Reading John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”

I have just finished reading Steve Rothman’s account of the publication of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” which I also finished reading today. I have two copies of Hersey’s text in my library, the version published in the 1988 reprint of Here to Stay, a collection of Hersey pieces originally published in The New Yorker and in Life, and the digitized version available on the DVD version of The New Yorker. The print version has all the practical versions of the codex book, easy to read in bed, etc. to pick up and put down as the practical necessities of life take precedence over reading time, while the digitized version gives one a copy of the full text of the 31 August 1946 issue of the magazine. The New Yorker issue of 31 August 1946 was devoted in its entirety — with the notable exception of the columns and pages given over to advertisements — to Hersey’s piece. Hersey’s much praised tone — objective, understated, and sober — is luminous and pure, and stands in ironic contrast to celebrations of wealth and taste in the ads, which would appeal to the The New Yorker’s upper-crust readership: the educated and well-heeled readers who have the leisure to think carefully about the morality of government policy and to shop at Lord & Taylor’s, Tiffanys, and and Bergdorf-Goodman.

“The Publication of “Hiroshima” in The New Yorker,” was written as a term paper for a graduate course on science and society at Harvard in 1997, and contains a very useful overview of the publication and reception of the original version. There are a number of links to related pieces on Rothman’s home page, including one to Terrorism, War, and the Press, a 2003 collection edited by Rothman’s wife, clearly of immediate interest as the war in Iraq drags on, and politicians continue to beat the drums of war. Consider, for example, McCain’s latest pontifications on democracy and so-called U. S. interests in relation to the current crisis in Georgia.

The main questions, as always, reverberate: What must be done? When will we ever learn?

About Hugh Nicoll

Hugh Nicoll teaches at Miyazaki Municipal University in Miyazaki City, Kyushu, Japan
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