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Free Study Guide: Hiroshima by John Hersey - Notes / Book Summary

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LITERATURE SUMMARY FOR HIROSHIMA BY JOHN HERSEY

CHAPTER THREE: DETAILS ARE BEING INVESTIGATED

Summary

The third chapter covers the time from early evening on the day the bomb exploded to nine days later on August 15, 1945, when the Japanese Emperor announced on the radio Japanís surrender to the U.S. In these few days, the survivors in Hiroshima, along with Japanese scientists and government leaders, discovered that the bomb was a new type of weapon that split atoms. The authorities were cautious and vague in reporting details, and few in the city understood what little they were told. The survivors were for the most part focused on finding food, shelter, and medical care in this first week and a half of their misfortune.

After being sent for by Father Kleinsorge, priests from the Novitiate outside the city came to Asano Park to evacuate two of the wounded Hiroshima priests. Father Kleinsorge waited in the park until the next day, when he too evacuated to the Novitiate after filling out a compensation claim for damage done to the mission. In the park he met two children by the surname Kataoka who had been separated from their mother and were quite distressed. Father Kleinsorge took them to the Novitiate as refugees and after several days of asking around, was finally able to reunite them with their mother. Before he left the park, he brought water to a group of men whose faces were wholly burned and whose eyes were melted and oozing. Father Kleinsorge reflected on how he used to become queasy at a simply cut finger but had changed so radically over the last day that he was able to help such gruesomely wounded people.

Rev. Tanimoto remained in Asano Park for five days, assisting the wounded. He moved twenty weakened people to higher ground on the river sandpit, but the tide went even higher and he found them drowned the next morning. He was enraged that doctors had not come to treat the victims in the park. He finally went to find one and urged him to come to the park, but the doctor claimed his duty was to save the slightly wounded over the gravely wounded, who were surely doomed. Rev. Tanimoto was hounded by the woman who refused to cremate her dead baby until her husband could see it; she begged him to search for her husband but Rev. Tanimoto knew it would be impossible to find him. After he finally left the park, he was asked to come pray for a dying Mr. Tanaka who had been a rich and showy philanthropist, opposed to Rev. Tanimoto and his Christian teachings. Now, weak and humbled, Mr. Tanaka wanted comfort from religion. He died as Rev. Tanimoto read a psalm.

At his familyís roofless house, Dr. Fujii examined himself to discover several fractured bones and cuts. He eventually moved to a friendís summer home to recuperate, and was visited by Father Cieslik from the Novitiate, at the urging of Father Kleinsorge. They drank whisky and discussed the disaster. Father Cieslik told the doctor and his host that he had heard from a reporter that the bomb was not a bomb at all but magnesium powder sprayed on the city, which exploded when it touched the power lines.

Dr. Sasaki tried to treat the wounded as best he could with limited medical supplies. Ten thousand had stormed the Red Cross Hospital, and he did not even have time to look outside at the bombís impact. Hundreds at a time died, but no one had the time to carry away the bodies. He and other staff worked by candlelight after dark, and finally tried to sneak in some sleep around three a.m. The wounded outside found them after just one hour and demanded help, however, and Dr. Sasaki was forced to work for two more days with just that one hour of sleep. Finally, a few more doctors and nurses arrived from other cities to help, but there were still just eight doctors for 10,000 wounded. Dr. Sasaki worried that his mother assumed him dead, and was permitted to return home to his motherís house in the countryside. There, he slept for 17 hours straight before returning to duty. When he came back, the hospital had begun to get organized, and he was able to classify his patients. Nurses began disposing of the dead, burning the bodies and preserving some of the ashes in carefully marked envelopes for proper burial later.


Miss Sasaki was left for two days and two nights under the makeshift awning with two grossly wounded companions. She went without food or water, and her broken leg became swollen and smelly. On the third day, friends found her and told her that her mother, father, and infant brother were surely dead since the hospital where they had been staying had been demolished. Finally, some men loaded her into a truck and she was transported to a military hospital on a nearby island. Luckily, she did not have gangrene and did not require amputation, but was running a very high fever. A few days later, she was moved again to a different hospital. It was several more days before a fracture specialist finally examined her. He decided he could not set her leg so merely drained the puss.

Mrs. Nakamura and her children were evacuated to the Jesuit Novitiate after spending the night in Asano Park. They were each given a blanket and mosquito net, and recuperated with 50 other refugees. They had little appetite and vomited often. Her son, Toshio, began having nightmares after he heard that his hero, a young man named Hideo, had been burned alive in his factory. A few days later, still sick, they moved in with Mrs. Nakamuraís sister-in-law in a nearby town. Though weak, Mrs. Nakamura traveled into the city to check on her relatives, and found them all dead. She was so affected by this discovery and the damage she had seen that she was speechless that evening. On August 15, Mrs. Nakamura heard from her sister that the Emperor had spoken on the radio and announced Japanís surrender.

Notes

In this chapter, the reader witnesses the first installment of the Japanese governmentís inadequate response to the atomic disaster. Even considering its war-drained condition, the government fails to assist the survivors in both the first days after the bombing and the months and years of rebuilding their lives and ravaged bodies. It takes days for other cities to send in doctors, a naval ship promises help but never comes back, and the authorities withhold information about what has happened. Hiroshimaís people are largely left to fend for themselves, at least for the first few days.

The government also refuses to allow accurate information about the bomb to reach the people of the city. They are extremely secretive in the days following the disaster, so that Hiroshima does not even hear that the same bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. As a result, rumors are rampant as to what kind of weapon was used. A good example of the wide-spread misinformation is how Father Cieslik tells Dr. Fujii that he heard from a Japanese newspaperman (a supposedly reliable source) that the bomb was actually magnesium powder sprayed all over the city, which exploded when it touched the power lines. Even when the people finally hear about the atomic nature of the bomb, newspaper statements about this are kept so general that people believe it no more than the rumors.

The people of Hiroshima, along with all of Japan, hear in this chapter the Emperorís voice for the first time, over the radio. This alone would be earth shattering for a Japanese, taught all their life that the Emperor is God-like and unapproachable at a human level. The Emperorís announcement of Japanís surrender, however, is even more significant, as it changes their lifeís focus instantaneously. As we see from Rev. Tanimotoís description at the end of the chapter, the Japanese people, and surely the major characters, accept the Emperorís words immediately and rededicate themselves from war efforts to peace and rebuilding efforts. This shows the Japanese peopleís utter devotion to the Emperor during the war and the power of his words on their individual lives. Mrs. Nakamuraís first reaction, when her sister tells her of Japanís surrender, is to tell her sister that she shouldnít say such foolish things, but when the sister says it was the Emperor who announced it, Mrs. Nakamura accepts it without question.

The story of Rev. Tanimoto reading a psalm to the dying Mr. Tanaka illustrates how the bomb humbled all its victims to the same helpless state, whether rich or poor, great or base. Mr. Tanaka, proud, wealthy and an enemy of Rev. Tanimoto, discovers in the wake of the bomb that his former status does nothing to gain him medical treatment. After spending all his strength angrily searching for doctors, he concedes his impending death. At that moment of weakness, he calls for Rev. Tanimoto to comfort him with religion. Rev. Tanimotoís service to Mr. Tanaka shows his pastor heart and Christian forgiveness, as well his recognition that all people deserve help when they are in desperate condition.


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