hiroshima

Also a choice inspired by anniversaries (see my post on Marilyn Monroe’s My Story) John Hersey’s Hiroshima is a book I have been interested in for a while and finally got to this month. One of my favorite books I read in high school was Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and since then I’ve had an interest in learning about our wars. More than the political strategy necessarily (although that is fascinating as well), I am intrigued by the profoundly intimate effects on citizens and soldiers.

Hersey’s calm, sober account of six survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 is equal parts sad, gruesome, and gripping. Staying largely away from the political aspects of the event, Hersey begins with what each of his six subjects were doing immediately before the bomb’s detonation. He spends most of the following chapters on the hours, days, and months following August 6, and finishing with a chapter written forty years later as a follow-up, titled “The Aftermath.” I was captivated by the descriptions of radiation sickness onset in the victims and its enduring symptoms. The stoicism and heroism of the Japanese people in the moments and hours after the explosion were compelling and inspiring.

I enjoyed the book, but I wasn’t quite as emotionally affected as I expected. That may be the result of Hersey’s journalistic writing approach. Despite this, Hersey does convey the horrific physical devastation of the bomb, and its decades-long health and psychological effects. I wonder what readers of the New Yorker must have thought, seeing the original publication a year after the bombing. It is amazing and shocking what the human race is capable of—on one hand obliterating a city, forever destroying fellow humans’ lives, and on the other, doing all you can to help another regardless of your own misfortune, showing humanity and compassion, and ultimately acceptance. Hiroshima is a brief yet powerful narrative worth reading.

Read from August 23 to 26, 2012.

drift

My first awareness of war was during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s. As a kid, I didn’t understand why or for what we were fighting, but I remember hearing my parents talking about it, which made me wonder. I was a freshman in college when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001 and I thought, My God, are they going to reinstate the draft? What does this mean; can I just kiss my male relatives and friends goodbye? Will this be like Vietnam? Start of World War III? A sort of unsure, maybe mild panic. I remember feeling angry, sad, and terrified, like so many others. However now, ten-plus years later, I have barely felt any impact of the Iraq War in my daily life, or the concurrent war in Afghanistan, and again wondered why. Why is this state of wartime so different from the stories I’ve heard and read about World Wars I and II, everyone across the country making personal, physical sacrifices for the war effort? Why is it different from the Vietnam War, with its country-wide protests? Turns out I wasn’t alone in my confusion and curiosity. Rachel Maddow helped explain why and answer my questions with her new book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

I was fortunate enough to see Rachel on her book tour stop on April 22 in Kansas City, where I received a copy and started reading it the very same day. Rachel is a refreshing and bright personality in the often ugly and misleading world of political media. She has tangible credentials as a PhD and Rhodes Scholar. She argues with logic and factual evidence, and points out irony in political situations and actions all the time on her MSNBC show. Her book reads very much in her fun yet informed voice. She’s not lecturing you, she’s not preachy. Yes, Rachel is a liberal, but the arguments in her book come from research and a genuine desire to understand rather than bashing one side or another, and result in an undeniably patriotic tone.

Drift is an intelligent yet accessible account of our nation’s gradual shift into a state of near-constant war, despite all the very real human and financial costs, starting from the Vietnam War through the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rachel explains how executive power has risen above consultation with Congress—of recent presidents unconstitutionally declaring military action with alarming secrecy. Outsourcing of historically normal military functions to private corporate contractors and increased defense spending have bloated our military to its largest size ever and mired our country in debt. She talks about Ronald Reagan with the Iran-Contra Affair and Grenada invasion, George H. W. Bush with the Gulf War, and includes a horrifying section on the U.S. nuclear missile program. After these grim realities of our current Military-Industrial Complex are discussed, Rachel does offer sound suggestions on how to realign its control and power. Easier said than done, of course, but entirely plausible. I learned a lot from Drift, which actually left me hopeful rather than discouraged.

Read from April 22 to May 6, 2012.