Atomic Bomb 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. It seemed like a sheet of sun. ÐJohn 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 Òatomic ageÓ 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 1930Õs 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 ÒsurvivorsÓ 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 Ðthat 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 volitionÐa step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the nextÐthat 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, HerseyÕs 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 Òdeserved what we had given themÓ, 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 thedropping 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 HerseyÕs 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 ÒAt any time we could all be shadows in the blast wave, so whatÕs the point?Ó. This viewpoint manifested itself in literature in something called the Òapocalyptic temperÓ; 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 familyÐthe genius who helped build the bombÐand 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:ÒAnd then he sang, ÔRockabye catsy, in the tree topÕ;he sang, Ô when the wind blows, the cray-dull will fall.
Down will come cray-dull, catsy and all.Õ ÒI burst into tears. I jumped up and ran out of the house as fast as I could.Ó(18)What Newt doesnÕt remember is what he said to his Father. Later in the book we find this out from Newts sister, Angela that newt jumped of his fatherÕs lap screaming Ò No cat! No cradle! No cat! No cradle!Ó(53) With this scene, Vonnegut is trying to show a couple of things. Dr. Hoenikker symbolizes all the scientists who created the atomic bomb.
And the cats cradle is the world and all of humankind combined. Dr. Hoenikker is simply playing, like he has all his 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 understand the game. He doesnÕt see a cat or a cradle.
Like all the games Dr.Hoenikker plays, including the ones with nuclear weapons, this one is mislabeled. This is just one of the many episodes in the book that characterizes Dr. Hoenikker as a player of games. He recognizes this in himself when he gives his Nobel Prize speech:I stand before you now because I never stopped dawdling like an eight year on a spring morning on his way to school. Anything can make me stop and wonder, and sometimes learn (17). And the Doctors farewell to the world is a game he has played, with himself. One day a Marine General asked him if he could make something that would eliminate mud, so that marines wouldnÕt have to deal with mud anymore.
So Dr. Hoenikker thinks up ice-nine, an imaginary substance that when it comes in contact with any other kind of water, it crystallizes it. And this crystallization spreads to all the water molecules this piece of water is in contact with. So to crystallize the mud in an entire armed 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 his imagination at work. But he actually does create a small chink of ice-nine, and when he dies, each of his children get a small piece of it. They carry it around with themselves in thermos containers the rest of their lives. At the end of book one small piece of ice-nine gets out , by mere accident, and ends up crystallizing the whole world. The game Dr.
Hoenikker was playing with himself destroyed the whole world. The accident that caused the ice-nine to get out could be much like the accident that could cause World War III. One small thing that sets off an amazing series of events, like piece of ice-nine just falling out of the thermos. And Dr. Hoenikker, like the scientists of the world, was playing game and caused it all. Here is a description of the world after the ice-nine has wreaked its havoc:The …