Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-5zjcf Total loading time: 0.256 Render date: 2022-08-09T11:06:39.572Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Narrative and nuclear weapons politics: the entelechial force of the nuclear origin myth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2021

Laura Considine*
Affiliation:
School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Social Sciences Building, LeedsLS2 9JT, UK
*
Author for correspondence: Laura Considine, E-mail: l.considine@leeds.ac.uk

Abstract

This paper contributes a novel way to theorise the power of narratives of nuclear weapons politics through Kenneth Burke's concept of entelechy: the means of stating a things essence through narrating its beginning or end. The paper argues that the Manhattan Project functions narratively in nuclear discourse as an origin myth, so that the repeated telling of atomic creation over time frames the possibilities of nuclear politics today. By linking Burke's work on entelechy with literature on narrative and eschatology, the paper develops a theoretical grounding for understanding the interconnection of the nuclear past, present, and future. The paper supports its argument by conducting a wide-ranging survey of academic and popular accounts of the development of the atomic weapon in the US Manhattan Project. It reveals a dominant narrative across these accounts that contains three core tropes: the nuclear weapon as the inevitable and perfected culmination of humankind's tendency towards violence; the Manhattan Project as a race against time; and the nuclear weapon as a product of a fetishized masculine brilliance.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Abraham, Itty. 2006. “The Ambivalence of Nuclear Histories.” Osiris 21 (1): 4965.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Banerjee, Sanjoy. 1998. “Narratives and Interaction: A Constitutive Theory of Interaction and the Case of the All-India Muslim League.” European Journal of International Relations 4 (2): 178203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berenskoetter, Felix. 2014. “Parameters of a National Biography.” European Journal of International Relations 20 (1): 262–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bernstein, Jeremy. 2008. Nuclear Weapons: What You Need to Know. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bially Mattern, Janice. 2005. Ordering International Politics: Identity, Crisis and Representational Force. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bird, Kai, and J. Sherwin, Martin. 2005. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. London: Atlantic Books.Google Scholar
Biswas, Shampa. 2014. Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bliesemann De Guevara, Berit ed. 2016. Myth and Narrative in International Politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Booth, Ken. 1999. “Nuclearism, Human Rights and Constructions of Security (Part 1).” The International Journal of Human Rights 3 (2): 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brand, Laurie A. 2010. “National Narratives and Migration: Discursive Strategies of Inclusion and Exclusion in Jordan and Lebanon.” International Migration Review 44 (1): 78110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brodie, Bernard. 1946. The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order. Harcourt: Brace.Google Scholar
Bronson, Rachel. 2015. “The start of the nuclear age.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists July 16, 2015. Available: https://thebulletin.org/2015/07/the-start-of-the-nuclear-age/.Google Scholar
Brummett, Barry. 1989. “Perfection and the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Teleology, and Motives.” Journal of Communication 39: 8595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, Anthony. 2016. “Nuclear Politics: Beyond Positivism.” Critical Studies on Security 4 (1): 15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 1945. A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 1950. A Rhetoric of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 1958. “On the First Three Chapters of Genesis.” Daedalus 87 (3): 3764.Google Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 1960. “Myth, Poetry and Philosophy.” The Journal of American Folklore 73: 283306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 1966. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 1971. “Doing and Saying Thoughts on Myth, Cult and Archetypes.” Salmagundi (Saratoga Springs, NY) 15: 100–19.Google Scholar
Burke, Kenneth. 2003. On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967–1984. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carter, C. Allen. 1997. “Kenneth Burke and the Bicameral Power of Myth.” Poetics Today 18 (3): 343–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carter, C. Allen. 2000. “Late Burke.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 86 (2): 232–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cohn, Carol. 1987. “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals.” Signs 12 (4): 687718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Considine, Laura. 2017. “The ‘Standardization of Catastrophe’: Nuclear Disarmament, the Humanitarian Initiative and the Politics of the Unthinkable.” European Journal of International Relations 23 (3): 681702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cordle, Daniel. 2006. “Cultures of Terror: Nuclear Criticism During and Since the Cold War.” Literature Compass 3: 1186–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dennis, Michael. 2000. “Review, Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project: A Study in German Culture’ by P.L. Rose’.” Science, Technology & Human Value 25: 380–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Derrida, Jacques, Porter, Catherine, and Lewis, Philip. 1984. “No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives).” Diacritics 14 (2): 2031.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Devetak, Richard. 2009. “After the Event: Don DeLillo's White Noise and September 11 Narratives.” Review of International Studies 35: 795815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Easley, Brian. 1983. Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists and the Nuclear Arms Race. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
