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.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”