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The Daily Worker - May 2, 1956
The Current Scene

The Lovable Atom

Howard Fast

The arrogance of Life Magazine represents a subtle combination of ignorance and an adolescent outlook; and it is singular in that nothing quite so brashly vulgar ever hit the publishing scene before. When Life discovered God and Religion, I am sure that every honest cleric in America felt a sense of inferiority as well as personal belatedness, just as Life's discovery of fine art must have drawn a sigh of personal insufficiency from every artist and museum curator in the country.
Even as natural history gained a Chamber of Commerce acceptance through the flowery if inaccurate prose of Life writers and the anachronistic paintings of Life artists, so has English and American history been given the benevolent nod of the Emperor Luce. There was no Macaulay, no Morton, no Commager, no Beard – there is only the wise Mr. Churchill, who is now in the process of explaining from whence we came. "So be it," is an attitude Mr. Luce wears as casually as any of the Caesars.
When Life says, "heal," the hurt are healed, for apparently the benediction has no limitations whatsoever. In a recent issue, a full page color picture of pretty Japanese girls luxuriating in the U.S. Information Service's "Atoms for Peace" exhibit, is offered as proof that the Japanese have not only forgotten and forgiven what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that they love those cute little atoms the way children love kittens. And in its inimitable prose, Life points out that:
"For all the novelty, the Japanese seemed to feel at home in the peacetime atomic age. One of the exhibits, a model of a cancer therapy unit, stood in front of a screen with flashing orange lights which represented fissioning uranium atoms. When two pretty attendants grouped themselves around a dummy under the unit's arching drum, they transformed the scientific setting into something as poetically graceful as a Japanese bridge against a sky of gently glowing moons."
As always, the anonymous Life writer wriggles through the molasses of his lush prose as brightly as a Voice of America announcer discussing foreign affairs – and with as little sense of reality. In less colorful terms, a Japanese school teacher from Kochi City, writes to me,
"I fear you Americans can hardly imagine what horror the H-bomb tests have caused among Japanese people. Opposition meetings are being held and signature movements carried on every day and everywhere. Here I enclose some writing of my pupils, first years students of senior course, concerning the above-mentioned declaration. (That is, the U.S.A. decision to resume bomb tests in the Pacific.)"
Strangely enough, these students do not appear to "feel at home in the peacetime atomic age," as Life puts it, nor is there anything "poetically graceful" about their feelings. What follows is a sampling of what they do feel – and I would guess, in spite of Life, that most Japanese feel more or less the same:
"I believe that America herself has a thorough knowledge of the great damage caused by her recent H-bomb test. Why dare she resume such terrible tests?"
"Does their structure of society necessitate squander of millions of dollars in such inhuman tests?"
"I don't know what profit they will gain from such terrible tests, but I am greatly afraid of immeasurable damage which will be caused again by the projected tests. I earnestly want the Americans to stop."
"While one Japanese after another is dying of atomic disease, Americans are manufacturing more and more deadly explosions. They are cruel beasts. They are sheer, shameless animals."
"I cannot but think that America is a monstrous country because she dares to resume her H-bomb tests while she has a thorough knowledge of the disaster that may be cause by them."
"If Japanese are asked, What is the most horrible? they will give a unanimous answer that it is an H-bomb. The death of the Hiroshima victims continues to be reported, even today."
"I feel more horror of the brains of those who can plan such mass slaughter of human beings than of the H-bomb itself."
"It seems that the Americans do not regard the Japanese as human beings. They seem to think they are exempt from their crime if they give a small sum of damages to the sufferers."
These are eight short extracts from many, and you may believe that I have chosen for the most part the mildest of what these children write. I have the record of the whole class. It is just an average class in an average high school in Japan, and these children are ordinary school children, like yours and mine. They are no more or less sensitive, no more or less delicate, no more or less indoctrinated. They write as they do, not because they are fed communist propaganda but because they happen to live in Japan.
Life Magazine to the contrary, they do not make a profession of being "poetically graceful," and I doubt that "a Japanese bridge against a sky of gently glowing moons," would make everything all right in their world. Like other children, they want to play and live and work in peace and happiness – and somehow it doesn't seem too much to ask.
And as for Life Magazine, it is not so much that it wrongs these children – although it does – but that, more to the point, it wrongs us. The inhuman sin of the atomic bomb and all of its ramifications is seared into the soul of every thoughtful and decent American; but the shallow and blatantly stupid picture of America that appears each week in Life Magazine can only be an affront to decent Americans, as it is to decent folk everywhere.