As one of the American Studies student representatives for the 2012-2013 academic year, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to “We the People,” an ongoing conversation among undergraduates in the American Studies Program at Stanford University to report on academic endeavors and program events. In November 2012, American Studies majors, faculty, and program affiliates convened at a Fireside Chat, complete with pie of multiple varieties and warm, winter-inspired beverages, to mingle and to honor the election season. More recently, in late-February 2013, we once again convened for “America Out Loud,” an evening of chatter and spoken word performances by American Studies majors to inspire dialogue about 18th, 19th, and 20th century political literature. Readings by our energetic and impressive seniors included: the “In Event of Moon Disaster” memo, scripted by William Safire in July of 1969 as a contingency speech had Apollo 11 failed in its ultimately successful landing on the Moon; Abigail Adams’ famous letter of March 1776 to John Adams, in which she urged her husband to “remember the ladies”; and Walt Whitman’s poem, “O Captain! My Captain!,” an impassioned response to the Civil War and to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
In the coming weeks, my fellow majors in American Studies will share their recent academic findings and experiences in forthcoming blog posts. In the meantime, I am thrilled to inaugurate “We the People” by offering a brief synopsis of my yearlong honors project, a unique opportunity for seniors in American Studies to pursue individual research and to present their findings in a written thesis, a culmination of interdisciplinary scholarship.
Ce n’est plus une prière, mais un ordre qui doit monter des peuples vers les gouvernements, l’ordre de choisir définitivement entre l’enfer et la raison. 
The community that has appointed itself guard of the atomic bomb stands above the realm of nature, being responsible now for its life and death. 
The atom bomb draws its meaning from its human origin: it is the possibility that the hands of man deliberately hang suspended over the future. 
On August 8, 1945, a day after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, unleashing force and destruction to a cataclysmic degree, French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus published a famous commentary on the bombing in Combat, the underground journal of the French Resistance. “This is no longer a prayer,” wrote Camus, “but an order that must make its way up from peoples to their governments: it is the order to choose once and for all between hell and reason.”  Jean-Paul Sartre concurred with his countryman’s sentiments in an October 1945 commentary in Les Temps Modernes, cautioning that “the community that has appointed itself guard of the atomic bomb stands above the realm of nature, being responsible now for its life and death.”  Given the rich tapestry of French intellectual culture and deeply nationalistic claims to early atomic bomb science (preceding the Nazi occupation of France), complex dialogue about the United States’ atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki emerged in France in 1945-1946.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 have long been encoded in American public memory as the definitive catalyst for the conclusion of World War II in the Pacific theater, notwithstanding rigorous scholarship arguing that the bomb was neither necessary nor a coup de grace against Japan. Over the past year, I have been exploring the nature of French philosophical and popular media responses to the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945-1946 to analyze how the bombings were perceived in western Europe and thus to help address a significant gap in scholarship on the bombings. Supported by a grant from Stanford, I spent a week last summer conducting research in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., viewing microfilm reels of French newspapers containing coverage of the bombings, deemed l’aube de l’age atomique, or “the dawn of the atomic age.”
My extensive research has guided me to the deeply felt writings of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Louise Weiss, Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir, and Denis de Rougement, and to French popular news coverage across a broad political spectrum, including articles from Le Monde, La Liberation, Le Figaro, and L’Humanite. As I organize my thoughts and craft my thesis, I have forged the following preliminary conclusions: first, the atomic bombings of Japan prompted French intellectuals to express post-bomb commentary through a prism of existentialist philosophy and thus to link the “dawn of the atomic age” to a dramatic reordering of man, existence, and destruction in a broader cosmological framework, a sobering choice between life and death; and second, French news media reported on the atomic bombings, not as events of cataclysmic destruction and injustice unleashed on Japan, but as the threshold to a “scientific revolution” and thus to era of unbounded possibility in innovation, independent of the military/war context.
While little French material has been translated to English (save for the prominent works of Camus and Sartre), American philosopher and social critic Dwight Macdonald looked across the Atlantic for material from the cohort of French intellectuals to translate and to publish in the journal Politics, of which he served as editor. Macdonald presented his own commentary, entitled “The Bomb,” in October of 1945, in which he presented a sort of lamentation intended to galvanize the public to “chang[e] [its] present tragic destiny.”  Rather than simply decry the bombings as an act of great injustice against the Japanese people, Macdonald’s commentary transcends the bounds of vitriol or visceral expression to call upon the adoption of “negativism,” whereby “every individual who wants to save his humanity…had better begin thinking ‘dangerous thoughts’ about…resistance, rebellion, and the fraternity of all men everywhere.” The cohort of French philosophers knows and feels Macdonald’s sentiments in their own writings, urging active dialogue on the atomic bomb in its intimate relationship to the future of human existence and thus obliquely providing a healthy infusion of “negativism,” where it so desperately lacks in popular news media coverage.
Such ‘progress’ [the advent of the atomic bomb] fills no human needs of either the destroyed or the destroyers. The futility of modern warfare should now be clear.
 Camus, Albert. “Editorial de Combat, 8 Aout 1945.” Electronic version available here.
 Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Aftermath of War (Situations III). Trans. Chris Turner. Oxford: Seagull Books, 2008.
 Bataille, Georges. “Concerning the Accounts Given by the Residents of Hiroshima.” Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Ed. Cathy Caruth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
 Levi-Valensi, Jacqueline, ed. Camus at Combat, Writing 1944-1947. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
 See endnote .
 Macdonald, Dwight. “The Bomb.” Politics October 1945.
Annie Kramer is a senior in the American Studies Program, concentrating in her studies on 20th century war, politics, and ethics. Alongside her predictable perch in the library, Annie can likely be found attempting to satisfy the leaps and bounds of her imagination on skis, on her mountain bike, and on-foot, in the craggy heights of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, in steep, snow-adorned couloirs in the Chilean Andes, in the verdant valleys of western Bhutan, and in the beautiful hills adjacent to the Stanford campus.