John Hersey’s Unflinching Objectivity – Literature of Journalism Class

Let me begin by establishing that the title of this article is sarcastic.

As we discussed in class, objective writing is considered the most factual and accurate, with undeniable details. In order to maintain relevance, Hersey needed to maintain a sense of objectivity, while using subjective practices to illicit emotional response in readers.

Hersey’s article was above all else, groundbreaking. As examined in Patrick B. Sharp’s From Yellow Peril to Japanese Wasteland, it is evident that Hersey’s work educated millions of Americans on the effects and consequences of the atomic bombs, or “justified revenge” (Sharp, p. 440). This education was only achievable through a humanitarian form of reporting, something I see somewhere between objectivity and subjectivity. As discussed by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen in Subjectivity and Story-Telling in Journalism, the two terms are not necessarily opposite, rather to effectively inform and persuade, one needs to report with a mixture of both objectivity (for credibility) and subjectivity (for emotional response).

 Hersey’s detached and fact-ridden writing style allowed him to maintain his legitimacy as an author and reporter. However, Hersey also made subjective decisions to persuade readers that this event was catastrophic, effecting average human beings. This delicate balance was created on purpose, through his character selection and development, and his literary tactics like juxtaposition and recurring themes.

Hersey picked each of his subjects for a reason. As someone that grew up, primarily, in the United States, he understood the cultural importance of family, religion and authority within the minds of the American people. I do not think it was an accident that he selected a widowed mother, two Christian clergymen, a brilliant doctor and two young people in various states of education and work, to appear in his article. Each character appealed to readers individually and made their struggles all the more “real”. Those with children, I assume, can best relate to Mrs. Nakamura, young women with Miss Sasaki, students with Dr. Sasaki, etc. Dr. Fujii, additionally, provided a brilliant juxtaposition to the suffering characters, subtly reminding readers that he was the least sympathetic and the most Americanized character in the story.

Hersey did not take these character selections lightly, he visited with dozens of people before deciding on these six (Sharp, 2001). By presenting each character with their associated facts and predicaments, he stayed within the rules of objective writing while subtly reminding readers of the character’s empathy-deriving qualities and their Japanese decent. He wanted to illicit an emotional response from readers, without losing authenticity or credibility. Through purposeful character selection and framing, Hiroshima falls somewhere on the spectrum of subjective objectivity. In order to properly form a story, selections and decisions are made that thus frame and create a scenario or state of mind for readers.

Hersey’s word choice and imagery were also used to stir emotion within readers. Hartsock argues that Hersey’s detail and acknowledgement actually promotes the reader to see them as humans. He might not be explicitly saying he wants readers to care, but through his writing style, he demands us to care about these people and their struggles. He reemphasizes their sense of community and culture, maintaining that while these characters are different than Americans, their differences are admirable, even saying that the word “survivor” was too much for Mrs. Nakamura to handle as it “suggests some slight to the dead” (Hersey, p. 91). He additionally mentioned the characters’ attitude toward the war, saying that the citizens of Hiroshima did not hate or despise Americans for destroying their nation. This micro-level subjective language is considered mere appraisal and has been categorized as nothing less than selective objective reporting (Wahl-Jorgensen, p. 310).

Hersey was previously a novelist and understood the need for blatant objectivity while writing this report. Americans were not necessarily keen to the idea of changing their mindset toward the Japanese, but through Hersey’s subjective objectivity, he did just that.

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