Prappleizer's Blog

Thoughts and some conclusions of a fragmented mind

Dreams; Grief.


Dreams; Grief.

For where once fell in harmony
The drifting sighs of want,
Were in concentrated impacts
Against the cracked and crumbling sidewalk
Left to wither in the heat of day,
Or be swept by spare and wandering wind,
Compelled by nature to obey
The laws by which all that have sinned,
Are with grave consequence dispatched.

All the begs and cry’s the same,
Let be what be in heavens play,
Leave all above to fortunes make,
For there are no spheres below,
Only pawns around the chessboard go,
In every man such depth of sorrow,
Chained to incessant purpose.

Yes, The U.S. Has a Voting Problem- But Not the One People Think


In the wake of the 2012 presidential election, many have drudged up the familiar gripe that America has a voting problem. These complaints are not without warrant, as voter turnout in America has been “declining” for many years, and in 2008 was recorded at 57.1%. However, there is a catch, a catch people overlook because it is a distasteful stain upon the glorious Jeffersonian ideal of democracy: people are stupid. According to the numbers, 57.1% of “eligible voters” turned out- eligible being defined as “a U.S. citizen, with residency, of at least 18 years of age, having registered to vote, and not being a felon.” But among all of the people who fit these qualifications, not all are qualified to vote. Here’s why.

After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 1/3 of respondents in a national geographic poll could not locate Louisiana. 41 percent of over a thousand interviewees in a Newsweek Poll believed that 9/11 was directly funded by Saddam Hussein, and over 50 percent could not locate Saudi Arabia on a map. 70% were unaware that the U.S. had in fact NOT found any WMD’s in Iraq. 29% were aware that there are 9 nuclear armed countries. Only 37% could even give a rough estimate of the DOW JONES average, 43% refrained from even attempting. I could go on with statistics documenting general american stupidity  but it digresses from the ultimate point: these people don’t need to be voting. 

When you are taking advice on a decision, quality matters much more than quantity. 30 of your college dorm mates may tell you that smoking weed doesn’t have any negative side effects, and one neuro-scientist may list them for you. Ultimately we live in a society where people have the right to vote but often don’t. Why should we incite people who lack the information and expertise to truly weigh in on certain issues to utilize their constitutional right? The fact that 43% of people don’t vote wouldn’t be troubling at all, if 43% of people were unqualified to make an intelligent decision. 

The problem is, they are. Or at least, some of them are. Once we have accepted that certain people should be the ones choosing to vote, we can focus on improving the number of those who don’t. To be clear, I am by no means saying we should take away the right to vote from anybody who has it. But as of now they are choosing not to use their vote, and that’s okay. But this is where the numbers become troubling. Let us take, just as a basic and oversimplified identifier of qualification to make an informed vote, education level. Yes, Abraham Lincoln was never formally educated but was incredibly smart. But on the whole, I would wager that a college graduate is at least more qualified or informed of geo-socio-political standings. Currently, approximately 66% of people with some college education elect to vote, and 78% of people who have graduated college actually vote. These numbers are higher than the national average by far, which makes sense logically, but the fact is that they are still pathetically low. Of college graduates- people who have completed four years of higher learning with at least some mandatory governmental or civics class in there SOMEWHERE- 22% of them never actually vote. If we want a vote of “experts” so to speak, we need as many of them as possible. More troubling is the 44% of people with some college education who never make it to the ballot. My argument is this: Improving specifically these two categories of voter- and other identifiers of knowledge, ability and decision making- would be more beneficial to our society overall than attempting to get simply the overall percentage higher. 

So why don’t these people vote? One would think that with that level of education and a single drop of civic duty, these people would at least mail off an absentee ballot. There are several factors which drive this group (as well as everyone) away from the polls. 

1) The hassle of voter registration. Yes, it seems trivial, but research has shown that simply the hassle of registering, if not preventing people from doing so, at least prompts them to put it off until its too late. 

2) Low levels of Policy Efficacy among voters. This is the biggie for the educated crowd. Policy Efficacy refers to the level at which people think their votes have an effect on the election. Those who are even marginally educated essentially know that their vote almost certainly means nothing to the outcome of the election. This may be true- but their lack of vote does have an effect, and many people following the same thought process creates a problem. 

3) Election Frequency: Americans are never NOT having an election. Whether on a 4 year, 2 year, or one year cycle, everywhere in America at any given time there is almost certainly SOME election taking place. Voter fatigue is a huge problem: people who care enough to take the time to thoroughly research their vote simply don’t have the time or energy to do so. 

4) too many issues/no important issue: Our politics has degraded into a plethora of interests and issues, most of which are complex and conflicting. Sometimes this leads to people electing not to take a “side” in which some issues they agree and others they do not. Furthermore, no issue is life or death anymore (save a certain few). Ultimately, for the average voter, their life won’t drastically change if one party is elected over the other. This of course breeds voter apathy. 

So, how do we fix voter turnout? Mandatory elections would draw in all of the voters we DON’T want, which leaves us with few options. The first would be to reform voter registration again. This isn’t too complicated and would certainly help. We live in an age of technology, and almost everything can be conducted online. Why must I fill out and mail my registration? Streamline it, and make it less of a chore. The next step would be to attack the root of the problem: education. More educated people equals more people turning out to vote. But ultimately there is a solution so radical to Americans that it  just might work. 

Open it up to third parties. In the last election, essentially 50% of people voted democrat while 50% voted republican. And yet, over 30% of Americans identify as independents. It is physically impossible for two parties to be able to accurately represent the entire nation. No one in either party can agree with each and every policy of that party. Opening up the election (namely be repealing or reforming the electoral college), would allow more focused and identifiable parties to maintain the support of active participants with focused issues. People would HAVE to vote because their party, (the more suited party to their particular interests) actually depended on it. I’m not saying that third, or multiparty systems don’t have their share of problems. But ultimately they would solve more problems than they create. In addition to helping solve this pesky issue of the vote, they also improve upon that democracy people so value, they reduce gridlock, force compromise, and provide voters with clearer choices come election day. 

At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure America can survive on its 57 percent turnout rate. Of the half who don’t vote, the majority probably had little of value to add to the election. Of those that did, it most probably wouldn’t massively affect the outcome. But a smoothly running republic could easily survive with at least 80% of qualified voters actually doing it. 

 

Chapter 1, Part (1)


The year 2158 would be the last year in recorded history. But he didn’t know that. It was only 2157. Aaron Sol only knew that something was going terribly wrong. It wasn’t the fact that sea levels were eight feet higher than in the previous century, slowly pushing the coasts of the Earth miles inward. It wasn’t that food scarcities had forced the civilized world to abandon the concept of humanitarian aid, leading to the first decrease in world population since the black plague of millenniums past. It wasn’t that land in the few remaining temperate regions of the planet cost over a thousand SC, and that an apartment in one of the new blossoming, colossal living structures being constructed cost several years salary. Thus was the state of affairs, and to Aaron, wistful memories of a time when “house” was utilized in the lexicon would not lead anywhere positive.

            He placed his drink down, bitter despite himself. Tendrils of the high pitched din of the news snaked from his bedroom, muffled to his ears save one phrase which he picked up on with peculiar vehemence: The System. Revolutionary, they said. All of earth’s problems boxed up and shipped away. They are blind, they are deaf. He trudged over to his bedroom, scuffing the old, never cleaned carpet with his feet and invariably shocking himself on the bedroom door. Pulling it open with a wince, he felt the now unmuffled sound wash over him. Decorating the diodes of the screen were tiny figures, holding painted signs high, as a news caster sadly shook his head and dutifully informed Aaron that opponents to the implementation of the System were camped outside the capitol, pending their expulsion from the grounds. He sighed. Despite his inherent dislike of the System, he had nothing but contempt for the poor fools who believed being repeatedly kicked out of protesting would change anything.

            He glanced at his bedside, where lay his journal. No one wrote in journals anymore; no one even typed anymore. But his childhood was recorded in those pages and sometimes his world felt so different than that of his childhood that he was loathe to get rid of it. He reached over and picked it up. There was an image in his head, a single image that to him felt foreign and disturbing. Gripped by sudden passion, he rustled through his drawer until his fingers closed upon a certain instrument he knew vaguely to be called a pen. Several moments later, he gazed down, unusually detached, but with a mild curiosity, at what he had written. They seek to prevent the egg from being lain, but the Leviathan has already hatched. 

The Grey: Movie Review


Plot: 7/10
Characters: 7/10
Cinematography: 9/10
Overall: 8/10
“a lot more interesting than you would think it could possibly be”

This film is older but I believe warrants a review due to its being continual bashed, unfairly I believe. The first point I’d like to just establish up front is that the cinematography of this movie was breathtaking, poignant, and spot on. All other qualms aside, ask someone to film the story of 7 stranded alaskans fighting off a pack of wolves, and they could not have done a better job than in this film. Cuts of the wilderness establish its vastness, establish the insignificance of the small survival party, hauntingly mirrored in the characters right away assuming no rescue was coming. At night, flickering firelight provides ample lighting yet allows for the surrounding area to remain pitch black- and intensely scary- because we know what is lurking in that darkness. These wolf attack scenes are shot with the deft hand of a skilled horror filmmaker. Masanobu Takayanagi (director of photography) did something special in turning the arid, lifeless, (and one would think boring) icy landscape into its own character, intent on the party’s destruction.

As for the acting. Liam Neeson is prefect as the hardened survival expert (relatively speaking) who at the same time is not afraid to admit he is “scared shitless.” His character understands that fear is the friend of someone trying to survive: not panic, which is deadly, but fear- which is essential. One slight issue with this movie arises though when the superb acting of Neeson contrasts with the relatively one dimensional acting of the other members. Thankfully the film presents them as individuals not just a generic group, and perhaps their actions, and reactions, are so limited because that is all the body is able to bring up in such trying circumstances. Seeing it as it really is (truly about Liam Neeson’s character), this flaw becomes less pronounced.

The plot is as simple and straightforward as it gets, but this does not detract from the movie: it adds to it. This is not simply a video log of people dying. If that was desired, a glance at an article in the news- “15 die in Alaskan plane crash” -would suffice. This film is more than that. As you follow these men you see that their situation leaves them frankly and utterly no way to survive. And they know that. And as each member is picked off, you wonder why they keep going. They will die. And yet they keep clinging to life, trying to survive, just another day, another hour. Why? Watching it I felt I would have given up rather quickly. But there is that human instinct to survive.

The wolves are not just wolves. They are figmental representations of our own mortality. Scenes in this film subtly and artfully clue the viewer in that this is a look at life. Scenes of loved ones, lost, lost in a hospital bed to the reaper of death. This film forces the question upon us by adding an instant cause of fatality- the wolves. That question? Why live? Every day of our lives we are inching towards death; it is a certainty. And the answer for us is simple: we have things to live for: family, friends, homes. So what is there for these men, surrounded by wolves with no food, no way to live? What makes it worth it for them to fight tooth and nail for every last breath, prolonging their lives by seconds and minutes? Literally staring into the face of their own mortality they find something. And I’m not even sure what it is. But I sit here pondering and appreciate that this movie, in it’s extreme case, made me think about my own mortality and how there is a difference between simply living day to day- not confronted by the idea or possibility of death- and living FOR something.

Great acting from Liam Neeson, incredibly well done
cinematography by Manobu Takayanagi, and a plot that is simple yet riveting; predictable yet thought provoking, make this movie worth watching.

Phoenix (short story)


A man walks down a street in the middle of the night. He pulls his collar to his neck and gazes into the overgrown cracks in the dirty pavement. He counts down the minutes until he arrives at his destination. His breath crystalizes in the sharp air around his head. In the distance the mansion blocks the feeble moonlight and casts a shadow on the valley.

He paces quickens; his nerve frays. In the distance the behemoth looms, dark, and silent. Fumbling in his coat pocket, he retrieves his watch, his name engraved on the gold-plated surface. Noting the time, he allows his grip to loosen and the watch falls, the glass face shattering upon impact with the uneven road.

Turning from the main road, he pushes through the iron-clad gates of the estate, slamming them against their hinges. Before him stretches an unpaved path, arrow straight, lined with exotic imported trees. Weak, dying rays of moonlight filter through the leaves, allowing the man to see the path before him. Turning his gaze upward, he sees the antiquated castle rising from the hillside.

He shrugs off his overcoat, letting the flowing garment fall to the road behind him. Several gold coins roll silently out of the pockets and onto the path. He shivers. Reaching to his neck, he unbuttons one by one the satin covered buttons; the dress shirt is captured by the embracing claws of the wind, carried off of the path to lodge in the prickly branches of a foreign tree. Small bumps rise off of his pale white skin as the short hairs on his arm stand in retaliation to the bitter cold; he grits his teeth.

The world goes dark, and he looks up to see the mansion looming above him, casting an impenetrable shadow. Two massive, marble lions sit regally upon thick marble pedestals on either side of the stairway to the entrance. He sits on the bottom step; witnessing the ghost of his childhood weaving between the tall Corinthian columns, down the stairs and into the garden. He methodically unlaces his shined leather shoes, throwing them into the garden, the wooden soles striking the ground with vaguely satisfying thunks.

Feet curling at the touch of the cold marble, he ascends the stairs, passes through the columns, and pulls open the ornately carved wooden doors. Stepping inside, he glimpses the bust of his father on the sitting table; his portrait on the wall; the chandelier hanging from the glass dome above. He peers into the murky darkness of the sitting room, spying his own portrait tucked away behind the massive clavier.  He steps into the sitting room and takes a match from the mantle, striking it and tossing it into the always stocked fire place. Soon it begins to crackle as small fodder and twigs ignite the freshly axed logs. Standing before the heat, he pulls his leather belt off, and lets his satin lined dress pants slide to the floor. Contemptuously he kicks them into the fire.

Standing naked before the flames, he reaches into the fire, hand searing and skin peeling away, to grasp a thin log lit at one end, burning red like coal. Turning to the red, velvet sofas, he stabs the log into the fabric, coughing through the acrid black smoke produced as is burns. Above the mantle, he gently touches the stick to the corner of his father’s portrait, watching curiously as the fire eats away across its painted surface, his father’s features dripping and melting in the heat. For the first time, he feels a glimmer of satisfaction.

Not yet sated, he brandished his weapon like a sword, twirling and dancing through the rooms of the mansion, allowing his sword to bestow onto his possessions the kiss of fire. The heat within the house begins to rise, perspiration sheening his body. He now longs for the bite of the bitter cold outside. With a whoop of joy he sprints by the massive garden windows, shattering them with a stab from his weapon, allowing cool air to rush in hungrily to feed the ever growing flames.

He steps outside. The frozen air immediately soothes his many burns. Looking down, he sees that the entire valley is lit by the towering flames bursting through the monster’s windows. It shines like a noon-day sun in the middle of the night, the weak moon behind it forgotten. He walks slowly into the gardens behind the mansion, occasionally stopping to gaze back at his beautiful creation. Soon he arrives at the fountain, ice cold water flowing down levels of smooth stone. He climbs inside, and the water runs over his naked body, soothing him, washing away the ash and soot, as he continues to watch the mansion burn.

It would burn till dawn, until the flames could not compete with the blinding light of the first sun of spring. They would find him, seated serenely in the flowing water of the fountain, gazing at the wreckage of his home, the faintest hint of a smile adorning his features. A bird takes up his song, flying from the trees surrounding him, circling the burned hull of his ship of fortune, and then flying off into the distance.

Alien (1979): Movie Review


Plot: 9/10
Characters: 8/10
Cinematography: 8/10
Overall: 9/10

“a classic that is far more terrifying than any recent horror flick”
*note, almost no “horror movie” has actually managed to scare me, but this is a notable exception*

Wow, what a good movie. I watched Alien for the first time in preparation for the release of Prometheus and it was worth it simply to watch Alien. Ridley Scott essentially maxes out the quality of this storyline, it may not be the best storyline, but in and of itself, it could not have been any better.

I’m rather glad it was filmed in 1979, I have the sneaking suspicion that we’re it filmed today it would take on a Prometheus style “bigness” that would destroy it.

The situation is simple, a crew of 7 awakes mid long-term space flight automatically to respond to a signal emanating from a nearby planet. They investigate, and one member is attacked by an alien life form. After attempting to remove it from the character, the alien goes rogue on board the ship, wrecking havoc and killing off crew members until one remains.

The reason this movie required no huge budgets or grandiose sets is because it honed in on the one true element of Horror- fear. Fear does not thrive In massive chambers or on an open planet (like the sets of prometheus). Fear thrives in the enclosed, claustrophobic, dark places where there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

The pacing of this movie was spot on, the director skillfully gives the audience enough time to get to know the characters and begin empathizing before he even puts them in danger. Even once the inevitable happens, and one crew member is infected, Scott refuses to jump to the horror, leaving the crew member in that state for a while and cleverly watches the panic level of the other crew members slowly begin to bubble around their ankles. Nothing sinister has happened, but the “thing” is now on board the ship, and that causes some nervousness.
And then suddenly, Scott unleashes the scare, a scare heightened by all the build up. The (as of now) not too threatening Alien escapes into the ship, after bursting through its host’s chest in a disturbingly well filmed scene, and transforms into the Apex predator. Panic is now widespread and justified, and as a viewer, panic sits at the back of the mind every time a character uses a hallway.

This movie works because it doesn’t rely on “gotcha” scares, but uses them to make legitimate psychological fears come to life. One of the key components of this is Sojourney Weaver, who begins as a veritable badass and slowly degrades into an emotional wreck. Brilliantly acted, the viewer follows suit with the character, becoming more and more scared and concerned for Weaver’s safety, which is disappearing.

Alien takes its time with a simple plot that demonstrates an escalation of fear, and is filmed in the perfect place for it(a cramped, dark, inescapable ship).  By modern standards it is low on the blood and gore, but it has as good a psychological plot as any film in recent memory. Which makes what blood/gore there is that much more effective. It also has a strong mystery element, making it a cerebral movie, requiring one to thing, and leaves many questions unanswered (some of which have recently been answered in Prometheus). This is a great benchmark for any scary or sci fi movie, and definitively proves that bigger sets, effects, and plots are not always better.

Prometheus(2012): Movie Review


Plot: 7/10
Characters: 4/10
Cinematography: 8/10
Overall: 6.5/10
“watch it for the entertainment and the elucidation of Alien, but don’t expect a classic of the aforementioned ‘s standing”

You have to admire Ridley Scott’s nerve. Attempting to film a prequel to the still amazing Alien(1979) after a series of so so sequels is no easy task. He doesn’t pull off another Alien, but he does craft an entertaining movie that has some desirable traits lacking In most modern blockbusters.

For all of its weaknesses, Prometheus’s greatest strength is its pacing. Much like in Alien before it, Scott takes his time getting to the scary bit with the aliens, and even the introductory scenes of the film sets the pace for the rest of the movie (in both Alien and Prometheus there is no dialogue for several minutes into the movie). It is a testament to Scott’s maturity, as most directors would hasten along to get to the scary thrills. The fact is that everyone knows that those scares are coming, and so by really taking his time getting there, by crafting a (exposition)story that works essentially as an adventure rather than horror story, Scott manages to “lull” the viewer into letting down his or her guard- if the aliens haven’t appeared 45 minutes in, the audience can’t possibly guess [when] they will make their debut. As a small point of contention however, Scott’s slow pacing works much better in Alien than in Prometheus, for several reasons. The first is not his fault: as a prequel to Alien, literally everyone is waiting for the alien attack to arrive, which actually makes the extended exposition drag slightly. Were people to walk in with no knowledge of the movie at all, or of Alien, the transition from adventure exploration to sinister horror would be much more effective. The second reason is that the exposition of Prometheus is a lot less “contained” than Alien- which had one ship in one place and 7 crew members, as opposed to a ship flying through space and having a crew of 17. The difference is that the exposition of Prometheus involves following the action of the ship actively heading somewhere on a mission, and not on the characters (of which there were too many to be able to empathize with), whereas the highly “enclosed” exposition of Alien involved only 7, distinct crew members, drifting towards a mysterious beacon even they didn’t know the meaning of. Given this time to actually get to know and begin empathizing with the characters, their untimely deaths hurt that much more, while in Prometheus the character’s deaths have far less impact.

The other major pitfall of Prometheus is that it’s main heroine is not particularly strong, acting wise. Noomi Rapace seemed about as average as all of the other crew members, and had she been one of the ones to die, I doubt I’d have noticed that she was meant to be the main hero/survivor. This is a far cry from the, simply put, bad ass character portrayed by Sojourney Weaver in Alien.

In order to do an accurate comparison I watched Alien the day before Prometheus, and have to mention that it is not a better movie [despite] the low budget, fake looking set with no special effects, but rather because of it. Trapped in enclosed, shadowy, claustrophobic passages, the first movie thrives on focusing utterly on the characters and the fear of a predator loose on the ship, a predator always potentially right behind you. Prometheus, almost forced to be “big” because of the modern standards of blockbuster, employs some breathtaking imagery reminiscent of Avatar, but ultimately shifts the focus away from the characters and their primal fears, not good when the viewer is already put off by the sheer number of characters.

Speaking of the characters, despite the fact that they were almost entirely forgettable, (with several exclusions), sometimes their actions weren’t just downright stupid, they were illogical. A human being sees the first live alien form rising out of an unknown liquid substance and his reaction is what?- stick his hand towards it? It’s no surprise it latched on and killed him. I know If I saw an alien life form I’d be high tailing it out as fast as possible. I’d come back later with back up weapons and containment devices. But maybe I’m just a coward.

One of the movies strongest points ironically actually also involves Alien. Despite not being able to match up as a classic film, Prometheus does a great job of elucidating the ever mysterious circumstances that fell upon the Nostromo in Alien,  while also somehow leaving the viewer with the same level of mystery that Alien did. There is kind of an endorphin rush that arises from finally connecting the dots that connect the end of Prometheus to the beginning of Alien, and the movie does a great job of keeping those dots just barely out of sight until right near the end. Now some of the pressing questions left by Alien are answered- where the signal came from and why, what the aliens are, etc. And yet Prometheus leaves the viewer with questions of its own, about the origin of the aliens, (and as we find out, humans), which seems fitting.

This was my favorite part of the film, seeing the events that served as the catalyst for Alien unfold. That and Ridley Scott’s ability to stay away from cheap thrills and rather take his time makes Prometheus worth watching.

A note about the Rating- while Alien even by modern standards would be a solid R, Prometheus actually sits on the border fairly close. It very well may have been PG-13; the level of profanity is quite low and the alien scenes are actually not that disturbing. (nothing a 14 year old hasn’t seen in a video game).

