After the Atomic Bomb
The development and usage of the first atomic bombs has caused a change in military, political, and public functionality of the world today. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki revolutionized warfare by killing large masses of civilian population with a single strike. The bombs’ effects from the blast, extreme heat, and radiation left an estimated 140,000 people dead. The bombs created a temporary resolution that lead to another conflict. The Cold War was a political standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States that again created a new worldwide nuclear threat. The destructive potential of nuclear weapons had created a global sweep of fear as to what might happen if these terrible forces where unleashed again. The technology involved in building the first atomic bombs has grown into the creation of nuclear weapons that are potentially 40 times more powerful than the original bombs used. However, a military change in strategy has came to promote nuclear disarmament and prevent the usage of nuclear weapons. The technology of building the atomic bomb has spurred some useful innovations that can be applied through the use of nuclear power. The fear of a potential nuclear attack had been heightened by the media and its release of movies impacting on public opinion and fear of nuclear devastation. The lives lost after the detonation of the atomic bombs have become warning signs that changed global thinking and caused preventative actions.
The Atomic Bomb
The devastation brought about by the atomic bomb has caused fear among all the people that have realized the potential destructive power of its invention. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 completely obliterated both cities (Lanouette 30). “Little Boy,” the bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 70,000 people with an additional 66,000 injured (30-39). “Fat Man,” the bomb dropped on Nagasaki also carried its “share of America’s duty” by killing 40,000 people and injuring another 25,000 (30-39). The bombs also killed an estimated 230,000 more people from the after effects of the two explosions (30). The two bombings had opened the world’s eyes to the destructive power that could be unleashed by man.
The bombs had raised hell on earth for those few minutes and produced a tremendous amount of casualties. The way people had died was shocking. More than 75% of the people killed died from the instantaneous heat and light at the moment of explosion called “flash burns” (“Summary of Damages and Injuries” 3, 25). During the first minute of the explosion many injuries where caused by the instantaneous penetrating radiation from the nuclear explosion (3). Other casualties came from burning fires that had ignited throughout the cities from the tremendous heat of the blast (3). The pressure of the blast waves created flying debris, collapsed buildings, and forcibly hurled people to their death (3). Undoubtedly those who survived the initial effects of the blast were very lucky.
The amount of deaths caused by the blast itself was incomparable to the number of lives lost to the other effects after the initial explosion (“Summary of Damages and Injuries” 3). The inferno created by the bomb wasn’t from the explosion itself, but the after effects of fires, collapsed buildings, and flying debris (3). “In Hiroshima fires sprang up simultaneously all over the wide flat central area of the city;” these fires combined to form immense fire storms which continued to destroy anything that had not already been destroyed by the blast. Buildings that had encountered considerable structure damage collapsed and continued to take even more lives (13). In the end both cities were left totally obliterated with nearly all of their residential districts and businesses flattened and most of their citizens dead (14).
The technology that had built the atomic bomb helped the “world [get] a glimpse of its own mortality” (Lanouette 28). The power of mass destruction had been taken out of nature’s hands and was now controlled by people. This created a worldwide anxiety of how this newly cast power could be used and changed how the world functions today. The atomic bombs may have resolved one conflict, but with that resolution arose many more. The controversy over nuclear weapons would soon take on a new meaning during the Cold War.
Political Change in Thinking
The Cold War between the capitalist, democratic Western powers and the Soviet Union was the center of the change in political thinking caused by nuclear weapons (“Cold War” 1). Diplomatic relations became strained with massive military buildups once the Soviet Union had developed the H-bomb. Two world powers were now under hostile relations, both with dangerous and intimidating nuclear power. The Cold War thrived on the disagreement between the East and West about the reunification of Germany (1). In response to the tensions, the Western powers formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in order to guarantee an alliance and safeguard from any attacks from the Soviet Union (1). In return, the Soviet Union instituted the Warsaw Treaty Organization with the Eastern-controlled countries as a safeguard from the West (1). The conflicts between the East and West continued to escalate and World War III was a dangerous possibility.
The Soviet Union now had a weapon that rivaled the American atomic bomb. On August 1953 the Soviet Union successfully tested the world’s first transportable Hydrogen Bomb (Smirnov, Adamsky 1). The United States atomic monopoly was gone and the Soviets had “over-fulfilled” Stalin’s nuclear wishes (1). Avraami Zavenyagin announced that “…the hydrogen bomb is tens of times more powerful than a plain atomic bomb and its explosion will mean the liquidation of the second monopoly of the Americans…which will be an event of ultimate importance in world politics” (Smirnov, Zubov 1). While some boasted about the new nuclear threat, other Soviets realized the bomb’s power and danger (1). Soviet scientists realized that the arms race had now “reached a new, vastly more dangerous stage” (1). Defense against nuclear weapons was thought to be impossible and their use could cause mass devastation throughout the world (1).
In October of 1962, American military planes discovered Soviet missile bases in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis had been the single closest event to bringing the world into nuclear war (“Cuban Missile Crisis” 1). The Soviet Union had built missile bases facing directly at the United States (1). In a follow-up action President Kennedy demanded a withdrawal of the missiles, and created a naval blockade on Cuba (1). Although the crisis was soon over it importantly started the realization that nuclear war should be prevented at all costs.
The Cold War indicated both the rise and fall of a worldwide nuclear threat. The Soviet Union adopted a “first-strike” strategy believing that an exchange of nuclear missiles would be so devastating to both countries that they would have to cripple the United States first to avoid retaliation (“Mutually Assured Destruction” 1). The U.S., in return, publicly said it would never undertake the first strike, deciding instead to develop a “second-strike” capability that would be so threatening that any retaliation would be impossible (1). This strategy was known as Mutually Assured Destruction (1). Once in place, MAD, became a reason for worldwide nuclear disarmament and a political strategy of avoiding the usage of nuclear weapons (1).
Military Change in Strategy
After the detonation of the atomic bombs a change towards progressive nuclear disarmament became part of the new military strategy. In 1946 the United Nations created the Atomic Energy Commission to propose peaceful usage of atomic energy and “eventual elimination of weapons of mass destruction” (“International Agreements” 1). The Commission’s attempt to somewhat control the usage of atomic energy became a failure when the Soviet Union vetoed the plan (1). In 1958, however, conferences between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union met in Geneva to discuss a treaty banning nuclear testing (1). The three nations agreed on voluntary disarmament for a full year (1). The voluntary disarmament seemed like a great leap forward for all three nations until the Soviet Union resumed testing in 1961 (1). President Dwight D. Eisenhower expressed his frustration shortly thereafter, “[Not achieving a nuclear test ban] would have to be classed as the greatest disappointment of any administration, of any decade, of any time and of any party” (“Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers” 1). Soon afterwards the Soviet Union realized its mistake and reached the Moscow Agreement with Great
Britain and the United States in 1963; banning testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and underwater (“International Agreements” 1).* The Soviet Union’s willingness to limit nuclear testing led to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in 1972. In these “talks” the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to limit antiballistic missiles (missiles used to track down and shoot intercontinental ballistic missiles, ICBMs) and an accord limiting ICBMs (1). Two years later the SALT II talks began, further limiting other weapons, such as Ballistic missile launchers, and now entirely banning ICBMs (1). Although the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks didn’t entirely resolve the global nuclear threat, they moved the two world powers towards progressive disarmament. In 1982 the United States and the Soviet Union started a new round of negotiations called the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) (1). Additional limitations were included in both START talks (1). Once the iron curtain fell and the Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia would be removed of its nuclear weapons and the nuclear conflict was resolved (1).
The movement towards worldwide disarmament is now overwhelmingly strong. Many new organizations have been formed to try to totally abolish nuclear weapons (“Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers” 1). Here are a few examples of a couple pro-disarmament organizations and programs:
Association of French Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Center for Nonproliferation Studies (Monterey Institute of International Studies)
Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers
Comité de St-Etienne du Mouvement de la Paix
Federation of American Scientists, Cooperative Research Program on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
Folkkampanjen mot kärnkraft och kärnvapen [Swedish Anti-Nuclear Movement]
Henry L. Stimson Center
Campaign for the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Committee on Nuclear Policy
Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nonproliferation and International Security Division
Nonproliferation and International Security Division brochure
Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia)
Non-violent Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [Gewaltfreie Aktion Atomwaffen Abschaffen]
Nuclear Abolition Network [Abolition 2000]
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Nuclear Free Local Authorities (UK)
Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
United States, Dept. of Defense, Counterproliferation WebNetwork [CPN]
United States, Dept. of Energy, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Research and Development Program [CTBT R&D]
United States National Data Center
World Court Project (Listed from “Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers” 1).
