Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy Nuke Day!

It was on this day, 63 years ago, that mankind produced the first man-made nuclear explosion with a plutonium fission device at the Trinity Test Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Shortly thereafter, World War II was ended when quickly-weaponized atomic bombs were first used in anger over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While fewer died on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively, than were killed in conventional raids on Dresden and Tokyo, it is the events of August 1945, which command the attention of most.

And what were the results of man's success in harnessing the atom?

Hundreds of thousands of American and Allied troops were neither maimed nor killed because President Harry S. Truman had the wit to bring to bear this new instrument of American power. Likewise, hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Japanese survived who would not have, had the Allies been forced to invade and conquer the Japanese mainland.

Nuclear weapons can also happily be credited with the lack of a direct major-power confrontation during the last half of the Twentieth Century. Doubtless, we came close to one on a number of occasions. Nevertheless, the prospect of the horrific consequences of the use of nuclear weapons as equally undoubtedly a major factor in preserving a precarious --- if imperfect --- peace notwithstanding the ideological hostility between the world's two major powers in the post-war period.

Alan Oppenheimer, the on-site head of the Manhattan Project, quoted Shiva, the destroyer, from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, upon witnessing mankind's first atomic mushroom cloud: "I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds."

Literary critic and historian Paul Fussell --- himself a veteran of the war in Europe, and scheduled for transfer to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan --- observed twenty years ago, in the title essay (called "classic" by one author, and "powerful" by another) of his book, Thank God for the Atom Bomb.

Today, I would put it more simply: Happy Nuke Day!

No comments: