altHiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6 - September 30, 1945 by Michihiko Hachiya, M.D., translated and edited by Warner Wells, M.D. (University of North Carolina Press, 1955)

Dr. Hachiya was at his home in Hiroshima when the Enola Gay flew over. Critically injured, he somehow made his way to his hospital, which was only a few hundred meters away. The diary chronicles his experiences as observer and victim, patient and doctor, human being and Japanese citizen. I recommend this book highly. Even though my copy is from 1955, Hiroshima Diary is not hard to find, even in Kindle form—though the Kindle version is surprisingly pricy for an old book.

Nobody said it better than William Tecumseh Sherman: War is hell. Even when it's necessary, even when it's the most merciful option, there's no getting around that point. And even if we believe that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to less suffering than a protracted war would have, it's good to take an up-close-and-personal look at the collateral damage.

Hachiya's description of the wounds, the burns, the heat, the lack of essential supplies, the incessant rain, the filth, the flies, the fear, and the grief-stricken cries could be from almost any war or natural disaster. Unique to Hiroshima, however, was the great unknown. The horror of a city suddenly gone. Except for a very few hulks that had been well-constructed buildings, Hiroshima was just gone. Even to a people accustomed to bombs and destruction, there was nothing like this. Doctors stitched up wounds and treated burns, but what was it that caused the skin to blotch and the hair to fall out?  Why did people without a burn or a wound suddenly sicken and die?  I was reminded of the years of the Black Death, when large numbers were dying a horrible death, no one knew how to treat or prevent it, and anyone who stayed or came to help feared he was signing his own death sentence.

Reading Hiroshima Diary is a good exercise in seeing "the enemy" as human beings with the same loves, joys, concerns, fears, and hopes that we have. The same virtues of self-sacrifice, kindness, concern for others, generosity, and patient suffering.

And, lest we make the opposite mistake of idealizing the victims, they have the same vices, too.

Following the news that Nagasaki had been bombed, a man came in ... with the incredible story that Japan had the same mysterious weapon, but until now, had kept it a strict secret and had not used it because it was judged too horrible even to mention. This man went on to say that a special attack squad from the navy had now used the bomb on the mainland of America.... If San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles had been hit like Hiroshima, what chaos there must be in those cities! At last Japan was retaliating! The whole atmosphere in the ward changed, and for the first time since Hiroshima was bombed, everyone became cheerful and bright.

Crime, too, became a problem: from Jean Valjan-style stealing to keep a loved one from dying, to "mere" selfishness, to unspeakable abuse of power.

What a sorry spectacle, I thought, to have such ugly behavior added to the burden of people already crushed by defeat. The ruthless and greedy were ruling the city whereas never before had there been such need for unselfishness and good breeding.

The old proverbs: "Justice is strength" and "Better is character than birth" were no longer applicable. At least they were not adhered to. It seemed to me that the discipline of education was effective only during peace time when there was law and order. Character cannot be improved by education. It reveals itself when there are no police to maintain order. Education is a veneer, a plating. Educated or not a man exposes his true character in times of stress, and the strong win. The proverbs invert and strength becomes justice, and birth more important than character. Force then rules the country.

We are the same in virtue and in vice—and yet different, too. I understand Hachiya's anger and frustration with the Japanese army, which he (and apparently many others) faulted for driving the Emperor into war, as well as for general abuse of the public. What I, as an American, don't get is their absolute adoration of the Emperor. And not him only, but even his picture.

