Search This Blog

08 August 2006

the saddest anniversary comes around again

Postalo Vleeptron's commemorative stamp for the 60th Anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Ideographs courtesy of Morigen on Undernet #tokyochat.) Click on the stamp for bigger and clearer.

The mornings of 6 and 9 August 1945. The only nuclear weapons ever used against human beings. In 1945 only one country had nuclear weapons, so the other side could not have responded with its own nuclear weapons. By 1950, that had changed -- superpower enemies both had fission bombs, then thermonuclear fusion bombs, and the long-range bomber aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile-launching submarines to deliver them with precision. Although political alignments have changed since the Soviet Union vanished, hostile nations -- more than before -- have achieved atomic bombs. India and Pakistan have atomic bombs. According to the whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, Israel possesses about 400 fission bombs, and of course an excellent Air Force to deliver them throughout the region. Israel has conducted successful air-based combat missions as far away as Uganda and Iraq.

Last year on this sad anniversary -- the 60th -- I posted a personal memoir about an odd job opportunity I was once offered: To learn all about the inner guts of fission and fusion bombs for the U.S. government. And I wrote other stuff about America's development of the first atomic bombs, and how this technology has evolved and proliferated in the sixty years since Trinity, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As Ry Cooder sang:

Goin' back now to Okinawa
Sorry baby but I can't take you ...

Back in the days of World War Two
Fought against the Japanese just like me and you
Everybody's talkin' 'bout World War Three
Okinawa's just the place where I want to beeeeeeee

I wish to remind all readers that Planet Vleeptron has no nuclear weapons. The High Non-Junk Science Council knows all about them and how to build them, but just doesn't. We use the money to build universities and community colleges and new public schools instead.

In the movie "Colossus: The Forbin Project," America's new defense supercomputer is given control over America's intercontinental ballistic missiles. Then, to everyone's shock, the computer begins to boss humans around with the computer's grand ideas for world peace.

"I bring you peace," the computer tells the world television audience. "It may be the peace of prosperity and plenty. Or the peace of unburied dead."

You may wish to spend an hour or two this week commemorating this sad anniversary, somewhere quiet, a natural place, a place in a mountain forest. Japanese and visitors from around the world will have gathered at the Cenotaph at Ground Zero in Hiroshima, where a giant bronze (I think) bell will toll the instant the bomb detonated.

No one could comprehend what had happened at first -- only one enemy bomber had been seen in the sky, but a city was suddenly flattened, evaporated. One of Japan's leading physicists flew immediately to Hiroshima in a little single-engine plane. He had a suspicion of what had happened, and brought one of those toy electroscopes -- a sealed glass globe with two strips of metal foil to detect the presence of static electricity. When he stepped out of the plane, the foil strips flew apart more fiercely than he'd ever seen in his laboratory. Now he knew what had happened, he knew what force had been unleashed on the world.

In his first campaign to become president, Ronald Reagan said he believed nuclear proliferation wasn't an important issue for America to concern itself with, it was none of America's business.

Do you feel more comfortable that Israel has 400 atomic bombs than Iran's apparent threats to develop atomic bombs? Do you worry about Iran's bomb, but sleep peacefully about Israel's bombs? Do you sleep peacefully because the United States has thousands of hydrogen bombs and delivery systems to send them anywhere in the world? Do France's hydrogen bombs worry you or comfort you? The UK's? China's? North Korea's plans for nuclear weapons and Pacific rim missiles?

Do you believe a country can possess nuclear weapons in a responsible, accountable, safe, adult, peace-loving way? Possess a nuclear arsenal and delivery systems, but go forever without ever using them?

It's not about Politics exactly.

It's about Fear, and Rage, and Revenge, and Paranoia. Apartheid South Africa developed atomic bombs as its last-ditch attempt to keep control from black Africans and their aspirations to take back representative political power in their lands.

And Folly. We have nuclear weapons, and we're running a world with goofy, stupid, psycho, and occasionally drunken leaders, some of whom believe they're hearing and obeying the Voice of God.

Frank Drake's equation (1961) to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way / Melkweg Galaxy

N(c) = N x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x fL

has one last term, fL, which we can only guess at. Once a civilization invents radio technology, which would allow them to communicate with other civilizations, how long, on average, will a radio-achieving civilization last?

On Earth, we invented radio around 1900. We dropped atomic bombs on our own cities 45 years later, and invented and tested hydrogen bombs five years after that. So far Earth is the only advanced technological civilization we know, so we can only extrapolate from our one example, and it's not a very optimistic extrapolation.

When the Aliens finally play the golden audio CD of Earth Sounds they find in our Voyager space probe, when they hear our Johann Sebastian Bach, will we still exist to receive their message of thrill and pleasure at the Beauty we once created?


pat's pub said...

A sad day indeed. We must not forget these events.
Two documentaries of interest spring to mind: "Trinity and Beyond", narrated by W. Shatner. The doc tells the story of the atomic bomb from 1944 to ca 1958 and the first hydrogen bombs and all the tests inbetween on all those atolls (Trinity, Baker, Mike etc) with film material that had been unavailable untill a few years ago. It also features an interview with Edward Teller and this one scared me because he still believes in The Bomb after all those years.
the second one is Atomic Cafe, but I think I mentioned that one somewhere on the old blog.
I for one reckon I'll watch Dr Strangelove tonight. Haven't seen it in ages and your thread on the current sitiation (Iran, N Korea etc) reminded me that it is about time. Not because it reminds me of the days in the 80s when I were a lad and everybody was stark raving paranoid when it came to atomic weapons, but because these are strange days indeed

Askinstoo said...

