Q: At the end of World War II Americans were excited about peace, obviously. But was there a sour note
because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
ETM: There was a sour note. I think there was a sense of
shock and horror that greeted the dropping of the bombs in Japan.
On the other hand, the primary emotion that was expressed around
the country was joy that the war was over, and celebrations of course,
tremendous celebration and ecstasy that all those years of horror
and death and destruction would come to and end, and the soldiers would
come home, and peace would prevail. But there was definitely a sense of
shock and terror that the Americans had unleashed something totally new
and unheard of with this weapon. And what did it mean for the fate of the world?
What did it mean for the country? What did it mean in a moral sense,
that the United States had used this weapon of mass destruction and dropped
it on cities and killed civilians by the many, many thousands? And Americans
had a very, very tough time absorbing the reality of that.
Q: How did the knowledge that America had used an atomic bomb on two Japanese cities impact
the collective American psyche.
ETM: Well, what scholars have found about those early years of the atomic age
is a combination of many emotions that were seeping into American consciousness.
There was, within the first few months and years after the original recognition of
what these weapons had done, a sense of terror that this was the beginning of the
end; that it was a feeling of doomsday. We may be happy today because the war is over,
but we have unleashed something that we really cannot know what it's going to do
to us and to the world. The scientists largely led the national consciousness on
this by their own sense of mixed feelings and ambivalence about what they had achieved.
Not immediately but with time, as the scientists came out with their own sense of
doubt and concern about what they had unleashed, Americans also wondered whether
this was the right thing to do. Certainly in the beginning, it seemed clear to almost
anyone that this ended the war, it had to be done, and in the long run it was the right
thing to do. Doubts, of course, emerged soon after that. And even those who recognized
that it marked the end of the war and they were most happy about that, questioned
whether this was the right way to end the war. And could it have been done without
that kind of mass death and destruction and devastation?
back to Interview Transcripts