Shikata Ga-Nai; It Can’t Be HelpedShikata Ga-nai; It Can’t Be Helped
Welcome to August 6, 1945. In a final attempt to end World War II, the United States of America drops the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a major industrial and military center. Temperatures are more sweltering than the surface of the sun. Light is resplendent. Air is thick and heavy with an enveloping radiation. John Hershey informs us of the experiences of six people that survived the planets’ first nuclear explosion in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima begins by characterizing the situations of the six individuals just before and at the moment of the explosion that changed history. The book first introduces Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a personnel clerk in the East Asia Tin works, who had just turned to chat with her friend during a rest from work. Next, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, a doctor at a private hospital, was introduced as relaxing on his clinic’s porch and reading the daily newspaper, a stone’s throw away from a calm river. At the same time, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura was watching her next door neighbor, who was making way for a larger fire escape route, through her kitchen window. Fr. Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest, was lying on a couch in his room reading a magazine, corresponding with the actions of Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a surgeon who was walking down a hospital corridor carrying blood specimens. Finally, Rev. Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, was in the process of tiredly moving the belongings of his house of worship. Unbeknownst to these innocent civilians as they were carrying out their daily tasks, a plane called the Enola Gay silently passed unnoticed overhead and quietly dropped the world’s deadliest bomb that altered the future. A noiseless flash of light was the only warning they received, a split-second which gave them just enough time to turn their heads. The bomb detonated at ground zero, and in seconds, hell unlike any other kind unraveled. Miss Sasaki was knocked unconscious when her bookcase, due to the impact of the blast, trampled her to the ground. She lay trapped, as the bookcase had fallen on and crushed her leg, leaving her crippled. In the years to follow, she learns to overcome this disability and enters a house of Catholic nuns. She spends a great deal of her life aiding orphaned children. Dr. Fujii was thrown like a rag doll into the nearby river, surviving with only two pieces of wood holding his head above water level. Although he later centers things on himself, he is not completely unsympathetic to those around him. His once erect hospital stood in ruins, but he eventually recovered both his health and fortune, continuing to live comfortably as a doctor. Mrs. Nakamura was trapped under the debris of her household items, virtually scratchless. She at once began searching for her daughter, the youngest of three, whose screams she heard audibly. No signs are given that her other two children, a son and a daughter, are alive, but she finds them amongst the rubble. She suffers mildly from the effects of the radiation, but is constant in helping others even through the worst, leaving her four decades later a still-active citizen. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge fell to the ground, thinking the bomb had fallen directly on him, ending up dazed and in his vegetable garden. His immediate actions are to help the wounded, though he has no realization of what actually occurred. He incurs only small cuts in the blast, but suffers devitalizing effects of the radiation. After several more years, he seeks Japanese citizenship and adopts the Japanese name of Fr. Makoto Takakura. Dr. Sasaki, bent at time of impact, was not hurt. In fact, he remained the only uninjured doctor in the hospital. He went long periods of time without sleep, and without his own glasses, in order to give ample attention to the bombardment of injured fleeing to his hospital. He treats thousands of victims and eventually starts his own clinic outside of Hiroshima, where he prospers greatly. Largely unhurt, Rev. Mr. Kiyoshi assumed a bomb had fallen on the house immediately next to him, for pieces of that house showered on him. He spends days caring for the wounded and destitute. He goes back and forth between America and Hiroshima, raising money for Hiroshima peace causes, although he receives much criticism for his work.
The extent of demolition was voluminous. Completely annihilated describes the scene at ground zero. Buildings turned to rubble. People turned to ash. Survivors, few as they were, were running mad along the streets in a fog of radiation. Some suffered vast burns, some severed limbs, others, who unfortunately stood outside when the bomb dropped, were completely incinerated. The only thing remaining of these were their shadows, permanently fused with the streets, buildings and sidewalks they happened to be cast upon. Not a thing was left but the cries of survivors. Disastrous as it was, this story leaves large impact on anyone who reads it, myself included. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book because it opened up the world of war in a wider window than I originally gazed out of. I looked at war from the victim’s point of view instead of through the eyes of a victor. Revenge may be drummed into our military and may also be part of American beliefs, but reading Hiroshima leads me to sympathize with the many innocent lives that were taken unjustly to benefit other’s needs. I learned a great deal from this graphic account of the first use of the atomic bomb, and I can only hope that many others will be able to say the same.