II American Literature
6 Dec. 1994
Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky . Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct
recollection that it traveled from east to west, from the city toward the hills.
like a sheet of sun.John Hersey, from Hiroshima, pp.8On August 6, 1945, the world
changed forever. On that day the United States of America detonated an atomic bomb over the
city of Hiroshima. Never before had mankind seen anything like. Here was something that
was slightly bigger than an ordinary bomb, yet could cause infinitely more destruction.
could rip through walls and tear down houses like the devils wrecking ball. In Hiroshima it
killed 100,000 people, most non-military civilians. Three days later in Nagasaki it killed
roughly 40,000 . The immediate effects of these bombings were simple. The Japanese
government surrendered, unconditionally, to the United States. The rest of the world
rejoiced as the most destructive war in the history of mankind came to an end .
the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki tried to piece together what was left of their
lives, families and homes. Over the course of the next forty years, these two bombings,
and the nuclear arms race that followed them, would come to have a direct or indirect
effect on almost every man, woman and child on this Earth, including people in the United
States. The atomic bomb would penetrate every fabric of American existence. From our
politics to our educational system. Our industry and our art. Historians have gone so
far as to call this period in our history the atomic age for the way it has shaped and
guided world politics, relations and culture.
The entire history behind the bomb itself is
rooted in Twentieth Century physics. At the time of the bombing the science of physics 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 new the structure and particle makeup of
atoms, as well as how they behaved. During the 1930s it became apparent that there was a
immense amount of energy that would be released atoms of Gioielli 2certain elements were
split, or taken apart. Scientists began to realize that if harnessed, this energy could be
something of a magnitude not before seen to human eyes.
They also saw that this energy
could possibly be harnessed into a weapon of amazing power. And with the advent of World
War Two, this became an ever increasing concern. In the early fall of 1939, the same time
that the Germans invaded Poland, President Roosevelt received a letter from Albert Einstein,
informing him about the certain possibilities of creating a controlled nuclear chain
reaction, and that harnessing such a reaction could produce a bomb of formidable strength.
He wrote: This new phenomena would lead also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is
conceivable, though much less certain-that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus
be constructed (Clark 556-557).The letter goes on to encourage the president to increase
government and military involvement in such experiments, and to encourage the experimental
work of the scientists with the allocation of funds, facilities and equipment that might be
necessary. This letter ultimately led to the Manhattan Project, the effort that involved
billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people to produce the atomic bomb.
time after the war, until just recently the American psyche has been branded with the threat
of a nuclear holocaust. Here was something so powerful, yet so diminutive. A bomb that
could obliterate our nations capital, and that was as big as somebodies backyard grill. For
the first time in the history of human existence here was something capable of wiping us off
the face of the Earth. And most people had no control over that destiny. It seemed like
peoples lives, the life of everything on this planet, was resting in the hands of a couple
men in Northern Virginia and some guys over in Russia.
The atomic bomb and the amazing
power it held over us had a tremendous influence on American Culture, including a profound
effect on American Literature. After the war, the first real piece of literature about the
bombings came in 1946. The work Hiroshima, by Jon Hersey, from which the opening quote is
taken, first appeared as a long article in .