January 7, 2012

You and the Atom

It has been over 65 years since the harnessing of the Atom. What have we learned in that time? Have we proven ourselves that we are worthy to hold such power, or have we just been sheer lucky that we didn't unleash a monster run amock? On the flipside, the promised wonders of the Atom haven't exactly come to pass as originally envisioned either.

The Nagasaki bomb, Fat Man
“Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years, the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as might have been expected.”

So begins George Orwell’s essay . . .

You And The Atomic Bomb (1945)

Two bombs had just been dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the world had witnessed their power. Let us continue with an abbreviated version of his essay . . .
“The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb "ought to be put under international control." But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us, namely: "How difficult are these things to manufacture?"

Such information as we--that is, the big public--possess on this subject has come to us in a rather indirect way, apropos of President Truman's decision not to hand over certain secrets to the USSR. Some months ago, when the bomb was still only a rumour, there was a widespread belief that splitting the atom was merely a problem for the physicists, and that when they had solved it a new and devastating weapon would be within reach of almost everybody. (At any moment, so the rumour went, some lonely lunatic in a laboratory might blow civilisation to smithereens, as easily as touching off a firework.)

Had that been true, the whole trend of history would have been abruptly altered. The distinction between great states and small states would have been wiped out, and the power of the State over the individual would have been greatly weakened. However, it appears from President Truman's remarks, and various comments that have been made on them, that the bomb is fantastically expensive and that its manufacture demands an enormous industrial effort, such as only three or four countries in the world are capable of making. This point is of cardinal importance, because it may mean that the discovery of the atomic bomb, so far from reversing history, will simply intensify the trends which have been apparent for a dozen years past.

It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon--so long as there is no answer to it--gives claws to the weak.

From various symptoms one can infer that the Russians do not yet possess the secret of making the atomic bomb; on the other hand, the consensus of opinion seems to be that they will possess it within a few years. So we have before us the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them. It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation. But suppose--and really this the likeliest development--that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate? In that case we are back where we were before, the only difference being that power is concentrated in still fewer hands and that the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more hopeless.

We were once told that the aeroplane had "abolished frontiers"; actually it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers have become definitely impassable. The radio was once expected to promote international understanding and co-operation; it has turned out to be a means of insulating one nation from another. The atomic bomb may complete the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a basis of military equality. Unable to conquer one another, they are likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable demographic changes.

For forty or fifty years past, Mr. H.G. Wells and others have been warning us that man is in danger of destroying himself with his own weapons, leaving the ants or some other gregarious species to take over. Anyone who has seen the ruined cities of Germany will find this notion at least thinkable. Nevertheless, looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham's theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications--that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of "cold war" with its neighbors.

Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralised police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a "peace that is no peace."

Civil Defense paper with Dummy Headlines, Photo:1953

And now . . .

Man Recalls Day A Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard.
MARS BLUFF - Once or twice a year, folks call up Walter Gregg to talk about the time in 1958 when the Air Force dropped a nuclear bomb on his yard. (read more...)

... romantic shelter
Romantic Fallout Shelter, Photo: courtesy of James Vaughan / x-ray delta one

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, err, Ground Zero . . .

Duck & Cover

Teachers in selected cities were encouraged to conduct air raid drills where they would suddenly yell, "Drop!" and students were expected to kneel down under their desks with their hands clutched around their heads and necks. Some schools even distributed metal "dog tags," like those worn by World War II soldiers, so that the bodies of students could be identified after an attack. (read more...)

Watching an A-Bomb

There are very few people who have seen an atomic bomb explode – or who would want to. But in 1955, several Nebraskans who were among the 5,800 civilian and military witnesses to an atomic test blast. The civilians were there by choice, while most of the military observers had been ordered there. The experiment was known as Operation Cue. (read more...)

Planting Fields of ICBMs

In farm fields all across rural America during the late 50s and 60s, the U.S. Air Force was planting a new crop -- Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs, tipped with nuclear warheads. (read more...)

A Fallout Shelter for Cows

Human beings weren't the only species selected to survive a nuclear attack in Nebraska. In 1963, Roberts Dairy Company, outside of Omaha, conducted a two-week survival test for 35 cows, one bull and two student cowhands. (read more...)

And so, we have reached the end of our broadcast. Be Smart, be Safe, be Alert my friends . . . . . . and Beware of even the slightest possibility of ginormous mutant ants.

I would like to acknowledge the invaluable resources of
livinghistoryfarm.org / Living at Ground Zero
James Vaughan / x-ray delta one
visit his blog - atomic-annhilation.blogspot.com/

You m
ay also want to visit
Civil Defense Museum.org

This has been another bulletin from
Atomic Living's Emergency Broadcast System


DearHelenHartman said...

Thank you for the important and informative post. I remain on alert for atomic flare ups - will they cause mushroom cloud growths on the body as in the photo? No giant ants so far but I have an uncle who can barely fit in his mini metro - should I be concerned?

Space Commander said...

Dear Helen,

I'd be concerned about the mini metro being mistaken for a wind-up toy car. Go buy your poor uncle a man-sized Hummer!

Remember, stay vigilant, wear rubber gloves when handling radioactive waste... and you're very welcome ;)

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