7. Patterns of response

Each survivor of the atomic bombing remembered it somewhat differently; there is no ‘standard account’ of that day in Hiroshima. But the subjects of the bombing did share certain responses to it, used some of the same language and images to describe their experience of it. Many, for instance, were made naked by the bomb: unclothed, and—worse—stripped of skin, and thus left not only in terrible pain but also in some cases wracked with shame. Many who survived, including Dr Hachiya, commented on their own nakedness and their initial shock on seeing so many others naked too. A male employee of a war factory saw in the rain a woman of about 18 or 19, naked ‘except [for] half her panties, which did not cover her’. She pleaded for help, and when she supplicated with outstretched hands he saw that her ‘skin was burned off as if she was wearing gloves’, and ‘her breast was red from burns’. He wanted to help, but her nakedness stopped him. Robert J. Lifton finds indication here of ‘perverse sexual and aggressive fantasies’, and that may be, though he might have contemplated his own role as a male interviewer possibly perceived to be soliciting such honest and uncomfortable testimony. A more benign interpretation of the man’s recollections is that he, and everyone, was appalled at circumstances that created widespread public nakedness, not sexually exciting but a demonstration of mass exposure and therefore vulnerability. Respectable Japanese do not walk the streets naked. A feeling of shame was the order of the day. The unclothed felt it; the clothed felt it when they saw the naked and burned. Dr Hachiya was ashamed to be as well dressed as he was in a patched shirt and filthy pants when he saw patients including ‘an old lady..., in nothing but an undershirt’ and ‘a horribly burned young man lying naked on a pallet’, and Toyofumi Ogura, witnessing the naked, despised himself for not having resisted the ‘militarists’ surrounding the Emperor who had brought things to this pass.34

Apart from shame, many in Hiroshima underwent a loss of feeling. They were ‘stunned’, ‘numb’, unable to grasp and thus unable to respond to the cataclysm they faced. Human feeling, like light in deep ocean water, may be inaccessible in conditions of unprecedented upheaval and horror. And the enormity of what survivors confronted all but required them not to feel. They had, most of all, to cope with the horror, with the gruesome sights and rotting stench, and with the dead. ‘After a while they became just like objects or goods that we handled in a very businesslike way,’ a soldier reminisced about removing corpses. ‘Of course, I didn’t regard them simply as pieces of wood—they were dead bodies—but if we had been sentimental we couldn’t have done the work... We had no emotions.’ Toyofumi Ogura: ‘There were objects that appeared to be lumps of flesh lying on the ground. Some of these squirmed from time to time, like exhibits in a freak show at a fair ground.’ Without feeling or instinct to guide them, many fell back on following routine, going by the book. A soldier on leave in the suburbs rushed back to his Hiroshima-based unit ‘almost without thinking’. It was what he had been ordered to do. Nearly everyone was dead, so he hunted up the military code book—rather, a clump ofashes that had once been the book—and took it off to headquarters the next morning. Looking, aghast, at the destruction around him, Ogura nevertheless resolved that he must go the following day to his temporary job as supervisor of a student work squad at the Nippon Steel Manufacturing Company factory to the east, where his charges were making, of all things, hand grenades.35

There was a cruel logic to the order in which people died at Hiroshima. Those closest to ground zero were likeliest to perish. People caught outside without any kind of shielding from the blast—a wall between themselves and the explosion, or a berm created by a ditch—had little chance ofescap-ing serious injury if they were less than 2 kilometers from the hypocenter. Those outdoors but partly shielded might well have escaped blast or burn, but if they were under 1.5 kilometers from the center they had a ‘moderate’ chance of injury by radiation. It was not necessarily better to have been caught inside a wooden house, as within 4 kilometers of the hypocenter, this was likely to have collapsed in the blast wave, and injury or death by fire or radiation threatened those inside such buildings as much as it did those shielded but outdoors. The safest place was inside a concrete structure. Such buildings were rare near the city center, and even in them radiation injury loomed within a half kilometer of ground zero.36

At the same time, there was a bizarre randomness as to whether objects were destroyed and people were hurt or killed or escaped harm altogether. After the bombing, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge returned to his room to salvage what he could. His wooden desk had been smashed to bits, but his papier-mache suitcase, which had been under the desk, was unscathed and standing right side up on the floor. Missing its target by 800 feet, Little Boy had detonated in the air above Dr Kaoru Shima’s eponymous hospital. The building was obliterated and its staff and patients killed instantly, but Dr Shima himself, up early on his bicycle to do house calls on his suburban patients, was unharmed. A bookkeeper named Tsuneo Okimoto, whose house was 500 feet from ground zero, had left early for work that morning, remembering that a flat bike tire had slowed him down the day before and not wanting to be late. At 8.15 he was on a commuter train a mile from home. The bomb deposited him at the bottom of a heap of his fellow passengers; their bodies protected him from flying glass. Two passengers on what may have been the same train were sitting across from each other on the car’s south side. One opened the window next to him, the other kept his closed. When the blast came, the passenger beside the closed window was bloodied by projectile glass. The passenger with the open window, apparently unhurt, lifted his seatmate onto his back and headed off for help. Quickly, however, his face and body swelled with excruciating burns, and the men switched places.37

Survivors of the bomb thought the whole world was dying. ‘Before 1945,’ writes Michael Sherry, ‘it had been possible to see in air war the potential for global destruction, but survivors of Hamburg or Tokyo rarely connected the extinction of their cities with the fate of the species. For atomic bomb victims, that connection became indissoluble.’ A physicist, temporarily blinded, thought, ‘the world is ending’; a Protestant minister ‘thought this was the end of Hiroshima—of Japan—of humankind ... This was God’s judgment on men.’ The writer Yoko (Ota thought the bomb heralded ‘the collapse of the earth which it was said would take place at the end of the world’. Time stopped. When it resumed, Hiroshima’s calendar had changed: ‘Day One’ or ‘That day’ meant the day the atomic bomb was dropped. It was followed by ‘the next day’, ‘the day after’, and so forth. On the night of 24 August—eighteen days after the bomb had been dropped— Dr Hachiya had a nightmare:

It seems I was in Tokyo after the great earthquake and around me were decomposing bodies heaped in piles, all of whom were looking right at me. I saw an eye sitting on the palm of a girl’s hand. Suddenly it turned and leaped into the sky and then came flying back towards me, so that, looking up, I could see a great bare eyeball, bigger than life, hovering over my head, staring point blank at me. I was powerless to move.38

Finally, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima brought biological anomaly. What struck most observers of Hiroshima after 6 August was, of course, the unfathomable destruction of the city, the wasteland that had replaced the vital metropolis where people had lived and worked. But soon there was something weird: the blasted moonscape of browns and grays was coming alive with plants and flowers. Returning in early September to Hiroshima for the first time since she had been wounded by the bomb, Toshiko Sasaki, ‘horrified and amazed’ by the extent of the devastation, also saw something that ‘gave her the creeps’: Hiroshima was becoming verdant with new growth. ‘Over everything—up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks—was a blanket offresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green.’ She saw ‘bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane and clotbur and sesame and panic grass and feverfew’. In less than two years, those who had returned to Hiroshima were able to grow grains and vegetables on a scale that dwarfed production in nearby villages. Tomatoes had always been nearly impossible to grow in the city; 1947 yielded a full harvest of them. That the bomb had eradicated predators was one reason for the newfound bounty. Scientists suggested another: the radiation from the bomb had not destroyed but stimulated the roots of existing plants and left the soil, perversely, richer than it had been before.39

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