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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castille’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail