Doctors in Hiroshima

for Amy, Charity, Neeta, Neil, Neil, and Nima

Being their comrades becomes the only way we can remain true human beings. And if we would also be authentic human beings, then we already have impressive models in the Hiroshima people, such as Dr Shigeto, who have neither too little nor too much hope, who never surrender to any situation but courageously carry on with their day-to-day tasks.  [183]


Dear Docs,

A while back I read Kenzaburo Oe’s Hiroshima Notes on several trips he made in the 1960s.  I was particularly struck by his comments on the doctors who worked with the victims of the U.S. atom bomb, such as these:

There are many people in Hiroshima tonight who must work without a wink of sleep. The doctors at the A-bomb Hospital are doing their best to save a young girl; but she will die, and their sleepless efforts will have been in vain. [42]

In the open space in front of [Dr. Fumio Shigeto’s] hospital, thousands of dead bodies had to be piled up each day and then cremated in its yard. He had to stay on duty, directing the wounded doctors and nurses engaged in caring for dying people. [45]

He discovered, for instance, that hermetically sealed X-ray films stored in the hospital cellar were exposed by the atomic bomb. He was one of the first Japanese to recognize on his own the nature of the atomic bomb on the bombing day.  [46]

From that day to this he has continued his research while devoting himself to sustained treatment of patients.  [46]

‘Oh, sir, I’m so happy!’ She speaks brokenly, through tears. I shall never forget Dr. Shigeto’s gloomy but gentle look, his eyes like an ox’s, upon hearing her greeting. [47]

… The deep sorrow and anxiety in Dr. Shigeto’s eyes as he chats with leukemia patients is unforgettable. The doctor himself is an A-bomb victim; he, too, witnessed that hell. He is a typical Hiroshima man who keeps up the fight against the A-bomb after-effects that even now remain deep in human bodies.  [48]

Although the enemy’s overwhelming power became unmistakably clearer the doctors did not surrender. More precisely, they simply refused to surrender. [131]

For two decades they could not, they simply would not, give up. The atomic monster increasingly exhibited its painful ominous powers—always superior to the strength of the doctors. But Dr Shigeto and his colleagues stood fast. [133]

Yet, never in those twenty years was there one moment when the doctors could feel that they had gained complete mastery over the evil of the atomic bombing. [134]

[they had]… to deal with the core of the fear created by the hideous creature called the ‘A-bomb’ which had burrowed deeply into and was destroying human bodies. [139]

… what has helped so many A-bomb patients in Hiroshima was precisely the steady efforts of doctors who had the imagination to see that almost any symptom could be related to the A-bomb effects and after-effects. [143]

… the Hiroshima doctors form the one group of grown-ups the teen-agers will trust, because the doctors of Hiroshima share with them the same anxiety and, yet, have refused to surrender.  [145]

… the concrete image of the [person] who confronts the reality of Hiroshima squarely, neither too desperate nor too hopeful. It is just such a [person]  that I call ‘an authentic [person]  of Hiroshima.’ [147]


May we draw inspiration and insight from the example of such doctors, who work tirelessly around the world for so many people ravaged by the weapons of war.



oe_postcardKenzaburo Oe

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