Approaching


The shifting current of the dusty road,

The sweeping, boiling valley below,

The drifting haunting faces,

Of lovers far from home,

In retrospective agony,

Lives lived and died and never once remembered,

Into the warm embrace of endless shadows,

Into the tides of receding memory,

Into the horizon of an endless sea,

An endless road,

Dusty, Worn

Hiroshima (Reflection on John Hersey’s non fiction account)


*Note, I recommend that everybody read John Hersey’s HIROSHIMA. It is short, human, and incredibly eye opening, even for those acquainted with the bombing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Humans, unlike any other earthly species, have the unique ability to inflict incomprehensible acts of mass murder upon one another and still maintain an attitude of moral superiority. Generals of war, callously pushing pieces on a map, sending young flames into death-traps to be brutally extinguished, feel nothing more than children playing RISK. They uphold that while killing is inherently wrong, it is justified in the protection of things considered sacred. Religion. Democracy. Freedom. Or in the case of Japan in 1945, The Emperor.  Each belligerent looked upon the other with disdain for their supposedly corrupted and base ideologies. This mindset made it morally acceptable to, in the name of liberty, deploy a weapon of such magnitude and destructive power that its victims could not even comprehend its existence. This mindset made it morally acceptable to, for the cause of ending a war wearing on the American people, utterly and wholly wipe two metropolitan cities off of the face of the earth in an instant. President of the United States, Harry Truman, the one man directly and solely responsible for the murder of over one hundred thousand innocent civilians on the morning of August 6, 1945, allegedly slept soundly every night after. He stated that given the choice again, he would have made the same decision. For the tragically few survivors of the bomb, sound sleep was not readily available for many years.

John Hersey, in Hiroshima, systematically dismantles the glass wall erected by Americans concerning the bombings. He forces them to shift their lens from the comfortably avoidable nature of facts and figures and statistics, to the cripplingly undeniable truth of unimaginable human suffering. It is more than gory details from within the tragedy, which would even then be revealing. No, the man lying on the ground, skin slipping off “like a glove,” whose eyeballs, having been forced out of their sockets and held in his hands, are leaking bodily fluids, has a name. Has a family. The reader is not only confronted by the horror that a real person, one of thousands, suffered this fate, but is also forced to “listen” as the real life survivors of Hiroshima recount the soul twisting emotion they felt for the injured, people that they knew and loved. It is almost unbelievable the extent to which a human being can withstand tortures of the body; the burned, dying, calm victims of Hiroshima can stand attest to that. But the human mind is much more fragile. John Hersey not only forces the reader to witness the tragedy of a mother, driven mad, clutching her dead, festering, infant to her for days after its death; he forces the reader to feel what six survivors felt looking upon such people, a mix of pity, sorrow, unquantifiable human sympathy and yet, a hard shell of apathy brought on by the sight of thousands of women in exactly her position. Hersey recounts the true stories of his subjects accurately, which almost as a byproduct exposes the reader to almost unbearable amounts of gruesome suffering.

The human capacity for evil does not discriminate against nationality or creed. Where America dropped the Atomic Bomb, Japanese soldiers utterly raped and pillaged the city of Nanjing. Adolf Hitler had no moral dilemma in ordering the deaths of millions of Jews. Today, bloody wars are fought in Africa where warlords inject child soldiers with heroin and then send them to kill entire villages. Dictators employ the deadly force of military on their own citizens. But all of these situations demonstrate a basic nature of humanity. The death of the Jews was not Hitler’s fault alone, it was the fault of every Nazi soldier who shot a Jew in the head or pushed one into a gas chamber. The deaths of those 100,000 Japanese citizens were not Truman’s fault alone, but also the fault of everyone involved in the bomb’s creation, also the fault of Paul Tibbets and Morris Jeppson for making the last final human decision to detonate and kill the city below their bomber. The deaths of citizens in Syria are just as much a fault of government troops willing to open fire on their brothers and sisters. Humans don’t have the ability to kill each other without question. What they have is the ability to mentally remove themselves from their actions to a point that they can rationalize and justify their actions to their own sense of morals and human sanctity. This is what all Americans did after learning of the Bomb’s use. This is what Hersey is trying to combat. By systematically destroying every method we have of self-removal and justification, Hersey makes us identify and sympathize with his characters. And over it all hangs the unbelievable banner of truth. Every page incites your mind to beg desperately for it to be fiction, but it is not. His evocative and descriptive language allows the reader to see what they saw, hear what they heard, and feel what they felt, which in an American reader is sure to be a healthy dose of self-hatred, self-guilt. Because even American citizens today are responsible for Hiroshima, for waking up and living everyday supporting the ideology that allows for such an event to occur.

John Hersey did a service to the world by writing Hiroshima. We have become, collectively as a world, desensitized to statistics, pictures, and even videos of human suffering. Through the medium of text, Hersey is able to re-sensitize us, even against our will, to the horrors we are capable of committing. He allows us to think about what it means to be human, and what responsibilities we all have with sentience. Because when we become desensitized to our heinous actions, we breed an environment beckoning for their return.

The Smile (short story submitted to NPR contest)


She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. It hadn’t been a particularly exciting book anyways. She supposed that everyone yearned for some sort of adventure, and that most were willing to settle for a mediocre science-fiction novel. She was not. She composed her face into a stern warning. “There had better be something adventurous through that door or there would be hell to pay,” it seemed to say. Some might argue that the world decided not to disappoint her, but really it was she who would not, and could not, be disappointed.

As far as she knew, it was an ordinary door, leading to an ordinary suburb of an ordinary city. It was not. And as she walked, and the utter normalcy of her surroundings imprinted upon her mind, the base of her neck began to tingle, as it does when something is subtly… off. She smiled; there was adventure lurking here. She glanced around. Slowly a thought crept its way into her consciousness: she was alone; there was no activity, anywhere. As she grew more and more aware, perfections began to leap out at her. The trees were too perfect, the grass was too perfect, the colors were too perfect.

A slow fear began to bubble and churn around her ankles, rising slowly. What had that book been about? She could not remember. There was something important, teetering on the cliff of remembrance but refusing stubbornly to fall. Perhaps she should go back and check. No, that was not adventurous. Nevertheless, she turned and glanced furtively over her shoulder, her panic spiking at the unnerving, infinitely long street of identical houses. What was that book about? She felt as if this were the key to her current predicament. It was not.

Nothing, she realized, is louder than silence. It pounded her skull and led her to quicken her pace. She froze. The sounds…. The regular clip of her footsteps… had not changed when she sped up. It did not change when she froze. She felt the water swirling around her neck, the waves lapping at her chin. She lifted her head and screamed, “What sort of adventure is this?!” Her voice made no sound. So she closed her eyes and ran.

When her legs gave out and her eyes opened wearily, she found herself in the center of some massive metropolis, millions of people herding this way and that, the sounds of busses and horns shattering the air. She sighed in relief, but the breath caught in her throat midway through, and she began to cough, the panic rising again. Each and every faceless person in their hustle and activity was carrying the same book. It was The Book.

She tried to hail person after person to no avail; they walked past her, they walked through her. She turned around, empty, and saw with elation that the book was sitting, innocently, invitingly, on a bench, on the sidewalk. Attempting uselessly to hide her relief, she hastily picked it up and opened it. It was blank; every page was blank. A massive wave of despair rose and swept her away.

She felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around slowly.  He stood before her, gesturing towards an oddly placed door in the middle of the sidewalk. He spoke to her gently: “If you are ready to begin your adventure…?” She took an uncertain step towards the door. Then another. As she stepped through the threshold, the most unnoticeable trace of a smile began to form.

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