Stories of the Bomb

Stories of the Bomb

Just about the time I swore off long movies, along came Oppenheimer. It held me captivated for three hours with its gripping plot, unusual characters, and high stakes—as Matt Damon’s character General Leslie Groves declares, “This is the most important f__ing thing to happen in the history of the world!” 

Leave it to Christopher Nolan to nail this difficult task. He has held us mesmerized in a remarkable variety of films, including InceptionDunkirkThe Dark KnightInsomnia, and Memento, a personal favorite in which he tells the story backward, from the end to the beginning.   

The cast of Oppenheimer is uniformly excellent, featuring Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., and Emily Blunt. Brilliant production design transports us back to 1940s America, when we battled Germany in a hot war and, immediately afterward, the Soviet Union in a cold war.

Coincidentally, at that time I was reading Road to Surrender: Three Men and the Countdown to the End of World War II, by Evan Thomas. This book takes up where Oppenheimer leaves off, starting with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and attempting to answer the question that many people have asked: Was it necessary to drop even one atomic bomb on Japan, let alone two?   

Thomas investigates by telling the stories of three people at the center of the storm: Henry Stimson, the American Secretary of War, who oversaw the Manhattan Project; General Carl Spaatz, head of strategic bombing in the Pacific, who supervised the planes that dropped the bombs; and Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, the only one in Emperor Hirohito’s Supreme War Council who believed even before the bombs were dropped that Japan should surrender.

I found Togo’s story to be especially gripping and enlightening as he battled Japan’s military leaders, who were determined that the entire Japanese population should reject surrender at all costs and fight to the death.  

I can’t resist adding my own historical novel to these stories. The Year of the Bomb is about four boys in the 1950s who, as fans of science fiction movies, are thrilled to learn that one will be filmed in their hometown of Sierra Madre, California. It’s to be called Invasion of the Body Snatchers 

During the filming, they stumble on Richard Feynman, a Caltech professor who, as part of the Manhattan Project, had helped to develop the bomb. Their fears and imaginations stoked by the movie, they become convinced that he is a Soviet spy. They pursue Feynman, leading to confusion, laughter, and ultimate horror.

Here are links to Road to Surrender and The Year of the Bomb  


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