4 AUGUST 1961, Page 21

Consolation, Incorporated

Children of the Ashes, By Robert Jungk. Translated (Heinemann, 25s.)

by Constantine FitzGibbon.

SPREAD out your left hand, palm downwards, and you have a map of Hiroshima. Your wrist p a river. It flows across the palm, then splits into several mouths as it enters the sea. Each finger is a delta of land. The base of the fourth finger, where a woman wears her wedding ring, was the aiming point for the atom bomb. It ex- Ploded there on August 6, 1945. The time was 8.15 a.m. About 130,000 inhabitants of the city survived the explosion—some of them on the deltas, most of them on the palm and the thumb. How did they cope? In Children of the Ashes, Mr, Robert Jungk supplies a detailed answer. He has paid two lengthy visits to Hiroshima, inter- viewed a good many people, assembled their recollections. The result is a unique contribution to the literature of human disaster.

At first, there was total chaos. Vast fires raged. The blazing ruins were crammed with dead and dying. The air was filled with screams. Amid the rubble, the survivors milled to and fro in swarms. Everybody who could walk, hobble or crawl was on the move, searching for families, friends, possessions, medical help. An eyeless horse, blind and hairless from the explosion, trotted con-, tinually through the streets for several days and nights, as though searching for its stable. Many people saw it, and it stayed in their minds. For it summed up Hiroshima. There was nobody to shoot it, since organised government had vanished. There was no gas, no electricity, no light except from the fires. There was no food and no water. Of the 190 doctors in the city, seventy-two had been killed by the bomb.

Hunger, thirst and despair were everywhere.

Nine days after the bomb, Japanese army lorries toured the rubble, calling on everyone who could walk to go to the ruined railway station and listen to a broadcast from the Em- peror. Hundreds went there. The Emperor's first words were, 'Prepare to endure the unendurable.' Then he announced the surrender of Japan.

This announcement seems to have awakened Hiroshima. The crowds who heard it promptly looted the station, seized the stocks of rice-wine they found there and got drunk Looting became general. Army supply depots were pillaged for clothing, food, drink and Hiropon--the euphoria tablet Japan supplied to her suicide pilots and assault troops. Soon there was a flourishing traffic in Hiropon, as well as in industrial alcohol, methylated spirits and a brew made from fer- mented potato peelings. People tapped the broken pipes of the city, collected cupfuls of water and sold them. A colony of stalls sprang up in the centre of the ruins and gangsters emerged to organise and exploit the booming market in stolen goods.

The gangsters were helped by the orphans. Before the bomb fell, most of the children in Hiroshima had been evacuated to the country- side. After the bomb, they swarmed back. Thousands had lost both parents. These children formed an underworld of their own. an anti- society in the surrounding chaos. They lived around bonfires which they built amid the ruins and they demanded payment from anyone who wanted to get Warm. They begged, pilfered and plundered. They were the pickpockets, the pimps and the allies of organised crime.

By mid-August, Japanese officialdom had begun to emerge again in Hiroshima. Its first task was to prepare for the arrival of the occupy- ing American and Australian forces. It issued a notice to the women of the city, which began : `Female attire; thin, one-piece garments such as we wear out of doors will normally be regarded by foreigners as night attire. This could lead to impulsive treatment, with severe detrimental consequences.' Women were therefore instructed to wear long trousers, and 'never in any cir- cumstances to expose your bosoms.'

Until the bomb fell, Hiroshima had had a red-light district which was renowned throughout Japan. On August 20, all the surviving pro- prietors of the brothels were summoned to a meeting by the Japanese authorities. Mr. Jungk quotes one of them. He went to the meeting, he said, with both his arms in slings and with `fifty or sixty wounds' received in the explosion. There he and his colleagues were told that they must immediately 'create institutions that would serve to prevent unfortunate occurrences.' They protested that they had no funds. The spokesman for officialdom said that capital would be pro- vided; they would not need to spend anything at all and they could keep all the profits they made. Thereupon they agreed to set up a com- pany called Consolation Inc., with its offices at the police headquarters. The police provided them with 500 girls, who were collected and put at their disposal. By mid-September, ten Con- solation Houses were open—`the first post-war houses in Hiroshima to contain comfort or luxury,' says Mr. Jungk.

The Japanese authorities were less successful in coping with the radiation sickness which followed the bomb. This did not begin at once. There was a time-lag of two or three days. Then thousands of people began to lose hair and eye- brows and to suffer from suffocation and vomit- ing. At first, the doctors left in Hiroshima

diagnosed it as dysentery. No accurate diagnosis was made until a Japanese stage star injured by the bomb was taken to Tokio for treatment at the university hospital there. She was examined by an expert on Roentgen rays who recognised the true nature of her illness. On Sep- tember 3 this expert went to Hiroshima and communicated his findings to the doctors of the city. Meanwhile, rumour had been busy among the survivors about the menace hidden in the bomb. Many of them believed that they were bound to die very soon. Some. of them did. Those who did not tended to sink into apathy. The doctors invented a name for their state- noiyoku-ganbo, 'no more will.'

But Hiroshima flourished. More and more people flocked to the ruined city from other parts of Japan, eager to share in the reconstruc- tion boom. Soon the survivors were only half the population. Then they shrank to one-third. Now they are one-fifth. They are unwelcome, unwanted, unable to get jobs easily. They are barred from the city's swimming baths. The matrimonial agencies of Japan refuse to accept them as clients, because it is feared that they may give birth to deformed children.

Hiroshima today has banished the bomb from its collective mind, so far as it can. It is far bigger now and far more prosperous than ever before. Its citizens have an average income higher than that for all Japan. They have more washing machines and more TV sets than any other Japanese city. They also have thousands of pin-table saloons which stay open all round the clock. The most popular of these resorts is called The Atomic Mushroom.

Mr. Jungk tells all this with a mixture of sorrow, anger and obscurity. Valuable as it is, Children of the Ashes is like a misty shop window; you have to peer very hard to see what is inside. The transformation from radioactive graveyard to affluent society is clearly not to Mr. Jungk's liking. All the same, Hiroshima is an impressive testimonial to the Life Force, a vindication of never say die.