A visitor interrupted my meditation. He was an employee in the General Affairs section of the Bureau who had had the grave responsibility of protecting the Emperor's picture in case of emergency. He was on a streetcar which had just reached Hakushima when the bomb exploded. Making his way through the darkened streets and around fallen houses, he managed to reach the Bureau ahead of the fires. His first act on arriving was to run to the fourth floor where the Emperor's picture hung and pry open an iron door behind which it was kept. With the assistance of Messrs. Awaya, Oishi, and Kagehira, he carried it to the chief's office and discussed with Mr. Ushio what should be done with it. After much discussion it was decided the safest place would be the Hiroshima Castle, where less smoke appeared to be rising than elsewhere. Thereupon, the picture was placed on Mr. Yasuda's back and with Mr. Kagehira in the lead, Mr. Ushio guarding the rear, and Mr. Awaya and Mr. Oishi covering the flanks, they made their way to the inner garden of the Bureau and announced they were going to take the Emperor's picture to a safer place. Two or three times they repeated:  "The Emperor's picture will be transferred to the West Drill Field by the Chief of General Affairs!" Those among staff and patients who heard this announcement bowed low and the procession went out through the back gate. Suddenly, it was realized they had forgotten the Communications Bureau flag, a part of the ritual necessary when the Emperor's picture was moved from one place to another, so Mr. Awaya was chosen to go back for it. Before he could return with the flag the party was threatened by fire and went on without him. At the castle entrance they explained to a soldier the purpose of their mission and asked the nearest way to the drillfield. The soldier told them the field was threatened by fire, so they changed course and went in the direction of the Asano Sentei Park. Reaching the dikes of the Ota River skirting the part Chief Ushio got the picture across to a safer place.

During its flight, the party encounered many dead and wounded, as well as soldiers near the barracks, the number increasing as they neared the dikes. Along the streetcar line circling the western border of the park they found so many dead and wounded they could hardly walk. At one point it became impossible, so great were the masses of people around them. The party shouted, "The Emperor's picture! The Emperor's picture!" Those who could, soldiers and citizens, stood and saluted or bowed. Those who could not stand offered a prayer with hands clasped. Miraculously, the crowd opened and the picture was borne triumphantly to the river's edge!

"Oh, it was magnificent!" Mr. Yasuda exclaimed. "When I gave the Emperor's picture to Chief Ushio and when the chief got in a boat someone unaccountably provided, I was desolate. An officer drew his sword and gave orders in a loud voice for the crossing and in response all the officers and soldiers lining the river bank stood at attention and saluted. Civilians stood in line and bowed."

One more thing, for those of you who have or have considered stockpiling supplies, from food and water to weapons and ammunition, in case of dire emergency:  have you considered cigarettes? Farthest thing from my mind. But nothing has convinced me more of the addictive properties of nicotine than this, written just 17 days after the bomb fell.

Mr. Shiota was our manager and for several days had been back at his post. When he was able to walk, one of the first things he did was to show up with two bags, each of which contained fifty packages of cigarettes. Where and how he got them I will never know, but you can imagine our surprise and delight. ... For a while, we kept the packages on display the better to enjoy this unexpected bounty. Throughout the hospital habitual smokers drew a breath of relief. Why, a good, strong, working man could do more work with a pack of cigarettes. By the same token, the efficiency of our student helpers could be measurably increased. We could do anything as long as we had an abundant supply of cigarettes. This luxury had become exceedingly scarce in Hiroshima because of its value in barter.

In the ruins of Hiroshima money was valueless and cigarettes took over as a medium of exchange.

Perhaps nicotine addiction is not so widespread at this time, but is there something else—small, easily transported, and not prone to spoilage—that might be a useful form of currency in a situation where money has lost its value?  It's worth thinking about.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 850 times
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I understand that Ramen Noodles have overtaken tobacco as a store of value and medium of exchange in today's US prisons.

Posted by Dad-o on Thursday, August 25, 2016 at 8:04 am
Excerpt: Hiroshima: The Unforgettable Account of the Event that Opened the Atomic Age by John Hersey (Bantam Books, 1946) The paperback copy I read shows an original price of twenty-five cents; the pages are darkened and some are coming unbound. Hersey wa...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: September 2, 2016, 9:26 am
Add comment

(Comments may be delayed by moderation.)