October 14, 1985 12:00 PM

by Roger Rosenblatt

What amounts to a small library was published to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the dropping of U.S. atomic bombs on Japan. These two slim but astutely powerful volumes, which tell what happened in human terms, are all anyone really needs to read. Hersey’s book is an expansion of his 1946 interviews with five Japanese and a German priest who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima; it has been updated with a chapter that details their subsequent years. They were all pursued, in one way or the other, by the specter of the bomb, wracked by strange physical afflictions and agonizing memories. Yet they maintained substantial lives. One, a clerk who became a Roman Catholic nun, told Hersey: “I shall not dwell on the past. It is as if I had been given a spare life when I survived the A-bomb. But I prefer not to look back. I shall keep moving forward.” Rosenblatt’s book is a reprint of the cover story he wrote for TIME last July. It revolves around interviews with three people—a Japanese survivor, a physicist who worked on the project that developed the bomb, and former President Richard Nixon. As he demonstrated in Children of War, Rosenblatt is a superb interviewer, with a perceptive ear and an open mind. The physicist, Harold Agnew, recalls the casual attitude of many scientists toward the A-bomb project but adds that the Japanese, having started the war, “bloody well deserved” what happened. Nixon, animatedly discussing the effects the bomb has had on international relations, argues that the weapon enabled the U.S. to assume its rightful place in world affairs. When Rosenblatt has the inspiration to ask him if the bomb was thus in some ways beneficial to the world, Nixon says, “Yes.” Everett King, a Montana farmer whose land houses a missile installation, shrugs, “I listen to the radio a lot when I drive my tractor, and they were just sayin’ the other day that there was—what was the name of that country? Pakistan—they were sayin’ that Pakistan might get the Bomb. So nobody’s safe. No, I don’t mind the missiles on my land. If they go off, it’ll probably happen at night. I’ll never know.” Hersey: (Knopf, $13.95); Rosenblatt: (Little, Brown, $14.95/ $6.95)

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