BombThen a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky . Mr.
Tanimotohas a distinct recollection that it traveled from east to west, from the citytoward the hills. It seemed like a sheet of sun. ÐJohn Hersey, fromHiroshima, pp. 8 On August 6, 1945, the world changed forever.
On that day theUnited States of America detonated an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. Never before had mankind seen anything like. Here was something that wasslightly bigger than an ordinary bomb, yet could cause infinitely moredestruction. It could rip through walls and tear down houses like the devilswrecking ball.
In Hiroshima it killed 100,000 people, most non-militarycivilians. Three days later in Nagasaki it killed roughly 40,000 . The immediateeffects of these bombings were simple. The Japanese government surrendered,unconditionally, to the United States.
The rest of the world rejoiced as themost destructive war in the history of mankind came to an end . All while thesurvivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki tried to piece together what was left oftheir lives, families and homes. Over the course of the next forty years, thesetwo bombings, and the nuclear arms race that followed them, would come to have adirect or indirect effect on almost every man, woman and child on this Earth,including people in the United States. The atomic bomb would penetrate everyfabric of American existence.
From our politics to our educational system. Ourindustry and our art. Historians have gone so far as to call this period in ourhistory the Òatomic ageÓ for the way it has shaped and guided worldpolitics, relations and culture. The entire history behind the bomb itself isrooted in Twentieth Century physics. At the time of the bombing the science ofphysics had been undergoing a revolution for the past thirty-odd years. Scientists now had a clear picture of what the atomic world was like.
They newthe structure and particle makeup of atoms, as well as how they behaved. Duringthe 1930Õs it became apparent that there was a immense amount of energythat would be released atoms of Gioielli 2certain elements were split, or takenapart. Scientists began to realize that if harnessed, this energy could besomething of a magnitude not before seen to human eyes. They also saw that thisenergy could possibly be harnessed into a weapon of amazing power.
And with theadvent of World War Two, this became an ever increasing concern. In the earlyfall of 1939, the same time that the Germans invaded Poland, President Rooseveltreceived a letter from Albert Einstein, informing him about the certainpossibilities of creating a controlled nuclear chain reaction, and thatharnessing such a reaction could produce a bomb of formidable strength. Hewrote: This new phenomena would lead also lead to the construction of bombs, andit is conceivable, though much less certain-that extremely powerful bombs of anew type may thus be constructed (Clark 556-557). The letter goes on to encouragethe president to increase government and military involvement in suchexperiments, and to encourage the experimental work of the scientists with theallocation of funds, facilities and equipment that might be necessary.
Thisletter ultimately led to the Manhattan Project, the effort that involvedbillions of dollars and tens of thousands of people to produce the atomic bomb. During the time after the war, until just recently the American psyche has beenbranded with the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Here was something so powerful,yet so diminutive. A bomb that could obliterate our nations capital, and thatwas as big as somebodies backyard grill.
For the first time in the history ofhuman existence here was something capable of wiping us off the face of theEarth. And most people had no control over that destiny. It seemed like peopleslives, the life of everything on this planet, was resting in the hands of acouple men in Northern Virginia and some guys over in Russia. The atomic bomband the amazing power it held over us had a tremendous influence on AmericanCulture, including a profound effect on American Literature. After the war, thefirst real piece of literature about the bombings came in 1946.
The workHiroshima, by Jon Hersey, from which the opening quote is taken, first appearedas a long article in the New Yorker, then shortly after in book form. The bookis a non-fiction account of the bombing of Hiroshima and the immediateaftermath. It is told from the point-of-view of six hibakusha, or ÒsurvivorsÓof the atomic blast. In four chapters Hersey traces how the these peoplesurvived the blast, and what they did in following weeks and months to pulltheir lives together Gioielli 3and save their families.
The book takes on a toneof sympathy and of miraculous survival Ðthat these people were luckyenough to survive the blast. He focuses not on the suffering of the victims buton their courage (Stone, 7). The following passage from the first chapter showsthis:A hundred thousand people were killed by the bomb, and these six were amongthe survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Eachof the counts many small items of chance or volitionÐa step taken in time,a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the nextÐthatspared him. And each that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and sawmore death than he ever thought he would see.
At the time, none of them knewanything (4). Hersey was attempting to chronicle what had happened at Hiroshima,and to do so fairly. And in emphasizing the survival instead of the suffering hedoes not make his book anti-American or something that condemns the dropping ofthe bomb. He simply gives these peoples accounts of how they survived in a tonethat is more journalistic than sensationalistic. The book empathizes with theirplight while it also gives an American explanation for the bombing (Stone, 7). That it was an act of war to end the war as quickly and as easily as possible,and to save more lives in the long run.
