FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

After Hiroshima: Lessons Learned?

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:

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail