✓✓ Read Receipts: We Will All Go Together When We Go

A row of men wearing welders' masks sit in deck chairs, looking very relaxed.

Well when I was your age we had to worry about nuclear war! It’s the setup to a dark joke about the fears and anxiety facing millenials, and I’m certain my own parents once said the same. I spent much of the past week reading the 7th of August 1945 issue of the New York Times, the edition published just hours after the bombing of Hiroshima. Most of the stories are dedicated to the bomb, with a requisite degree of scientific abstraction, confusion over what actually happened, and military propaganda.

  • Revenge is the oldest plot. It is also the oldest move in the bombing playbook. The first aerial bombing, just three years after the Wright Brothers’ flight in Kitty Hawk, was framed as an act of retribution. Hallelujah! A Brief History of Bombing People on Granta. Ben Mauk opens with Harold Pinter’s poem, ‘American Football (A Reflection on the Gulf War)’ and details the inhuman scale of destruction that aerial bombing has caused.
  • if their war leaders are still so blind as to persist in the rejection of our mercy, they may expect, as President Truman says, a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth Our Answer to Japan (PDF) in the New York Times. This slim column attempts to define the narrative immediately after the attack: The description of Hiroshima as a military base, the bluff about mass production of atomic weapons, the historical image of Commodore Perry’s ‘black ships’ off the coast of Japan.
  • It’s implications for good or evil are so tremendous in so many directions that it will take months before our minds can really begin to envisage them. Heard Around the World (PDF) in the New York Times. From the same issue, this column puts forward the moral case for preventing war through spreading democracy and eliminating trade barriers. It’s unspoken, but it’s already clear that the ground is being laid for the Cold War.
  • It is doubtful whether the first available bombs, of comparatively low efficiency and small size, will be sufficient to break the will or ability of Japan to resist, especially given the fact that the major cities like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe already will largely be reduced to ashes by the slower process of ordinary aerial bombing. Why the United States did not demonstrate the Bomb’s power, ahead of Hiroshima in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Frank von Hippel and Fumihiko Yoshida write on the ‘Franck Report’ published in June 1945, which recommended a non-military demonstration of the atomic bomb rather than an unannounced attack.
  • Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. Hiroshima on The New Yorker. Written by John Hersey and published in August 1946, Hiroshima collects the experiences of six people in the city on the day of the attack. The intimate human experience stands in contrast to the conventional imagery of the event; the expansive panoramas of destruction and the sight of the towering mushroom cloud itself.
  • What is the mythic reference for such an event? Shiva? Prometheus? The Tree of Knowledge? None is sufficient. Participating cross-mythically in cultures that encompass the globe, the nuclear explosion must itself become a primary myth in the postnuclear world to come. It will become a scriptural text. Mythologizing the Bomb by E.L. Doctorow in The Nation. Written in 1998, this piece comes from a world in which the immediate fear of nuclear annihilation had only recently dissolved.
  • I always like to end on a positive note, so here is a rousing, uplifting song that is guaranteed to cheer you up. We Will All Go Together When We Go by Tom Lehrer.