This year, Pax Christi highlights pop culture resources for this year’s nuclear anniversaries. Thanks to Nick Mele, a member of Pax Christi USA and Pax Christi International’s nuclear disarmament committees, for compiling this collection.
Check out the graphic works by hibakusha artist Keiji Nakazawa: I Saw It, a comic, is his firsthand account of the bombing of Hiroshima. He also created a fictionalized account, Barefoot Gen, a 10-volume manga novel, which has also been filmed as an anime.
The biopic “Oppenheimer,” which premiered in July, should be the occasion for prayer, study and action. The July issue of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is devoted to the events depicted in the film.
Ryan Di Corpo, a member of the Pax Christi Young Adult Caucus, reviewed the film for America: “Oppenheimer” is a pitch dark American nightmare. We cannot look away.
Fr. Joe Nangle reflects on “Oppenheimer” and the fact that the human community has now existed 78 years with the threat of nuclear destruction.
Whether we play and sing it in a liturgy, incorporate it into our environment as a mood-setter, or just listen, music too is a resource that enhances our efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. One member of the nuclear disarmament committee favors classical music, such as “Quartet for the End of Time” by Olivier Messiaen* and the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites as played by Yo-Yo Ma; another prefers Sun Ra’s Nuclear War album. Make your own playlists; here’s an example from Spotify: No Nukes: The Muse concerts for a non-nuclear future.
In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, fear of nuclear weapons surfaced in many popular films. 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still had an interstellar civilization send a warning to the people of earth about nuclear arms. A few years later, Godzilla embodied concerns about the harm caused by nuclear weapons and spawned a number of sequels as well as imitators. Godzilla was spawned by nuclear explosions, and had “nuclear breath” as a modern day dragon.
Godzilla sequels often featured battles with similar monsters which, like Godzilla, express anxieties about nuclear weapons. These include Mothra, Rodan, and Gamera (but not King Kong, who was created well before the Manhattan Project was thought of). There are many more giant monsters, called kaiju; the genre remains popular. U.S. kaiju movies include Cloverfield and the Pacific Rim franchise. In 2022 a U.S. author of speculative fiction, John Scalzi, published The Kaiju Preservation Society, whose plot also involves a nuclear threat.
In addition to kaiju movies, films about nuclear war and its aftermath also play a major role in popular culture. Two made in the late 1950s, both based on novels, are Alas Babylon and On The Beach. The former chronicles a community of survivors of a nuclear war that destroys most of the U.S. population. The latter chronicles the end of life on earth after a nuclear war. In the early 1980s, ABC-TV broadcast The Day After somewhat more accurately portrayed the effects of a nuclear war as high casualty rates overwhelm emergency response services.