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Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear WarRepresentations of Nuclear Weapons and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds$

Paul Williams

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781846317088

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846319792

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White Rain and the Black Atlantic

White Rain and the Black Atlantic

(p.147) 5 White Rain and the Black Atlantic
Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War
Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the image of nuclear war in the context of the black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity. It asks how racial oppression and nuclear weapons have been considered concurrently by black Atlantic thinkers, writers and performers to emphasize the structures of racial oppression within Western societies, and the questionable morality and desirability of the West's technological progress. It argues that confronting contemporary racial injustice on an international scale must be connected to nuclear disarmament programmes.

Keywords:   nuclear war, modernity, racial oppression, nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament programmes

The justification for risking the annihilation of the human race was always expressed in terms of America's willingness to go to any lengths to preserve freedom […] that readiness for heroic measures in the defense of liberty disappeared […] when the threat was within our own borders and was concerned with the Negro's liberty.

Martin Luther King Jr1

a sufficiently fanatical Jew or Negro might dream of getting sole possession of the atomic bomb and making humanity wholly Jewish or black.

Simone de Beauvoir2

In asking how the cultural production of the black Atlantic has used the symbol of nuclear weapons to critique the supposed technological and moral superiority of the Western nations developing them, I draw upon the ideas posed by Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Seeing the capital generated by slave labour on New World plantations as a necessary component of the economic motor of modernity, Gilroy argues slavery was ‘internal to western civilisation’. Yet members of the African diaspora were historically denied full citizenship of the West, with scientific racism implicated in that refusal. Central to the cultures of the black Atlantic is ‘the idea of doubleness […] often argued to be the constitutive force giving rise to black experience in the modern world’; the peoples of the black Atlantic were viewed as ‘in but not necessarily of the modern, western world’, relegated to a limbo of primitive stasis. For Gilroy, this ambivalence has constituted the black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity, pointing out where its promises have gone unfulfilled for those on the wrong side of the colour line, and where the very terms of modernity's development, such as the application of rationality and scientific discovery for often irrational and racially encoded ends, must be transcended.3

This chapter explores the image of nuclear war in the context of the black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity. It asks how racial oppression and nuclear weapons have been considered concurrently by black Atlantic thinkers, writers and performers to emphasize the structures of (p.148) racial oppression within Western societies, and the questionable morality and desirability of the West's technological progress. Both the construction and existence of nuclear armaments and New World slavery have been justified through discourses of science and reason. As discussed in chapter 1, scientific rationales and technological developments have historically colluded in the repression of non-white imperial subjects. Nuclear weapon technology can be placed on a continuum with, in Gilroy's words, ‘the racial oppression on which modernity and its antimony of rational, western progress as excessive barbarity relied’.4 It might seem inappropriate to use a black Atlantic framework to examine the moral questions asked of nuclear weapons, since one criticism made of the antinuclear movement has been its failure to include ethnic minorities until the 1980s.5 However, as the evidence below indicates, the peoples of the black Atlantic made enormous contributions to the official and unofficial face of antinuclear protest during the Cold War.

Another reason the threat of nuclear extinction resonates with the descendants of slaves might be that the racial terror endured by the peoples of the African diaspora, a terror produced and maintained by their incorporation into modernity, casts the diffused fear of the West during the Cold War in a different light. A collective memory of the experience of modernity as mass murder and race terror understands the arrival of nuclear weapons without any sense of real novelty. Writing in 1992, Mark Sinker suggests the dystopias of black SF are ‘an acknowledgement that Apocalypse already happened’.6 In Literary Aftershocks: American Writers, Readers, and the Bomb (1994), Albert E. Stone writes,

Survival, though an exquisitely threatening component of twentieth-century experience, has, of course, been present in earlier ages and personal histories. Thus historical formulation can help Third World peoples, African-Americans, and others to empathize with the disintegrations in Hiroshima by analogizing them to such disasters as colonialism, slavery and the shipboard horrors of the Middle Passage, and the Civil War.7

Stone's comment could be applied to several black Atlantic texts which connect the atomic bombing of Japan to systems of racial segregation. Yet Stone's language of empathy based on comparable conditions of desperate survival seems too broad to be employed critically. It lacks the specificity of context which would allow one to think through when and why ‘Third World peoples, African-Americans, and others’ would exercise their emotional solidarity with the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This chapter tries to pay attention to the historical and political location of the (p.149) cultural producers under discussion, outlining the domestic and international concerns that activated that empathy. Stone's formulation fails to countenance situations when that empathy would not be likely to be extended – by the nationalist resistance movements in Asia fighting Japanese imperialism in the 1940s, for instance. Given the boundless scope of the above quotation, when do historical occurrences of ‘survival’ in the face of ‘disasters’ exceed their capacity to be analogized to the atomic bombings? Faced with this question, Gilroy's model of the black Atlantic and germane local conditions of racism provide essential parameters to anchor the connections made with the 1945 atomic bombings in the temporal situation of the cultural producers under discussion.

American essayist and novelist Norman Mailer drew a similar analogy in ‘The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster’ (1957), his diagnosis of white America's existential angst. The hipster is a figure who has chosen to live on the limits of society and behavioural norms. For Mailer, one of the formational realizations of the hipster is that ‘our collective condition is to live with instant death by atomic war’, a condition prefigured by the historical experiences of the African American, ‘living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries’, and unable to pass down a street ‘with any real certainty that violence will not visit him on his walk’.8 Mailer's analysis wanders precariously close to mythologizing and romanticizing this existential awareness that the African American and the white hipster have come to share in nuclear-jeopardized 1950s America; literary critic Thomas H. Schaub argues that Mailer's symbolic scheme deploys the kind of sexualized stereotypes of black masculinity with which racists would readily concur.9 Certainly Mailer elides crucial differences: fear of nuclear war after 1945 has been based on an always-deferred physical threat, whereas the peoples of the African diaspora have been continually subjected to actual physical violence, oppression and its attendant psychological brutalization. Further, nuclear fear has not replaced racial terror, which continues alongside it. Nonetheless, the correlation Mailer identified resounds in black Atlantic texts. In The Fire Next Time (1963), James Baldwin articulates the angst of being black in racist America, an experience that encapsulates the ontological insecurity posited by the deferred nuclear threat: ‘One has been perishing here so long!’10 Writing in the Chicago Defender in September 1945, W. E. B. Du Bois's response to the atomic bomb makes a provocative association with slavery: ‘We have seen […] to our amazement and distress, a marriage between science and destruction […] We have always thought of science as the emancipator. We see it now as the enslaver of mankind.’11 Baldwin does not explicitly link African enslavement to (p.150) enslavement by the Bomb, but overpowering terror connects them both. It seems appropriate to read Baldwin's diagnosis of racial politics in The Fire Next Time in light of the nuclear threat, given that this book was published the year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and makes reference to nuclear extinction. Baldwin lists how racial terror has been visited upon the African American:

the Negro's past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect.12

Felt at its most profound, the enormity of the nuclear threat echoes Baldwin's catalogue: living with the constant possibility of an imminent, barbarous death; a threat of non-existence destabilizing one's very being; the instinct to protect loved ones mocked. In the atomic age, Baldwin recognizes that this ontological terror has been projected beyond the colour line: ‘this void, this despair, this torment is felt everywhere in the West, from the streets of Stockholm to the churches of New Orleans and the sidewalks of Harlem’.13 Theorizing and writing about how black Atlantic thinkers have aligned racial and nuclear terror is a complex and precarious process, as the problematic assumptions in Mailer's essay attest, but studying this association seems too illustrative and productive not to make the connection. Both testify to our ongoing appreciation of the role of fear and atrocity in the making of the modern world.14 Baldwin offers the hope that terror need not be paralyzing, that one can break through it: ‘If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring’.15 This commitment to enduring nuclear and racial terror long enough to effect the social transformations necessary to eliminate them both is a touchstone for hope throughout many of the texts discussed here.

The first section of this chapter examines representations of nuclear weapons which set out the case that their use is informed by hierarchies of racial difference. This includes representations that understand the USA's use of atomic and nuclear bombs in the Pacific as the exportation of domestic racial attitudes overseas. This leads into a discussion of texts that pose the question, if the technological zenith of the Western world is the construction of weapons capable of extinguishing human life from the planet, how can that trajectory of progress, compromised already by complicity with racial oppression, continue to be valid? If the ‘onward (p.151) march of Western Reason’16 is overshadowed by nuclear extinction, where does that leave the proclamations of racial superiority predicated on the desirability of modernity's prizes?

This chapter then shifts to Langston Hughes and his stories featuring the character Jesse B. Semple (Simple). Simple is a resident of Harlem, originally from Virginia, and his inimitable commentary on American society and Harlem life exasperates his wife, Joyce, and his friend, Boyd, the stories' narrator. The stories under examination stretch from 1945 to the 1960s, and they include the anxiety surrounding the Berlin and Cuba crises. Hughes' representations of atomic fallout shelters illuminate the practical and moral limitations of America's Civil Defense measures, and in doing so, make apparent the inequalities characterizing mid-twentieth-century American society. As an indication of the stories' frankness about American inequalities, Ken Cooper states Hughes was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953 and ‘taken to task for his Simple columns in the Chicago Defender’.17

At this point, I reflect upon Derek Walcott's essay ‘The Muse of History’ (1974), which distances black Atlantic communities from nuclear modernity. I question whether this reinforces the ahistorical and antimodern status of the African diaspora – whether seeing the contemporary political moment in terms of myth entrenches the separateness of peoples. The Black Atlantic asserts that the cultural production of the African diaspora demands that modernity fulfil its promises of emancipation and civic coexistence in pursuit of ‘the best possible forms of social and political existence’.18 This is not a rejection of modernity but a renewed commitment to the equality and human possibility modernity represents. Ishmael Reed's novel Mumbo Jumbo (1972) makes a case – through literary myth-making – for saving Western civilization from nuclear cataclysm by reconciling that civilization with the black Atlantic values it has historically abjected.

These issues echo through black Atlantic debates into the Cold War and the space race. How credible is it that the strides in space exploration made by NASA are ‘giant leaps for mankind’ when space-travel technology was developed for military advantage? While some black Atlantic texts are sceptical that the population of the world will benefit from an increasing American grip on outer space, Langston Hughes imagines a future in which the racism corrupting US society is transcended in an atomic-powered space-age vision. This chapter concludes by offering the voices of those like Hughes, such as Martin Luther King Jr, who realize that confronting contemporary racial injustice on an international scale must be connected to nuclear disarmament programmes.

(p.152) White Rain

The idea that America's use of nuclear weapons reflected contemporary racial hierarchies could be seen in black Atlantic texts as soon as news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki began circulating around the world.19 In his long-running series of syndicated short stories featuring the character Simple, Langston Hughes ‘was one of the first to voice the widely shared attitude of blacks and some whites that it was no coincidence the Bomb was first used against yellow-skinned Japanese, not white Germans’.20 ‘Simple and the Atomic Bomb’, first published in 18 August 1945, countered the euphoric mood of Allied populations that the atomic destruction of Japanese cities was a triumphant conclusion to war in the Pacific. Instead, this may be another example of the barbarity non-whites have been subjected to throughout modernity.21 Hughes places the atomic bomb decisively in white hands by writing Simple's declaration that white people ‘don't want no Negroes nowhere near no bomb’.22 The story ‘Bones, Bombs, Chicken Necks’ (1961) connects domestic racism to the 1954 hydrogen bomb tests at the Marshall Islands. Referring to the radioactive effects of the nuclear explosion's fallout, Simple believes the Marshall Islanders ‘will never have no more hair on their heads, and them atomized Japanese fishermens will have no more children’.23 Simple's last remark refers to the crew of the Japanese fishing vessel Lucky Dragon, caught within the irradiated area of the Pacific.24 This act of racial chauvinism in the Pacific is linked to the African-American experience of subordination: ‘American white folks […] gotten so accustomed to mistreating Negroes at home in the past that it is hard for them to care about what colored folks in Asia think.’25 In ‘Not Colored’ (1965), Simple recalls recovering a lost ball from a neighbour's lawn as a child:

that grown white man hauled off and kicked me in my shins […]Wow! You know how bad it hurts to get kicked on your shins? It hurted me so bad I could not cry and I could not run […] He said, ‘I guess that will teach you little black bastards to get on my grass.’26

Simple ends his recollection with, ‘Which is one reason why them Japanese do not want no parts of Americans in their hearts. They remember Hiroshima.’ Simple sees the localized brutality done to his person as existing on a continuum with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Both can be attributed to an image of non-whites as less human and their bodies as legitimately violated, which is expressed as violence against black children in the South and the use of atomic bombs against the Japanese. Simple asks, ‘Don't you see no connection between atom-bomb-dropping in Japan (p.153) and shin-kicking in Virginia?’ The narrator replies he cannot. Simple retorts, ‘Then you are not colored’.27 From a racially subordinate position, it is apparently impossible not to perceive how America's actions domestically and abroad share the refusal to value non-white lives equally with whites. Malcolm X expressed the same sentiment: ‘Can the white man be so naïve as to think the clear import of [the atomic bombings] ever will be lost upon the non-white two-thirds of the earth's population?’28

Olive Senior engages with this in the poem ‘drain’ (1985), in which the motif of rainfall stands for different aspects of violence in neocolonial struggles such as the Vietnam War. Senior plays with the popular memory of the black rain that fell on Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb:29

  •     rain
  •      fall
  •        scatters
  •          the
  •           playing
  •            children
  •             with
  •              the
  •               cutting
  •                edge
  •                 r
  •                   a
  •                     i
  •                       n
  •                         d
  •                           r
  •                             o
  •                               p
  •                                 s
  • […]
















(p.154) The black rain carrying radioactive fallout is transformed into the ‘white rain’ of the bombs themselves. This shift suggests that assumptions of white racial superiority underlined the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima. Senior's symbolism also coheres with the convention of using children to connote the range and awfulness of nuclear weapons. As Edward Brunner's Cold War Poetry (2001) notes in a variety of nuclear themed poems from America in the 1950s, the status of children – ‘Powerless, unarmed, appealing to adults for protection’ – encapsulated the overall population's defencelessness: ‘the child is the civilian par excellence’.31 In the Winter 1950 edition of the Poetry Society of America's magazine Voices (an ‘All Negro’ issue edited by Langston Hughes), Leo Richards's poem ‘Where Are Your Worshippers’ asks a priest to account for the emptiness of an ‘abandoned cathedral’ amidst a parade of bloody, surreal imagery that personifies war as living and breathing. Brunner comments that when the poetic voice shifts its addressed subject from the priest to ‘Hiroshima – / Where have your children gone?’ a general lament for the destruction of a civilian population is specified as the obliteration of the next generation.32 One could argue ‘Where Are Your Worshippers’ hails the eradication of Hiroshima's future citizens as a symbol of the USA's desire to exterminate the Japanese, but I think it is most accurate to understand Richards's concentration on Hiroshima's children as part of the repeated citation of youth as the first rank of human posterity, the entirety of which was jeopardized by nuclear weapons.33

Donald Robinson's article ‘If H-Bombs Fall…’ in the Saturday Evening Post (25 May 1957) records how the African-American community of Mobile, Alabama was fearful such weapons would be used to prevent the desegregation of schools:

During a scheduled civil-defense exercise a downtown section of the city was to be evacuated. But before the exercise began, a rumor started in the Negro districts that an atomic bomb was really going to be dropped. ‘They're going to kill all us Negroes so they don't have to go through with school desegregation,’ the rumor had it. A large number of Negroes accepted this as truth. They took to the roads, carrying their most precious belongings with them.34

Robinson's report testifies to a lived sense of anxiety that atomic weapons could be directed against African Americans and the demand for equal access to state facilities. Writing to the Atomic Energy Commission, Clarence Mitchell Jr, the labour secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), stated that many ‘colored people have regarded the Atom Bomb as a new device for maintaining (p.155) white supremacy’.35 In Dr. Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age (1997), Margot A. Henrikson observes that in this context the atomic bomb could represent both ‘a genocidal threat against blacks in the cold war years’ and a ‘powerful metaphor’ for the explosive repercussions of racial oppression.36 Henrikson points to the poem ‘Harlem’, from the collection Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), in which Langston Hughes uses an explosion to symbolize the destructive diversion of African-American energies denied full access to the upward mobility promised by the American Dream. Its oft-quoted opening line, ‘What happens to a dream deferred’, asks a question answered by the italicized final line, ‘does it explode?37 In Hughes' poem ‘Lunch in a Jim Crow Car’ (1959), the context of the atomic era has become apparent:

  • Get out the lunch-box of your dreams.
  • Bite into the sandwich of your heart,
  • And ride the Jim Crow car until it screams
  • Then – like an atom bomb – it bursts anart.38

Like ‘Harlem’, one is confronted by an immense anger at the racial oppression leaving African Americans unable to realize their ‘dreams’. Biting into ‘the sandwich of your heart’ suggests desire denied and consuming itself without an outlet for attainment. Placing this within the Jim Crow car stresses it is the racism present within 1950s America, symbolized in segregated railroad carriages, that forces African Americans to cannibalize their hopes and goals. The repression of desire will not endure indefinitely, and the precariousness of this process is signified by the screaming of the Jim Crow car under the pressure of so many dreams deferred. This tension that cannot be contained can be seen in the number of syllables in each line creeping up from eight in the first line to ten in the last. In that final line, the violent repercussions of the USA's policy of racial oppression find an appropriate simile in the detonation of an atomic weapon. This is reproduced in the Simple story ‘Radioactive Red Caps’ (1961): the explosive vengeance of blacks is linked with the image of nuclear war to argue that white America will bring destruction upon itself. Simple imagines an atomic bomb in African-American hands: ‘Just think what would happen to Mississippi. Wow!’39 At the end of John A. Williams's novel Captain Blackman (1972), a fictionalized history of black servicemen in the American army, the country's nuclear defence system is seized in a coup by black soldiers passing as whites; possession of nuclear weapons grants the leverage to redress centuries of racism, and not just within the United States, but throughout Europe's colonies. Similarly, Baldwin's The Fire Next Time includes the receding imperial powers in its warning that the white West will be undone by its inability to correct racial oppression and make (p.156) good the destructiveness of nuclear weapons. The book's title refers to the flood of Genesis as ‘re-created from the Bible in song by a slave […] God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!40 Although this fire refers to the anger of oppressed blacks against white rule, its imagery draws upon fears of nuclear fire from the skies.41 The historical context of The Fire Next Time, emerging in the immediate wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, provides an imperative tone; for Baldwin, humankind's nuclear jeopardy, so evident during October 1962, signifies the unavoidability of violence within the project of modernity. This is politically charged because the advances of civilization have been celebrated as the progressiveness of white Europeans and their descendants,42 or, in Baldwin's words, this ‘is the best that God (the white God) can do’.43 With the arrival of possible nuclear extinction, modernity's achievements no longer seem desirable:

the threat of universal extinction hanging over all the world today […] changes, totally and for ever, the nature of reality and brings into devastating question the true meaning of man's history. We human beings now have the power to exterminate ourselves; this seems to be the entire sum of our achievement.44

Baldwin asks readers to see beyond a false history of modernity, characterized by progress and hope, through to the ‘true meaning’ of the history of the modern world: the escalation of racial genocide underpinned by science, until extinction is now available to all humanity.

A version of Baldwin's position is present in the poem ‘Mont Blanc’ (1987), written by the Caribbean critic and poet Edward Kamau Brath waite. Its title, referring to the highest mountain in the Alps, alludes to Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1816 poem of the same appellation. Shelley's poem connects the sight of Mont Blanc to an unknowable force that lies behind the workings of the natural world: ‘Power dwells apart in its tranquillity, / Remote, serene, and inaccessible’. This ‘Power’ is embodied in the inexorable ‘creep’ of the glaciers, rolling over the mountainside and erasing the dwellings belonging to ‘insects, beasts’, and the ‘race / Of man’. This omnipotent force drives and organizes the universe, ‘a law’ stretching to ‘the infinite dome / Of heaven’, and it lies behind human cognition, too, although it might not always be recognized as such: it is the ‘secret Strength of things / Which governs thought’. In Shelley's ‘Mont Blanc’, this ‘Power’ can be a moral and creative resource when sensitive human minds (such as that of the poet) channel the mountain's magnitude and its impression on themselves into a wider sensibility of the relationship between humans and nature:

  • (p.157) Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal
  • Large codes of fraud and woe not understood
  • By all, but which the wise, and great, and good
  • Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel!45

Brathwaite's poem reinterprets the mountain as a force of creativity by stressing the destructivity of the inventiveness it represents; it seems to argue that the rise of Western civilization depended on keeping Africa enslaved and underdeveloped while Europe's empires and their successors harvested the fruit of technological ingenuity. The opposition between Europe and Africa is first honed by Brathwaite's address to Mont Blanc as ‘glacier of god / chads opposite’.46 His poem heralds the mountain as a Christian monument and juxtaposes it against the chads (staked out land; Chad is also an African nation) it faces, which we later learn to be Africa. Symbolizing Europe as a modern Christian continent in Brathwaite's poem, the ‘wealth’ and ‘power’ of Mont Blanc is emphasized and Europe's technological and economic modernity is bound up in its representation: ‘industry was envisioned here in the indomitable glitter’. The mountain signifies the power and creativity of the West in staggering and terrifying ways:

  • volt crackle and electricity it has invented
  • buchenwald nagasaki and napalm
  • it is the frozen first atomic bomb.

Brathwaite references two of the USA's most controversial twentieth-century weapons, atomic bombs and napalm, and by including American technology in his poetic critique, the United States is projected as an extension of European civilization. Taking our cue from a translation of the poem's title into English, suggesting a towering edifice of whiteness, Brathwaite indicates how the racial code signified by the colour white has been influential in Europe's construction of its own image and the USA's self-perception of nationhood. Certainly the choice of atrocities cited in these lines indicate that it is the people deemed to fall outside the pale of whiteness who are most victimized by the inventiveness of Europe and the USA (this interpretation assumes ‘napalm’ is intended to trigger memories of its use in the Vietnam War). To identify Mont Blanc as ‘the frozen first atomic bomb’ implies that the trajectory of Western civilization inevitably works towards the technology of unimaginable destruction which has given shape to the mountain's representation in the poem.

A change of scene and tone is heralded by the lines ‘as it [Europe] rises / chad sinks’ and a catalogue of images of aridity follow. The date of publication (p.158) for ‘Mont Blanc’ suggests that the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s constitutes Brathwaite's frame of reference, as atomic imagery infiltrates the description of famine victims:

  • skin mouldered to ash
  • holocaust of dome
  • heads propped up on sticks of skeletones.

The enjambment between the second and third lines reproduced above switches the image of the mushroom cloud (‘holocaust of dome’) into the shape of a child whose physical frame is malformed because of starvation (‘dome / heads propped up on sticks of skeletones’). Brathwaite's ire is directed towards the journalists who are ‘closing in […] like buzzards’ on this spectacle of suffering, the ‘flim [sic] crew cameras’ emphasizing how dehumanized these famine victims are through a visual language of ‘scarecrow’ herdsmen, naked children and breast-feeding mothers. Once more this takes place ‘in the shadow’ of Mont Blanc and the ‘snow and ici/cle’, and the division of ‘icicle’ into component parts has the effect of doubling its meaning, as the French ‘ici/cle’ translates into English as ‘here/key’. This reinforces Mont Blanc as the centre of meaning in the poem, the code from which the whole can be navigated. The poem's final lines suggest that African underdevelopment and European prominence will escalate, and the ascendancy of modernity towards the horizon bears uncomfortable visual similarity to the mushroom cloud:

  • this eye
  • less rise
  • ing gas
  • face mountain.47

Again, in breaking language up, Brathwaite multiplies his meanings. Phonetically, he offers a morally blind structure whose rock face is ascending like a gaseous substance: these lines could be read as ‘this eyeless rising gas-face mountain’. One can also read each line as holding a discrete meaning, where ‘this eye’ refers to the collective eye of the cameramen filming the Ethiopian famine, who present the famine's victims as the opposite of well-fed Western television audiences. The voice of the poem addresses this (implicitly white European or American) ‘eye’, prohibiting its ascent with the words ‘less rise’ and demanding that the ‘eye’ confront the poem's master symbol of modernity: ‘face mountain’. By the close of ‘Mont Blanc’, Brathwaite has observed the atrocities perpetuated by Western civilization (during the Holocaust, World War Two and the (p.159) Vietnam War) and the human suffering it observes with pity but insufficient material intervention (the Ethiopian famine), and the proliferation of meaning in his poetic language suggests he is unsure whether the edifice of modernity will continue to expand, disappear into a rising body of cloud or confront its own privilege.

During an argument with his wife Joyce, the character Simple also locates nuclear weapons in a global perspective; Simple has been ‘Eating bones in the window’ and Joyce chastises him because it ‘just isn't done in high society’. Simple's defence is that his country's behaviour is worse than his table manners: ‘Atom bombs is low-rating the tone of the whole world. When I gnaw my bone […] I am not hurting a human soul.’ He outmanoeuvres her citation of white American codes of propriety by referencing American nuclear tests in the Pacific: ‘It looks like to me it would be better to gnaw a bone than to singe them Marshall Islanders all up […] I think white folks would do better to set [sic] in their front windows and gnaw bones myself’.48 The literal and metaphorical fallout from the country's nuclear tests is not a convincing example of mannered behaviour for this American.

Jim Crow Shelters

The atomic bomb shelter and who has access to it is a significant component of the nuclear imagination in the Simple stories. Hughes wrote alongside the preparedness narratives that followed the Soviet Union's testing of an atomic bomb in 1949. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) was established in 1950 to educate the public through films, pamphlets and community preparedness programmes about survival in a nuclear war. Surveying the pamphlets produced by the FCDA and its successor, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, Sharp notes,

The imagery showed once again the racial imagination of civil defense officials about who would populate the nuclear frontier: with large numbers of blacks and poor people likely to be wiped out in the initial blast, officials focused their planning and propaganda on the politically expedient imagery of the white suburban family.49

Hughes repeatedly suggests the racial recipe within shelters will be policed, with the injustice characterizing American life determining who will be allowed to survive. In Radioactive Red Caps', Simple is certain ‘If I was in Mississippi, I would be Jim Crowed out of bomb shelters’. The narrator Boyd naively protests Civil Defense ‘will be for everybody’, but Simple's experience teaches him that access to shelters will be colour-coded in the (p.160) South through the institutional racism that masks itself in the rhetoric of impartiality: ‘Down there they will have some kind of voting test, else loyalty test, in which they will find some way of flunking Negroes out.’50

In ‘Atomic Dream’ (1965), Hughes stretches the inhumanity of segregation to a grotesque extreme. Boyd asks Simple, ‘Do you mean to tell me the white South would be so inhumane as to build public bomb shelters with signs up WHITE ONLY, and none for Negroes? What kind of people live in Dixie?’51 Readers are invited to consider how this representation might be uncomfortably close to the systematic destruction of black lives in the American South. Simple hypothesizes that African Americans would be allowed into bomb shelters to serve whites: ‘Just suppose all the Negroes down South got atomized […] who would serve the white folks' tables, nurse their children, Red Cap their bags, and make up their Pullman berths?’52 Any African Americans who survived nuclear war in the South would be expected to maintain their subservient roles. They would only be permitted inside ‘a little old Jim Crow shelter in Uncle Tommy's back yard meant just for handkerchief heads’,53 ‘Uncle Tom’ being a colloquial term for a ‘spineless, sycophantic Negro’.54 The African Americans fighting in the civil rights movement against segregation would have to protest to find shelter: ‘The Freedom Riders would have to ride awhile to get in out of the fallout.’55 Of ‘Radioactive Red Caps’, Sharp comments, ‘Hughes showed that African Americans were not fooled by the FCDA's reassurances’ and on the occasions when African-American newspapers reported on America's civil defence preparations it was with a critical tone.56

It seems a bomb shelter ‘full of Negroes’57 could only be possible in Simple's ‘Atomic Dream’. The bomb shelter in Simple's dream acts as a microcosm of African-American society (‘just as if they was on Lenox Avenue’, a famous Harlem street), and it is another example of the paralleling of nuclear fear and racial terror discussed above. Lena Horne sings the blues down in the shelter, ‘In the wee small hours when the one you love is gone.’58 The development of the blues has been interpreted as an articulation of African-American deprivation, and the attendant loss and longing for separated or dead family members and loved ones.59 This seems applicable to a fallout shelter of survivors negotiating the memory of those dead and dying outside. Hughes thus gestures towards how the experience of nuclear fear is related to the racial terror inflicted upon black Atlantic populations, and how the mechanisms for black physical and mental survival might be translated and revalued in a world where nuclear extinction is possible. For Hughes, African America's constant exposure to the terror of imminent death since plantation slavery has established conditions of courage readily adaptable to the extended overhanging threat of (p.161) nuclear war. Simple's assertion he will not be killed by an atomic bomb is a product of this: ‘If Negroes can survive white folks in Mississippi […] we can survive anything.’ These resources of endurance prevent Simple from being tortured by anguish over nuclear war, providing him with the hope that after atomic destruction the possibility of social change would be increased: ‘Negroes are very hard to annihilate. I am a Negro – so I figure I would live to radiate and, believe me, once charged, I will take charge.’60

Simple's atomic dream comes to an abrupt end. Despite the supposed security of the shelter, the bomb falls – ‘BAM!’ – and Simple is ‘blowed […] down. And I woke up screaming! My dream had turned into a nightmare.’61 The dream that bomb shelters and other Civil Defense measures offer any sort of protection in a nuclear attack is thoroughly scorned in the Simple stories. Instead, they are a new form of familiar exploitation. In the story ‘Bomb Shelters’ (1965), Simple broods, ‘Our landlord last week came talking to me about he was going to have to raise our rent in order to build us a bomb shelter in the back yard.’ Simple is sceptical that protection against nuclear war is possible in a crowded urban area: ‘how could landlords build enough shelters for every roomer?’ It is another example of the financial ‘trickeration’62 that handicaps African America and the bomb scare occasions another opportunity for the uneven economic status quo to be reinforced. Simple sees through the ‘mask of civil defence’,63 since even if the shelters were effective, the surrounding infrastructure and ecology would be irradiated and irrecoverable. Simple defines this in personal terms, lamenting that ‘when you come out, your favourite bar would be blowed to hell and gone, your best barbershop would be missing, and your pastor dead from passive resistance’.64 The most persuasive reason not to build a bomb shelter in the Simple stories is the inhumanity of choosing and enforcing who survives. Simple imagines the dilemma he and Joyce would face when the ‘atom sirens [start] sounding’ and they are confronted with the family on the ground floor who also want protection. Simple envisages a series of arguments over which two people are allowed inside, before ‘the all-clear signal’ sounds and Joyce expresses her relief to Simple:

let's tear that shelter down tomorrow. I could not go in there and leave them children and Grandma outside. Neither could I leave you outside, baby, Jess darling, my life! […] If the bomb does come, let's just all die neighborly.65

This refusal to participate in the USA's Civil Defense programme suggests that perhaps bomb shelters are another way of stratifying society, with survival only available to those who can afford it. In March 1962, Bertrand (p.162) Russell called civil defence ‘a matter of calculated fraud for profit’.66 The official doctrine of individual survival in a nuclear attack through private shelters was at its most intense in the middle of 1961, in response to the Berlin Crisis.67 On 25 July 1961, President Kennedy addressed the nation on television and ‘urged the country to prepare for thermonuclear war by building family fallout shelters’.68 After this speech, twenty-two million copies of the Department of Defense pamphlet The Family Fallout Shelter were distributed. The notion of private family shelters implies in its economic dimension that the citizens who survive into the future will be the most affluent Americans (implicitly privileging the white sections of society): ‘individual shelters were well beyond the financial means of many Americans’.69 Further, Civil Defense programmes were not directed towards the demographic group that Hughes' characters represent, and Sharp's observations confirm Joyce and Simple's criticisms: ‘Pamphlets like Six Steps to Survival encouraged white suburban families to hunker down in their fallout shelters […] People in the urban core were advised to run, but their prospects for survival in these publications seemed bleak at best.’70 Hughes contrasts the American state's prescription to build private shelters against Joyce's wilful rejection of the shelter and the dubious Civil Defense programme it symbolizes. Apart from its practical limitations, readers are encouraged to look beyond the shelter and the idea of individual safety towards a collective fate. As a human species, we are all jeopardized by the threat of nuclear war, and unified as a consequence. In World War Three, we will ‘all die neighborly’, as Joyce puts it. Only by accepting the interdependence of our lives and futures can this be avoided.

Rejecting Nuclear Modernity

The assumption of white racial authority in the modern era reciprocated an image of the African diaspora as representatives of humanity's primordial past, eternally excluded from modernity. For influential European philosophers, the continents of Europe and Africa and their respective populations might be geographically close but they did not exist in the same historical time. Europe was history's leading edge, while Africa had yet to start its historical journey. Several European thinkers expressed their continent's entitlement to see modernity as its own.71 We saw above how black Atlantic critiques adopted an antagonistic stance towards a nucleararmed modernity. The precariousness of this position is that it can reproduce the ahistorical exteriority of the African diaspora and certain black Atlantic voices perhaps accept that externality is an acceptable cost to escape modernity's apocalyptic direction. For instance, Derek Walcott (p.163) writes of a space outside modernity, secure from its exhibitions of danger. In ‘The Muse of History’, Walcott uses nuclear destruction to mock the story modernity tells itself about ‘progress’:

It should matter nothing to the New World if the Old is again determined to blow itself up, for an obsession with progress is not within the psyche of the recently enslaved. That is the bitter secret of the apple. The vision of progress is the rational madness of history.72

The referent of the term ‘the New World’ is not always clear in this essay; it sometimes means the inhabitants of the Americas, white or black, in the process of unburdening themselves from the disfiguring legacies of the colonial period. However, its usage here, in relation to the ‘recently enslaved’, indicates specific reference to the African diaspora. Walcott argues for disassociating the cultural production of the New World from the foundational narratives of the Old World, what might be European modernity (the ‘vision of progress’). As a corollary to this disassociation, the possibility of extinction becomes extraneous. Despite imagining the plausibility of World War Three, neither modernity nor its nuclear threat features in Walcott's symbolic solution to the disfiguring historic scars of the colonial era's race terror: a prelapsarian ‘Adam’ figure. Walcott observes that the Old World's tendencies towards global catastrophe should not matter to the New World (the term ‘New World’ is straining at its semantic seams at this point).

In a slightly different vein, novelist Ishmael Reed relocates the nuclear danger within a struggle between metaphysical forces in his novel Mumbo Jumbo (1972). The novel traces a pattern of conflict going back to ancient Egypt. Two princes, the brothers Osiris and Set, represent different modes of existence. Osiris prohibited cannibalism and promoted sorcery, agriculture and agricultural celebrations such as music, singing and dancing. Set is arrogant, egotistical, jealous, believes in invading foreign countries and likes giving orders and ‘discipline’. He has ‘shut nature out of himself’.73 Mumbo Jumbo interprets human history through the lens of these oppositional characters: various societies, institutions and individuals are hailed as Osiris's and Set's symbolic heirs, from Julian the Apostate Emperor (defending the Osirian tradition) to John Milton and Sigmund Freud (embodying the values of Set). Set established the Atonist path, whose devotees sneer at celebration and valorize asceticism, penance, and the working day. The last Atonist tenet associates them with the sun, the natural ‘time clock’ of the working day and other ‘negative aspects’ of light;74 repeatedly described in terms of the Sun's energy and light, nuclear destruction is brought into the world by villainous Atonists. Having (p.164) outlawed the Osirians and desiring to ‘fasten his hold on the populace’, Set commands a bokor (a deceitful sorcerer) to copy one of his brother's miracles. But the bokor is ‘insufficiently trained [and] raised the temperature of Egypt to over 50,000 degrees resulting in something resembling an A-bomb explosion’. The Atonists are evidently unable to wield nature's power safely. Later in history, Moses appropriates Osiris's magic as Set manipulates Moses to restore the Atonist cult to Egypt. To disperse a disorderly crowd, Moses unleashes an even bigger explosion, sending up ‘a huge mushroom cloud’. The next day ‘dead and dying’ fauna wash up on the shores of the Nile. Mumbo Jumbo posits that the Atonist path is entrenched in white Western Christian culture (Christ is labelled a bokor for raising the dead) and nuclear war will be one future consequence. Primarily set in the 1920s, the black male character Berbelang makes the prognosis, ‘Western man['s] bokorism will improve. Soon he will be able to annihilate 1000000s by pushing a button. I do not believe that a Yellow or Black hand will push this button’.75 These three examples constitute the novel's genealogy of Atonist misuse of the energy contained in the universe, and its future manifestation is racially encoded as the white West. Critic Ken Cooper observes atomic bombs are not ‘the “subject” of the novel but […] shorthand for the violence implicit in Western Civilization's religious and cultural “crusades.”’76 Berbelang tells his white companion Thor, ‘We must purge the bokor from you’ with an infusion of Jes Grew, a contagious spirit of life manifesting itself in dancing and raucousness. Mumbo Jumbo implies that the slave trade brought the infection to the USA because black Africans are ‘Jes Grew carriers’.77 Cooper argues this scene between Berbelang and Thor is a radical one because it reverses the ethnocentric assumptions of antiproliferation (‘which intimates that Non-Western societies are too unstable and emotional to possess nuclear weapons’) and judges the Western nuclear powers from the position of ‘an older, wiser culture’.78 What this scene reinforces, though, is the considerable distance between Western and non-Western practices of knowing the world, and while Cooper is correct to read Berbelang's criticisms as laying claim to the authority of ancientness, this can be an unstable argumentative route. Berbelang justifies his commentary with reference to older Chinese and African technology, technology he says knew ‘when to stop’ to avoid the scale of Western science. This picture easily slides into a scenario of (willing) non-white arrested development, lodged in the past, while white technology lays claim to the future.

Mumbo Jumbo expresses the desire to reunite the separate worlds in the novel. It enforces a colour line of responsibility and destructiveness (unsurprising, since it was published during the era of Black Power) but seeks to (p.165) cure one historical force by uniting it with the other. I suggest reading Reed's literary mythology as a set of parables on authoritarianism and power, whose characters have direct referents in twentieth-century history – they are not merely metaphysical archetypes. Additionally, rather than myth setting the terms for eternal incompatibility, these parables argue for the reconciliation of contradictory forces to redirect modernity in the present.

Beyond Colour: The Final Frontier

In the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (June 1957), Richard S. Leghorn warned ‘perhaps even space platforms [for the launching of nuclear rockets] will be imminent’.79 In October 1957, the launching of Sputnik 1 catalyzed public awareness of what Leghorn had foreseen: ‘The Soviet rocket that launched the first human-made object into space also brought home to America the threat that [a] rocket that could put a satellite in orbit could just as well send a thermonuclear warhead on a ballistic trajectory to the United States.’80 One response to the Sputnik launch was Project Orion, controlled by the United States Air Force, which envisaged constructing a spaceship propelled by nuclear bombs. Established in 1958, the atomic scientists involved in Project Orion felt partly responsible for the military application of nuclear physics at the end of World War Two, and hoped that the ‘bombs that killed and maimed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might open space up to mankind’. Conversely, the USAF thought this ‘interplanetary ship’ could be used to transport troops, and to blast the biggest hydrogen bomb possible into space, to hang over the Soviet Union as a ‘doomsday device’. President Kennedy was horrified at the prospect of a ‘giant nuclear weapons race in space’, and the 1963 Test Ban Treaty signed by the USSR and the USA prohibited the use of nuclear weapons in outer space.81 The exploration of the cosmos and the nuclear arms race were closely intertwined before and since Sputnik and Project Orion. That the language of exploration was central to imperial domination was discussed in chapters 2 and 3, and exemplifying the limitless desire to appropriate territory, the nineteenth-century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes proclaimed, ‘I would annex the planets if I could’.82 At an ‘Anti-Nuke Rally’ at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1982, writer Alice Walker stressed ‘the enormity of the white man's crimes against humanity’; she cursed the acquisitive, destructive tendencies of white men. For Walker, they must not be allowed to ‘dominate, exploit and despoil […] the rest of the universe, which is their clear and oft-stated intention; leaving their arrogance and litter not just on the moon, but on everything else they can (p.166) reach’.83 In the short story ‘The Moon’ (1965), Langston Hughes sees domination, exploitation and ecological disaster as consequences of America's expansion into the cosmos. Once more Simple contrasts the pretence of white racial superiority against the evidence of its ethically bankrupt actions:

White is right’, said Simple, ‘so I have always heard. But I never did believe it. White folks do so much wrong! Not only do they mistreat me, but they mistreat themselves. Right now, all they got their minds on is shooting off rockets and sending up atom bombs and poisoning the air and fighting wars and Jim Crowing the universe.’

Simple's criticism of how white America sees the space race as part of its project against communism is dismissed by Boyd: ‘You are a great one for fantasy […] Maybe stemming from your movie-going days’.84 But that is exactly one cultural location where the need to conquer space for national security circulated, before the heightened tensions of the Sputnik era. The film Destination Moon (1950), directed by Irving Pichel, combined atomic energy and the space race to fight the Cold War. Powered by an ‘atomic-energy engine’, a consortium of US businessmen builds a rocket to reach the Moon. Their motivation is the creation of a strategic missile base for American atomic power: ‘the first country that can use the Moon for the launching of missiles will control the Earth’. William Cameron Menzies's Invaders from Mars (1953) also suggested that ‘interplanetary stations […] equipped with atomic power’ would ensure absolute victory for the superpower possessing them: ‘if any nation dared attack us, just by pushing a few buttons we could wipe them out in a few minutes’. The Simple stories are in dialogue with this project to establish US global hegemony by bringing atomic energy and weapons into space and Hughes warns that this would not mean freedom but the expansion of American racial injustice into every corner of the globe and beyond. This possible future is parodied by Simple's imaginative segregation of the Moon: ‘if one of them white Southerners gets to the moon first, COLORED NOT ADMITTED signs will go up’. This is why there have been ‘no Negro astronaughts nowhere in space yet’. If US expansion and virulent anticommunism continues to dominate scientific research, the Moon may become a reflection of the racism in the American South: ‘I wonder if them Southerners will take police dogs to the moon?’85 Contemplating nuclear fission's potential to be a new energy source transforming humankind for the better, novelist and journalist George S. Schuyler wrote mockingly in an August 1945 newspaper article that ‘Negro insurance executives from Durham and Atlanta will be vacationing on the moon or Mars, albeit in the Negro section.’86

(p.167) Hughes offers an alternative to the atomic-powered and atomic-defended exportation of American racism into the cosmos. In the short story ‘High Bed’ (1961), Simple demands that modernity fulfil its promise of technological emancipation in a dream of a future where atomic power enables personal travel. Simple imagines an ‘Age of the Air when rocket planes get to be common’, but he ‘would not have no old-time jet-propelled plane either. My plane would run on atom power’.87 From this technology a new global community would be established, based on Simple's habits of alcohol consumption and socializing, although this is a gendered space, where it seems only men will be free to participate in the new global community of drinking. Atomic power will free men from quotidian domestic spheres, allowing them to rocket around the world, where the women of different cultures will receive them with hospitality. The transgression of racial and national limits reinforces the assumptions of gender that locate activity as male and passivity as female.

In this transnational era, the distance between peoples and cultures would be erased. The scars of America's use of atomic weapons in 1945 will be healed and Americans will be invited to ‘fly to Nagasaki and drink saki’. Definitions of race are exploded in this new space that is at once civic and global:

such another scrambling of races as there is going to be when they gets that rocket plane perfected! Why, when a man can shoot from Athens, Georgia, to Athens, Greece, in less than an hour, you know there is going to be intermarriage. I am liable to marry a Greek myself […] I would not be prejudiced toward color.88

Hughes' projection is avowedly utopian and respects no obstacles to communication based on nation or the perception of race. It seems important that he uses an SF vision in this story. Walter Mosley contends the ‘genre speaks most clearly to those who are dissatisfied with the way things are [and] this may explain the appeal that science fiction holds for a great many African-Americans’.89 In other words, Hughes speculates on the future precisely because he seeks an alternative to the present, because he seeks to transcend race thinking along with the forces of gravity: ‘I would rock so far away from this color line in the U.S.A., till it wouldn't be funny. I might even build me a garage on Mars and a mansion on Venus.’90 This image of what-has-yet-to-be-achieved with nuclear power indicts the military uses it has been applied to so far, compelling a radical rethinking of how best to utilize and fulfil the emancipatory promise of this new technology. Hughes offers a vision that transcends national difference and the racism mutilating America in the Simple stories.

(p.168) Antinuclear Politics and the Transcendence of Race

‘High Bed’ offers the promise of hope, albeit far-fetched, and similar hopes for the future have been reproduced by figures such as Alice Walker, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. What unites them is the assertion that successful antinuclear politics must comprehend the divisiveness of thinking in terms of racial difference, and that campaigns against racism should be linked to calls for disarmament if they are to be meaningful movements for equality and human rights.

At the aforementioned 1982 ‘Anti-Nuke Rally’, Alice Walker offered a personal dilemma she faced in relation to her involvement with antinuclear activism. Walker began her address by articulating her reluctance to endorse antinuclear politics. Walker's ‘problem’ with supporting nuclear disarmament is the ‘hope for revenge’ that she believed to be ‘at the heart of People of Color's resistance to any anti-nuclear movement’. She suggests that the idea of nuclear apocalypse as a just consequence of white racial chauvinism might seduce the peoples of the African diaspora into renouncing opposition to nuclear weapons. Considering ‘the enormity of the white man's crimes against humanity’, including contemporary racist discourse arguing ‘Blacks are genetically inferior and should be sterilized’, Walker wonders whether extinction alone will stop the white man's destructive course: ‘Let the bombs cover the ground like rain. For nothing short of total destruction will ever teach them anything.’ Would extinction now not be preferable to a future of exponential white domination? ‘[It] would be good, perhaps, to put an end to the species in any case, rather than let white men continue to subjugate it’. The white men's rapacious course has designs on the universe and Walker believes ‘Fatally irradiating ourselves […] to save others from what Earth has already become’ requires our ‘serious thought’.91

This opening rhetoric is clearly intended to shock her audience in order to impress upon them how deeply felt Walker's indignation at white supremacism is. Her speech concludes with renewed support for the antinuclear cause. Walker seeks to retain the anger at racial injustice that fuelled her entertainment of the desirability of nuclear extinction, allying that emotion to hope for change in the future. As her home, Walker pledges to protect the Earth, and she affirms the desirability of life. Linking nuclear genocide with racial oppression, the Earth will only be spared and humankind saved on the precondition of justice for ‘every living thing’.92 Extinction can only be averted if humankind manages to think outside of modernity's division of peoples into hierarchies of race.

This is the message contained in The Fire Next Time; Baldwin opposes (p.169) racial hierarchies and nuclear stockpiling in the name of national security by calling for the ‘transcendence of the realities of colour, of nations, and of altars’.93 While Baldwin was writing these words in the early 1960s, a similar project could be discerned in the Committee for Nonviolent Action. Antinuclear and antiracist, the Committee for Nonviolent Action supplemented marching against segregation through Albany, Georgia with protests against the US military at an Army Supply Depot in Oakland, California. In 1966, Gerald J. Ringer called this a ‘loose-but-conscious alliance of the movements for civil rights and world peace’, affirming ‘human dignity and human solidarity in terms of the present human condition’.94 The Fellowship of Reconciliation was another organization protesting for civil rights and against nuclear weapons.95 Appropriately for the transatlantic roam of black Atlantic studies, in 1958 a member of both organizations, Bayard Rustin, connected his civil rights and peace activism in a speech delivered in London's Trafalgar Square. This speech was part of the events surrounding the Aldermaston march, a famous moment in the history of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The march, which took place during Easter week, began at the nuclear facility at Aldermaston in the county of Berkshire and concluded in Trafalgar Square; in his speech Rustin linked ‘the struggle against weapons of mass destruction with the struggle of blacks for their basic rights in America’.96 Belonging to various civil rights and antinuclear movements (in addition to the ones above, Rustin was a member of the Peacemakers and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), he saw the utility of pacifist non-violence and was organizing civil disobedience protests on interstate buses in 1947.97

In 1959, Rustin worked again with the British antinuclear movement. The Committee for Nonviolent Action and the British Direct Action Committee planned to

march from Accra, Ghana, to a French nuclear installation in the Sahara, 2,000 miles to the north. Here, they protested nuclear proliferation and the introduction of weapons research to Africa. The groups enjoyed the tacit approval of local governments that opposed nuclear weapons and testing but lacked the power to confront France directly. The French army stopped the marchers on the Upper Volta frontier, but Rustin had helped link disarmament to African desires for neutrality and peaceful development.98

Rustin actually returned to the USA shortly after the march started, following pressure from Martin Luther King Jr and others for Rustin to resume domestic civil rights activism.99 He accompanied King on his journey to Europe to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, arranging a (p.170) stop in London for King to address a fund-raiser for the British peace movement.100 An antinuclear spirit suffused the Nobel Lecture that King gave on 11 December 1964, when he stated, ‘mankind's survival is dependent upon man's ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty, and war’. This was hardly a new concern of King's – his wife, Coretta Scott King, was one of the founders of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) in 1957. In his Nobel Lecture, King specifically warned of nuclear weapons, ‘which threaten the survival of mankind, and which are both genocidal and suicidal in character’. King was acutely aware that the perception of racial difference and the repercussions of racial injustice were now more than ever at the forefront of questions around human survival. Less than two months earlier, ‘the detonation of an atomic device by the first nonwhite, non-Western, and so-called underdeveloped power, namely the Chinese People's Republic, opens […] vast multitudes, the whole of humanity, to insidious terrorization by the ever-present threat of annihilation’. King argued for the translation of non-violence, the philosophy and strategy of the civil rights movement, into the sphere of international relations.101 The relevance of non-violence to the threat of nuclear war is compelling and radical; defence in the Cold War era was maintained by the presumption neither superpower would launch a nuclear attack on the other for fear of retaliation, therefore deterring both from a first strike and ensuring the peace. Rather than mimicking this system where the threat of retaliation kept the peace, King's philosophy deconstructed its logic. His belief ‘nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time’ represented its antithesis. Such a system of defence had no place in the future King presented in Oslo: ‘man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation102 Non-violent struggle must be used to roll back racial injustice and the threat of nuclear war in tandem: ‘Equality with whites will hardly solve the problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a society under the spell of terror and a world doomed to extinction.’103

Kinchy sees in King's peace activism the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois dedicated the last stage of his life, from the late 1940s to his death in 1963, to promoting world peace through antiracism, anticolonialism and ‘opposing the cold war escalation’. Du Bois led the American delegation at the World Peace Congress in Paris in April 1949 and as chair of the Peace Information Center he actively supported the World Peace Appeal, an international petition calling for the outlawing of atomic weapons. Paul Robeson, who attended the meetings of the PIC's Executive Committee, exhorted American workers to sign the petition by connecting their plight (p.171) to that of colonized peoples. ‘The Afro-American community was a conscious and special target of the Appeal’, and their response was ‘disproportionately favourable’. The World Peace Appeal seems to have attracted between 1.35 and 2.5 million signatures in the USA, and signatories were as varied as Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein and Charlie Parker (Parker was an ‘avid’ supporter of the Appeal).104

By the early 1980s, the intersection of civil rights and peace movements was being redefined by black feminism. In seeking to build ‘a new antiwar movement unlike the old peace movement which excluded so many oppressed people’,105 black feminism and allied lesbian and gay groups demonstrated a commitment to issues of global significance, pre-empting criticism of their agenda as limited. Barbara Smith responded to such criticism by asserting that ‘a movement committed to fighting sexual, racial, economic, and heterosexual oppression […] at the same time that it challenges militarism and imminent nuclear destruction is the very opposite of narrow’.106 Antinuclear protest served a double role for black feminism in this period: as a further battleground for activism and as an emblem of the movement's importance beyond identity politics. In a permutation of the black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity, Smith believes black women have a privileged position of critical purchase, since women of colour ‘comprehend white-male values and culture in a way that white men have never remotely understood themselves’.107

I want to conclude this chapter with the poems ‘Who Would Be Free, Themselves Must Strike the Blow’ and ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’ by June Jordan, the latter of which was published in Barbara Smith's collection Home Girls:A Black Feminist Anthology (2nd edn, 2000). Jordan's status as a black political activist and poet is well known, and alongside other major poets such as Amiri Baraka, Jordan participated in the ‘Poets against the End of the World’ event at New York City's Town Hall in June 1982.108 Jordan's literary protests against the USA's nuclear weapons pick up the connections being made by activists like Smith and Gwendolyn Rogers, National Co-ordinator of the Lesbian and Gay Focus of the People's Anti-War Mobilization. Smith and Rogers contended that black feminism's political programme ranges widely but coherently because at its ‘core’ is the issue ‘of our community's survival’,109 and family and community survival is the kernel of Jordan's antinuclear, antiracist poetry.

Amongst other factors, ‘Who Would Be Free, Themselves Must Strike the Blow’ unsettles because it is not clear whether the images offered belong to a world of nuclear tests irradiating the food chain and water cycle, or the outbreak of nuclear war. Jordan exploits residual fears from the 1950s that the radiation from nuclear tests could poison children via (p.172) cows' milk containing Strontium-90.110 In the poem, each stanza begins, ‘The cow could not stand up’ and by the third and final stanza one is informed, ‘The milk should not be sold’.111 Simplicity of language and the repetition of sentences such as ‘It was pretty quiet’ imply a child's reading scheme, and an innocent, unprejudiced way of looking at the world that is betrayed by the severity of the crime being committed against citizens. ‘It was pretty quiet’ is also one of the poem's themes - radiation's danger is felt through its effects (such as disfigured babies in utero) and is not something glowing and humming, as in some popular cultural representations. Deadly radiation is silent, and the absence of noise is also a signal of the planet's gradual journey towards the extinction of human and animal life. Further, Jordan could be warning (Warnings was the title of the 1984 anthology in which the poem was published) that not enough is being done to protest nuclear weapons; her poem connects political silence to the winding down of life. The failure of antinuclear activists to make sufficient noise now will mean the quiet of extinction in the future. What makes this poem's antinuclear position relevant in terms of the black Atlantic is its title. The line comes from Lord Byron's long poem ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage’ (1812–18), in an address to the Greeks who were ‘Trembling beneath the scourge of Turkish hand, / From birth till death enslav'd’. In an exhortation that is all the more convincing for being an imperative question, Byron hailed the Greeks as ‘Hereditary bondsmen!’ and asked them ‘know ye not / Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?’112 Jordan, however, attributes this to Frederick Douglass, who reused Byron's line in the 1863 article ‘Men of Color, To Arms!’ Douglass is best known for the series of narratives he wrote recounting his experiences as a slave and his escape to the north, starting with Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845). ‘Men of Color, To Arms!’ urged African-American men to join the Massachusetts regiment that was recruiting black soldiers for the Union army in the US Civil War. Douglass proclaims that the men who do not sign up are held back by weakness, cowardice and ‘timidity’, and he reuses Byron's line without the question mark,113 turning it into an inarguable truism. In taking Douglass's assertion that African Americans must participate physically in the battle to eradicate slavery, Jordan invites comparison between the system of chattel slavery and the nuclear threat similar to the comparisons observed above. For instance, Jordan's line ‘The mother could not do anything about the baby’ indicates the powerlessness of parents as they try to protect their children, echoing Baldwin's comment on the male slave's sorrow that his ‘children […] needed his protection [but] he could not protect [them]’. Explicitly connecting her poem to Douglass and not (p.173) Byron, Jordan suggests antinuclear activists should show the bravery and commitment that was asked of the African Americans who fought in the Civil War. Stone believes the acknowledgment of Douglass explicitly politicizes Jordan's poem.114 Drawing on Douglass's words as a historical resource from the struggle against slavery, one is reminded that a nuclear free world cannot be willed – it must be fought for.

According to Richard Gray's A History of American Literature (2004), this will to resist oppression is characteristic of Jordan's poetry. Perceiving a history of violence in which black women have been disproportionately victimized, she uses her writing to ‘fight back’.115 In ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’, Jordan fights a battle for meaning and the idea of nature is the site of the struggle. The poem catalogues the social injustices of the USA in 1980: the murder of homosexuals by religious extremists, the murder of black Americans by ‘the Klan / and the American Nazi Party’, the streamlining of education and social service provisions, the deregulation of workplace safety codes and hostility towards the Equal Rights Amendment. In light of Jordan's lists, one can read the repeated line ‘Natural order is being restored’ as the mantra of the conservative social forces whose hegemony was challenged by the various civil rights agendas of the 1960s and 1970s. Writing in 1980, those challenges are being rolled back by the American state and previously marginalized groups are going neglected and abused by the state once more. In the terms of the poems, those believing themselves to benefit from this reinstated marginalization construct their centrality as the natural order, or ‘just how things are’. Jordan associates this conservative social reaction with America's nuclear technology: the inhabitants of Queens in New York City are exposed to ‘explosive nuclear wastes’ transported through their streets, Arkansans are alarmed by ‘Occasional explosions caused by mystery / nuclear missiles’, and the nuclear missile base in Grand Forks, North Dakota makes ‘the non-military residents of the area feel / that they live only a day to day distance from certain / annihilation, etcetera’.116 That ‘etcetera’ is one of a series of rhetorical appendages that Jordan uses in describing violence and margin-alization (‘among other things’ and ‘and so on’ being two other examples) to convey America's political leaders' aloofness from and disinterest in the concerns of their fellow citizens. Kawada reads the placing of ‘etcetera’ after ‘annihilation’ as ironic, asking ‘what could the “etcetera” after annihilation be, anyway?’ She understands Jordan to be parodying the language of the nuclear state, which is officious but defies reason, such as the fallacy of survival after nuclear war.117

Each instance of violent and institutional marginalization can be understood within Jordan's controlling metaphor of a pyramid of 104 (p.174) pomegranates in a supermarket, immaculate consumer goods whose status as a spectacle erases their usage as food (at least in Jordan's view). Like the pomegranates, instances of social injustice rest on top of each other in a capitalist order that erroneously professes to be the natural order. Against this false recourse to natural order, Jordan poses ‘natural disorder’ and the messy and disintegrating pleasure of eating a pomegranate. Her ecstatic language, ‘This is a good time / This is the best time’, viscerally thrills to the pomegranate's ‘succulence’ and the poem solicits the reader's participation in this natural disorder, which is

  •                                                   Fractious
  •                                                   Kicking
  •                                                   Spilling
  •                                                   Burly
  •                                                   Whirling
  •                                                   Raucous
  •                                                   Messy
  •                                                   Free
  • Exploding like the seeds of a natural disorder.118

Jordan's resistance to America's racist, nuclear-armed order is articulated in language that embodies the liberation she hopes for the future. This spirit of disorder is the seed of civil disobedience refusing to allow the legal enshrinement of certain types of social inclusion achieved in the 1960s and 1970s to be rolled back by people who believe that homophobia, racism and nuclear weapons are part of a natural order. Through the pomegranate metaphor, Jordan builds a poetic case for the tangible pleasures of disorderliness, appropriate for the coalition activism of early 1980s America and nodding towards the civil rights movement's civil disobedience, too. In excoriating the state of a nuclear-armed and racist United States, hope is provided by the memory of historical black freedom struggles.

As we have seen, positing the whiteness of nuclear weapons has provided a variety of opportunities for black Atlantic texts to explore the hypocrisies and tensions of modernity. One recurrent permutation was how the threat of nuclear extinction evidences the white West's lack of racial superiority or technological advancement, despite historical proclamations to the contrary. The most useful texts have not sought a mythic space outside modernity where redemption awaits. Rather, they accept no complete rejection of modernity is possible. What remains viable is charging modernity to realize its mandate of progress, justice and emancipation, and this can only take place when the delusion that skin colour (p.175) has any value is transcended, along with the destructive applications of nuclear technology.



(1.) Martin Luther King Jr, Why We Can't Wait (1964), New American Library, New York (2000), p. 7, quoted in Alice L. George, Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (2003), p. 162.

(2.) Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949), Vintage, London (1997), p. 19.

(3.) Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), Verso, London (1996), pp. 1–40.

(4.) Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, p. 38.

(5.) Tania Abdulahad, Gwendolyn Rogers, Barbara Smith and Jameelah Waheed, ‘Black Lesbian / Feminist Organizing: A Conversation’, in Barbara Smith (ed.), Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (2nd edn), Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ (2000), p. 291.

(7.) Albert E. Stone, Literary Aftershocks: American Writers, Readers, and the Bomb, Twayne, New York (1994), p. 21.

(8.) Norman Mailer, ‘The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster’ (1957), in idem, Advertisements for Myself (1959), Deutsch, London (1961), pp. 283–85. See also Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Not So Simple: The ‘Simple’ Stories by Langston Hughes, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO (1995), pp. 51–52.

(9.) Thomas H. Schaub, American Fiction in the Cold War, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison (1991), pp. 145–46, 155.

(10.) James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963), Penguin, Harmondsworth (1964), p. 67.

(11.) Quoted in Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, p. 269.

(12.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 84.

(13.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 53.

(14.) See also Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence (1949), Chatto & Windus, London (1966), p. 37.

(15.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 84.

(16.) Shohat and Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, pp. 3, 14.