Hi, i was looking over your blog and didn't
quite find what I was looking for. I'm looking for
different ways to earn money... I did find this though...
a place where you can make some nice extra cash secret shopping.
I made over $900 last month having fun!
make extra money

Bob Merkin said...

goddam it the Spam Bots have found the New Vleeptron. I got to enable the squiggly code thingie.


Last year maybe it sounded like i was making fun of the Swiss Atomic Bomb Project, which spent ƒƒƒƒƒƒƒ for 30 years to hold secret meetings -- and then just never actually built a nuclear bomb.

But the questions in this post -- Do you sleep better? -- well, yeah, I sincerely do sleep better because of the Swiss Atomic Bomb, which never existed. So thank somebody for me, tell them Switzerland is as cool as Planet Vleeptron.

Maybe sovereign states ARE capable of building atomic bombs and "handling" them responsibly.

But there is now so much fissile material trucking and flying and shipping and training around the world that we are now on the verge of subnational terror groups getting their hands on an A-bomb, or something worse -- a Dirty Bomb, conventional explosive wrapped around a bunch of subcritical stolen plutonium or uranium, and oh what a mess that will be -- instant Chernobyl. The more the nuclear fuel cycle continues, the more likely it is Whackos will get their hands on a few kilograms of Hot Ploot.

The geniuses who invented this technology did not really think all the consequences all the way through.

I've seen film of Teller in the 1950s arguing that maybe higher levels of atmospheric ionizing radiation are HEALTHY for people. This genius was fucking nuts, and became the most politically influential scientist in the USA throughout the Cold War. He thought Los Alamos was too timid about bomb development, so he founded the other USA bomb lab, Lawrence Livermore in California. Big Brains making Big Bombs.

But my nephew says Doctor Strangelove was actually modelled on John von Neumann, Hungarian like Teller, the brilliant mathematician who invented Game Theory and also built one of the world's first digital electronic computers. Also enormously influential in USA Cold War politics.

Design a Symbol which, 3000 years from now, will be clear and obvious to everyone who sees it, and means DANGER! POISON! RADIOACTIVE WASTE!

Some heavyweights who have tried to stop nuclear bombs: Linus Pauling, US chemistry and peace Nobel winner, and Dr. Helen Caldicott of Australia, physician, i think she also won Nobel Peace.

I think the movie "On The Beach" is very good, as dramatic entertainment, and as a Cautionary Tale.

Bob Merkin said...

i feel compelled to add this small thing

the next time you are sitting at your superpowerful home or office computer and congratulating Modern People for this amazing technology which our dumb backwards grandparents never imagined ...

remember: The atomic bomb was cooked up pretty much entirely with the slide rule. handheld. no batteries. analog, not digital. crude crude precision, you are lucky to squeeze 3 or 4 digits of precision out of it.

runs on Burghi's and Napier's logarithms. 16th century tek made the bombs that evaporated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

pat's pub said...

your nephew (hewiedewielewie) is korrekt. I did not know that von Neumann was involved in the develpment of game theory, back in da 80s when I were a lad our computer reacheress raved about von Neumann being pioneer, but the Spieltheorie is new to me. I like the concept of Spieltheorie.

what is worrying me a bit is that I can sense a bit of paranoia in your comment (terrorists , dirty bombs etc etc). You Americans have been flooded with paranoid progaganda since 911 that even you are slightly worried. And I reckon you're a Liberal pro-0420 ex-hippie lad. das ist nicht korrekt. Etwas stimmt hier nicht. Schalt den Fernseher aus. Just ignore corporate news from the big networks, you're a journo, you know how to do that. (gotte run now, don't wanna miss Dead Milkmen playing Cafe Drek tonight. how bout booking DK?)

Bob Merkin said...

ah am i paranoid about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and fissile material? u bet!

vleeptron is regularly paranoid about This and That -- why do you think I found the Zeta Beam so I could escape as often as I can to another Planet?

Angst -- it's Human! it's our Heritage!

But i think the trick -- illuminated in that psychiatrist-Congressman's interview in "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- is to have the natural fear and paranoia appropriate to the violent crazy irresponsible crap that is Really Happening, but to keep a leash on it sufficient to still make rational political decisions about the things we very appropriately fear.

right now some Americans are so paranoid that they are forming Armed Militias and Vigilante Groups to keep desperately poor Mexicans and Central Americans from sneaking across our southern border so they can clean our toilets and work in our big slaughterhouses and pick our vegetables.

that is paranoia morphing into Krazy Bad Political Decisions, while carrying loaded automatic weapons.

Since 1974 when I read McPhee's "The Curve of Binding Energy," I have been sincerely convinced that if the rational and responsible, the educated and the curious among us do not Wake Up and Smell the Proliferating Fissile Material, one or more very bad things are going to happen -- a terrorist's Chernobyl on every continent.

hey -- this is the Internet, and even worse, the Blogosphere. this is where you cliquez ici to read about how the Walloons are responsible for all the wars on earth, and (this one's REAL, google THIS ONE!) how Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is the biggest and richest secret criminal drug dealer in the world.

THEY don't want you to KNOW the TRUTH about Queen E II!

But you can read it on the Internet!

Who would have thunk it? Such a sweet-looking nice old lady ...

Omar Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.