Notes from Hiroshima

05ca7448-09fb-11e5_1153989hJeremy Treglown at the Times Literary Supplement:

The first person to communicate to a global audience the experience of being in a nuclear holocaust did not come from Japan, where the misnamed Civil Information and Education Section of General MacArthur’s occupying army exerted a muddled but intimidating censorship. Nor was he a scientist, though researchers had poured into the area. Instead, the news was brought to the world by an American Wasp in his late twenties: tall, handsome, sporty, popular, a member of the most exclusive of Yale’s secret societies, married to a rich ex-girlfriend of John F. Kennedy. John Hersey told the story in the New Yorker, most of whose readers were either a bit like him, or aspired to be. Published in August 1946, soon after the first anniversary of the bombing, that issue of the magazine famously broke precedent by containing – ads and listings apart – only his 30,000-word article. It quickly sold out. Albert Einstein, who had already begun his anti-nuclear-proliferation pressure group the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, ordered 1,000 copies to distribute but had to make do with facsimiles. The article was reprinted in scores of newspapers and magazines, published as a book and translated all over the world. (Japan, though, because of the censorship, had to wait a couple of years.) How did Hersey come to write it?

Some of the answers are to be found in a fat cardboard box normally kept in a secure, temperature-controlled warehouse in Hamden, Connecticut. This is the depository of much of the vast collection of rare books and manuscripts held by Yale’s Beinecke Library, a beautiful building, though one which Czesław Miłosz, whose own papers are there, compared to a monumental tomb. In a sunken quadrangle outside the reading room stands a three-piece white marble sculpture by Isamu Noguchi, who like almost all other Japanese Americans spent the Second World War in an internment camp. His Zen-influenced “The Garden (Pyramid, Sun and Cube)” symbolizes what the catalogue of Yale’s public art calls a balance of cosmic forces and a synthesis of East and West. A similar synthesis is found in box 37 of the Hersey Papers.

more here.