The Trinity test took place at the Alamogordo Bombing
Range, now the White Sands Missile Range. The device, nicknamed
“gadget”, exploded with an energy equivalent
to 19 kilotons of TNT. It left a crater in the desert 3
meters deep and 330 meters wide. The shock wave was felt
over 160 km away, and the mushroom cloud reached 12 km.
Around 260 personnel were present, none closer than 9 km.
The nuclear genie will never
be put back in the bottle. In the New York Times of September
26, 1945, William Laurence wrote, "And just at that
instance there rose from the bowels of the earth a light
not of this world, the light of many suns in one."
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The story of what happened at Trinity did not come to light
until after the second atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima,
Japan, on August 6. President Truman made the announcement
that day. Three days later, August 9, the third atomic bomb
devastated the city of Nagasaki, and on August 14 the Japanese
Altogether, the two bombings
killed an estimated 110,000 Japanese citizens and injured
another 130,000. By 1950, another 230,000 Japanese had died
from injuries or radiation. Though the two cities were nominally
military targets, the overwhelming majority of the casualties
were civilian. Precedents for bombing civilians were already
well established, with thousands of firebombing runs used
extensively through World War II by the US. However, the
decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the first and
last use of atomic weapons in combat - remains one of the
most controversial in military history.
Those who made the decision,
as well as most of the survivors, are long gone. The effects,
though - the lingering scourge of radiation, the memory
of the ghastly civilian casualties, the psychological impact
of simply knowing that such a destructive force exists -
The Cold War
Baby Boomers grew up with the direct threat of the Bomb
from the then Soviet Union. They and their parents built
bomb shelters in their backyards, and decorated them as
vacation retreats. They waited out the Cuban Missile Crisis;
President Kennedy, in a televised address on October 22,
1962, announced the discovery of Soviet missile installations
in Cuba and proclaimed that any nuclear missile attack from
Cuba would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet Union
and would be responded to accordingly. People had a very
real feeling of how close the world was to nuclear Armageddon.
Children of the Baby Boomers
(like us) knew of the threat, but it was removed from our
direct experience. There is a whole generation growing up
today only knowing of the vaguest appropriate actions to
take in a nuclear attack. Our safety relied on “Mutually
Assured Destruction”, and Reagan sold the public that
the MX missile was a “Peacekeeper”.
Present and Future
The nuclear threat lurks just below the surface everywhere.
President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry both
described nuclear proliferation as the number one threat
to US security in the 2004 debates. Pundits and US news
organizations have of late devoted a great deal of time
describing how the nuclear threat is just around the corner;
nuclear weapons are a fixture of the fear zeitgeist...
It was argued that the Iraqi
nuclear threat was a premise to going in to the Iraq War.
North Korea and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons and have
sold the technology to other countries. Iran is developing
nuclear weapons. India has nuclear weapons and is developing
thermonuclear weapons. Russia is missing and has sold its
nuclear weapon technology or materials. Israel, in the middle
of the volatile Middle East, has the Bomb but denies it.
Libya, Brazil, and South Africa all had and have abandoned
weapons programs. Terrorists seek to carry suitcase nukes,
or load “dirty bombs” into shipping containers.
The US military routinely
uses depleted uranium in its bombs. The Bush Administration
is pushing development of modern “tactical nukes”
such as nuclear bunker busters, exiting the ABM treaty and
has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Many more are available than we can list here.
Peace Memorial Museum
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
The Nuclear Age Peace
Nuclear Policy Research Institute
The Bomb Project
Atomic Web Site
- Trinity Site
The Atomic Archive
Archive of Nuclear Data
A few titles we've read recently in preparation
for this project...
Suns, Michael Light, Knopf, 2003
Sun, by Richard Rhodes, Simon and Schuster, 1996
Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes, Simon
and Schuster, 1986
Day the Sun Rose Twice, by Ferenc Szasz, University
of New Mexico Press, 1984
of Fire: Los Alamos and the Atomic Age, 1943-1945, by
James Kunetka, University of New Mexico Press, 1978
It Can Be Told, by General Leslie Groves, Da Capo Press,