By Lawrence Wittner
In this crisply written, well-researched book, Lesley Blume, a journalist and biographer, tells the fascinating story of the background to John Hersey’s pathbreaking article “Hiroshima,” and of its extraordinary impact upon the world.
Blume reveals that, at the time of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Hersey felt a sense of despair—not for the bombing’s victims, but for the future of the world. He was even more disturbed by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki only three days later, which he considered a “totally criminal” action that led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Most Americans at the time did not share Hersey’s misgivings about the atomic bombings. A Gallup poll taken on August 8, 1945 found that 85 percent of American respondents expressed their support for “using the new atomic bomb on Japanese cities.”
Overall, Blume’s book would provide the basis for a very inspiring movie, for at its core is something many Americans admire: action taken by a few people who triumph against all odds.
But the actual history is somewhat more complicated. Even before the publication of “Hiroshima,” a significant number of people were deeply disturbed by the atomic bombing of Japan. For some, especially pacifists, the bombing was a moral atrocity. An even larger group feared that the advent of nuclear weapons portended the destruction of the world. Traditional pacifist organizations, newly-formed atomic scientist groups, and a rapidly-growing world government movement launched a dramatic antinuclear campaign in the late 1940s around the slogan, “One World or None.” Curiously, this uprising against nuclear weapons is almost entirely absent from Blume’s book.
Even so, Blume has written a very illuminating, interesting, and important work—one that reminds us that daring, committed individuals can help to create a better world.