Disasters #2: Lessons for Modern Day Disaster Planning: The Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima

‘Hiroshima’, by John Hersey (Book Cover), 2002 ed., Penguin Modern Classics. Photo Attribution: Mother and Child in Hiroshima, Japan, December 1945, by Alfred Eisenstaedt – Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb to be used against civilians, exploded 1900 feet above Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. Carrying a yield powerful enough to kill almost everyone within a 2.2 miles diameter, over 100,000 people died: approximately 25% from the blast 20% from dissipated radiation, and 50% from explosion-related injuries. Three-quarters of the homes were destroyed. The population believed they had experienced the first use of an atom-splitting bomb and locals nicknamed it the genshi bakudan (Original Child Bomb).

In a series of articles written in 1946 for the New Yorker, the war correspondent John Hersey detailed the experience of the Hibakusha (explosion-affected people), providing insight into the public’s behaviour in the wake of a nuclear emergency. Hersey was both criticised and applauded for documenting the humanity of survivors, who had received little to no attention in media reports. These articles, compiled into one book and titled Hiroshima, retains its power to shock readers for its graphic, but still humanistic, descriptions of an event unimaginable in its scale of disaster and suffering. And yet, the threat of nuclear war (or the use of a nuclear device by terrorists) continue to hang over us today — possibly to an even greater extent than any other time in history. Continue reading

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Disasters #1: From Disorderly to Dead: The St Martin’s Roundhouse Massacre of 1742

View of the St. Martin’s Round-House after attack by a mob, enraged by the death of several persons in the dungeon. 1742 Etching. Attribution: The Trustees of the British Museum.

There is no such thing as a natural disaster. This is partly because humans have a huge influence on the global climate, but we also have another, more sinister, kind of agency: what actually happens when a building collapses, a hurricane hits, or the rain stops falling, is entirely up to us. To put it bluntly, the privileged tend to get out alive. Disasters confront us with brutal proof of structural inequality; problems that have been steaming under the surface bubble up and become impossible to ignore. In 2005, Rev. Jesse Jackson summed up what Katrina told us about the modern United States in a succinct and simple statement: ‘we have an amazing tolerance for black pain’.

A few hundred years ago in London, an even less natural disaster crystallised social attitudes to a different marginalised group. England in the eighteenth century was a difficult place to be for a single woman. Since patriarchal ideology dictated that women should always be under supervision by fathers or husbands, those who were not were automatically suspicious. A woman alone in the street after dark was usually assumed to be a prostitute. Drunken men would proposition her, or insist she go for a drink with them. If she refused to have sex, they might turn violent or call in a constable to accuse her of picking their pockets. Those same constables and their teams of watchmen systematically stopped and searched lone women, arrested them, and held them overnight to go before a magistrate the following day. Continue reading

Still Point Blog Theme #4: Disasters – Call for Submissions

Individuals who seem fated with misfortune are sometimes described as “star-crossed.” This idiom comes from the belief that earthly phenomena are governed by the positions of celestial objects. The etymology of disaster – a negative position, “dis”, from a star, “astre” – can be traced to this belief. The notion that disasters are unavoidable plays an interesting role in the world today. No longer does the disaster remain limited to the purview of earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods – those things which we have called ‘acts of God’ – but disasters of our own making – nuclear, economic, and environmental. In this upcoming theme, we at Still Point are seeking contributions from masters, doctoral and early career researchers that tackle the topic of DISASTERS, be it political, personal, or academic. Do you reflect on disaster as part of your work? Have you ever had a ‘research disaster’? How does disaster shape the world we live in today?

Ideally submissions will be:

  • between 500-750 words with original or high quality images (but we may accept longer pieces)
  • for visual and multimedia artists, send us high quality images of your artwork or embed links to sound, video work, or gifs, accompanied by up to 300 words.

We welcome creative responses, and inventiveness and flexibility are encouraged both in response to the theme and in terms of the form which entries take.

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers in London, funded by the LAHP (London Arts & Humanities Partnership) and the AHRC. Our particular focus is on non-fiction writing related to the process and the experience of conducting research, and on creative articulations of and responses to this experience.

Please send submissions to blog@thestillpointjournal.com.