Date finished: August 8th and 14th 2015
For the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Penguin books released a special edition of John Hersey’s original report on the aftermath along with a new title by Eric Schlosser which focuses on the storage of nuclear weapons in the USA and the anti-nuclear movement which grew out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The books were £1.99 each, and I’m in need of little persuasion to buy a book at the best of times, so this worked out well for me.
Hiroshima is a truly remarkable piece of journalism. Pieced together from interviews Hersey conducted in Hiroshima, it tells the story of what happened on 6th August 1945 through the eyes of six civilians in Hiroshima and it is utterly terrifying.
Hersey doesn’t mince words. He simply states the events as they happened, and this adds to the truly horrifying image that is created. It’s not the immediate devastation caused by the bomb that’s so affecting, rather it’s the strange and incomprehensible events that happen in its wake: mini-weather-systems that tear through the destroyed city and strange sicknesses that afflict the survivors.
The book is also a testament to the reaction of the Japanese people. Hersey paints a picture of six people fighting against the odds to survive in a city suddenly on its knees. Many of these people are heroes, doing all they can to help people find their relatives, heal the injured, and find safety the thousands afflicted.
Eric Schlosser’s God’s of Metal is a neat counterpart to the reprint of Hiroshima. Like Hersey before him, Schlosser is a freelance journalist exploring the nuclear problem, only this book explores its effects on the perpetrator of the Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, bombings.
It works as an interesting history of the anti-nuclear movement in America, particularly by various Christian peace activists who have broken into nuclear facilities to demonstrate how unsafe they are. One might imagine anarchist hippies sticking a finger up to the man, but Schlosser paints a portrait of very peaceful, spiritual people, often elderly, determined to stop the mistakes of their generation recurring in modern times.
Schlosser shows that these activists have been largely vilified by the press and government, and that public support for their cause has had it’s ups and downs in response to the USA’s changing situation. In addition, he explores the safety measures employed by nuclear facilities. Some are reassuring, others are intensely worrying.
With talk of Trident’s impending renewal dominating the British press and a desperate situation unfolding in Syria, it’s safe to say that the nuclear debate isn’t going away any time soon. With that in mind, it’s very easy to recommend both these books. Schlosser’s piece is an intriguing history of the nuclear debate within the USA, but this stands firmly in the shadow of Hersey’s incredible portrait of the devastating nuclear holocaust that ended World War II.