The Beat of War

Reporting World War II, Part One:1 American Journalism 1938-1944 Part Two: American Journalism 1944-1946

Library of America, Vol. 1, 912; Vol. 2, 970 pp., $35.00 each

Immediately after the explosion, the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, having run wildly out…and having looked in wonderment at the bloody soldiers at the mouth of the dugout they had been digging, attached himself sympathetically to an old lady, who was walking along in a daze, holding her head with her left hand, supporting a small boy of three or four on her back with her right, and crying, “I’m hurt! I’m hurt! I’m hurt!” Mr. Tanimoto transferred the child to his own back, and led the woman by the hand down the street, which was darkened by what seemed to be a local column of dust. He took the woman to a grammar school that had previously been designated for use as a temporary hospital in case of emergency. By this solicitous behavior, Mr. Tanimoto at once got rid of his terror.”

—John Hersey in Hiroshima,
the last entry in Reporting
World War II

The impulse to delight in a fellow creature stirs with unanticipated frequency in the huge volumes of Reporting World War II, and never so surprisingly as when John Hersey crowns their terminal pages with this revelation of Hiroshima, as a monument not just to suffering but to coping.

A year afterward, the Rev. Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto recalled to Hersey that he had awakened on August 6, 1945, as he had on a succession of mornings, “almost sick with anxiety” but at last with some hope for relief from the worst of his fears.

A wealthier acquaintance had offered him shelter from air raids in the hills above the center of Hiroshima, and this was the day when Mr. Tanimoto and his neighbor, Mr. Matsuo, would finish removing the last of his and his parsonage’s effects to comparative safety. They had just finished trundling their handcart to its place of presumed sanctuary when “a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky…and [both of them] reacted in terror.”

Mr. Tanimoto hunkered down between two large rocks in the garden and, when he dared at length to lift his head, “he saw that the house had collapsed…and in panic, not thinking for the moment of Mr. Matsuo under the ruins, he dashed out into the street.”

It was in one of those moments when the assailed spirit trembles between sinking utterly or rising superbly that he heard the old woman weeping for help. In the hours that followed, thanks to her cry, he had been transmuted into one of those singular incarnations of sacrifice and healing upon whose energy and initiative “many [would] come to depend.” He carried water and bandages to those worse off than he and never ceased to apologize for being himself too lightly hurt.

He ferried the wounded to higher ground, sickened when he reached for one woman’s hand and her skin came off “in huge, glove-like pieces” and again, as throughout these hours, “he had to keep consciously repeating to himself, ‘These are human beings …

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