Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima

 

On a hot summer morning in Hiroshima, Japan, Matsushige Yoshito was on his way to work at the newspaper office downtown when he turned his bicycle around and returned to his house, a barbershop that his wife ran. It promised to be a beautiful day. From below the sky was ablaze with sunshine. From above the branches of the Ota River river shone like arrows, pointing to a clear target. When the bomb fell, Matsushige’s crowded street was completely pulverized except for, miraculously, the barbershop. Unharmed, Matsushige grabbed his camera and two rolls of film and ventured toward the epicenter. For the rest of August 6, 1945, Matsushige was the only press photographer on the scene. He had the scoop of a lifetime. Beyond the immediate landscape of horror was, as well, the horizon of personal fame. What did Matsushige do to ensure his place in history? He took five photographs that day, only five. Five extremely modest photos that show no death. One of the photos is of his barbershop, pristine in the aftermath.

In his book, Shockwave, Countdown to Hiroshima, Stephen Walker, steps us through the days and weeks before Hiroshima as a filmmaker would. We are there, reliving the back-breaking exhaustion and nerves of Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists as they ready the first test of an atomic bomb at Trinity Site in New Mexico, and as well, we are caught up in the excitement of it. We are on the inside of the political drama, frustrated by the same roiling currents that physically drained Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, overcoming his opposition to the bomb, at the same time spurring President Truman to action. We are both above and below on August 6, 1945, in awe and admiration of pilot Paul Tibbets and his amazing crew, while already too emotionally involved with those living below, Tanaka Toshiaki and Dr. Hida and the schoolgirl Taeko. As Stephen Walker’s camera takes us to the final moment, we still cherish that one great cinematic hope: that the ending will change.

Only later, after finishing the book does the reader realize in Stephen Walker an artistry that matches Matsushige, the eyewitness photographer, when he chose that day not to snap horror after horror. Like Matsushige, Walker exercises restraint over graphic indictment, modesty over ambition, love over hatred, and life over death. From Walker’s vivid writing and monumental research emerges a compelling, even-handed story of moral complexity. How it is that thoughtful actions by thoughtful people can lead to the eruption of something so potentially evil is a counsel to us all, that goodness isn’t an entity that won’t admit evil, that evil isn’t an entity apart but resides in all of us and must be contended against — just as peace resides there, and must be contended for.

—Nancy Zafris


2006 Nonfiction Winner

Photo of Stephen Walker

Stephen Walker
Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima

Stephen Walker studied history at Oxford and went on to receive a Master’s Degree in the History of Science at Harvard. He has directed 22 films for both the BBC and the UK’s Channel Four network, including Hiroshima, A Day That Shook The World (nominated for three Emmys in 2004 including Best Director, winning one Emmy), Faking It: Punk to Conductor (winner of the 2003 Montreux Golden Rose, Europe’s most prestigious television award), and Prisoners in Time, starring John Hurt (winner of the Writer’s Guild Award for Best Television Drama).

He has written two books, King of Cannes – Madness, Mayhem and the Movies (Penguin and Bloomsbury 2002), and most recently Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima (Harper Collins 2005) which reached the New York Times Bestseller List in August 2005. He is currently completing a feature-film documentary about an American chorus called Young@Heart composed entirely of seniors in their 70s and 80s who sing rock music!


 
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