NAGASAKI & NECESSARY KNOWLEDGE TO AVOID NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE
No matter what, in the fullness of time, the certainty is inescapable that something much, much worse than Hiroshima will happen to humankind if we insist on maintaining now-thermonuclear arsenals of megadeath. The most obvious reason that this ultimately inevitable mass collective suicide continues to hang over our heads like a looming time bomb is that we haven’t figured out how to stop it, how to leave the NuclearFuel Fool Cycle behind. For me, not knowing how to begin effecting such a monumental shift in the direction of life, I have just elected to write and produce and perform each year whatever I could manage, to bring attention back to this hideous pass in human history.
Tragic wastage and soulless murder ought to be enough to change our ways. Knowledge of diplomatic venality in the service of imperial plunder and industrial profiteering ought to prove adequate as an inducement to alter our path. Learning more and more and more about the sinister and insidious and nearly eternal toxicity of Uranium and Plutonium, not to mention the ecocidal potential of nuclear explosions or nuclear accidents themselves, ought to divert us from the dance of death that our President has just funded, to the tune of a trillion dollars of American treasure, as a twenty year project of additionally upgrading our already sublime and universal instruments of total genocide.
But awareness has not worked to turn our direction from self-destruction. What we ought is not what transpires; rather what is expedient and lucrative and empowering for those in command comes to pass year after year, decade after decade.
So this year a new thought occurred to me. Maybe we fail to understand why these satanic weapons and the cult of nuclear electricity that accompanies them are so seductive and ineluctable to the powers that be. I’ve written about these reasons, but I’ll do so with additional fervor in the coming period.
For now, for this brief outreach, I’ll just state this. Essentially, the driving need for ‘safe investments’ remains supreme as more and more dollars pile up with no apparent outlet for the current that this currency wants to create. Finding long term harbors for keeping this cash is therefore paramount, portals that require elite control, that magically subsume all the surplus to which plutocrats want to cling while the various underlying systems’ development and deployment necessitate technocratic oversight, increased militarization, and the manifestation of tighter and tighter police-state protocols.
Basically, in other words, under such a rubric, capital and profit mandate choosing every nuclear option available. The ‘leaders of the free world’ have no choice but to embrace such nuclear nuances, which means that their competitors—whether Russian or Chinese or Indian or otherwise—will ultimately also have no choice.
How could recognition of this pattern, finally and hope against hope, make a difference? Here’s one way. If we notice, clearly and without equivocation, that the business of business will always center on thermonuclear weapons and at the same time on the electricity production that relies on the same atomic reactions and thereby creates components for the bombs of power that the incorporated world demands, then an ah-ha moment is plausible, like the ability to see in the growing light of dawn the features of a landscape that had theretofore been unrecognizable.
Capitalism’s continued operation cannot break free of fission and fusion and all the other capital intensive tricks that for a time both cure its contradictions and consolidate its imprimatur. This link guarantees in time that nuclear war will happen. That nuclear war equals likely extinction is obvious. Therefore, human survival has as one of its first commandments this: we must end the rule of the bourgeoisie, or we will all burn till all that remains of us is irradiated ash.
Is that enough? Is that adequate inducement? Time will tell, albeit the clock says two or three minutes to midnight. The hour is late. Time is short, at least if we imagine our children, and our children’s children, as beings who will have the opportunity to dream, as did the children of Hiroshima as dawn drew nigh amid early morning dewfall August 6, precisely seven decades and one year ago.”—Countercurrents
President Harry S. Truman was meeting with Churchill and Stalin in the Berlin suburbof Potsdam when secret news came that the New Mexico test of the atomic bomb was a success. Observers recall that Truman was ‘a changed man,’ euphoric with the possession of such power. While more profound men shuddered at the implications of this destructive force, to Truman and his ‘conniving’ Secretary of State, James Byrnes, the message was: ‘Now we can get away with everything.’ They proceeded to act on that assumption – first of all in their relations with Moscow.
The demonstrated possession of such a weapon gave Truman and Byrnes such a sense of power that they could abandon previous promises to the Russians and attempt to bully Moscow in Europe. In that sense, the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only gratuitously killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. They also started the Cold War.
