April 16, 2020

1947. Another World War?

Anxiety in the Atomic Age
"Hiroshima survivors look out over the city two years after the United States' August 1945 atomic attack." (Photo by Carl Mydanssource)
From the "Special Issue: A Report to America Two Years After V-Day," This Week magazine, August 10, 1947, p. 14-15:


Amid the ashes of the last one, drained and rudderless people wonder whether the peace will last
You must know about the blond boy sitting by the dragon-teeth of the Siegfried Line in that picture above. He's still in most of his Wehrmacht uniform. He's employed by his conquerors now as a guard on the peaceful border between Germany and Belgium at Aachen. He is 20. That gave him time for only two years of war—16 to 18. Horst Hinz his name is, and the customs building near where he sits has had its swastika shot off.

His father was killed two days before the end of the war. His home now belongs to Poland. His youth belonged to the Hitler Jugend from 1937 to 1943 and from then on, to the Wehrmacht. And because he is a smart boy and, perhaps, because he wants to please his conquerors, he says:

"Yes, I think the Reich can be a democracy. But I must see it first."

Another war?

"Yes, I should fight against the Russians to get back my home. To get back my home, I should fight against the Americans. But only to find my home, not to occupy other lands. Because I live here. We have no food, we have no dress—and no money. It's not good."

The 17-year-old Dutch university student, not so many miles away, says: "I don't think there'll be so soon another war again and I don't hope so. But in the paper I read that there'll be in 1948 another war to knock out Russia, but I don't suppose that will be true. And if the Americans and French and Englishmen and Russians are good and don't give the Germans too much things to start a war, it won't be very easy for them to make war."

In France, the grown-ups have had too much war and they are realists in the worst sense of the word. War has become so much a part of their lives that another one would be accepted with little surprise, no enthusiasm and the faintest of hopes for any kind of victory. Peace is regarded as a kind of political purgatory in which the world lives while awaiting the next armed deluge. The average citizen—in St. Lô, for example—is confused:

"Well, we don't know exactly about these things. You see, when we read the press—well, some press says that another war is inevitable and the other says that war can't be any more. People here think that the best thing to avoid a war would be that America and Russia would come to a better understanding.

"If a new war came, with the atomic bomb, then I think St. Lô would disappear in a few seconds. And I don't know whether it's very useful to rebuild St. Lô, if we are going to have another war. I think it would be better to live underground."

But the rebuilding doesn't stop. All over Europe, the hammers are going. In the English pub after more bricks have been laid: "A certain amount of people think there'll be another World War, but I don't think there will be. The nations have to learn to get together." The mug is put down, the hammer is picked up.

The hammers are going on in Hiroshima, too. There, on the proving grounds of any new war, resignation and despair fight with hope. The Japanese stopped near one of the new jerry-built houses: "We are wondering what to do when the war comes between Russia and the United States. If they use atomic bombs, we shall move to the mountains." He knows, of course, that it would be useless to move. He knows that there are no moves left. So does Mrs. Chiyoko Saiki, who's had too strong a smell of the future. Mrs. Saiki is from Honolulu but she came to visit Japan in 1941. She was in her house at Hiroshima when the atomic bomb came. That placed her about a mile from the center of the blast—but she was partly protected by the curve of the mountainside.

Mrs. Saiki is figuring on returning to Honolulu—"as soon as I regain my health." She says:

"We were affected by the rays. Whenever the thermometer drops we have what we call the itch on the skin. It's commonly called the atomic itch, and we run a very high temperature. It stays with us for about two weeks. It's very much like a rash—a heat rash or hives—that comes just when the temperature changes.

"The doctor says I'm about a million red blood cells minus the ordinary person. A number of my friends complain of the same condition. But it's so common here that the doctors don't record it.

"Even those who escaped being hurt when the bomb fell seem to be affected by the atomic rays. I just can't understand the whole thing.

"I thought I was lucky. All those who died died about three or four months later when their hair started falling off. I didn't have a mark, but then the itch came when autumn came.

"Nobody in Hiroshima wants to talk about the atomic bomb. Yes, I think there's not a family in Hiroshima that hasn't lost a member, so I think they don't want to discuss it."

Then—polite, mildly apologetic: "If that ended the war, I'm sure they're all glad. They don't mind that the bomb was dropped on the city."

Father Kleinsorge, the priest who was an important part of John Hersey's report, gets that feeling of resignation, too: "The feeling is that if there is a war, we have to bear such things as even the atomic bomb."

If there is a war, there is a war. The rhythm of that repeated phrase matches the rhythm of the rebuilding hammers. In Essen, Germany, where they don't have the atomic itch but only malnutrition, broken walls and despair, you hear: "Oh, I think it is simply ridiculous. None of us would even think of another war. Our only fear is that the Allies would tolerate another war."

Essen, you remember, is the home of the Krupp Works, the home for years and years of the German war potential. Today, Krupp is being destroyed, the war potential is being ripped apart, smashed into pieces, and the pieces are being used for reparations. In charge of the destruction is Hilary Simonovsky, British representative:

"Our job is really to see that the GI's will never have to come over here a second time. First of all, we're chopping up all the war material that was left in the shop. Then we're breaking up the machines that produced the war material. Thirdly, we're going to break up the shops that produced the machines that produced the shells that blew us to pieces.

"My father was over here as part of the Polish Controls after the last war, doing the same job. And here I am, back again, with my inheritance. Well, I am going to put a stop to it.

"I feel that if I ever have a son, I hope to Heaven that he'll never have to come over here and do this job. It isn't really the job. It's the thing behind the job that we never want to happen again. We want to do a proper job, and from our angle we're jolly well going to see that it is done this time.

"It's that name for making guns that we're here to stop. We're going to make the Germans make more of the tin-pot type of article, the pans and cooking stoves. We are going to smash Krupp—and there's no if's or but's!"

So Krupp is being destroyed. Hiroshima is being rebuilt. And people everywhere are walking around with the atomic itch of worry. War is being discussed as if it's a sweepstakes which might possibly come off next month. The resignation is what is so frightening. Out of it come the war rumors and the pathological fear. It adds up to a severe case of combat fatigue. You talk to the people of Europe about the horrors of Hiroshima and they look vacantly at the ruins of their city and shrug their shoulders. They try to dismiss the fear and go back to their hammers and the search for food.

But the despair won't go until hope displaces it. So far, no nation, no leaders have created that hope. They know that another war—an atomic war—might wipe out civilization. Their reaction is a cynical, fatalistic "so what?"