Chernobyl Before Chernobyl: Remembering The Anti-Nuclear Origins Of ‘Godzilla’

Senior Editor
05.31.19

A few days ago, New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz tweeted that she’d just started watching HBO’s Chernobyl and was “endlessly grateful that I got to be an American and not grow up in a backward ass country that is more concerned with the embarrassment of a nuclear accident than its deadly ramifications.” Many people rightfully schooled her (obvious trolling though it probably was) on the United States’ many nuclear (and other) cover-ups of our own. But it’s true, none of those have had their own high profile HBO show. Sure, Eric Schlosser wrote a whole book about them, but if only there was a prestige TV show or a multiplex drama about one of the United States’ nuclear accidents and subsequent cover-ups.

As luck would have it, there is. Or at least, there’s the sequel to the reboot of the remake of a movie about a United States’ nuclear accident — opening this week, in the form of Godzilla: King Of Monsters.

While some people sort of half remember that Godzilla was originally inspired by or vaguely referenced nuclear bombs or nuclear testing, most have forgotten that the original Japanese Godzilla, 1954’s Gojira, was aimed specifically at U.S. nuclear testing, referenced one disastrous test in particular, and even ended with a fourth wall-breaking plea to its audience, Reefer Madness-style.

Daniel Immerwahr, an associate professor of history at Northwestern, details the event in his excellent new book, How To Hide An Empire: A History Of The Greater United States. I spoke to him by phone this week in the hopes that a Godzilla sequel, however far from its origins, could be an occasion to refresh our memories.

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