Reacting to my column of last week in which I quoted Albert Einstein’s (probably apocryphal) remark after he had seen the effects of the atom bomb on Japan about wishing he had been a shoemaker rather than a scientist, a reader responded saying that it should be clockmaker.
However, one observation of Einstein’s which is not apocryphal, but a recorded fact is: “If relativity is proved right, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.”
This calls to mind our physicist, the Ahmadi, Professor Abdus Salam, my contemporary. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, he was recognized and lauded as a Pakistani and a Muslim, although the 1973 Constitution did not admit to the latter. When I met him in the mid-1980s, I asked him whether he was still considered to be a Pakistani and a Muslim. He held my hand, smiled, and replied, “Does it matter?” But, then, I was talking to a profoundly educated human being.
Another reader has forwarded to me a paper published in 1999 by Russell D. Hoffman on ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’. It sets it all out very neatly. This paper has been checked by our present nuclear physicist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who confirms its contents to be reasonably accurate, qualifying at the same time that the effects described therein are for a 1,000 kiloton bomb and that Pakistan and India profess to only possess bombs ranging from 20 to 25 kilotons.
Let us remember how, during the latter half of May 1998, there was much joyful dancing in the streets of both India and Pakistan. Why? Because, in all probability, nine out of ten of the people of both countries had no idea of the effects of a nuclear blast. They still do not know, because the leaders of both countries, irresponsible and self-serving, have not bothered to tell them. They do not know there is nothing to dance about in either the possession or the use of nuclear weapons – they are not known as weapons of mass destruction without valid reason.
The US, the sole world superpower and the sole possible intermediary in the dangerous game now being played on the subcontinent, knows well that as many as nine out of ten who die from a nuclear blast do not die in the explosion itself – they are not simply and neatly instantly vaporized.
The State Department is now considering the evacuation of some 63,000 of its citizens (amongst whom are my three lovable Jack Russell terriers of Virginian origin) who now reside in South Asia. There is, naturally, no reason why any foreigner, and for that matter any Pakistani or Indian, should be vaporized merely because of the shenanigans of stupid men.
Current estimates are that 12 million will be killed outright in a nuclear exchange between the two warring countries, and countless more millions will linger on, dying slowly, painfully, horribly. Taking Hoffman’s 1,000 kiloton blast as an example, those within a radius of, say, six square miles will be killed by the gamma rays emitted by the blast. They will be the lucky ones. They will have no warning, no idea as to what it was that cooked them. Outside the circle, for another ten miles or so, every living thing, human or animal, will be instantly blinded by the bright light from the explosion, many times hotter than the sun, whether their eyes be open or closed. And from fifty miles away from the epicentre, those who happen to be looking towards the detonation will lose their sight.
The initial gamma burst will be followed, a tenth of a second later, by a multi-spectral heat blast, followed over the next few seconds by a pressure wave which will cause all living things in its way to bleed from every orifice of their bodies. The wave will be accompanied by high-velocity winds, as great as 70 miles per hour as far away as six miles from the epicentre, which winds, carrying dangerous debris, will cause multiple wounds and injuries. The wave and the winds will cause the death of many, and those that survive, over perhaps an area of a hundred square miles, will later suffer from vomiting, skin rashes, and an unquenchable thirst. Their hair (dyed or natural) will fall out in clumps, their skin will peel off.
After all this, there is more to come. The next immediate threat is a firestorm of intense heat and hurricane force, that can, in the case of a one megaton blast, cover a hundred square miles, driving towards the centre where the mushroom-shaped cloud is rising, miles up into the skies, reaching out to cover an area of almost ten miles across. The cloud will dissipate within an hour, and then comes the invisible untrackable spread of death and disease. The cloud’s drift will carry a deadly cargo for thousands of miles, over international borders into countries which have no involvement in the India-Pakistan dispute.
More fun to come. Further death and destruction, and no dancing in the streets in which the asphalt is melting and burning as burning people try to run along them. Those on fire who can find water in which to jump will catch fire again when they surface. Survivors of the initial blast who have lived through all these subsequent horrors will die over the next few weeks as their bodies begin to break down internally, at the molecular level, life ebbing away painfully as they slowly bleed to death from each and every orifice and pore. Other deaths will occur much later from the widespread release of radioactive materials into the environment. Cancer, leukemia and other genetic damage will strike generations to come.
For the first day or so after the blast, visible pieces of fallout will appear, some like great chunks of marble. Later, and continuing on and on, the fallout will be invisible and trackable only with geiger counters carried by men in moonsuits which, under the circumstances, would be unobtainable.
The final manifestation is the Electro-Magnetic Pulse caused by the nuclear blast, which can be as large as the subcontinent and as deadly. It can electrify metallic structures in such a way that an entire country can seem to have been struck by lightning in one fell swoop. To cite just a few of the happenings, pacemakers will cease to work, aircraft will fall from the skies, train tracks and telephone wiring will carry the charge, and whatever does not explode will cease to function.
There are no benefits, none at all, to be had either from the possession of, or from the use of, nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Our jihadis may console themselves, and fool others, by propagating that so far the Indian nuclear arsenal is far inferior to ours.
Nuclear physicist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy (hoodbhoy@Ins.mit.edu>), has prepared a 35-minute video documentary film which takes a critical look at what the bomb has done for the two countries. He has suggested to our moribund PTV that it show this film so that the people know what is what when it comes to their precious nuclear arsenal, but typically PTV has refused. Obviously, its useless mandarins are too afraid. Should anyone, prior to their impending possible vaporization, wish to see this video they may obtain a copy from Pervez.
All going well, I should be writing again next week.
Ardeshir Cowasjee writes a column for Dawn. He can be reached at email@example.com.