Living with the Bomb: American and Japanese Cultural Conflicts in the Nuclear Age

By Mark Selden; Laura Hein | Go to book overview

6
Mass Death in Miniature How Americans Became Victims of the Bomb

Lane Fenrich

A month to the day after the bombing of Nagasaki, critic and editor Henry Seidel Canby called upon scientists, public relations experts, and even Hollywood filmmakers to "make the atomic bomb real in the imagination of the world's people." Like many postwar columnists, Canby feared that "the world" did not truly appreciate the threat posed by atomic weapons. In part, that concern reflected the little then known outside Japan about conditions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time Canby's editorial went to print, no non-Japanese reporter had yet filed a story from either of the two cities, although Australian Wilfred Burchett would do so before the piece appeared on newsstands and Japanese reports had long since made their way into American newspapers.

From Canby's perspective, however, such reports were almost beside the point. Unlike Burchett, he looked not to Hiroshima or Nagasaki to demonstrate the reality of mass destruction but to Madison Avenue and Hollywood. Like most Americans, in 1996 as in 1946, he was concerned far less with the reality of Japanese suffering than with the specter of his own. Thus, he turned not to the documentarist but to the illusionist for a way to dramatize what he called "Mass Death in Miniature." Worried that most people were just not smart enough to grasp the dimensions of the threat facing them, he urged: "Let the people see the atomic bomb in action. Let the scientists give us--which should be easy--a miniature bomb." Then, he directed: "Call in the experts of Hollywood to prepare such sets as their imaginations must often have stretched to. Begin here at home with a dozen locations on empty land easily accessible, and let there be built miniature

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