Succumbing to the Nuclear Gaze: A Picture of Paranoia in Cities

Analyzing the movement toward decentralization from urban center-points following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Matthew Farish attempts to organize how exactly the perception of cities was altered in favor of the suburban ideal. When he speaks of how there was a growing trend of magazines and experts encouraging a particular “imagination of disaster” (133)among the American populace, a crucial point resonates that helps readers gain insight into the American mindset during this time of fear. Going to the core of the matter, “what made such scenarios [of atomic damage] so chilling to American readers was not necessarily the gruesome description of the bomb’s victims…but rather the location of the destruction, in the middle of a crowded city that was the cultural capital of the ‘final undamaged citadel of western civilization’ “(132). The possibility that such a devastating weapon of mass destruction could very well be unleashed on the American city, the epitome of capitalism and consumerism, quickly fueled the Cold War paranoia and uncertainty that had already been settling over Americans.Essentially, there was a general appeal to logos made to American citizens, who were then led to believe through the imposition of scientific principles on urban restructuring by experts that creating spatial distance was the best means of protection against the bomb. This fear of cities that was bred during the atomic ended up dovetailing with the prevalent culture of containment–a climate in which Americans tried distancing themselves from the “excesses” of the city as a result of their newly established “nuclear gaze” (Nadel) that led them to try to separate the dangerous from the non-dangerous.


Paralleling the burgeoning fear and paranoia brought about by the detonation of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the climate produced by the integration of imagery of the destruction of the Twin Towers.This constant rhetoric of terror and danger had a lasting psychological impact on Americans during this post 9/11 era. Perhaps most significantly, this rhetoric created an avenue that tapped into the human sentiments of intolerance and suspicion. Instead of pushing towards suburbanization like during post-WWII though, these emotions heightened the need for increased security measures. In the midst of this, surveillance of Americans increased as well in the apparent efforts to emerge victorious in the War on Terror.


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