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Essay: The Benevolence Forged by War

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 5 minutes
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  • Published: 11 January 2019*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,351 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 6 (approx)

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Often, we find ourselves facing dramatic events in our lives that force us to re-evaluate and redefine ourselves. Such extraordinary circumstances try to crush the heart of the human nature in us. It is at that time, like a carbon under pressure, the humanity in us either shatters apart exposing our primal nature, or transforms into a strong, crystal-clear brilliant of compassion and self sacrifice. The books Night written by Elie Wiesel and Hiroshima written by John Hersey illustrate how the usual lifestyle might un-expectantly change, and how these changes could affect the human within us. Both books display how lives of civilians were interrupted by the World War II, what devastations these people had to undergo, and how the horrific circumstances of war were sometimes able to bring out the best in ordinary people.

In the book Hiroshima, author paints the picture of the city and its residents’ break point in life: before and after the drop of the “Fat Boy”. Six people – six different lives all shattered by the nuclear explosion. The extraordinary pain and devastation of a hundred thousand are expressed through the prism of six stories as they seen by the author. Lives of Miss Toshiko Sasaki and of Dr. Masakazu Fujii serve as two contrasting examples of the opposite directions the victims’ life had taken after the disaster. In her “past life” Toshiko was a personnel department clerk; she had a family, and a fiancé. At a quarter past eight, August 6th 1945, the bombing took her parents and a baby-brother, made her partially invalid, and destroyed her personal life. Dr. Fujii had a small private hospital, and led a peaceful and jolly life quietly enjoying his fruits of the labor. He was reading a newspaper on the porch of his clinic when he saw the bright flash of the explosion almost a mile away from the epicenter. Both these people have gotten through the hell of the A-Bomb, but the catastrophe affected them differently. Somehow, the escape from a certain death made Dr. Fujii much more self-concerned and egotistic. He began to drown in self-indulgence, and completely lost the compassion and responsibility to his patients. Maybe because she had suffered more and lost her loved ones, Toshiko undergoes the self-assessment and dedicates herself to helping orphans and others in suffering. After a long time of this work, and with help of Father Kleinsorge, she converted to be a nun. Sister Toshiko had not only become a more carrying person: “Her greatest gift, she found, was her ability to help inmates to die in peace”. (124) Her understanding of why some people were so emotionally corrupted by tragic circumstances comes as viewpoint of someone who’s been there firsthand:

She had seen so much death in Hiroshima after the bombing, and had seen what strange things so many people did when they were cornered by death, that nothing now surprised or frightened her. (124)

Sister Toshiko’s selfless life creates a sound example of someone who after going through a catastrophe turns to God and helping others.

Another great example of a book presenting how W.W. II had cornered and crushed the innocent is the Night by Elie Wiesel. Hiroshima brings a listing documentary view of the nuclear warfare horror by listing a multitude of viewpoints. The Night on the contrary, told by just one character – the author who was taken by the Gestapo trough some of the most brutal Nazi concentration camps like Buna, Auschwitz, Buchenwald. This story brings rider a highly emotional and realistic experience while reading it. Partial secret of this book’s such powerful impression comes form the years the author spent rethinking and reanalyzing his history:

Elie Wiesel was so traumatized and completely devastated by the experience of the Holocaust that it was too painful for him to speak of his experiences. He took a ten year vow of silence on never speaking about the Holocaust, but during an interview with François Mauriac he decide to break his vow of silence and write about the Holocaust to inform people about the actual events and injustices that took place. (Biography, 1)

At times I could almost feel as if this all was happening to me, and I faced the choices Elie had to make. Sometimes, it was even terrifying to imagine myself in his place. The book is literally filled with “moments of truth” where Elie or someone around fearing for own life is faced with a moral dilemma. Once, Elie and his father were on a march to Gleiwitz. It was cold and snowing heavily, and all the prisoners had to run. Those who fall behind were killed by Gestapo soldiers. One of the campmates, Rabbi Eliahou, was running next to his son when he began to slowly fall behind. The son noticed that, but pretended that he didn’t see what happened to his father and kept on running. This moment closely resembles the author’s recollections of his own incidents when a German soldier was hitting his father and Elie just stood there helpless paralyzed with the fear. Many other uncivilized moments from this story are still running through my head when I’m writing these words; the part when men were throwing out of the wagon into the cold snow dead (or just weak and asleep) cellmates just to free up the space in the wagon and get their clothes. The moment when a son killed his father for a piece of bread, and right a way got killed for the same reason. The author, however, does such an impressing job relaying the everyday horror of the shattered by the war life, I can barely find myself blaming, and more often feeling compassion to them. Moreover, how I would’ve handled the situations they dealt with if I was in their shoes (or literary without them). The survivors of holocaust repressions are already extraordinary people just because they managed to keep the sanity throughout this hell. It’s in this hell, most simple acts of compassion worth hundred fold. Acts like an attempt of a Hungarian police inspector to warn Elie’s family while risking his own life, and a tip-off of an unknown campmate to lie about Elie’s and his father’s age so that they would be spared, or Elie giving his own food ration to his sick father. At the existed at that moment circumstances, these were some of the most benevolence acts one could possibly perform.

We’ve all faced our own little “horrors”: I recall the expectation of parents coming home and finding out that I broke the favorite vase, or when my grandfather died. There is a saying in Russian: “A situation should not define the man, man should define the situation”. It’s meant to encourage people to stay strong in the face of a crisis and not to let it break your character. As Sir William said: “To be or not to be…” Would this rule apply to a catastrophic crisis like a war? I guess it all depends on the person. I know of lots of Jewish war heroes who during the W.W.II ran with their bare hands into the certain death attacking well armed Nazi soldiers. On the other hand, I know of those who betrayed and killed their campmates for a piece of bread. The same goes for the Japanese soldiers. During the war some of whom followed the highly respected code of the samurai, while others broke all the borders of humanity during one invasion of China, known as “The Rape of Nanking” where the Japanese burned, butchered, and raped over 200,000 Chinese civilians. The “kill or be killed” philosophy of war pushes the people it touched to the limit and beyond; it brings out in people the greatest of good and the worst of evil, and I can’t imagine how after such transformation anyone can stay unaffected. And that’s why we don’t have a right to judge those who were forced by the war to adopt and adjust in order to survive.

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