Hiroshima (69 years after), Godzilla, and New Academic Research on Nuclear Weapons


On 6 August 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped the first nuclear weapon used in warfare over Hiroshima, Japan.  The historical debate over the reasons and ethical justifications for the bombing continues to this day.  Today the SHAFR website looks at three aspects of this very large and complex topic--early 1946 coverage of the bombing, Japanese reactions to nuclear weapons through the prism of the 1954 movie Godilla, and the state, in 2014, of scholarly work on the role that nuclear weapons have played in international politics since Hiroshima.

One of the most influential early accounts for Americans of the bombing was John Hersey's piece "Hiroshima" published in the New Yorker on 31 August 1946 and from two months later in paperback.  On its 85th anniversary in 2010, the New Yorker reflected on the origins of "Hiroshima" and its impact.  "Hiroshima" remains easily available in paperback and the Internet Archive's Universal Library makes digital copies of the original 1946 edition freely available.  In December 1946, The Atlantic pushed a defense of the bombngs by Dr. Karl Compton, "If the Atomic Bomb Had Not been Used," that President Truman would praise as "the first sensible statement I have seen on the subject."  Also appearing in 1946 was "A Tale of Two Cities," an official War Department documentary on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  As noted in The Atlantic, the only person interviewed in the film was a Jesuit priest in Hiroshima.  According to The Economist, eight Jesuits were in or around Hiroshima during the bombing, and four in particular went on to prominent, yet rather different careers.

Film would become a powerful medium for reflections on the new world of the atom bomb in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Throughout the 1950s, various Japanese films took Hiroshima as their subject or as a metaphor ranging from Kaneto Shindo’s 1952 Children of Hiroshima to Akira Kurosawa's 1955 I Live in Fear and, arguably the most influential, Ishiro’s Honda’s 1954 Godzilla (or Gojira).  As a series Godzilla would prove to be unstoppable, spawning an enduring series of films, including this year's Hollywood remake.  Many sequels would be cheesy, and the 1956 Americanized version would be heavily edited, but the original Japanese film was a far more somber affair, with its clear references to the twin A-Bombs and to the Daigo Fukuryo Maru incident.  The connection between nuclear destruction and the Godzilla films is one noted by scholars over the years.

Finally, one of the great questions that scholars of international relations, both historians and political scientists, continue to muse over is why nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Indeed, many scholars argue that the threat posed by the feasome destructive power of nuclear weapons does much to explain why there have been (thus far) not another world war great power conflict.  A "Monkey Cage" symposium in The Washington Post arranged by Francis Gavin (drawing upon an earlier H-Diplo/ISSF roundtable) explores the state of research on these and other key questions about nuclear strategy.