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The 65th Anniversary of the Nuclear Age

by David Krieger 

July 16, 2010 

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org URL to
article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/16


July 16, 1945 marked the beginning of
the Nuclear Age. On that day, the United States
conducted the first explosive test of an atomic device.
The test was code-named Trinity and took place at the
Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico's Jornada del
Muerto Desert. The bomb itself was code-named "The
Gadget."

The Trinity test used a plutonium implosion device, the
same type of weapon that would be used on the city of
Nagasaki just three and a half weeks later. It had the
explosive force of 20 kilotons of TNT.

The names associated with the test deserve reflection.
"The Gadget," something so simple and innocuous, was
exploded in a desert whose name in Spanish means
"Journey of Death." Plutonium, the explosive force in
the bomb, was named for Pluto, the Roman god of the
underworld. The isotope of plutonium that was used in
the bomb, plutonium-239, is one of the most deadly
radioactive materials on the planet. It existed only in
minute quantities on Earth before the US began creating
it for use in its bombs by the fissioning of
uranium-238.

There is no definitive explanation for why the test was
named Trinity, but it generally seems most associated
with a religious concept of God. The thoughts of J.
Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the
project to create the bomb and the person who named the
test, provide insights into the name:

"Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what
thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John
Donne, written just before his death, which I know and
love. From it a quotation: 'As West and East / In all
flatt Maps-and I am one-are one, / So death doth touch
the Resurrection.' That still does not make a Trinity,
but in another, better known devotional poem Donne
opens, 'Batter my heart, three person'd God.'"

Oppenheimer's reaction to witnessing the explosion of
the atomic device was to recall these lines from the
Bhagavad Gita:

If the radiance of a thousand suns Were to burst at
once into the sky, That would be like the splendor of
the Mighty One... I am become Death, The shatterer of
Worlds.

Did Oppenheimer think that he had become death that
day, or that all of us had? Certainly that first
nuclear explosion portended the possibility that worlds
would be shattered (by a "Mighty One"?), as they were
soon to be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Trinity
test. We are now 65 years into the Nuclear Age. At
Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have seen the devastation
that nuclear weapons can inflict on cities and their
inhabitants. We have witnessed a truly mad arms race
between the United States and the former Soviet Union,
in which the number of nuclear weapons in the world
rose to 70,000. We have learned that one nuclear weapon
can destroy a city, a few nuclear weapons can destroy a
country, and a nuclear war could destroy civilization
and most of the complex life forms on the planet.

Nuclear weapons have endangered the human species, and
yet today there are still more than 20,000 nuclear
weapons in the world. Nine countries now possess these
weapons. Humanity is still playing with the fire of
omnicide - the death of all. We are still waiting for
the leaders who will take us beyond this overarching
threat to our common future. Instead of continuing to
wait, we must ourselves become these leaders.

On this 65th anniversary of embarking on the Journey of
Death, we must change course and move back from the
nuclear precipice. The weapons are illegal, immoral,
undemocratic and militarily unnecessary. The surest way
to bring them under control is by negotiating a new
treaty, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, for the phased,
verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of
nuclear weapons.

The United States led the world into the Nuclear Age.
President Obama has pointed out that the country also
has a moral responsibility to lead the way out. This
can be done, but not with a citizenry that is ignorant,
apathetic and in denial. Sixty-five years on the
Journey of Death is long enough. It is past time for
citizens to awaken and become engaged in this issue as
if their future depended upon it, as it does.

The fervent prayer of the hibakusha, the survivors of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is "Never Again!" They speak
out so that their past does not become our future. It
is a prayer that each of us must join in answering,
both with our voices and actions to achieve a world
free of nuclear weapons.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace
Foundation [1] (www.wagingpeace.org [1]), an
organization that has worked since 1982 to educate and
advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org URL to
article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/16

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