Hersey did all this to provide what heconsidered an evenhanded portrayal of the event, but he also did not want tocause much controversy. Although it could be criticized for not giving a moredetailed account of the suffering that occurred, and that it reads more like ahistory book than a piece of literature, HerseyÕs book was the first ofits kind when it was published. Up until then all accounts of the Hiroshimabombing writings about it took the slant that Japanese had Òdeserved whatwe had given themÓ, and that we were good people for doing so. Theseaccounts were extremely prejudicial and racist.
(Stone, 4) Hersey was the firstto take the point of view of those who had actually experienced the event. Andhis work was the transition between works that glorified thedropping of theatomic bomb, to those that focused on its amazing destructive powers, and whatthey could do to our world. During the period immediately after the war, notmuch information was available to general public concerning what kind ofdestruction the atomic bombs had actually caused in Japan. But starting withHerseyÕs book and continuing with other non-fiction works, such as DavidBradley’s No Place To Hide, which concerned the Bikini Island nuclear tests,Americans really began to get a picture of the awesome power and destructivenessof nuclear weapons. They saw that these really Gioielli 4were doomsday devices.
Weapons that could change everything in an instant, and turn things into nothingin a moment. It was this realization that had a startling effect on Americanculture and literature. Some Americans began to say ÒAt any time we couldall be shadows in the blast wave, so whatÕs the point?Ó. Thisviewpoint manifested itself in literature in something called the ÒapocalyptictemperÓ; an attitude or a tone dealing with a forthcoming end to theworld. Also, many people, because of this realization of our impending death,were beginning to say that maybe their was something inherently wrong with allof this.
That nuclear weapons are dangerous to everyone, no matter what yourpolitical views or where you live, and that we should do away with all of them. They have no value to society and should be destroyed. This apocalyptic temperand social activism was effected greatly in the early Sixties by the CubanMissile Crisis. When Americans saw, on television, that they could be undernuclear attack in under twenty minutes, a new anxiety about the cold warsurfaced that had not been present since the days of McCarthy.
And this newanxiety was evidenced in works that took on a much more satirical tone. And oneof the works that shows this satiric apocalyptic temper and cynicism is KurtVonnegut’s Cats Cradle. Vonnegut, considered by many to be one of Americasforemost living authors, was himself a veteran of World War Two. He, as aprisoner of war, was one of the few survivors of the fire-bombing of Dresden. InDresden he saw what many believe was a more horrible tragedy than Hiroshima. Theallied bombs destroyed the entire city and killed as many people, if not more,than were killed in Hiroshima.
He would eventually write about this experiencein the semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five. This novel, like Cats Cradle,takes a very strong anti-war stance. But along with being an Anti-war book, CatsCradle is an excellent satire of the Atomic Age. It is essentially the story ofone man, an author by the name of John (or Jonah) and the research he is doingfor a book on the day the bomb exploded in Hiroshima. This involves him withmembers of the Dr.
Felix Hoenikker familyÐthe genius who helped build thebombÐand their adventures. In the book Vonnegut paints an imaginary worldwhere things might not seem to make any Gioielli 5sense. But there is in fact anamazing amount of symbolism, as well as satire. Dr. Hoenikker is an extremelyeccentric scientist who spends most of his time in the lab at his company.
He isinterested in very few things, his children not among them. His children arealmost afraid of him. One of the few times he does try to play with his childrenis when he tries to teach the game of cats cradle to his youngest son, Newt. When he is trying to show newt the game Newt gets very confused. In the book,this is what Newt remembered of the incident:ÒAnd then he sang, ÔRockabyecatsy, in the tree topÕ;he sang, Ô when the wind blows, the cray-dullwill fall.
Down will come cray-dull, catsy and all. Õ ÒI burst intotears. I jumped up and ran out of the house as fast as I could. Ó(18)WhatNewt doesnÕt remember is what he said to his Father. Later in the book wefind this out from Newts sister, Angela that newt jumped of his fatherÕslap screaming Ò No cat! No cradle! No cat! No cradle!Ó(53) With thisscene, Vonnegut is trying to show a couple of things.
Dr. Hoenikker symbolizesall the scientists who created the atomic bomb. And the cats cradle is the worldand all of humankind combined. Dr.
