Atomic Bomb And Its Effects On Post-World

War Ii Essay, Research Paper

The Atomic Bomb and its Effects on Post-World War II American LiteratureRob GioielliMrs.

McFarlanSenior English6 Dec. 1994Gioielli 1Rob GioielliMrs. McFarlanSenior English 6 Dec.

1994Then 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. It seemed

like a sheet of sun. ?John Hersey, from Hiroshima, pp.8 On 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. It

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 . All while

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 1930?s 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. During the

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 the New Yorker, then shortly after in book form.

The book is a non-fiction account of the bombing of Hiroshima and the immediate aftermath.

It is told from the point-of-view of six hibakusha, or ?survivors? of the atomic blast. In

four chapters Hersey traces how the these people survived the blast, and what they did in

following weeks and months to pull their lives together Gioielli 3and save their families.

The book takes on a tone of sympathy and of miraculous survival ?that these people were

lucky enough to survive the blast. He focuses not on the suffering of the victims but on

their courage (Stone, 7). The following passage from the first chapter shows this:A hundred

thousand people were killed by the bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still

wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of the counts many small items of

chance or volition?a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar

instead of the next?that spared him. And each that in the act of survival he lived a dozen

lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew

anything (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 he does not make his

book anti-American or something that condemns the dropping of the bomb. He simply gives

these peoples accounts of how they survived in a tone that is more journalistic than

sensationalistic. The book empathizes with their plight 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 he considered an evenhanded portrayal of the event, but he also did not want to

cause much controversy. Although it could be criticized for not giving a more detailed

account of the suffering that occurred, and that it reads more like a history book than a

piece of literature, Hersey?s book was the first of its kind when it was published. Up

until then all accounts of the Hiroshima bombing writings about it took the slant that

Japanese had ?deserved what we had given them?, and that we were good people for doing so.

These accounts were extremely prejudicial and racist. (Stone, 4) Hersey was the first to

take the point of view of those who had actually experienced the event. And his work was

the transition between works that glorified the dropping of the atomic bomb, to those that

focused on its amazing destructive powers, and what they could do to our world. During the

period immediately after the war, not much information was available to general public

concerning what kind of destruction the atomic bombs had actually caused in Japan. But

starting with Hersey?s book and continuing with other non-fiction works, such as David

Bradley’s No Place To Hide, which concerned the Bikini Island nuclear tests, Americans

really began to get a picture of the awesome power and destructiveness of nuclear weapons.

They saw that these really Gioielli 4were doomsday devices. Weapons that could change

everything in an instant, and turn things into nothing in a moment. It was this realization

that had a startling effect on American culture and literature. Some Americans began to say

?At any time we could all be shadows in the blast wave, so what?s the point??. This

viewpoint manifested itself in literature in something called the ?apocalyptic temper?; an

attitude or a tone dealing with a forthcoming end to the world. Also, many people,

because of this realization of our impending death, were beginning to say that maybe their

was something inherently wrong with all of this. That nuclear weapons are dangerous to

everyone, no matter what your political 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

temper and social activism was effected greatly in the early Sixties by the Cuban Missile

Crisis. When Americans saw, on television, that they could be under nuclear attack in under

twenty minutes, a new anxiety about the cold war surfaced that had not been present since

the days of McCarthy. And this new anxiety was evidenced in works that took on a much more

satirical tone. And one of the works that shows this satiric apocalyptic temper and

cynicism is Kurt Vonnegut’s Cats Cradle. Vonnegut, considered by many to be one of Americas

foremost living authors, was himself a veteran of World War Two. He, as a prisoner of war,

was one of the few survivors of the fire-bombing of Dresden. In Dresden he saw what many

believe was a more horrible tragedy than Hiroshima. The allied bombs destroyed the entire

city and killed as many people, if not more, than were killed in Hiroshima. He would

eventually write about this experience in 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, Cats Cradle is an excellent satire of the Atomic Age. It is essentially the

story of one man, an author by the name of John (or Jonah) and the research he is doing for

a book on the day the bomb exploded in Hiroshima. This involves him with members of the Dr.

Felix Hoenikker family?the genius who helped build the bomb?and their adventures. In the

book Vonnegut paints an imaginary world where things might not seem to make any Gioielli

5sense. But there is in fact an amazing amount of symbolism, as well as satire. Dr.

Hoenikker is an extremely eccentric scientist who spends most of his time in the lab at his

company. He is interested in very few things, his children not among them. His children

are almost afraid of him. One of the few times he does try to play with his children is

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:?And then he sang, ?Rockabye catsy, in the tree top?;he sang, ? when the wind

blows, the cray-dull will fall.



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