Tuesday, March 23, 2010

As things close: ending a chapter and going to Berkeley

Chapter Three of my book is coming to a close. I’m resisting closing it. For now, it will be the end of my nuclear discussion. I like sticking to one thing, and I’ve been immersed in this nuke world for a while now. Little ole’ humanities gal me, I’m actually becoming a bit science-obsessed---at least in terms of how nuclear matters are interpreted in filmic contexts. I’m fascinated with Lise Meitner—the anti-semitism that forced her out of Germany during the holocaust and what she discovered about splitting the atom while walking in the snow. I am fascinated, also, by my best friend’s mother –Cecile De Witt- a physicist who was brought to the states by Oppenheimer after World War II. I will interview her for my book. Soon. In order to talk to Cecile, I feel as though I have to have a handle on what she does—math and science dunce that I am, I read Uranium Wars a while back, as well as some other histories of the making of the bomb, and I recently picked up a book called, How to teach Physics to Your Dog. This may help.

I’ll miss those black and white moments with bombs exploding on film, lone men and women walking down cardboard streets past cardboard buildings, shouting in post-apocalyptic hysterics, “anybody!” All those newspaper clippings: “Nuclear War Imminent!” "Atom Bomb" “Russians Invading!” “Doomsday!”

Funniest moment in a nuke film: in Panic in the Year Zero a family survives a nuclear attack on LA (they are outside of LA and en route to go camping when the nuclear bomb drops on the city). They travel back into the woods and camp out in a cave (a la lost in space), so they are not exposed to the radiation. Although the story takes place mostly outside in the supposed wilderness, the art design has that cheesy early 1960s TV set feeling. Of course this feeling of an “unnatural” nature contributes to the sense of remoteness from the dangers of real war and real nuclear radiation. In this film, staying away from LA for a period of time (within driving distance) proves safe enough. And, in the end, all survivors go back home without any repercussions.

There is an interesting sexual tension in the film with some deviant local boys who go after the teenage daughter in the family, as well as another young woman. The father and son play “he” men-carrying rifles, shooting at dangerous male predators, and hunting animals (the father has to teach his middle-class suburban son proper masculine behavior in order for the family to survive). In contrast, the weak women wash and cook and stay behind. They are prey to the oversexed local hoodlums. In one scene, the teenaged son goes hunting and, in a highly comedic moment (although it is not intended to be funny), the boy shoots a deer and carries his prey back to the father as evidence of his prowess. The teenager blithely tosses the “dead” deer on the ground near his dad, but when it lands, there is a light thud and the deer bounces! The young man's "catch" is obviously a large stuffed animal. The two “macho” men continue the scene as if nothing happened. In this film, nuclear war is just one more thing for middle class Americans to contend with-- like being shipwrecked on Gilligan's Island, or being lost in space. It is an adventure. It is fun. It is character building. It teaches little boys how to be men.

In closing this chapter, I am heading out to Berkeley, California, where I lived for many years as a child with my peacenik parents. I’m going to meet my mother’s friend Thalia Stern Broudy. Thalia was one of the key anti-nuclear mother activists with Women Strike For Peace in the 1950s and 1960s (along with my mother and Phyllis Resnick), who helped to halt above-ground nuclear testing in the US. I’m going to interview her for my book. A picture of my mother, Thalia and Phyllis Resnick sits before me as I write. They are my inspiration.

On this trip, I'll show my daughter around my favorite city. We'll walk through the Berkeley hills, Tilden Park, and ride the merryground where my father often took me as a child. I'm going to look for the old Peace Center, too.

When I return to New York, I'll be sure to go to the anti-nuclear weapon discussion at the Ethical Culture Society. This event features Daniel Ellsberg, who wrote the article I keep referring to, America is Asleep At the Wheel. He's a brilliant expert on nuclear weapons and the danger they pose to all life on earth.

Here is the information about this event:

A World Without Nuclear Weapons: Obama’s Vision, Our Mission.

The speakers for this event include Daniel Ellsberg, Doris Shaffer, and Jonathan Schell. Thursday, April 8, 2010, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street, NYC.

Be there or be square!

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