Hoenikker is simply playing, like he has allhis life, that game just happens to involve the fate of the rest of the world. And little Newt, having a childs un-blinded perception, doesnÕt understandthe game. He doesnÕt see a cat or a cradle. Like all the gamesDr. Hoenikker plays, including the ones with nuclear weapons, this one ismislabeled. This is just one of the many episodes in the book that characterizesDr.
Hoenikker as a player of games. He recognizes this in himself when he giveshis Nobel Prize speech:I stand before you now because I never stopped dawdlinglike an eight year on a spring morning on his way to school. Anything can makeme stop and wonder, and sometimes learn (17). And the Doctors farewell to theworld is a game he has played, with himself. One day a Marine General asked himif he could make something that would eliminate mud, so that marines wouldnÕthave to deal with mud anymore. So Dr.
Hoenikker thinks up ice-nine, an imaginarysubstance that when it comes in contact with any other kind of water, itcrystallizes it. And this crystallization spreads to all the water moleculesthis piece of water is in contact with. So to crystallize the mud in an entirearmed division of marines, it would only take a minuscule amount of ice-nine. Dr. Gioielli 6Hoenikker’s colleagues see this as just another example of hisimagination at work. But he actually does create a small chink of ice-nine, andwhen he dies, each of his children get a small piece of it.
They carry it aroundwith themselves in thermos containers the rest of their lives. At the end ofbook one small piece of ice-nine gets out , by mere accident, and ends upcrystallizing the whole world. The game Dr. Hoenikker was playing with himselfdestroyed the whole world.
The accident that caused the ice-nine to get outcould be much like the accident that could cause World War III. One small thingthat sets off an amazing series of events, like piece of ice-nine just fallingout of the thermos. And Dr. Hoenikker, like the scientists of the world, wasplaying game and caused it all. Here is a description of the world after theice-nine has wreaked its havoc:There were no smells. There was no movement.
Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeakwas echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The Earth was locked up tight(179). This description eerily resembles what many have said the Earth will looklike during a nuclear winter (Stone, 62).
In addition to Dr. Hoenikker and hisdoomsday games, Vonnegut provides an interesting analysis of atomic age societywith the Bokonon religion. This religion, completely made up by Vonnegut andused in this novel, is the religion of every single inhabitant of San Lorenzo,the books imaginary banana republic. This is the island where Jonah eventuallyends up, and where the ice-nine holocaust originates. (It also, being aCaribbean nation, strangely resembles Cuba. ) Bokonon is a strange religion.
Itwas created by one of the leaders of San Lorenzo, a long time ago. Essentially,Bokonon is the only hope for all inhabitants of San Lorenzo. Their existence onthe island is so horrible that they have to find harmony with something. Bokononism gives them that. It is based on untruths, to give San Lorenzans asense of security, since the truth provides none.
This concept can be summed upin this Bokononist quotation: ÒLive by thefoma* that makes you brave andkind and healthy and happy. *Harmless untruths (4)Ó The inhabitants of SanLorenzo do not care what is going on in their real lives because they have thefoma of Bokonon to keep them secure and happy. And Vonnegut is trying to saythat is what is happening to the rest of us. Americans, and the rest of theworld for that matter, have this false sense of security that we are safe andsecure. That in our homes in Indiana with our dogs and Gioielli 7our lawnmowers,we think we are invincible. Everything will be okay because we are protected byare government.
This is the foma of real life, because we are trying to denywhat is really going on. WeÕre in imminent danger of being annihilated atany second, but to deny this very real danger we are creating a false world sothat we may live in peace, however false that sense of peace may be. Throughoutthe entire novel Vonnegut gives little snippets of ÒcalypsosÓ :Bokonon proverbs written by Bokonon. Verse like:I wanted all things To seem tomake some sense,So we could all be happy, yes,Instead of tense. And I made upliesSo that they all fit niceAnd made this sad worldA par-a-dise (90). Thiscalypso expresses the purpose of Bokonon and why it, with its harmless untruths,exists.
The following one is about the outlawing of Bokonon. To make thereligion more appealing to the people, the leaders had it banned, with itspractice punishable by death. They hoped that a renegade religion with a rebelleader would appeal to the people more. So I said good-bye to government,and Igave my reason:That a really good religionIs a form of treason (118)Thesecalypsos, and the rest of the book, express the points Vonnegut in a moreabstract , symbolic manner.
They only add to the impact of the books messageexpressing it in a very short, satirical way. The black humor used when talkingabout the end of the worldÐthe nuclear endÐwas pioneered by Vonnegut. But what many consider to be the the climax of this pop culture phenomena isStanley Kubrick’s movie, Dr. Strangelove(Stone 69).
Subtitled Or How I learnedto Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb , this movie was Kubrick’s viewpoint on howmad the entire Cold War and arms race had become. Based a little known book byEnglish science fiction writer Peter George, Red Alert, the movie is about howone maverick Air Force general, who is obviously suffering a severe mentalillness, concocts a plan to save the world from the Gioielli 8Communists. Hemanages to order the strategic bombers under his command to proceed to theirtargets in the Soviet Union. They all believe it is World War Three, and theGeneral, Jack Ripper, is the only one that can call the planes back. Kubrick’scharacters: Dr. Strangelove, President Mertin Muffley, Premier Kissof andothers, go through a series a misadventures to try and turn the planes around.
But the one, plane piloted by Major ÒKingÓ Kong, does get through,and it drops its bombload. This is where Kubrick tries to show the futility ofeverything. The governments of both the worlds superpowers have thousands ofsafeguards and security precautions for their nuclear weapons. But one manmanages to get a nuclear warhead to be hit its target. And this warhead hits theÒDoomsday DeviceÓ. The Doomsday device is the ultimate deterrent,because if you try to disarm it it will go off.
It has the capability to destroyevery living human and animal on Earth, and it does So it is all pointless. Wehave these weapons, and no matter how hard we try to control them everyone stilldies. And so to make ourselves feel better about all this impending doom,Kubrick, like Vonnegut, satirizes the entire system. By making such moroniccharacters, like the wimpish President Mertin Muffley, Kubrick is saying,similar to Vonnegut with Dr. Hoenikker, that we are even worse off because theseweapons are controlled by people that are almost buffoonish and childish. General Ripper, the man who causes the end of the world, is a portrait of aMcCarthy era paranoid gone mad.
He thinks the communists are infiltrating andtrying to destroy are country. And he says the most heinous communist plotagainst democracy is fluoridation of water:Like I was saying, Group Captain,fluoridation of water is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communistplot we have ever had to face . . . They pollute our precious bodily fluids!(George 97)And General Rippers personal prevention of the contamination of hisbodily fluids is equally perplexing.
He drinks only Ò . . . distilledwater, or rain water, and only grain alcohol .
. . Ó Kubrick uses this kindof absurd reasoning in his movie to show the absurd reasoning behind nuclearweapons. Both him and Vonnegut were part of the satirical side of theapocalyptic temper in the early Sixties. They laughed at our governments, ourleaders, the Cold War and the arms race, and tried to show how stupid it allreally was. But as time moved on, the writers, and the entire country, startedto take a less narrow minded view of things.
The counterculture of the Gioielli9sixties prompted people to take a closer look at themselves. As thinkers,teachers, lovers, parents, friends and human beings. And people concerned withnuclear weapons started to see things in a broader context as well. Nuclearweapons were something that affected our whole consciousness.
The way we grewup, our relationships with others and what we did with our lives. One of theauthors who put this new perspective on things was the activist, social thinkerand poet Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg first made a name for himself in the 1950Õsas one of the foremost of the Beat writers. The Beats in the Fifties were aforerunner of the more widespread counterculture of the late Sixties and earlySeventies. And Ginsberg evolved into this.
He became a devoted leader in thecounterculture, who set many precedents for the Hippie generation. He lived invarious communes, delved deeply into eastern religions and experimented withnumerous hallucinogenic drugs. In the earlier part of his life Ginsberg had beena rebel against society. He was still a rebel but now he was taking the form ofactivist.
By the Seventies he was involved in many causes that promoted peaceand world harmony. What separated Ginsberg from other activists is that he wasone of the first and original members of many of these movements. Now he was thefather figure to many in the non-mainstream world. While teaching at his schoolof poetry in Naropa, Colorado, Ginsberg became involved in protests against thenearby Rock Flats Nuclear Weapons Factory. During the Summer of 1978 he wasarrested for preventing a shipment nuclear waste from reaching its destinationand for numerous other protests against the facility (Miles 474). From theseexperiences came two poems ÒNagasaki DaysÓ and Ò Plutonium OdeÓ.
Both these poems exhibit Ginsberg’s more mature style of writing (Miles 475). The poems are more scholarly, containing many mythological and religiousallusions. But both these characteristics show how post war apocalypticliterature had evolved. By the Seventies many writers, instead of taking thedefeatist, satirical view like Vonnegut, were beginning to take a make activiststandpoint, like Ginsberg. Apocalyptic literature also took on a more mature,scholarly tone, and was more worldly and had a broader viewpoint.
This stanzafrom ÒNagasaki DaysÓ shows how Ginsberg is putting nuclear weaponsinto the context of the universal:2,000,000 killed in Vietnam13,000,000 refugeesin Indochina 200,000,000 years for the Galaxy to revolve on its core 24,000 theBabylonian great year24,000 half life of plutoniumGioielli 102,000 the most Iever got for a poetry reading80,000 dolphins killed in the dragnet4,000,000,000years earth been born (701)The half life of plutonium is brought together withdolphins and Indochinese refugees. Also, Ginsberg makes a reference to theBabylonian great year, which coincides with the half life of plutonium. Thiscosmic link intrigued Ginsberg immensely. That fact alone inspired him to rightÒPlutonium OdeÓ. The whole poem expands on this connection toplutonium as a living part of our universe, albeit a very dangerous one.
Here hementions the Great Year:Before the Year began turning its twelve signs, ereconstellations wheeled for twenty-four thousand sunny yearsslowly round theiraxis in Sagittarius, one hundred sixty-seven thousand times returning to thisnight. (702) Ginsberg is also relating the great year, and the half life ofplutonium, to the life of the Earth. The life of the Earth is approximately fourbillion years, which is 24,000 times 167,000 (Ginsberg 796) In ÒPlutoniumOdeÓ, Ginsberg talks to plutonium. By establishing a dialogue he gives theplutonium almost human characteristics. It is something, and is near us everyday, and is deadly. In this passage he is asking how long before it kills usall:I enter your secret places with my mind, I speak with your presence, I roamyour lion roar with mortal mouth.
One microgram inspired to one lung, ten poundsof heavy metal dust, adrift slowly motion over gray Alpsthe breadth of theplanet, how long before your radiance speeds blight and death to sentientbeings. (703) In putting his nuclear fears and worries on the table, and sayingthat these things have pertinence to us because they affect how we live ourlives and the entire the universe, Ginsberg is showing how intrigued he is withplutonium in this poem. By the time Ginsberg was publishing these poems in late1978, post war literature had evolved immensely. At first people had no ideaabout the bomb and its capabilities. Then, as more information came out aboutwhat the bomb could do, they began to began to start to live in real fear ofnuclear weapons.
The power of it, a creation by man that could destroy theworld, that was terrifying. Then some artists and writers began to see theabsurdity of it all. They saw that we were under control by people we did not,or should not, trust, and were a constant state of nuclear Gioielli 11fear. Sothey satirized the system unmercifully, and were very apocalyptic in their tone.
But then things evolved from these narrow minded viewpoints, and people began toenvision nuclear weapons in the context of our world and our lives. The atomicbomb and nuclear proliferation affected all facets of our lifestyle, includingwhat we read. Literature is a reflection of a countryÕs culture andfeelings. And literature affected Americans curiosity, horror, anxiety, cynicismand hope concerning nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons raised questions that noone had dare ever asked before, and had given them answers that they were afraidto hear.
They have made us think about our place in the universe, and what itall means. BibliographyBartter, Martha A. The Way to Ground Zero. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Dewey, Joseph. In a Dark Time. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1990. Dr. Strangelove. Dir.
Stanley Kubrick. With Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and SlimPickens. Highland Films Ltd. , 1966.
(This is a novelization of the movie. Allqoutations from the movie were transribed form this book) Einstein, Albert. ÒSirÓ (a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt) Einstein: TheLife and Times. Ronald W. Clark.
New York: World Publishing, 1971. 556-557. George, Peter. Dr. Strangelove.
Boston: Gregg Press, 1979. Ginsberg,Allen. ÒNagasaki DaysÓ and ÒPlutonium Ode. Ó CollectedPoems: 1947Ð1980.
Ed. Allen Ginsberg. New York: Harper and Row, 1984. 699-705.
Gleick, James. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. NewYork :Vintage Books, 1992. Hersey, John.
Hiroshima. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,1985. Miles, Barry. Ginsberg: A Biography.
New York: Harper Perennial,1989. Stone, Albert E. Literary Aftershocks: American Writers, Readers and theBomb. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. Vonnegut, Kurt.
CatÕs Cradle. NewYork:Dell, 1963.