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Hiroshima, and the end of the war
Philip Roth Writer
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In August 1945, I was 12 years old, and the war had been going on since December 1941. And the war was coming to… we knew the war was coming to an end. We knew that... that the Germans, indeed the Germans had been defeated already and just left the Japanese, and that there... they had no longer had an air force, etc. We were advancing on the mainland. So the war was going to end in the next six or eight or 10 months, so it came as a surprise – in I think it's August 6, 1945 – when the... when Hiroshima was bombed. What did I think? I thought it was great. My parents thought it was great. People came out in the street with pots , we... we were at the Jersey shore for the summer, sharing a house with three other couples. There were four couples sharing this little house, and the people came out on the street with... with their pots, and hammer on their pots with kitchen instruments, you know. And... then a few days later there was the bomb on Nagasaki, and the war was over. And there was a great celebration in the streets in a tiny little town on the Jersey shore, and the town emptied out onto the streets. It got dark in the evenings, and people went on to the boardwalk, and there was a great celebration. I was with the kids, you know, and we had what used to be called a conga line. You know what that is… a kind of dance… and we made this long conga line, and we... we went all the way up and down the boardwalk with this... this thing.

You would see people on the boardwalk, sitting there – there were benches all along the boardwalk – who weren't celebrating, who were sobbing and I remember being struck by that, as who wouldn't have been? And there would be… in my memory it was mostly women; there probably were men as well… these – I thought then and I still think now – were probably the parents of... of boys who had been killed. The war was over and it was a wonderful thing, but not... not for them. They would have this grief forever. So, that's what Hiroshima meant to me, at the time. I remember hearing my parents and their friends sitting... sitting on the porch that night, the night after the bomb went off, and I can remember my... to this day, my father's voice saying, 'wait, you'll see now. Everything's going to be atomic', you know? So that's the sum of it, really.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Jersey shore

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013