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Historical Context

The Trinity test took place at the Alamogordo Bombing Range, now the White Sands Missile Range. The device, nicknamed “gadget”, exploded with an energy equivalent to 19 kilotons of TNT. It left a crater in the desert 3 meters deep and 330 meters wide. The shock wave was felt over 160 km away, and the mushroom cloud reached 12 km. Around 260 personnel were present, none closer than 9 km.

The nuclear genie will never be put back in the bottle. In the New York Times of September 26, 1945, William Laurence wrote, "And just at that instance there rose from the bowels of the earth a light not of this world, the light of many suns in one."

Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The story of what happened at Trinity did not come to light until after the second atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6. President Truman made the announcement that day. Three days later, August 9, the third atomic bomb devastated the city of Nagasaki, and on August 14 the Japanese surrendered.

Altogether, the two bombings killed an estimated 110,000 Japanese citizens and injured another 130,000. By 1950, another 230,000 Japanese had died from injuries or radiation. Though the two cities were nominally military targets, the overwhelming majority of the casualties were civilian. Precedents for bombing civilians were already well established, with thousands of firebombing runs used extensively through World War II by the US. However, the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the first and last use of atomic weapons in combat - remains one of the most controversial in military history.

Those who made the decision, as well as most of the survivors, are long gone. The effects, though - the lingering scourge of radiation, the memory of the ghastly civilian casualties, the psychological impact of simply knowing that such a destructive force exists - remain.

The Cold War
Baby Boomers grew up with the direct threat of the Bomb from the then Soviet Union. They and their parents built bomb shelters in their backyards, and decorated them as vacation retreats. They waited out the Cuban Missile Crisis; President Kennedy, in a televised address on October 22, 1962, announced the discovery of Soviet missile installations in Cuba and proclaimed that any nuclear missile attack from Cuba would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet Union and would be responded to accordingly. People had a very real feeling of how close the world was to nuclear Armageddon.

Children of the Baby Boomers (like us) knew of the threat, but it was removed from our direct experience. There is a whole generation growing up today only knowing of the vaguest appropriate actions to take in a nuclear attack. Our safety relied on “Mutually Assured Destruction”, and Reagan sold the public that the MX missile was a “Peacekeeper”.

Present and Future Context
The nuclear threat lurks just below the surface everywhere. President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry both described nuclear proliferation as the number one threat to US security in the 2004 debates. Pundits and US news organizations have of late devoted a great deal of time describing how the nuclear threat is just around the corner; nuclear weapons are a fixture of the fear zeitgeist...

It was argued that the Iraqi nuclear threat was a premise to going in to the Iraq War. North Korea and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons and have sold the technology to other countries. Iran is developing nuclear weapons. India has nuclear weapons and is developing thermonuclear weapons. Russia is missing and has sold its nuclear weapon technology or materials. Israel, in the middle of the volatile Middle East, has the Bomb but denies it. Libya, Brazil, and South Africa all had and have abandoned weapons programs. Terrorists seek to carry suitcase nukes, or load “dirty bombs” into shipping containers.

The US military routinely uses depleted uranium in its bombs. The Bush Administration is pushing development of modern “tactical nukes” such as nuclear bunker busters, exiting the ABM treaty and has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Internet Resources
Many more are available than we can list here.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
The Nuclear Policy Research Institute
The Bomb Project
Trinity Atomic Web Site
Wikipedia - Trinity Site
The Atomic Archive
NRDC's Archive of Nuclear Data
Shundahai Network

Further Reading
A few titles we've read recently in preparation for this project...

100 Suns, Michael Light, Knopf, 2003
Dark Sun, by Richard Rhodes, Simon and Schuster, 1996
The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes, Simon and Schuster, 1986
The Day the Sun Rose Twice, by Ferenc Szasz, University of New Mexico Press, 1984
City of Fire: Los Alamos and the Atomic Age, 1943-1945, by James Kunetka, University of New Mexico Press, 1978
Now It Can Be Told, by General Leslie Groves, Da Capo Press, 1975.



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