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Seven Decades is Enough

We are today 70 years out from the fateful interregnum period between the world’s first atomic bomb explosion—the test fire Trinity at Alamogordo, New Mexico on 16 July 1945—and the world’s first atomic bomb attack—on a bright sunny morning of 6 August 1945 when one bomb incinerated tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima.

The Trinity test was the result of the Manhattan Project, an all-out race to beat Germany to the Bomb. In August 1939, physicists Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner, convinced Hitler’s physicists and engineers were close to developing an atomic bomb, drafted the Einstein–Szilárd letter, got Albert Einstein to sign on, and delivered it to President Roosevelt. FDR ordered research, development, and testing to commence. In April 1945, FDR died in office.

Harry Truman, FDR’s successor, never did understand it. He referred to whatever it was that his scientists were working on as “the gadget,” which became its nickname. By winter of late 1944-early 1945 American intelligence knew two momentous things. One, Germany was going to surrender soon. Two, with their solid system of intercepting and decrypting Japanese communications, it was obvious that the Japanese were seeking an honorable surrender as soon as possible. Only a handful of warlords wanted to obdurately fight on. The moment was ripe for a ceasefire and peace negotiations. Enough blood had been spilled.

But Truman was uninterested. He wanted his gadget completed, tested, and, if possible deployed and demonstrated. He hid the existence of the Manhattan Project from his “ally” Joseph Stalin because it was clear that once this hot war ended the new alignment would look very different. Both capitalism and communism had global designs. They teamed up to defeat the most egregious world domination threat—the Nazi-Japanese Axis—but would soon be enemies at the heads of diametrically opposing global hegemony systems.

As the scientific brains behind the incredible success of Trinity pondered their feat, some began to urge Truman to invite the Japanese to witness the next explosion on an uninhabited island in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean, or indeed to witness a blast over the ocean itself, so that they could have a chance to realize how horrific it would be to drop such a bomb on people.

Truman, Churchill and Stalin were meeting at that very time, from 17 July-2 August, at their Potsdam Conference. Truman arrived not knowing the Trinity results and, once he heard, all reports were that he was giddy and cocky.

We know the humane arguments failed. He chose to demonstrate this awful weapon on living cities. Truman laid the lives of innocent Japanese schoolgirls and hundreds of thousands of other children and noncombatants on his altar of US positioning to convince the Soviets, “Don’t even. We are crazy enough to vaporize entire cities, like you see.”

Miraculously, humankind survived this Cold War insanity. But how many chances do we get? We need to reflect on the ultimate irresponsibility and inhumanity of possessing even one nuclear bomb. We should decide to take all necessary steps to rid our fair planet of this unnatural threat to Life. It is time for a new direction. The time between Trinity and Hiroshima and then Nagasaki was far too short—three weeks. Now we have been given 70 more years of this period of discernment. What was built can be dismantled and should be. And humankind should never do such things again.

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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