Saturday, August 06, 2005

shadows of a thousand suns 

hiroshima memorialLet all souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.

inscription: Memorial Cenotaph, Hiroshima Peace Park

And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. ~ Revelation 6:4

The following blockquoted material, written by Faubion Bowers, can be found in The People's Almanac (1975), by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace; pages 507-510.

August 6, 1945:
There was a pika, a blinding flash of pink, blue, red, or yellow light -- none of the survivors ever agreed on the color -- brighter than 1,000 suns but coming from a fireball only 110 yards in diameter. In that split second the hypocenter or point of impact reached a heat of 300,000 C. Within a 1,000-yard radius granite buildings melted, steel and stone bridges burned and so did the river below them, roof tiles boiled, and people evaporated, leaving their shadows "photographed" like X-ray negatives on walls and pavements.

In a matter of seconds, 4 sq mi. of central Hiroshima was flattened into extinction. Every clock and watch stopped at exactly the same time: 8:15. Because of ionization, the choking air filled with a sickish sweet "electric smell." The bright blue, sunlit sky turned darkly yellow, and a churning cloud of smoke spurted upward for 50,000'. From a distance it looked like a gigantic mushroom, but to the escaping Enola Gay the shape was more that of grotesque question mark. Capt. Robert Lewis, the co-pilot, exclaimed as he saw it roiling in the air, "My God, what have we done?" The cloud rose so high its heat condensed water vapor. In minutes "black rain," sticky, pebble-sized drops of wet radioactive dust dripped down over Hiroshima, staining the skin of the survivors with red blotches.

Within an hour or so, 100,000 Japanese had died outright. So did 22 American men and women, who were prisoners of war. A 23rd, a young soldier surviving the explosion, was dragged from the rubble of the detention camp and slaughtered by angry Japanese. The population still able to walk around wandered about the smoking ruins in a bewildered daze, unable to find their loved ones, incapable of orienting themselves, as all landmarks had vanished. Amazingly, the survivors felt little pain. It was as if the greater terror of the unknown canceled the lesser horror of suffering. Most of the walking wounded were naked, their clothes having been burned or blown off, but among the sizzled bodies it was impossible to tell men from women. Those who had been wearing white were less scarred than others, since dark colors absorbed, rather than deflected, thermonuclear light. Friends did not recognize each other, because some had lost their faces. Others had "imprints" of their nose or ears outlined on their cheeks. Those who reached out to help the more severly disabled drew back their hands only to find they were holding gobbets of charred flesh. Wounds smoked when dipped in water.

In time, another 100,000 Japanese would slowly die from thermal burns and radiation sickness.

"A weapon of unparalled power is being created. Unless, indeed, some international agreement about the control of the use of the new active materials (uranium, plutonium, etc.) can be obtained, any temporary advantage, however great, may be outweighed by a perpetual menace to human society." - Niels Bohr, in letter to both Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944.

In April 1945, Einstein himself had 2nd thoughts about what he had started. Again he wrote to Roosevelt, asking for extreme caution in the use of the bomb, but Roosevelt died and the letter lay on his desk. By June, 1945, the German James Franck, the Hungarian Leo Szilard, and 57 other top-ranking scientists petitioned from New Mexico that "if the U.S. releases this means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she will sacrifice public support throughout the world and precipitate the race for armaments." [...] ...[Arthur Compton] wanted a nonmilitary demonstration to "warn" and "impress" the Japanese before actually using the bomb.

The Government in Washington argued back and forth. Secretary of War Stimson and some of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted that it would save 100,000 American lives and that dropping it by surprise on a "combined military and residential [civilian] target would produce maximum psychological shock." (These were the same reasons Hitler had given for the attack on Rotterdam.) General Marshall wanted the Soviets to join the war against Japan and to save the bomb for use at some possible future date against the Soviets. General Eisenhower felt that the Japanese were already beaten, that acceptable warfare could finish the job and bring about surrender. He said, in short, that the bomb was completely unnecessary and would rouse world condemnation.

Throughout the discussion and disputations, as Compton would later say. "it seemed a foregone conclusion that the bomb would be used." The final decision was up to President Truman. When John Toland, author of The Rising Sun, asked him if he had done any soul-searching before deciding, Truman replied , "Hell, no. I made it like that," and he snapped his fingers in the air.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another. - J. Robert Oppenheimer

"If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky,
That would be like the splendor of the Mighty One...
I am become Death,
The shatterer of Worlds."

~ The Bhagavad-Gita


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