Public Change in Thinking
Today the media greatly influences public opinion in matters of nuclear weapons. Movies such as “Threads,” “Dr. Strangelove”, “Testament,” and “The Day After” have all impacted on public opinion and caused a fair deal of controversy over content and ideas expressed (“TV’s Nuclear Nightmare” 66). “The Day After,” a movie made by ABC Productions and directed by Nicholas Meyer, is a movie with “four minutes of the most horrifically searing footage ever to pass a network censor…” inspired by the usage of the atomic bombs and the nuclear weapons controversy (66). “The Day After” has changed the very idea of television by using it as a source of public influence. The movie had “emerged as the single biggest mobilizing point for the antinuclear movement…regarded as a two hour commercial for disarmament” (66). “The Day After” had inspired a nationwide debate about the horrors of nuclear war and how to increase awareness (66). On November 20, 1983 “The Day After” premiered on network television that had opened the controversy of a nuclear threat (“The Day After” 2). “Our twentieth century is the century of fear…” the movie states referring to almost unavoidable nuclear devastation (2). More importantly “the threat of annihilation through nuclear war [had] influenced—consciously and unconsciously—entire generations, coloring their attitudes toward the future, family, marriage, work, time, leisure, and death” (2). The public’s opinion toward nuclear war had also been heard earlier in the 1960’s. Atom Ant was a popular cartoon broadcast by Hanna Barbera Productions inspired by the atomic bomb tests, the demonstrations against them, and the concern about nuclear fallout at the time (“Atom Ant” 1). Atom Ant’s battle cry, “up and atom, Atom Ant!” had been a reference to the Cold War and the situation between the East and West (1). Public opinion undoubtedly expressed fear and concern as to what could happen if nuclear weapons were to be used again.
I believe that the deployment of the first two atomic bombs has greatly changed today’s political, military, and public opinion of nuclear weapons. A common thread of fearing nuclear weapons greatly influences the world’s opinion. Politically the world has learned from history, showing that the resolution of World War II with the atomic bomb only created more conflict, controversy, and caution. The world realized it’s own mortality and that it could be completely obliterated by the endlessly growing size of nuclear weaponry. People have taken god’s judgement into their own hands and could place punishment towards anyone with a single bomb. I believe its not humanity’s place to control its own destruction. Militarily the world powers have developed a fear of progressive technology now that they have seen what the atomic bomb has accomplished. Not only through disarmament but also by creating limitations on research and censorship of technology. Good examples of these limitations can be found in the new discoveries of cloning and chemical warfare. Man is rightfully afraid to take the world’s fate into his own hands. Public opinion has also been impacted by the atomic bombs creation. I believe the public looks back at the bombs with a sense of awe, fear, and sorrow. The fact that man has created a weapon powerful enough to destroy the earth is astounding. It is also very frightening. The public is compassionate towards the families and lives lost of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t believe the world can ever forget how these bombs have changed our lives, not only changing the process of creating weapons but also changing the process of discovery.
“Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers.” Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Site. 1999.
“Cold War.” The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition .1994: Columbia University Press.
“Cuban Missile Crisis.” The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition .1994: Columbia University Press.
“General Description of Damage Caused by the Atomic Explosions.” The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 11-31.
“International Agreements.” The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition .1994: Columbia University Press.
Lanouette, William. “Why We Dropped the Bomb.” Civilization. Jan./Feb. 1995: 30-39.
Smirnov, Yuri, Adamsky Viktor. “Moscow’s Biggest Bomb: The 50-Megaton Test of October 1961.” Cold War International History Project. March 1994.
Smirnov, Yuri, Vladislav Zubok. “Nuclear Weapons after Stalin’s Death: Moscow enters the H-Bomb Age.” Cold War International History Project. March 1994.
“Summary of Damages and Injuries.” The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 3-11.
“The Day After.” Cultural Information Service. (November 20, 1983): 2-7.
“TV’s Nuclear Nightmare.” Newsweek. (November 21, 1983): 66-68.