Edkins, Jenny. 2003. Trauma and the Memory of Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Egeland, Kjølv. 2021. “The Ideology of Nuclear Order.” New Political Science 43 (2): 208–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Endres, Danielle. 2009. “The Rhetoric of Nuclear Colonialism: Rhetorical Exclusion of American Indian Arguments in the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Siting Decision.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 6 (1): 3960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Enloe, Cynthia. 2004. The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire. California: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Finlayson, Alan. 2007. “From Beliefs to Arguments: Interpretive Methodology and Rhetorical Political Analysis..” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 9 (4): 545563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fishel, Stefanie. 2015. “Remembering Nukes: Collective Memories and Countering State History.” Critical Military Studies 1 (2): 131–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Futter, Andrew. 2015. The Politics of Nuclear Weapons. London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gray, Colin S. 1971. “The Arms Race Phenomenon.” World Politics 24 (1): 3979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gusfield, Joseph R. (1989) The Bridge Over Separated Lands: Kenneth Burke's Significance for the Study of Social Action. In The Legacy of Kenneth Burke, edited by Simons, H.W. and Melia, T., 2854. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
Gusterson, Hugh. 1999. “Nuclear Weapons and the Other in the Western Imagination.” Cultural Anthropology 14 (1): 111–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hagström, Linus, and Gustafsson, Karl. 2019. “Narrative Power: How Storytelling Shapes East Asian International Politics.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 32 (4): 387406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hecht, Gabrielle. 2007. “A Cosmogram for Nuclear Things.” Isis 98: 100–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hecht, Gabrielle 2012. Being Nuclear, Africans and the Global Uranium Trade. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press..Google Scholar
Herken, G. 2003. Brotherhood of the Bomb. New York: Henry Holt & Co.Google Scholar
Herz, John. 2003. Brotherhood of the Bomb. New York: Henry Holt & Co.Google Scholar
Herz, John. 1970 (1953). International Politics in the Atomic Age. New York: Colombia University Press.Google Scholar
Hewlett, Richard G., and Anderson, Oscar E. Jr. (1962) The New World, 1939–1946. Volume 1, A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hill, Ian. 2009. “‘The Human Barnyard’ and Kenneth Burke's Philosophy of Technology.” KB Journal 5 (2). https://www.kbjournal.org/ian_hillGoogle Scholar
Hogg, Jonathan. 2016. British Nuclear Culture, Official and Unofficial Narratives in the Long 20th Century. London: Bloomsbury.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Howes, Ruth H., and Herzenberg, Caroline L.. 1999. Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Hughes, Jeff. 2012. “What is British Nuclear Culture? Understanding Uranium 235.” The British Journal for the History of Science 45 (4): 495518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Intondi, Vincent J. 2015. Afro-Americans against the Bomb. Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism and the Black Freedom Movement. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Jameson, Fredric. 1978. “The Symbolic Inference; Or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis.” Critical Inquiry 4 (3): 507–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jones, Vincent C. 1985. Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb. United States Army in World War II Special Studies. Washington, DC, U.S.: Army Center of Military History.Google Scholar
Kauffman, Stuart J. 2009. “Narratives and Symbols in Violent Mobilization: The Palestinian-Israeli Case.” Security Studies 18 (3): 400–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kelly, Cynthia ed. 2009. The Manhattan Project. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal.Google Scholar
Kermode, Frank. 1968. The Sense of an Ending. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Kiernan, Denise. 2013. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
Kinsella, William J. 2005a. “One Hundred Years of Nuclear Discourse: Four Master Themes and Their Implications for Environmental Communication.” In Environmental Communication Yearbook Volume 2, edited by Senecah, Susan L., 4972. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Kinsella, William J. 2005b. “Rhetoric, Action, and Agency in Institutionalized Science and Technology.” Technical Communication Quarterly 14 (3): 303–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krebs, Ronald R. 2015. Narrative and the Making of US National Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuletz, Valerie. 1998. The Tainted Desert: Environmental and Social Ruin in the American Southwest. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Laucht, Christoph. 2009. “An Extraordinary Achievement of the ‘American Way’: Hollywood and the Americanization of the Making of the Atom Bomb in Fat Man & Little Boy.” European Journal of American Culture 28 (1): 4156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Laurence, William. 1947. Dawn Over Zero: The Story of the Atomic Bomb. London: Museum Press.Google Scholar
Lindsay, Stan A. 1998. Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke's Extension of Aristotle's Concept of Entelechy. Lanham: University Press of America.Google Scholar
Malksoo, Maria. 2009. “The Memory Politics of Becoming European: The East European Subalterns and the Collective Memory of Europe.” European Journal of International Relations 15 (4): 653–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Masco, Joseph. 2004. “Nuclear Technoaesthetics: Sensory Politics from Trinity to the Virtual Bomb in Los Alamos.” American Ethnologist 31 (3): 349–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Masco, Joseph 2006. The Nuclear Borderlands, The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Masco, Joseph 2012. “The End of Ends.” Anthropological Quarterly 85 (4): 1107–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maurer, Anaïs, and Hogue, Rebecca H.. 2020. “Introduction: Transnational Nuclear Imperialisms.” Journal of Transnational American Studies 11 (2): 2543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morgenthau, Hans. (1961) Death in the Nuclear Age, Commentary Magazine, September 1961.Google Scholar
Morton-Smith, Tom. 2015. Oppenheimer. London: Oberon Books.Google Scholar
Muppidi, Himadeep. (2005) Colonial and Postcolonial Global Governance. In Power in Global Governance, edited by Barnett, Michael and Duvall, Raymond, 273293. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Norris, Margot. 1997. “Dividing the Indivisible: The Fissured Story of the Manhattan Project.” Cultural Critique 35: 538.Google Scholar
Pais, Abraham, and Crease, Robert P.. 2007. J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Pelopidas, Benoît. 2011. “The Oracles of Proliferation.” The Nonproliferation Review 18 (1): 297314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pelopidas, Benoît. 2016. “Nuclear Weapons Scholarship as a Case of Self-Censorship in Security Studies.” Journal of Global Security Studies 4 (1): 326–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pelopidas, B. 2021. The Birth of Nuclear Eternity. In Futures, edited by Kemp, S. and Andersson, J.. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198806820.013.28Google Scholar
Peoples, Columba. 2016. “Redemption and Nutopia: The Scope of Nuclear Critique in International Studies.” Millennium, Journal of International Studies 44 (2): 216–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Polletta, Francesca. 1998. “It was Like a Fever…” Narrative and Identity in Social Protest.” Social Problems 45 (2): 137–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rhodes, Richard. 1986. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
Ritchie, Nick. 2013. “Valuing and Devaluing Nuclear Weapons.” Contemporary Security Policy 34 (1): 146–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ritchie, Nick. 2014. “Waiting for Kant: Devaluing and Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons.” International Affairs 90 (3): 601–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schell, Jonathan. 1982. The Fate of the Earth. London: Cape.Google Scholar
Schelling, Tomas C., and Halperin, Morton B.. 1961. Strategy and Arms Control. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.Google Scholar
Schiappa, Edward. 1989. “The Rhetoric of Nukespeak.” Communication Monographs 3 (56): 253–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schweber, Silvan. 2000. In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Shepherd, Laura J. 2015. “Ideas/Matter: Conceptualising Foreign Policy Practice.” Critical Studies on Security 3 (3): 334–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Signorile, Vito. (1989) Ratios and Causes: The Pentad as an Etiological Scheme in Sociological Explanation. In The Legacy of Kenneth Burke, edited by Simons, Herbert W. and Melia, Trevor, 7498. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
Soukup, Charles. 2007. “Mastering the Game: Gender and the Entelechial Motivational System of Video Games.” Women's Studies in Communication 30 (2): 157178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steele, Brent J. 2010. Defacing Power: The Aesthetics of Insecurity in Global Politics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Suganami, Hidemi. 1997. “Stories of War Origins: A Narrativist Theory of the Causes of War.” Review of International Studies 23 (4): 401–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Suganami, Hidemi. 1999. “Agents, Structures, Narratives.” European Journal of International Relations 5 (3): 365–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Suganami, Hidemi. 2008. “Narrative Explanation and International Relations: Back to Basics.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 37 (2): 327–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taylor, Bryan C. 1990. “Reminiscences of Los Alamos: Narrative, Critical Theory, and the Organizational Subject.” Western Journal of Speech Communication 54: 395419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taylor, Bryan C. 1992. “The Politics of the Nuclear Text: Reading Robert Oppenheimer's Letters and Recollections.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 78: 429–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taylor, Bryan C. 1993b. “Register of the Repressed: Women's Voice and Body in the Nuclear Weapons Organization.”.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79 (3): 267–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taylor, Bryan C. 2010. “A Hedge against the Future: The Post-Cold War Rhetoric of Nuclear Weapons Modernization.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 96 (1): 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Teaiwa, Teresia K. 1994. “Bikinis and Other S/Pacific N/Oceans.” The Contemporary Pacific 6 (1): 87109.Google Scholar
Truman, Harry S. 1945. “Statement by the President Announcing the Use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima,” 6 August 1945. The American Presidency Project. Available at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=12169.Google Scholar
Wibben, Annick T. R. 2010. Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, Paul. 2011. Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War: Representations of Nuclear Weapons and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.Google Scholar
Younger, Stephen. 2009. The Bomb: A New History. New York: Ecco, Harper Collins.Google Scholar

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Narrative and nuclear weapons politics: the entelechial force of the nuclear origin myth
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Narrative and nuclear weapons politics: the entelechial force of the nuclear origin myth
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Narrative and nuclear weapons politics: the entelechial force of the nuclear origin myth
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *