideology didn’t really have a home there. Hersey juxtaposes the disorganization and occasional pettiness of the various pacifist movements of the era with the seemingly inevitable growth of the world’s nuclear arsenals.
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Mr. Tanimoto’s daughter, Koko Tanimoto, was only an infant during the bombing. Later on, she begins traveling to America with her father to receive medical treatment. During a visit in the late 1950s, someone tells her to remove her gown and stand naked—she does so “for what seemed an eternity.” Koko is so traumatized by the experience that “she was unable to tell anyone about it for twenty-five years.”
Although Koko was too young to remember the Hiroshima bombing, the bombing nonetheless led her to her own traumatizing experiences (being humiliated and, it would seem, sexually harassed during her time in the American hospital).
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In 1959, a baby girl is left outside Tanimoto’s church, and Tanimoto decides to raise the child, along with others who lost parents during the bombing. Then, in 1960, France tests its first nuclear weapons—a few years later, China follows. In the late 1960s, Koko Tanimoto begins attending American University. She falls in love with a Chinese-American man, but his father forbids them to marry because Koko is a hibakusha. She later begins working in Tokyo, where she marries someone else. She has a miscarriage, which her family attributes to the bombing, and she later adopts two children.
There’s a lot going on in this passage. Notice, first, that Tanimoto began running an orphanage—even if his plans for a peace center didn’t really succeed, he found other, more modest ways of caring for the victims of the bombing. Koko’s experiences could be said to symbolize the long-lasting effects of the bombing on Japanese people’s lives: even though Koko couldn’t remember the bombing, it led her to face discrimination throughout her life and may have prevented her from bearing children.
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In the 1960s, the Japanese antinuclear movement becomes intensely partisan and fractured. On the far left, some argue that the U.S. is going to use nuclear weapons for war, while the Soviet Union is going to use them for peace. Others argue that no countries should pursue nuclear technology. In 1974, India begins nuclear tests.
The tragedy of the antinuclear movement, both in Japan and in general, was that it turned on itself. At a time when the movement needed cooperation, its leaders divided more than they united. Meanwhile, many more countries gained access to nuclear technology, further underscoring the anti-nuclear movement’s failure.
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Almost forty years after the bombing, the Hiroshima peace center that Tanimoto proposed is “nominally still in place,” though it consists mostly of an orphanage for children whose parents died in the explosion. Tanimoto returns to the U.S. to raise funds, but retires from the pulpit in 1982. In 1984, a poll finds that more than half of hibakusha believe that nuclear weapons would be used again. Tanimoto, now an old man, lives a modest life in Hiroshima. In the papers, he reads about how the U.S. and the Soviet Union are “climbing the steep steps of deterrence.” His memory, “like the world’s, was getting spotty.”
Hersey has shown how the six main characters of his book found ways of adjusting, some more successfully than others, to their lives after the bombing. In many ways, the characters who lived the happiest, most fulfilling lives, found ways of moving past the trauma of the bombing. At the same time, all the evidence would suggest that, at some point in the future, nuclear weapons will be used during the course of a war: there are too many nuclear missiles and too many powerful people willing to use them. In all, the final passage of the book paints an ambiguous picture of the act of memory. Often, people move past tragedy by forgetting about it—and yet it’s important that people remember tragedy in order to ensure that they don’t repeat it.
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