Shatterer of Worlds

Culy 16, 1945 marked the beginning of the Nuclear Age. On that day, the United States conducted the first explosive test of an atomic device. The test was code-named Trinity and took place at the Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto Desert. The bomb itself was code-named “The Gadget.”

The Trinity test used a plutonium implosion device, the same type of weapon that would be used on the city of Nagasaki just three and a half weeks later. It had the explosive force of 20 kilotons of TNT.

The names associated with the test deserve reflection. “The Gadget,” something so simple and innocuous, was exploded in a desert whose name in Spanish means “Journey of Death.” Plutonium, the explosive force in the bomb, was named for Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld. The isotope of plutonium that was used in the bomb, plutonium-239, is one of the most deadly radioactive materials on the planet. It existed only in minute quantities on Earth before the US began creating it for use in its bombs by the fissioning of uranium-238.

There is no definitive explanation for why the test was named Trinity, but it generally seems most associated with a religious concept of God. The thoughts of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the project to create the bomb and the person who named the test, provide insights into the name:

“Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation: ‘As West and East / In all flatt Maps—and I am one—are one, / So death doth touch the Resurrection.’ That still does not make a Trinity, but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens, ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God.’”

Oppenheimer’s reaction to witnessing the explosion of the atomic device was to recall these lines from the Bhagavad Gita:

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.

Did Oppenheimer think that he had become death that day, or that all of us had? Certainly that first nuclear explosion portended the possibility that worlds would be shattered (by a “Mighty One”?), as they were soon to be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Trinity test. We are now 65 years into the Nuclear Age. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have seen the devastation that nuclear weapons can inflict on cities and their inhabitants. We have witnessed a truly mad arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, in which the number of nuclear weapons in the world rose to 70,000. We have learned that one nuclear weapon can destroy a city, a few nuclear weapons can destroy a country, and a nuclear war could destroy civilization and most of the complex life forms on the planet.

Nuclear weapons have endangered the human species, and yet today there are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Nine countries now possess these weapons. Humanity is still playing with the fire of omnicide – the death of all. We are still waiting for the leaders who will take us beyond this overarching threat to our common future. Instead of continuing to wait, we must ourselves become these leaders.

On this 65th anniversary of embarking on the Journey of Death, we must change course and move back from the nuclear precipice. The weapons are illegal, immoral, undemocratic and militarily unnecessary. The surest way to bring them under control is by negotiating a new treaty, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

The United States led the world into the Nuclear Age. President Obama has pointed out that the country also has a moral responsibility to lead the way out. This can be done, but not with a citizenry that is ignorant, apathetic and in denial. Sixty-five years on the Journey of Death is long enough. It is past time for citizens to awaken and become engaged in this issue as if their future depended upon it, as it does.

The fervent prayer of the hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is “Never Again!” They speak out so that their past does not become our future. It is a prayer that each of us must join in answering, both with our voices and actions to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

DAVID KRIEGER is the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org) and a councilor of the World Future Council.





More articles by:

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). 

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It