FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

After Hiroshima: Lessons Learned?

by LEE GAiLLARD

Warning signs appeared from the start. The world’s first nuclear explosion on July 16, 1945, saw the prototype of the Fat Man plutonium bomb that would pulverize Nagasaki detonate with a violence four times the Los Alamos Lab’s estimates. The Little Boy uranium bomb soon to be dropped on Hiroshima? Never tested.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the worst U.S. air attacks on Japan during World War II. The March 9-10, 1945, B-29 firebombing raid on Tokyo incinerated over 100,000 victims—more than died immediately following either nuclear attack. But not until Aug. 6 and 9, when they saw two entire cities destroyed by a single atomic bomb apiece, would Emperor Hirohito and his military leaders finally consider surrender.

Military analysts say nuclear weapons shortened the Pacific war by at least two years, preserved half a million American lives that would have been lost invading the Japanese home islands, and saved more than four million Japanese soldiers and civilians from death in battle or by starvation.

Nevertheless, the ensuing 67 years have seen U.S. stewardship of its nuclear policy and weaponry nudged to the brink of catastrophe by ignorance, arrogance, and mechanical malfunction.

Take the March 1, 1954, Bravo test shot of the first dry-fuel hydrogen bomb, its fusion reactions stoked by powdered lithium deuteride. At 15 megatons (a megaton = a million tons of TNT), it remains the largest explosion triggered by the United States—a blast exceeding 1,000 times the power of the uranium bomb that had leveled Hiroshima.

But at three times its projected yield, this Pacific test triggered frightening unintended consequences. With an initial fireball four miles wide, its roiling radioactive cloud eventually reached 130,000 feet and a breadth of 66 miles. It damaged a massive RB-36D reconnaissance bomber flying at 40,000 feet 15 miles from ground zero. Twenty miles away, radioactive fallout trapped the firing team in its concrete bunker. And 82 miles away, additional fallout contaminated a Japanese fishing boat, hospitalizing its crew—one of whom died. Radiation sickness then forced the evacuation of 264 U.S. personnel and nearby islanders. Three additional blasts in this Operation Castle test series also vastly exceeded predictions.

In the first B-52 airdrop of a 3.8 MT hydrogen bomb in 1956, the pilot missed his target island by four miles. In 1971 beneath the Aleutian island of Amchitka, the Cannikan test of the Spartan ABM warhead set off an underground blast of five megatons in one of the planet’s most seismically sensitive fault zones. The resulting tremblor of 7.0 on the Richter scale could have triggered a massive regional earthquake and tsunami.

The list goes on.

And what happens when presidential advisors and military leaders lose clarity of judgment and moral focus? At least three times from 1953 through the Berlin Wall Crisis of 1961, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy were urged to launch preemptive nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union—by such civilian and military leaders as Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze, Strategic Air Command’s  Gen. Thomas Power, and retired Air Force Gen. James Doolittle. Then, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, two senators along with presidential advisor McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff pressured Kennedy to order preemptive strikes against Cuba, followed by an invasion.

Fortunately Kennedy said no, for optimistic intelligence estimates were soon proven wrong. Russian crews were poised to prepare SS-4 missiles for launch against Washington, D.C., and southeastern U.S. cities, their megaton warheads having arrived in Cuba on Oct. 4. Moreover, nine Russian tactical nuclear missiles were unexpectedly available to cover approaches to potential invasion beaches.

“Never before or since,” writes historian Donald Kagan, “has the world been brought so close to nuclear war.”

Then, in 2002, President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia after releasing a Nuclear Posture Review that considered preemptive nuclear strikes and potential development of new ‘mininukes’ for use against deeply buried bunkers—despite U.S. endorsement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty…

Today seven other nations possess nuclear weapons. North Korea has announced it also has them, with Iran moving toward their development. Given this burgeoning availability of nuclear weaponry, responsible global nuclear stewardship is needed now more than ever. If other governments look to the world’s only remaining superpower for leadership in this endeavor, careful examination reveals that more than six decades of miscalculations and ethical lapses suggest that the United States is, at best, a dubious role model.

Lee Gaillard, A resident of Saranac Lake NY,  writes frequently on defense issues and military technology; he has written on nuclear stewardship for The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the Center for Defense Information. His background includes experience in publishing, education, and industry; his book reviews and articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Times, U.S. Naval Institute PROCEEDINGS, The Marine Corps Times, Naval History, Defense News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Submarine Review, and other newspapers and magazines across the U.S.

Sources

Cowley, Robert (ed.). What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.

Gribkov, Anatoli I. Operation ANADYR: U.S. and Soviet Generals Recount the Cuban Missile Crisis. Chicago: Edition Q, 1994.

Hansen, Chuck. U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History. New York: Aerofax, a division of Crown Publishers, 1988.

Kagan, Donald. On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Kaplan, Fred. “JFK’s First Strike Plan.” Atlantic Monthly Oct. 2001: 81-86.

Light, Michael. 100 Suns: 1945-1962. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

Miller, Pam. Nuclear Flashback: Report of a Greenpeace Scientific Expedition to Amchitka Island,

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

— The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Truman, Harry S. Memoirs by Harry S. Truman (vol. 1). Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1955.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail