Archive for October 13th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

Then it happened.  A sudden, terrible light flashed all around.  The light was bright orange – then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once.  Violent shock waves followed, and buildings trembled and began to collapse.

-Toshi Maruki, Hiroshima No Pika (1980)

Eric Schlosser’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety is a harrowing and unnerving work about the palpable prospects of a nuclear detonation, one the author believes we have so far averted because of an astounding run of luck.  Four years later the war of words with North Korea as a result of the rogue nation’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons has again brought the matter to center stage, with potential destruction as feasible as Schlosser had envisioned it.  Literature for children on this most unthinkable of viable calamities is understandably scarce, especially works on the aftermath, like the once-banned Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence and the shattering Hiroshima No Pika, a 1980 Japanese picture book by Toshi Maruki that chronicled the terrifying events and nuclear fallout after an atomic bomb was dropped on the ill-fated city.  Raymond Briggs’ Where the Wind Blows, which was also adapted into a critically praised animated feature that examined the human devastation even more acutely, and a 1983 American film, Testament is an intimate story of a family that succumbs to radiation poisoning one by one.

A cautionary picture book, The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, (a son and mother team) is initially set in the first quarter of 1943, when United States scientists convene in a New Mexico desert town to engage in an ultra secret enterprise, one the government has requested be completed in short order.  Though unsuspecting young readers can’t be expected to immediately identify the objective of this clandestine rendezvous in one of the most innocuous of settings, the book’s mysterious, almost sinister context is scrupulously unveiled much like the peeling off of wraparound gauze after a plastic surgery operation.  The book is directly based on the real life “Trinity Test” which was conducted on July, 16, 1945 on land part of the White Sands Missile Range.  The end payoff – preceded by a 10 to 1 countdown readers associated with a rocket launch is simultaneously spectacular and terrifying, and leaves no room to underestimate the destructive power of a mushroom cloud explosion that has long since become the physical symbol for complete annihilation.  About two years after scientists began their work in the desert atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing Japan to its knees and ending the Second World War.  Whereas Schlosser intimated it was only a matter of time before an accident will cause unthinkable devastation, Jonah Winter at the conclusion of his afterward offers hope that stockpiles of nuclear weapons will continue to erode as governments reject the dire effects tests will have on the environment and on health.  Winter refers to a 2016 statistic that there remains around 15,700 nuclear weapons in the world presently, but that with world cooperation we can eliminate this very threat of our existence completely. (more…)

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