The impact of John Hersey’s famous account of Hiroshima
Sean Howard of PeaceQuest Cape Breton looks at the impact of John Hersey’s Hiroshima in his column for the Cape Breton Spectator.
This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of The New Yorker’s publication of Hersey’s groundbreaking report on the effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States in 1945.
“I felt,” Hersey recalled in 1984, “I would like to write about what happened not to buildings but to human beings, and I cast about for a way to find a form for that.”
During his three weeks in Hiroshima, says Howard, Hersey was “terrified all the time,” confronting the incomprehensible truth that “these ruins had been created by one instrument in one instant. If I felt that coming there eight months later, what must the feelings of the people who were there at the time have been?” It was only, he modestly insisted, his “struggling efforts to understand what they must have felt that produced whatever I was able to produce.”
As the New Yorker’s Erin Overbey wrote this week, “Hersey pioneered the New Journalism technique of reporting on historical events by employing a narrative style—foregrounding the human and psychological sides of a story—and he was an adept chronicler of the eerily grotesque stillness that so often cloaks the aftereffects of war.”