The World adjusts to the Atomic Age

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).

The news of the atomic bomb was soon spread around the world. Although a startling innovation the implications of the new super weapon were quickly recognised.

The changing outlook for the human race, and the prospect for future wars, was readily grasped by people who had no experience of military strategy. Sy M. Kahn a member of the 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps whose principal role was loading and unloading ships. He heard about the bomb while on a ship in mid Pacific:

This afternoon I heard over the radio about the “greatest war invention.”

It’s called the atomic bomb. The information we know about it is as follows: When a test explosion was made in New Mexico, where the research took place, it vaporized a steel tower and left a huge crater. The pressure waves knocked men down at a distance of five miles; forest rangers 150 miles away thought there had been an earthquake, and it rattled windows 250 miles away.

The bomb is equivalent to the bomb load of 2,000 Superforts or 10,000 tons of TNT. President Truman stated that this invention is capable of destroying civilization, wiping out everything that stands above ground. The first of these bombs was dropped on Hiroshima yesterday. Further facts are that the research involved two billion dollars and five years. The bombs are in production now at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Seattle, Washington.

This must be an almost unbelievably powerful weapon. If it is as powerful as stated, then it should bring this war to a speedy close.

In the letter I received from Mom today, she included an article that stated that many Washington big-wigs thought that Japan might surrender as early as the end of this month, but at least by Christmas. Naturally I scoffed at this, for even the latter date seemed improbable, and I was annoyed to read these optimistic predictions handed to the people at home. However, this new weapon may bring a much quicker end than we anticipated.

It has long been known that atomic energy is extremely powerful, if it could be harnessed. Such a weapon as has been developed forecasts what is in store in future wars.

Although these words may sound fantastic now, they may prefigure the destruction of future civilization or, at least, destruction beyond the realm of imagination.

The U.S. has stated that the secret of the weapon will be carefully guarded while a defense against it is developed. Once again we have the vicious circle of powerful, new, destructive weapons and more intricate defenses against them, until this frenzy of diabolical invention shall backfire into the faces of all humanity.

As other eras have had their rise, peak and decline, perhaps we are reach- ing the peak of our machine age and beyond lie the black pits of decline.

Meanwhile, we are harassed with endless and petty army regulations…

See Sy M. Kahn: Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-45

There was only misapprehension in the claims that the U.S. made about the bomb

The U.S. has stated that the secret of the weapon will be carefully guarded while a defense against it is developed.

No-one in the U.S. High Command was yet aware of how many nuclear secrets the Soviets had managed to obtain.

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