(17.) Cooper, ‘The Whiteness of the Bomb’, p. 86.

(18.) Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, p. 39.

(19.) Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, p. 296.

(20.) Stone, Literary Aftershocks, p. 38. See also Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, p. 199.

(21.) Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, pp. 198–99.

(22.) Langston Hughes, The Best of Simple, Hill and Wang, New York (1961), pp. 210–11. Dates given in brackets for the Simple stories refer to the year of (p.176) publication in collected editions rather than the original date of publication in the Chicago Defender. Hughes extensively revised the stories for these collected editions, a process documented in Harper, Not So Simple.

(23.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 201.

(24.) Allan M. Winkler, Life under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Atom, Oxford University Press, New York (1993), p. 94.

(25.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 202.

(26.) Langston Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, Hill and Wang, New York (1965), p. 122.

(27.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 123.

(28.) Malcolm X, with the assistance of Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), Penguin, London (2001), p. 373.

(29.) Jonathon Schell, The Fate of the Earth, Avon, New York (1982), p. 37.

(30.) Olive Senior, ‘rain’ (1985), in E. A. Markham (ed.), Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies & Britain (2nd edn), Bloodaxe, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1995), p. 226.

(31.) Edward Brunner, Cold War Poetry, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL (2001), p. 223.

(32.) Quoted in Brunner, Cold War Poetry, p. 194.

(33.) Brunner, Cold War Poetry, p. 240.

(34.) Quoted in Henrikson, Dr. Strangelove's America, p. 283.

(35.) Quoted in Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, p. 310.

(36.) Henrikson, Dr. Strangelove's America, p. 283.

(37.) Langston Hughes, Selected Poems (1959), Serpent's Tail, London (1999), p. 268.

(38.) Hughes, Selected Poems, p. 280.

(39.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 211.

(40.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 89.

(41.) Henrikson, Dr. Strangelove's America, pp. 284–86.

(42.) Shohat and Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, pp. 2–3.

(43.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 53.

(44.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 53.

(45.) Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Mont Blanc’ (1816), in Neville Rogers (ed.), The Complete Poetic Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (vol. II), Clarendon Press, Oxford (1975), pp. 78–80.

(46.) Edward Kamau Brathwaite, ‘Mont Blanc’ (1987), in E. A. Markham (ed.), Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies & Britain (2nd edn), Bloodaxe, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1995), p. 126.

(47.) Brathwaite, ‘Mont Blanc’, pp. 126–27.

(48.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 201.

(49.) Sharp, Savage Perils, p. 207.

(50.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 211.

(51.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 55.

(52.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 211.

(53.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 54.

(54.) Harper, Not So Simple, p. 178.

(p.177) (55.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 54.

(56.) Sharp, Savage Perils, p. 197.

(57.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 54.

(58.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 55.

(59.) Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, pp. 201–205.

(60.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, pp. 213, 212.

(61.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 55.

(62.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 33.

(63.) Joel Kovel, Against the State of Nuclear Terror, Pan, London (1983), p. 70. See also Robert Jay Lifton and Richard Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case against Nuclearism, Basic Books, New York (1982), p. 18.

(64.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, p. 98.

(65.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, pp. 34–36.

(66.) Bertrand Russell, ‘The Case for British Nuclear Disarmament’ (1962), in Morton Grodzins and Eugene Rabinowitch (eds), The Atomic Age: Scientists in National and World Affairs, Basic Books, New York (1963), p. 292.

(67.) Henrikson, Dr. Strangelove's America, p. 193. See also Brians, Nuclear Holocausts, p. 21.

(68.) Henrikson, Dr. Strangelove's America, p. 200. See also Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, p. 353.

(69.) Henrikson, Dr. Strangelove's America, pp. 203, 215. See also Seed, American Science Fiction and the Cold War, p. 87.

(70.) Sharp, Savage Perils, pp. 206–207.

(71.) Gilroy, Against Race, pp. 56–64.

(72.) Derek Walcott, ‘The Muse of History’, in Orde Coombs (ed.), Is Massa Day Dead? Black Moods in the Caribbean, Anchor and Doubleday, Garden City, NY (1974), p. 6.

(73.) Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo, Doubleday, Garden City, NY (1972), p. 162.

(74.) Donald L. Hoffman, ‘A Darker Shade of Grail: Questing at the Crossroads in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo’, Callaloo, 17.4 (Autumn 1994), p. 1246.

(75.) Reed, Mumbo Jumbo, pp. 173, 186, 91.

(76.) Cooper, ‘The Whiteness of the Bomb’, p. 89.

(77.) Reed, Mumbo Jumbo, pp. 91, 16.

(78.) Cooper, ‘The Whiteness of the Bomb’, p. 90.

(79.) Richard S. Leghorn, ‘A Rational World Security System’ (1957), in Morton Grodzins and Eugene Rabinowitch (eds), The Atomic Age: Scientists in National and World Affairs, Basic Books, New York (1963), p. 260.

(80.) Franklin, War Stars, p. 183.

(81.) Franklin, War Stars, p. 191; To Mars by A-Bomb: The Secret History of Project Orion, dir. not attributed, prod. Christopher Sykes, BBC 2 (12 Nov. 2003).

(82.) Quoted in Shohat and Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, p. 110.

(83.) Alice Walker, ‘Only Justice Can Stop a Curse’ (1982), in Barbara Smith (ed.), Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (2nd edn), Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ (2000), p. 341.

(84.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, pp. 28–29.

(p.178) (85.) Hughes, Simple's Uncle Sam, pp. 28–29.

(86.) Quoted in Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, p. 307.

(87.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, pp. 55, 57.

(88.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, pp. 56–57.

(89.) Walter Mosley, ‘Black to the Future’, in Sheree Thomas (ed.), Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, Aspect and Time Warner, New York (2000), p. 205.

(90.) Hughes, The Best of Simple, p. 57.

(91.) Walker, ‘Only Justice Can Stop a Curse’, pp. 340–41.

(92.) Walker, ‘Only Justice Can Stop a Curse’, p. 342.

(93.) Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, p. 72.

(94.) Gerald J. Ringer, ‘The Bomb as a Living Symbol: An Interpretation’, PhD Dissertation, Florida State University (1966), pp. 289–91.

(95.) Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, p. 297.

(96.) Jervis Anderson, Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen, University of California Press, Berkeley (1998), p. 215.

(97.) Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, pp. 312–13.

(98.) Brenda Gayle Plummer, ‘Introduction’, in idem (ed.), Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs 1945–1988, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (2003), pp. 13–14.

(99.) Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, pp. 312–13 n. 71.

(100.) Plummer, ‘Introduction’, p. 14.

(101.) Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Nobel Lecture: The Quest for Peace and Justice’ (11 Dec. 1964), available at Nobelprize.org, http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html (last accessed August 2010).

(103.) King, ‘Nobel Lecture’.

(104.) Gerald Horne, Black and Red: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War, 1944–1963, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY (1986), pp. 126–27; Kinchy, ‘African Americans in the Atomic Age’, pp. 298–304, 313.

(105.) Abdulahad, Rogers, Smith and Waheed, ‘Black Lesbian / Feminist Organizing: A Conversation’, p. 291. The evidence in this chapter demonstrates the old peace movement was not as exclusive as this quotation suggests.

(106.) Barbara Smith, ‘Introduction’, in Barbara Smith (ed.), Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (2nd edn), Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ (2000), p. xxxi.

(107.) Barbara Smith, ‘“Fractious, Kicking, Messy, Free”: Feminist Writers Confront the Nuclear Abyss’, in Jim Schley (ed.), Writing in a Nuclear Age (1983), University Press of New England, Hanover (1984), p. 169.

(108.) Walter Kalaidjian, ‘Nuclear Criticism’, Contemporary Literature, 40.2 (Summer 1999), p. 315.

(109.) Smith, ‘Introduction’, p. xxxvii.

(110.) Winkler, Life under a Cloud, pp. 102–103.

(p.179) (111.) June Jordan, ‘Who Would Be Free, Themselves Must Strike the Blow’, in John Witte (ed.), Warnings: An Anthology on the Nuclear Peril, Northwest Review, Eugene, OR (1984), p. 38.

(112.) George Gordon, Lord Byron, ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage’ (1812–18), in Jerome J. McGann (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works (vol. II), Clarendon Press, Oxford (1980), p. 69.

(113.) Frederick Douglass, ‘Men of Color, To Arms!’ (1863), in William L. Andrews (ed.), The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, Oxford University Press, New York (1996), p. 224.

(114.) Stone, Literary Aftershocks, p. 142.

(115.) Richard Gray, A History of American Literature, Blackwell, Malden, MA (2004), p. 671.

(116.) June Jordan, ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’ (1980), in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (2nd edn), Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ (2000), pp. 215–20.

(117.) Louise Kawada, ‘Enemies of Despair: American Women Poets Confront the Threat of Nuclear Destruction’, PLL: Papers on Language & Literature, 26.1 (Winter 1990), p. 130.

(118.) Jordan, ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’, p. 221.