Thursday, September 16, 2004

Form burial

"Beginning on the second day, whenever a patient appeared to be moribund, a piece of paper with his name on it was fastened to his clothing. The corpse detail carried the bodies outside, placed them on pyres of wood from ruined houses, burned them, put some of the ashes in envelopes intended for exposed X-ray plates, marked the envelopes with the names of the deceased, and piled them, neatly and respectfully, in stacks in the main office. In a few days, the envelopes filled one whole side of the impromptu shrine" -- John Hersey, Hiroshima.

The second day is the second day after the bomb. If you look at the lines immediately above, this passage is about a reassertion of respectability: "Disposal of the dead," the line goes, "by decent ceremony and enshrinement, is a greater moral responsibility to the Japanese than adequate care of the living." It seems chilling in a way that set-up doesn't point to, however.

[Hiroshima, by John Hersey (Penguin, 1946). I read the Mary McCarthy attack on this thing (quoted somewhere downpage here; it's in this book) long before I read the thing itself. The journalistic stiff-neckedness she twits him for is real, but proves in some way a strength: if you aren't Dante, better not to try to interview the dead.]

No comments: