When you come to ponder the creation of the atom bomb, praising God probably isn’t the first thing that you think about. Of course, things were slightly different back in 1946. Not only were most Americans blissfully unaware of the terrible consequences of the bomb for those affected by it, but they were also grateful that the bloody war against Japan had come to an end without necessitating a land invasion. While the moral complexities of this position continue to be debated to this day, for many Americans in the 1940s the bomb seemed to beckon them towards a wonderful world of technology in which life became increasingly straight forward. In December 1945, Slim Gaillard’s upbeat “Atomic Cocktail” (listen on YouTube) therefore imagined the effects of sipping the drink of the song’s title:
Push a button, turn a dialYour work is done for miles and milesWhen it hits it’s bound to shakeBecause it feels like an earthquakeThat’s the drink that you don’t pourWhen you take one sip you won’t need any moreYou’ll feel small as a beetle, big as a whaleBoom! Atomic cocktail!
A much more sober and patriotic take on the atomic phenomenon came from the world of “hillbilly” music. Karl Davis and Hartford “Harty” Connecticut Taylor styled themselves as a pair of performing brothers and formed a successful partnership in Kentucky in the 1930s. They featured regularly on national radio shows in that period. Although never making it big, they recorded for labels such as Capitol and Columbia in the 1940s, and were credited as influencing acts like The Everly Brothers. “When the Atom Bomb Fell” was written and recorded in late 1945, and clearly owes many of its lyrical themes (particularly the distasteful references to “cruel Japs”) to Second World War patriotism. It is, then, very much a song of its time – and its jingoism combines with a naivety about what the bomb actually does. More importantly, it also begins a trend which runs through the Cold War period, in identifying the Atom Bomb with God’s justice and judgement day – something I’ll return to as we tour through the Cold War period over the next few days. Here the atom bomb serves as the answer to prayer; as evidence of God’s willingness to support America in her fight against evil. The idea of the bomb to help America is one I’ll return to tomorrow. For now, enjoy a song which is very much “of its time”.
When the Atom Bomb Fell (Davis-Taylor)Oh it went up so loud it divided up the clouds
And the houses did vanish away
And a great a ball of light filled the Japanese with fright
They must have thought it was their judgement daySmoke and fire it did flow through the land of Tokyo
There was brimstone and dust everywhere
When it all cleared away there the cruel Japs did lay
The answer to our fighting boys’ prayers
Yes Lord, the answer to our fighting boys’ prayersThere was no atheist in a foxhole
And men who never prayed before
Lifted tired and bloodshot eyes to heaven
And begged the Lord to end that awful warThey told Him of their homes and loved onesThey told Him that they’d like to be thereI believe the bomb that struck HiroshimaWas the answer to our fighting boys’ prayersOh it went up so loud it divided up the cloudsAnd the houses did vanish awayAnd a great a ball of light filled the Japanese with frightThey must have thought it was their judgement daySmoke and fire it did flow through the land of TokyoThere was brimstone and dust everywhereWhen it all cleared away there the cruel Japs did layThe answer to our fighting boys’ prayersYes, Lord, the answer to our fighting boys’ prayers