A most significant observation on the effects of the atomic bomb is attributed to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. As his son recounted, he was deeply depressed on learning at the last minute of plans to use the bomb. Shortly after Hiroshima, Eisenhower is reported to have said privately: ‘Before the bomb was used, I would have said yes, I was sure we could keep the peace with Russia. Now, I don’t know. Until now I would have said that we three, Britain with her mighty fleet, America with the strongest air force, and Russia with the strongest land force on the continent, we three could have guaranteed the peace of the world for a long, long time to come. But now, I don’t know. People are frightened and disturbed all over. Everyone feels insecure again.’
(The collapse of Soviet control and the end of the Cold War has returned American leaders to the arrogance of just after Hiroshima and Nagasaki). In his 1974 book about his relations with his brother Dwight, The President Is Calling, Milton Eisenhower wrote: ‘Our employment of this new force at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a supreme provocation to other nations, especially the Soviet Union.’ And he added, ‘Certainly what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki will forever be on the conscience of the American people.’
Alas, the evidence so far is all to the contrary. Concerned critics have been marginalized. Systematic official lies about the ‘necessity to save American lives’ have left the collective American conscience perfectly clear, while the power of the Bomb has created a lasting sense of self-righteous ‘exceptionalism’ in the nation’s leaders. We Americans alone can do what others cannot, because we are ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ and they – if we so decide – are not. Other countries, not being ‘democracies,’ can be destroyed in order to liberate them. Or simply destroyed. This is the bottom line of the ‘exceptionalism’ that substitutes in Washington for the ‘conscience of the American people,’ which was not aroused by Hiroshima, but asphyxiated.
(S)o far, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are very far from marking the ‘start of our own moral awakening.’ On the contrary. The illusion of possessing limitless power removed any need for critical self-examination, any need to make a real effort to understand others who are not like us and don’t want to be like us, but could share the planet peacefully if we would leave them alone. Since we are all-powerful, we must be a force for good. In reality, we are neither. But we seem incapable of recognizing the limits of our ‘exceptionalism.'”—
Debate about dropping the bomb should have ended long ago, verylong ago, July 1, 1946 to be precise. The implication of the document published on that date, and cited above, is inescapable – the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was gratuitous. The document is not the product of reviled revisionist historians who dare to dispute comforting civic mythology. The sorely neglected, inconvenient truth is found in theofficial US War Department document just cited: the United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report (Pacific War). The War Department Survey recounts the anticipated outcome of terrorism with an American accent: ‘As might be expected, the primary reaction of the populous to the bomb was fear, [and] uncontrolled terror.’ To reiterate: ‘Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bomb had not been dropped.’
General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the US Army Airforce – General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove – took the Adolph Eichmann defense: because he was following orders it took away the blame: ‘Truman told me to do it. He told me in a personal letter.’ Curiously, noted super hawk Edward Teller – Dr. Strangelove was his avatar – personally told me what his biographers recount: He opposed using the bomb on civilians. (To be recounted in ‘My dinner with Edward’ – a future recollection.) Other Manhattan Project scientists also opposed dropping the bomb on civilians, and Oppenheimer and Einstein would soon lament their roles in developing the ultimate terror weapon.
So why was the bomb dropped? Civic mythology, as we’ve seen, provides very good reasons; what are the real reasons? A truism: Generals are always fighting the last war, and warriors use every weapons at their disposal. However, generals also fight future wars. Evidently, General Leslie Groves (Manhattan Project director) fought future wars amid the bomb’s development. Physicist Joseph Rotblat – the only scientist to leave the Project – recounts the ‘disagreeable shock’ when Groves told him: ‘The real purpose in making the bomb was to subdue the Soviets.’ The instantaneous destruction of two virtually unscathed cities displayed the awesome power of the atom to the Soviets and sent terrorism’s signature message – be afraid, be terribly afraid!
(Of course, after the Russians got bombs, the rationale was that Mutually Assured Destruction would keep us safe. America’s exceptional role would do the rest. Such nonsense perches humankind on the brink of annihilation). The jeremiad of Bernard Brodie, an early nuclear strategist, still resonates: ‘Nuclear weapons are incredibly destructive. Even so, none of the presidential candidates makes the abolition of nuclear weapons a top priority; indeed, these ultimate weapons of mass destruction are usually ignored.’ (Like Obama, Bernie gave a de rigueur nod to a world without nuclear weapons.) Listening to the debates, you would never know that Robert McNamara advocated nuclear abolition in his last speech. You wouldn’t hear the warning of General Lee Butler, the former supreme commander of US nuclear forces: ‘I made the long and arduous intellectual journey from staunch advocate of nuclear deterrence to public proponent of nuclear abolition. We have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason . . . poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants.'”—Tikkun
The initial fireball. The warhead would probably be detonated slightly more than a mile above the city, to maximize the damage created by its blast wave. Within a few tenths of millionths of a second after detonation, the center of the warhead would reach a temperature of roughly 200 million degrees Fahrenheit (about 100 million degrees Celsius), or about four to five times the temperature at the center of the sun. A ball of superheated air would form, initially expanding outward at millions of miles per hour. It would act like a fast-moving piston on the surrounding air, compressing it at the edge of the fireball and creating a shockwave of vast size and power.
After one second, the fireball would be roughly a mile in diameter. It would have cooled from its initial temperature of many millions of degrees to about 16,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 4,000 degrees hotter than the surface of the sun. On a clear day with average weather conditions, the enormous heat and light from the fireball would almost instantly ignite fires over a total area of about 100 square miles.
Hurricane of fire. Within seconds after the detonation, fires set within a few miles of the fireball would burn violently. These fires would force gigantic masses of heated air to rise, drawing cooler air from surrounding areas toward the center of the fire zone from all directions. As the massive winds drove flames into areas where fires had not yet fully developed,the fires set by the detonation would begin to merge. Within tens of minutes of the detonation, fires from near and far would join to form a single, gigantic fire. The energy released by this mass fire would be 15 to 50 times greater than the energy produced by the nuclear detonation.
Ground zero: Midtown Manhattan. The fireball would vaporize the structures directly below it and produce an immense blast wave and high-speed winds, crushing even heavily built concrete structures within a couple miles of ground zero. The blast would tear apart high-rise buildings and expose their contents to the solar temperatures; it would spread fires by exposing ignitable surfaces, releasing flammable materials, and dispersing burning materials. At the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, about one half to three quarters of a mile from ground zero, light from the fireball would melt asphalt in the streets, burn paint off walls, and melt metal surfaces within a half second of the detonation. Roughly one second later, the blast wave and 750-mile-per-hour winds would arrive, flattening buildings and tossing burning cars into the air like leaves in a windstorm. Throughout Midtown, the interiors of vehicles and buildings in line of sight of the fireball would explode into flames.
At a distance from the fireball (of a mile or more), it would take about four seconds for the blast wave to arrive. As it passed over, the blast wave would engulf all structures and crush them; it would generate ferocious winds of 400 to 500 miles per hour that would persist for a few seconds The high winds would tear structural elements from buildings and cause them to disintegrate explosively into smaller pieces. Some of these pieces would become destructive projectiles, causing further damage. The superheated, dust-laden winds would be strong enough to overturn trucks and buses. Two miles from ground zero, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with all its magnificent historical treasures, would be obliterated. Two and half miles from ground zero, in Lower Manhattan, the East Village, and Stuyvesant Town, the fireball would appear 2,700 times brighter than a desert sun at noon. There, thermal radiation would melt and warp aluminum surfaces, ignite the tires of autos, and turn exposed skin to charcoal, before the blast wave arrived and ripped apart the buildings.
Three to nine miles from ground zero. Midtown is bordered by the relatively wide Hudson and East rivers, and fires would start simultaneously in large areas on both sides of these waterways (that is, in Queens and Brooklyn as well as Jersey City and West New York). Although the direction of the fiery winds in regions near the river would be modified by the water, the overall wind pattern from these huge neighboring fire zones would be similar to that of a single mass fire, with its center at Midtown, Manhattan. Three miles from ground zero, in Union City, New Jersey, and Astoria, Queens, the fireball would be as bright as 1,900 suns and deliver more than five times the thermal energy deposited at the perimeter of the mass fire at Hiroshima. In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and in the Civic Center of Lower Manhattan, clothes worn by people in the direct line of sight of the fireball would burst into flames or melt, and uncovered skin would be charred, causing third-degree and fourth-degree burns. It would take 12 to 14 seconds for the blast wave to travel three miles after the fireball’s initial flash of light. At this distance, the blast wave would last for about three seconds and be accompanied by winds of 200 to 300 miles per hour. Residential structures would be destroyed; high-rises would be at least heavily damaged.”Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists