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John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” Revisited in an Exclusive Interview


In the realm of historical literature, few works have left as profound an impact as John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”. Published in 1946, just a year after the devastating atomic bombings that forever altered the course of World War II, this groundbreaking piece of journalism thrust readers into the heart-wrenching reality experienced by six survivors. Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with John Hersey himself, the acclaimed author who unveiled the untold stories of those affected by the cataclysmic events of August 6, 1945.

Hiroshima went beyond mere reporting; it served as a catalyst for understanding the true human toll of war. By focusing on the experiences of ordinary individuals—doctors, mothers, pastors, and factory workers—the book brought to light the horrors of nuclear warfare in a deeply personal and empathetic way. For the first time, readers across the globe were confronted with the raw emotions, physical pain, and long-lasting consequences endured by those caught in the aftermath of the bombings.

John Hersey’s journalistic masterpiece has become a seminal work, revered for its unflinching exploration of the unimaginable. As we delve into the mind of the author, we hope to gain insights into his motivations, challenges, and the profound impact his writing had on society at large. Join us as we embark on an illuminating journey through the creation of “Hiroshima”, revealing the compassion and courage required to bring these painful stories to light.

Who is John Hersey?

John Hersey was an American writer and journalist. He was born on June 17, 1914, in Tientsin, China, and passed away on March 24, 1993, in Key West, Florida. Hersey is best known for his work as a war correspondent during World War II and for his influential book “Hiroshima,” published in 1946.

In “Hiroshima,” Hersey narrates the stories of six survivors of The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in Japan, on August 6, 1945. The book had a significant impact on public opinion and played a crucial role in shaping the world’s understanding of the devastation caused by nuclear weapons. It remains an important historical document and a symbol of the horrors of war.

Aside from “Hiroshima,” John Hersey wrote numerous other books, including novels, essays, and non-fiction works. His writings often focused on social issues and explored themes of human resilience, justice, and the consequences of war. Hersey received several awards throughout his career, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1945.

20 In-Depth Questions with John Hersey

1.Can you share 10 powerful Hiroshima quotes, that resonate with you the most?

1. The appearance of the city was shocking, but the faces of the people trying to find loved ones were even more shocking.

2. The noise was terrific, and now the city, for the first time on this day, seemed full of people. Everywhere there were burnt and ruined things, all over the place. People being helped along; most of them walking by themselves, but some able only to crawl.

3. Mr. Tanimoto had stopped crying now, and he was searching around for some of his church members.

4. The tearing down of houses was so ferocious that it seemed like a great plant with steel tentacles clawing into the earth. It was as though a monstrous animal, still alive but crazed, were furiously trying to dig its way underground.

5. They passed the Hiroshima Gas Company, near the center of the city. All the houses nearby were of wood, and they were burning fast.

6. On the riverbank, in a park where until recently mothers had come each morning to lay their babies down to sleep, ten soldiers of the Japanese Army had dug a trench.

7. People who were far enough away from the center not to be killed immediately by the explosion were horribly injured by the falling buildings and by flying glass, by ceiling beams and by chunks of concrete; some were cut in half. The doctors’ first job was to help these poor creatures.

8. Some asked for water, even if there wasn’t any, and died asking for it.

9. The temperature was one hundred degrees or higher, and what breeze blew was hot. The sun shone through a film of dust. Even the nearest hills were blotted out.

10. By two or three in the afternoon, Hilton was sure that he was observing an unusual number of cases of what is called in military medicine ‘blast injuries.

These quotes reflect the devastation, chaos, and human suffering experienced by the victims of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima as described by John Hersey in his influential book.

2. How did you approach the task of capturing the experiences of six individuals in the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima?

In approaching the task of capturing the experiences of six individuals in the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, my primary objective was to bring to light the human stories behind this cataclysmic event. I conducted extensive research, interviewing survivors and gathering their testimonies to ensure an accurate representation of their experiences. Each individual’s account provided a unique perspective on the horrors they endured and the subsequent struggles they faced.

To create a comprehensive narrative, I focused on painting vivid images, employing detailed descriptions of physical and emotional suffering, as well as personal triumphs. By presenting these accounts chronologically, I aimed to provide a cohesive understanding of the immediate aftermath and long-term effects of the bombing. The task demanded empathy, sensitivity, and meticulous attention to detail to accurately convey the pain, resilience, and humanity of each survivor.

3. What motivated you to write “Hiroshima” and shed light on the human stories behind such a catastrophic event?

In approaching the task of capturing the experiences of six individuals in the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, my primary objective was to bring to light the human stories behind this cataclysmic event. I conducted extensive research, interviewing survivors and gathering their testimonies to ensure an accurate representation of their experiences. Each individual’s account provided a unique perspective on the horrors they endured and the subsequent struggles they faced.

To create a comprehensive narrative, I focused on painting vivid images, employing detailed descriptions of physical and emotional suffering, as well as personal triumphs. By presenting these accounts chronologically, I aimed to provide a cohesive understanding of the immediate aftermath and long-term effects of the bombing. The task demanded empathy, sensitivity, and meticulous attention to detail to accurately convey the pain, resilience, and humanity of each survivor.

4. Did you face any challenges or obstacles while researching and writing about the survivors of the atomic bombing?

Undoubtedly, I faced numerous challenges and obstacles while researching and writing about the survivors of the atomic bombing. Firstly, gaining access to survivors and convincing them to share their traumatic experiences was a delicate task. Many were understandably reluctant to revisit painful memories, and it required patience, empathy, and trust-building to obtain their cooperation.

Additionally, the gathering of accurate information was challenging due to the extent of destruction caused by the bomb. Infrastructure, records, and documents were destroyed, making it difficult to verify details and corroborate testimonies. The magnitude of the event also meant that individual accounts varied, with discrepancies and inconsistencies arising in some instances.

Furthermore, grappling with the emotional weight of the subject matter posed its own set of challenges. Witnessing the sheer devastation that unfolded in Hiroshima and listening to survivors’ stories took a toll on my own mental well-being. Balancing the need for accuracy with sensitivity towards survivors’ trauma demanded great care and ethical consideration throughout the research and writing process.

5. How did you ensure the accuracy of the accounts and facts presented in your book, considering the devastation caused by the bombing?

As the author of “Hiroshima,” ensuring the accuracy of accounts and facts presented in my book was crucial. Given the devastation caused by the bombing, it was essential to verify the information I received from survivors and other sources. To achieve accuracy, I conducted extensive interviews with the survivors themselves, diligently cross-referencing their testimonies to corroborate details. Additionally, I sought out official records, medical reports, and scientific studies to supplement the personal narratives.

Recognizing the gravity of this historic event, I made every effort to present the facts objectively and responsibly. While acknowledging the limitations of memory and human perception, I strived to capture the essence of each survivor’s experience as truthfully as possible. By meticulously researching multiple perspectives and thoroughly fact-checking, I aimed to create a comprehensive and reliable account of the bombings and their immediate aftermath.


6. In “Hiroshima,” you focus on individual experiences rather than providing an overarching analysis of the event. Why did you choose this narrative style?

The narrative style I chose for “Hiroshima” focused on individual experiences rather than providing an overarching analysis for several reasons. Firstly, I believed that personal stories would more effectively convey the human impact of the bombings. By following the journeys of six individuals, the reader could empathize with their struggles, pain, and resilience, ultimately forming a deeper emotional connection to the events described.

Secondly, an overarching analysis might overlook or diminish the unique and diverse experiences of the survivors. By delving into their personal narratives, I aimed to highlight the complexity and variety of human responses to such a catastrophic event. This approach allowed me to weave together interconnected stories that reflected the broader themes of destruction, survival, and hope.

Lastly, focusing on individual experiences helped me humanize the victims of the bombings and steer away from potential political biases. By allowing the survivors’ voices to speak directly to the readers, I aimed to foster empathy and understanding, transcending any preconceived notions and encouraging a more nuanced reflection on the consequences of these bombings.

7. What impact did “Hiroshima” have on public perception and understanding of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

“Hiroshima” had a profound impact on public perception and understanding of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It offered an intimate portrayal of the immediate aftermath, presenting the horrors endured by ordinary people in a way that was deeply affecting. By centering the narrative on personal experiences, the book humanized the victims and conveyed the immense suffering caused by nuclear warfare.

The publication of “Hiroshima” brought the reality of the bombings to the forefront of public consciousness. It sparked widespread debate and discussion about the ethical implications of using atomic weapons. The book challenged the prevailing notion that the bombings were justified military actions, inviting readers to question the morality and long-term consequences of such destructive power.

“Hiroshima” also played a significant role in fostering empathy and compassion towards the survivors, who had previously been largely overlooked or stigmatized. It helped break down barriers of prejudice and ignorance, creating an understanding of the lasting physical, psychological, and societal impacts of nuclear attacks.

Overall, “Hiroshima” contributed to a shift in public sentiment, promoting a greater awareness of the human cost of war and advocating for increased efforts towards peace and disarmament.

8. How did you go about selecting the individuals whose stories you would feature in the book? Were there any criteria or factors you considered?

As I embarked on writing “Hiroshima,” I faced the challenge of selecting individuals whose stories could effectively convey the human experience during and after the atomic bombing. My foremost criterion was to find eyewitnesses who were in Hiroshima at the time of the attack. I wanted to capture diverse perspectives, paying attention to different ages, occupations, and social backgrounds.

Additionally, I sought individuals from various walks of life to create a comprehensive portrayal of the impact of the bombing on the community. This diversity allowed me to shed light on the shared suffering, resilience, and long-term implications of this catastrophic event.

Furthermore, I focused on people who were willing to openly share their experiences, as this would enable readers to empathize with their journeys. Their willingness to recount their stories demonstrated their courage and strengthened the authenticity of the narrative.

Ultimately, my goal was to present a mosaic of individual accounts that captured both the collective trauma and the personal struggles faced by survivors of the atomic bombing.

9. Throughout the book, you emphasize the importance of empathy and understanding. Could you explain why you believe these qualities are crucial when discussing historical events like Hiroshima?

Empathy and understanding are essential qualities when discussing historical events like Hiroshima because they bridge the gap between facts and emotions, fostering a deeper connection between readers and the subject matter. By emphasizing empathy, I aimed to create an immersive experience for readers, allowing them to comprehend the profound impact of the atomic bombing on the lives of individuals and the wider community.

Empathy allows us to move beyond the mere numbers and statistics associated with historical events, enabling us to grasp the immense human tragedy and suffering that occurred. It helps us recognize the resilience, strength, and humanity of those affected, even in the face of unimaginable horrors.

Understanding is equally crucial as it allows readers to gain insights into the complexities and historical context surrounding the event. It encourages critical thinking and helps us avoid simplistic judgments or narratives about the past. Through empathy and understanding, we can honor the lived experiences of those involved and ensure that such catastrophic events are never repeated.

10. “Hiroshima” is often credited with introducing an entirely new genre of journalism. How do you feel about this characterization of your work?

I am honored that “Hiroshima” is often credited with introducing a new genre of journalism, blending historical reporting with the personal narratives of those who witnessed the events firsthand. This unique approach offers readers a more visceral and intimate understanding of historical events.

By incorporating personal stories, emotions, and perspectives into my reporting, I sought to create a deeply human account that would resonate with readers on a profound level. This approach aimed to bridge the gap between distant historical events and individual experiences, fostering empathy and a stronger connection to the material.

Having witnessed the devastating consequences of the atomic bomb and the subsequent struggles faced by survivors, I felt compelled to find a way to convey their experiences authentically. This characterization of my work as a new genre of journalism validates the importance of storytelling and personal narratives in enriching our understanding of historical events, ensuring that they are not reduced to mere facts and figures.

11. As an author, what kind of response did you receive from the survivors or their families after the publication of “Hiroshima”?

As an author, the response I received from the survivors and their families after the publication of “Hiroshima” was incredibly moving and humbling. Many survivors expressed gratitude for giving a voice to their experiences and helping to bring attention to the devastating effects of nuclear weapons. Some survivors even reached out to share their personal stories with me, offering further insight into the unimaginable horrors they endured.

Families of those who had perished in the bombing also shared their appreciation for the book’s portrayal of their loved ones’ lives and the lasting impact of the atomic bomb. Their responses reinforced the importance of preserving the memories of those affected by such tragic events and served as a reminder of the responsibility I felt as an author to accurately convey their stories.

12. Did writing about the experiences of those affected by the atomic bombing change your perspective on war or nuclear weapons in any way?

Writing about the experiences of those affected by the atomic bombing deeply changed my perspective on war and nuclear weapons. Before undertaking this project, I had understood the destructive power of such weaponry on a theoretical level, but hearing firsthand accounts and witnessing the immense suffering caused by the bomb shifted my understanding to a visceral and emotional level.

The stories of survivors revealed the long-lasting physical and psychological scars they carried, as well as the profound loss of life and destruction of entire communities. Witnessing the aftermath of the bombing through their eyes, I could no longer view war and nuclear weapons as distant concepts or statistics; they became starkly human and horrifying realities. This experience solidified my conviction that the use of nuclear weapons must be prevented at all costs and that pursuing peaceful alternatives is paramount.

13. Were there any particular stories or moments shared by the survivors that deeply impacted you while working on “Hiroshima”?

While working on “Hiroshima,” many stories and moments shared by the survivors deeply impacted me. One story that left an indelible mark was that of Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a widowed mother of three children who struggled to survive in the aftermath of the bombing. Her resilience and determination to rebuild her life despite the overwhelming tragedy inspired me greatly.

Another moment that deeply affected me was the description of Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest who dedicated himself to helping the wounded and providing solace in the midst of chaos. His selflessness and unwavering commitment to alleviating suffering reminded me of the power of compassion in the face of unimaginable devastation.

Furthermore, the experiences of Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young surgeon who tirelessly treated the injured despite his own injuries, highlighted the immense physical and emotional toll on those on the frontlines of disaster response. These stories and moments served as powerful reminders of both the strength of the human spirit and the immense tragedy that unfolded in Hiroshima.

14. “Hiroshima” provides a glimpse into the immediate aftermath of the bombing. Did you consider exploring the long-term effects on the survivors and their communities in your book?

In writing “Hiroshima,” my primary focus was to provide a vivid and detailed account of the immediate aftermath of the bombing. I wanted to capture the experiences of ordinary people who survived the attack and their struggles in the days and weeks that followed. While I recognized the importance of exploring the long-term effects on the survivors and their communities, I had to make certain choices due to the constraints of time and space.

I felt that delving into the long-term consequences would require a different approach and a more extensive examination than what I intended for this particular book. However, by recounting the physical and emotional devastation suffered by the survivors, I hoped to convey the magnitude of the tragedy and prompt further reflection on the long-lasting impact of nuclear warfare.


15. How did you navigate the ethical challenges of telling such personal and tragic stories in a way that respected the dignity and privacy of the survivors?

Telling the personal and tragic stories of the survivors in a respectful manner was of utmost importance to me. I approached this task with great sensitivity, recognizing the dignity and privacy of the individuals involved. To ensure this, I conducted extensive interviews, often spending hours listening to the survivors’ accounts, an exercise that demanded empathy and careful consideration.

Respecting their privacy meant not disclosing any information that could lead to their identification without their explicit consent. Additionally, I aimed to present their stories accurately and faithfully, striving to capture their experiences while avoiding sensationalism or exploitation. It was essential for me to honor their trust and portray their narratives in a way that would evoke empathy and understanding from readers.

16. Can you describe any reactions, positive or negative, from governments or organizations following the release of “Hiroshima”?

Following the release of “Hiroshima,” the reactions were varied. Several governments and organizations acknowledged the significance of the book and appreciated its contribution to raising awareness about the devastating impact of atomic bombs. Many praised the meticulous research and the compassionate portrayal of the survivors.

However, there were also negative reactions from certain quarters. Some governments and groups criticized the book for its potentially divisive nature, fearing it might fuel anti-nuclear sentiments and jeopardize political agendas. Others questioned the accuracy of the accounts or sought to downplay the catastrophic consequences of nuclear warfare.

Nevertheless, the overall impact of “Hiroshima” was profound. It sparked important discussions about the ethics of war and the use of nuclear weapons, ultimately contributing to a greater understanding of the human cost of such actions. The book’s publication served as a catalyst for ongoing efforts towards peace and disarmament, leaving an indelible mark on the global conscience.

17. In your opinion, what can readers today learn from the stories and experiences shared in “Hiroshima”?

I believe that readers today can learn several important lessons from the stories and experiences shared in “Hiroshima.” First and foremost, it offers a stark reminder of the human cost and devastation caused by nuclear weapons. By immersing themselves in the personal narratives of survivors, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the profound suffering endured by ordinary individuals caught in the horrors of war.

Additionally, “Hiroshima” prompts reflection on the ethical implications of scientific progress and the responsibility of nations to prioritize peace over destructive power. It raises questions about the long-term consequences of nuclear warfare and serves as a cautionary tale that urges us to work towards disarmament and peaceful coexistence.

Finally, the book demonstrates the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity. It highlights the compassion and support shown by survivors towards one another, reminding us of the potential for empathy and solidarity even in the darkest times.

18. Were there any moments during your research or writing process that made you question the decision to tackle such a harrowing subject matter?

Throughout my research and writing process for “Hiroshima,” there were undoubtedly moments that made me question the decision to tackle such a harrowing subject matter. The testimonies of survivors were deeply distressing, and the sheer magnitude of their suffering was overwhelming. Witnessing the physical and emotional scars left by the atomic bomb forced me to confront the darkest aspects of human nature and the devastating consequences of war.

Moreover, the responsibility to accurately convey these experiences weighed heavily on me. I felt an immense pressure to honor the survivors’ stories and ensure that their voices were properly represented. The knowledge that the retelling of their trauma might cause further pain or discomfort was a constant source of concern.

However, despite these doubts and challenges, I ultimately believed that it was essential to document the realities of the Hiroshima bombing. By shedding light on the experiences of survivors, I aimed to contribute to a greater understanding of the catastrophic effects of nuclear warfare and to inspire a commitment to peace.

19. “Hiroshima” has been translated into multiple languages and remains widely read today. What do you think contributes to its continued relevance and impact?

The continued relevance and impact of “Hiroshima” can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the book offers an intimate and human perspective on the consequences of nuclear war. Through the individual stories of survivors, it conveys the emotional and physical toll inflicted upon ordinary people, making the abstract concept of nuclear destruction more concrete and relatable. This personal connection resonates with readers, fostering empathy and a deep sense of compassion.

Additionally, “Hiroshima” serves as a historical document that captures a pivotal moment in human history. It provides valuable insights into the social, cultural, and political climate surrounding the atomic bomb, offering lessons that remain pertinent in today’s world. As the threat of nuclear weapons persists, the book reminds us of the urgent need for disarmament and peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

Furthermore, the timeless themes of resilience, humanity, and the pursuit of peace showcased in “Hiroshima” continue to resonate with readers across different cultures and generations. Its power lies in its ability to transcend borders and time, serving as a poignant reminder of the devastating consequences of war and the importance of preserving human life.

20. Finally, after exploring the devastating consequences of atomic warfare in “Hiroshima,” could you recommend some other books that offer hope or promotes peace in difficult times?

I would be glad to recommend books that provide hope and promote peace during difficult times. While my work depicts the horrors of atomic warfare, it is indeed crucial to seek solace in literature that instills optimism and supports the pursuit of peace.

Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl: This poignant memoir explores the experiences of psychiatrist Viktor Frankl during his time in Nazi concentration camps. Although the subject matter is devastating, Frankl examines how individuals can find meaning and purpose even in the most challenging circumstances. By emphasizing the power of resilience and inner strength, this book offers hope that one can overcome adversity and create a more peaceful world.

“A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park: Based on real events, this novel tells the story of two young individuals from Sudan, Salva Dut and Nya. Salva’s journey as a refugee during the Second Sudanese Civil War is juxtaposed with Nya’s daily struggle to fetch water. Despite their hardships, both characters exhibit remarkable resilience and determination. The book sheds light on the importance of access to clean water, the resilience of the human spirit, and the potential for positive change, ultimately inspiring readers to advocate for peace and equality.

The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank: Anne Frank’s diary is a testament to the indomitable spirit of hope even in the darkest of times. Through her eloquent writings, she captures the longing for freedom, understanding, and peace amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. This timeless literary work serves as a reminder that even in the face of immense adversity, compassion and empathy can prevail, urging readers to strive for a harmonious coexistence.

The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho: This philosophical and allegorical novel follows Santiago, a young shepherd seeking his personal legend. As he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, Santiago encounters various characters who impart wisdom and guidance. The book emphasizes the significance of following one’s dreams and listening to one’s heart, resonating with themes of perseverance, interconnectedness, and the pursuit of a peaceful existence.

These books offer hope and promote peace by highlighting the strength of the human spirit, the importance of empathy, and the potential for positive change. By immersing oneself in these narratives, readers can find solace, inspiration, and renewed faith in the possibility of a more peaceful world.

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