Day 14: Fat Man & Little Boy / MAGIC & Necessity

Having discussed the logistics and design behind the first two nuclear bombs (the only two ever used in war), today we will ask the question of whether or not the bombings were justified / necessary.  First the last student group will present Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain to remind us that the casualties of the bombs extended well beyond those that were killed and discuss the ethics of civilian bombing.

Then, drawing heavily from the declassified MAGIC documents, I will argue that the struggle to end the War with Japan was not necessarily a decision between using the bombs or invading the mainland as it is often portrayed, but rather between using the bomb and diplomatic solutions.


  • Read J.G. Ballard’s “The Terminal Beach”
  • Answer the following questions in the comments in about a paragraph: Why did Ballard set his psychological exploration on a Pacific Island nuclear test site?  What does the site symbolize / allow him to explore?  How are the nuclear test and Traven’s depression connected?
  • Read the other students’ answers.  This is a multi-faceted story, so multiple perspectives will likely be needed for a full perspective.

12 thoughts on “Day 14: Fat Man & Little Boy / MAGIC & Necessity”

  1. J.G. Ballard’s, The Terminal Beach, describes the life of Traven, a man who travels to Pacific Island where nuclear testing had previously been carried out. There is a lot of symbolism used throughout this book, giving readers the ability to interpret it with various meanings. In the beginning of the book, we learn that Traven has been having a difficult time because his wife and six-year-old son were both killed in a car accident. I believe this event led him into a spiraling depression. The symbolism of the island; empty, dead, abandoned, and alone, is also how Traven was feeling due to the depression which could be why Ballard used this setting. This allows the Traven to explore the stages of depression, grief, and healing. In the end, he stops chasing and attempting to find his wife and son allowing him to finally gain enough energy to find food and water in order to survive.

  2. Traven sets venture on an abandoned nuclear test site in the Pacific. His wife and young boy were killed in a motor vehicle accident, leaving him alone. By reading this I feel that Traven is basically a man who is completely lost. As was the abandoned island that he was ashore. Even when the Navy came to search for him, it seemed as if they really did not care. “The sailors brought a supply of beer with them, and the search soon turned into a drunken ramble.” (Ballard 258) It seems that time was at a standstill, for both Traven and the island, torn and mutilated into an indefinitely depressed state of being.

  3. I think Ballard sets his psychological exploration on an island used for Nuclear testing because it presents a strange, somewhat reflective perspective on human nature. The site lets him explore himself, the different parts of the island symbolizing different aspects of his mind, and because this man is slightly crazed with the idea of finding his wife and child, it gives him a unique position to explore it and himself. The nuclear test site seems to physically depict the desolation felt by Traven psychologically. He this small world that has been destroyed and forgotten and sees his life reflected in it: his family is gone and he cannot find a reason to live without them.

  4. I think J.G. Ballard set his psychological exploration on a Pacific island nuclear test site because of the controversy of using atomic bombs and their aftermath. Both Traven and the US used the site to “conduct experiments” ; the US for answers about the destructiveness of the bomb and Traven who appears to be searching for his family and possibly for answers about death. I think the island and Travens depression/ psychosis parallel each other in that what started out as a means toward a positive outcome only led towards more death and destruction.

  5. I feel that the reason behind the psychological setting of a deserted nuclear test pacific island was to help set the seen for the despair and desolation in his Traven’s personal state. This is used to symbolize his inability to cope with the loss of his wife and son.The interconnectedness of the two is just like the island’s life forms being blown away by nuclear tests, so is his reason for life blown away at the loss of his wife and son.

  6. The Pacific Island nuclear test site symbolizes Traven’s life. It is dull, dead, and lifeless almost like Traven, and it depicts his psychological state. The site allows him to explore his feelings and the nature of how dreams can become nightmares in reality. He believes his wife and son are on the island, which causes him to adventure out further on to the island revealing more traumatizing sites. The nuclear test site and Traven’s depression go hand in hand. The tests, which were supposed to be beneficial, led to mass destruction, and after loosing his loved ones, Traven falls into severe depression.

  7. Coping with the death of his wife and young son, Travern voyages to Bikini Atoll half a decade after the island was used for testing of atomic weapons. Quite obviously, Travern is in a great deal of mental illness/taxation as he progresses through the stages of grieving. I think that Travern saw this island as the (sort of) home of the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb had caused so much loss of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that many viewed atomic weapons as the keeper of the keys to life and death. In some sick and twisted depressed state, Travern felt that since the bomb could bring about death, it must also be able to bring about life, specifically the life of his wife and little boy. In his delusional state, he sees visions of his wife and child and even intertwines his sons memory with a picture of a little girl that he finds within the bunker.
    I think that symbolically, the island represented a place for Travern to meet his maker, as life was no longer worth living. It was his version of suicide, be it mental or physical.

  8. The experiment Travern seeks is to go back to an island and to find his dead family. Bringing nothing with him and allowing himself to live on the border of life and death is the way he can see his family again. He is lost, depressed and seems to realize this about himself, but doesn’t care to change it. Even with the offers of help from the scientists and the navy, he chooses to find solace in his own mind and with the body of a dead Japanese man with whom he converses. Whatever sins he feels he must atone for with his role in the atomic bombing and testing, it is here he finds himself able to make peace.

  9. The setting placement is used to symbolize darkness depression and death, which is the state of mind Traven is in. After losing his family he is lost. He goes to an island where he thinks his family is, only to find it influences more self destructive behavior because he is surrounded by negativity, death, sadness and so on.

  10. Traven visits an abandoned nuclear site which is a dark and lonely place, which is the state of Traven’s mind. He has lost his family in an accident and is unable to cope with it. He searches the island in hopes of finding them but it only makes him worse off.

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