[Editorial] End Of Innocence: How Hiroshima and Nagasaki Changed The World
By on August 9th, 2011

Hiding behind the thick glass windshield of a pickup truck, so that most of the oncoming ultraviolet radiation can be absorbed, Feynman, now a PhD, watched as the ground exploded and the air burst into flames, stunning people into silence. The day was July 16, 1945, the location was the Trinity Site’ at New Mexico and the event was the first demonstration of the atom bomb. Behind the rampantly drunk evening crowd of scientists, celebrating the culmination of their five-year scientific endeavour, must have hidden concerned souls. Immediately after the war, Feynman would pessimistically wonder why man made any fruitful constructions like bridges or buildings anyway they could be obliterated in an instant by a bomb dropped 20 blocks away.

First, there was one Sun. Then there were two Suns. And then there was no Sun at all Anonymous.

True, the atom bomb did bring the war to an end. Japan surrendered on 15th August, but historians, especially Japanese, argue that the surprise aggressive moves by USSR on the western waters of Japan were as much responsible for the surrender as the bomb. If anything, the bomb made the Japanese patriots more eager than ever to fight for their motherland in her darkest hour. A Hundred Million’ could die for their Emperor and country. Korechika Anami, a prominent war commander in the Japanese army, wanted a massive backlash mainly with the help of suicide attack squads, like the Kamikazes. But, Emperor Hirohito had seen enough the madness over the Pacific had to come to an end.

 The atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon. – Erstwhile Secretary of State War, Henry Stimson

Bigger than can be measured in kilotons

No, the legacy or the political influence of the bomb  couldn’t  possibly end there; the atom, in all its fissile glory, was too powerful. Leaving aside the public fascination with a weapon of this kind, it had created two power blocs the American Capitalist West and the Russian Communist East. The meme of the atom bomb spread through the head of every world leader, multiplying the number of the bombs, which furthered the runaway process. The ultimate Arms Race had begun one that could destroy life on Earth twenty times over and then leave it uninhabitable for millennia. Earlier, only God could have annihilated man using floods or earthquakes, now man could too! As Oppenheimer said, at the Trinity Test, I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds, translating from the Bhagvad Gita, a Hindu scripture. He should’ve been more impersonal.

The impact of the two days is not just commemorated by memorials. Probably, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki have recovered, as has the Japanese way of life. Perhaps, the present generation of Japanese has forgiven the Americans. However, the genetic code hasn’t forgotten and will not for another few hundred years, at least. The radiation induced mutations have passed on from one generation to another, manifesting itself in disfigured limbs or immature brains.

Was Einstein's equation really to blame? Is science really the culprit?

The bomb has done more than that. It has imprinted on our perception, the notion of the destructive Mushroom Cloud. Science, the blind process of cold verification of hard facts, laying no claims to be the guiding moral compass, had suddenly become immoral. It would forever be blamed by the public for producing the most awful instrument of war ever created and damned for promising something even worse. This was truly the End of the Age of Innocence.

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.

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