Seventy years ago today, the United States of America became the first country to use a nuclear weapon in war. The USA remains the only country in the history of the world to have used nuclear weapons in war.
By all accounts, nearly 200,000 people were killed by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (from all causes).
At the time, the atom bomb’s use was presented as a way to minimize casualties, both US and Japanese, that would have resulted if it had been necessary to invade the Japanese homeland. Since then, some have suggested that the bomb’s use was more a message to the Soviet Union than it was an attempt to reduce casualties.
Research into nuclear weaponry – the Manhattan Project – began in earnest when Albert Einstein famously wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, informing him of the possibility and further suggesting that NAZI Germany might already be conducting research into the possibility of nuclear weapons.
Science Fiction was talking about “the bomb”, as well as other uses of atomic energy, well before the war. Once the Manhattan Project began, Astounding Stories famously became the only publication that was allowed to continue to publish “atomic” stories. (Cleve Cartmill and Astounding were investigated following the publication of Cartmill’s Deadline; the story had too many details and the FBI was concerned that someone at Los Alamos was leaking information. Interestingly, the story’s plot dealt with the question of whether or not suych a weapon ought to be used, the very same question the Los Alamos scientists were wrestling with themselves.)
SF’s engagement with nuclear subjects doubled and re-doubled when we moved from hot war to Cold War. During the years of the Baby-boom, many of us learned that our school desks could shield us from the bomb and that our most likely future was a post Nuclear Armageddon one.
Indeed, nuclear rocketry (Orion), nuclear meltdown (China Syndrome), nuking ourselves to save the planet (Footfall)….
That legacy remains with us, brought to the forefront by recent US-Iranian negotiations over the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
Strange, bizarre and unsettling that something so horrific has contributed to our genre in so many profound ways: Alas, Babylon, A Canticle for Liebowitz, That Only A Mother, A Boy and His Dog, On the Beach, The Postman…The Planet of the Apes, Genesis II/Planet Earth, Dr. Strangelove, The Day After, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Jericho…