By way of entering the world of remembering the Cold War, we should acknowledge the extraordinary double-event that frames most discussions of its beginnings: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 form substantial architecture in most explorations of the start of the Cold War; and the image of the aftermath of an atomic bomb’s explosion – the mushroom cloud – is one of the most reproduced symbols with reference to the Cold War. It acts as a visual mnemonic thread from 1945, through the peaks of tensions between East and West all of which carried the threat of cataclysmic devastation wrought by atomic warfare, to the end of the Cold War. To the extent that it captures the incredibly high stakes during a period of protracted tension that resists easy summary, the mushroom cloud also has become the Cold War’s greatest emblem. And, crucially, the connection between the mushroom cloud as apocalyptic portent and Hiroshima as reality also carries the trans-generational memory of human suffering in most dramatic forms. The images of horrific burns, and of human-shaped shadows etched against the walls of buildings in Hiroshima by the heat blast of the bomb, are well known. If, as Jan Werner-Müller has suggested, (Eurocentric views of) the Cold War may lack for remembering on account of a lack of tales of suffering and mourning, then it effectively borrows on the extraordinary event of atomic-bomb suffering at the end of the Second World War.1 Even if later narratives of bomb-related suffering relate to weapons testing and arise through accident or neglect, such is the power of Hiroshima in modern memory that the borrowing is near-automatic. This is a realm in which commentators also have been effective agents of

memory. Historians and journalists, for instance, have sustained memories of atomic bombs in debates over their first use. Even if they struggle to reach agreement on when the Cold War started, the atomic backdrop to the escalation of tensions between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States and its allies on the other, looms large for most. It not only frames debate about origins, but also is hotly contested and recurringly remembered. Both the Hiroshima reality and the gigantic nuclear threat thereafter serve to illustrate the problems in framing starting points

for remembering the Cold War, thereby highlighting central questions: how do nationally-organized or appropriated acts of public remembering of the Cold War link to the more global and diffuse backdrop of the Cold War? And, especially in the case of the recent rush of remembering and memorialization barely 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, what conceptual and historical architecture carries messages? To what extent do the contours of the Cold War fall away, so that remembering becomes more episodic and necessarily grounded in localized circumstances, including structured silences about others involved in a bigger conflict? Does this happen in order to fit the remembering into more easily processed war-like moments of struggle, in a manner consistent with two earlier world wars, or does it reflect an avoidance of explication based on ideological grounds? Interest in the United States’ reasons behind the dropping of the atomic

bombs is piqued in secondary and higher education as well as among the general public to such a level that the decision-making remains one of those subjects of historical debate that easily crosses between academic and public curiosity. Consider this statement: the dropping of two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August 1945 respectively, ushered in the atomic age and hastened the end of the Second World War. At first glance, this description might seem balanced and uncontroversial. If we elaborate further, however, the tension between the ‘ushering in’ and ‘hastening end’ in this statement becomes clear. In overlysimple terms, the more the atomic bombs ended the maelstrom of death and destruction that was wrought by the Second World War, the more they can be considered a necessary evil; and the more they mark a new, atomic age, and a new preparedness to use weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, the more fraught becomes their use. It is hard to explicate the circumstances of their use in 1945 without wading through controversy and competing interpretations, such is the ongoing inscription, debate, and reinscription associated with remembering the events. Much of the strongest argument turns on Washington’s thinking behind the decision to use the bombs and whether they were necessary to bring the war to an end. And some of the strongest emotion in explanations arises from the horrific images of those burnt in the blast and the resultant death toll – overwhelmingly civilian – of at least 200,000 Japanese and other nationalities (including conscripted Koreans). Those arguing that US president Harry S. Truman and his advisers were justified in wanting to use the weapons in order to avoid enormous anticipated casualties in an invasion of the Japanese home islands have benefited from archival releases over the last 20 years supporting their case, but the debate still rages.2 Even to suggest that the dropping of the bombs ‘hastened’ the end of the war in the Pacific is not without argument, as, according to one recent account, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria between the dropping of the two bombs was the decisive factor in the Japanese surrender on 15 August.3