Jonathan Andrew Lear

  • Fellowship year:2021-2022
  • University: University of California at Berkeley
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Japan
  • Dissertation Title: Splitting the Atom, Fusing the Nation: Japan, West Germany, and the Making of the Atomic Age
  • My dissertation is a transnational and global history of Japan and West Germany's commercial nuclear projects, which focuses on the transwar cohort of scientists, bureaucrats, and journalists whose lives became intertwined with the atomic future in the years following national collapse. By exploring the biographies and thought of these elites, my thesis challenges the prevailing view that Japan and West Germany’s commercial atomic regimes should be viewed solely through the lens of postwar American power. Rather, my dissertation argues that these two states’ atomic worlds emerged from long-standing concerns regarding the survival of the nation and from deeper discourses related to the nature of civilizational and human progress. I draw on a robust archive of sources produced and collected by both states’ nuclear energy industries to make this case, including atomic newspapers, industrial films, and educational materials, along with the memoirs, personal papers, lectures, and popular science texts penned by Japanese and German atomic advocates. By recentering the narratives contained within these sources, my research reframes the Atomic Age as a more global endeavor—one actively conceptualized and constructed by nations and cosmopolitan elites who have traditionally been left out of this story.

    Japanese and West German nuclear advocates made strikingly similar arguments regarding the nature of their project. In their eyes, atomic power could function as a means to overcoming a sordid national past, a way to strengthen the nation’s material foundations in the face of an uncertain future, and a tool for the nation’s reintegration into the global community. The collective use of such arguments suggests that the push to dream and enact a nuclear future was in fact a shared solution to the dilemmas facing these two post-fascist societies and a common response by prewar elites seeking to reinvent their professional lives. When conquering territory and extracting resources under the banners of ultranationalism and racial supremacy were no longer viable options, bureaucrats and intellectuals in both states were forced to retheorize the nature of national progress. When they did so, they often returned to previous narratives of civilization that had taken hold in the liberal 1920s, if not earlier. For these actors, a common human history, based on the supposedly value neutral concepts of science and technology, could be turned into an effective vehicle for national renewal and a way to lay the past to rest.