Paul Fussell, "Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and an Afterword on Japanese Skulls" (1988)
- In "Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and an Afterword on Japanese Skulls," literary critic Paul Fussell recounts his sentiments about the U.S. decision to use the bomb in Japan. Fussell was on his way to fight in Japan, and feels that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably saved his life. But Fussell's understanding of the bomb's moral implications is more subtle than this statement implies, as reflected in "An Afterword on Japanese Skulls," an account of U.S. soldiers' desecration of Japanese war dead in order to send home souvenir skulls to their sweethearts.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) Why does Fussell "thank God" for the atom bomb? What role does his own experience of history play in shaping his views as an historian?
- 2) Considering Fussell's discussion of the treatment of Japanese skulls during World War II, as well as all the other atrocities of World War II (the Holocaust, the Japanese invasions in Asia, the Allied fire bombing of Dresden), what do you think about the way that many historians call World War II "The Good War"? What does the term mean? Why have historians chosen it? Is it appropriate?
- 3) What has been the impact of the bomb on U.S. history?
- 4) What function does morality play in historians's views of the past?
Further resources and readings:
- Paul Fussell, Thank God For the Atom Bomb and Other Essays (1988)
- Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (1989)
- Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (1975)
- Studs Terkel, The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (1984)
- John Morton Blum, V Was For Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II (1976)
- John Keegan, The Second World War (1989)
- Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)
- Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (1985)
- John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War (1986)
- John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy (1974)
- Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (1995)
- John Hersey, Hiroshima (1946)
- "Special Issue: "Hiroshima in History and Memory," Diplomatic History (Spring 1995).
- Selections from James Ferrell's The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History, with original documents.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for HST 622 (Cold War America), at The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, Summer Semester 2000. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: Thursday 15 June 2000.