Friday, July 11, 2014

Having a Blast! Nuclear War Part II.

Having a Blast! Ignorance Unleashed. Nuclear War Part II. 

“The best way to solve any problem is to remove its cause.” -Martin Luther King

“There is, in fact, an axiom of proliferation. It states that as long as any state holds nuclear weapons, others will seek to acquire them.” -
Richard Butler

Fusion weaponry is here to stay. It is analogous to trying to put tooth paste back in the tube, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle for good. The question now is what the hell do we do with this new nuclear genie of immense destructive power. First we should learn from history, we are an old species with a new weapon, the first place to visit is where it began and discover how quickly, how naively, even how exigently we build and then detonated two nuclear bombs within a half a decade. It seems insane in retrospect, from building the first atomic bomb to dropping it on a civilian city within 5 years, a record for human stupidity perhaps.

 The second world war was raging and the casuistry that still haunts the decision to use the new atomic weapon must be studied. After this we should more lucidly see which road is safer to traverse. Do we start down the road that could lead to the desensitized, almost banal use of nuclear bombs? It happened before. A cliche of history, but true nonetheless, is that history is said to often be repeating itself. Shall we tread the road of restriction and never use a power as awesome as this again? The weapons of 1945 are mere playthings compared to todays refined and obscenely catastrophic thermal nukes, but the lesson is similiar: learn from history or ignore it at your peril.

A quick revision of nuclear weapons and their history may lead one into a false sense of security, or into a justifiable panic. On the one hand there has only been one nuclear war since the very first atomic fission bombs were developed. In 1939 Einstein, fully aware of the physics behind the potential of Uranium 235 to be used in a weaponized form, wrote a letter to Roosevelt. The letter warned the US president of the possibility that Hitlers Third Reich could be working on fission based weapons. Roosevelt took this warning seriously and changed military history by gathering physicists in Los Alamos to begin work on the Manhattan Project - or the first Atomic bomb.

The ethical implications became murkier as the rationale the US government gave for building an atomic bomb was based on a fear that the Nazi's would build one first, and it is true that this was a possible and unacceptable threat in 1939. And it was even a potential threat through to late 1944. However by 1944 it was clear that the war was over, not literally but pragmatically. In the US during mid 1945, around the time when Hitler was in the Fuhrer bunker, surrounded by Soviets, with his Walther PPK in his mouth and his finger on the trigger, an event that would end the war in Europe, the US were only a few months away from completing a fully functional uranium bomb and another plutonium based fission bomb. Although Europe was still a bloodbath of unspeakable horror, the war was won in the sense that the Nazis were no longer able to compete with the combined might of the Allies pushing rapidly into West Germany and the Soviets were closing in on Berlin from the East. The justification for building the bomb, which used some of the greatest minds in physics such as Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi, was no longer valid. Both Einstein and Feynman would later be deeply troubled by their own participation in their creation.

After Germany's surrender in May 1945, the target to drop the bomb on Berlin was now null and void, except that the Allies were also at war with Japan. The December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbour was the first attack on US soil since the British burned the White House down in 1812. Beginning in 1942 the Allies planned to "island hop", reclaiming one island after another, until the eventual and dreaded invasion of mainland Japan. There were dozens of islands to liberate in the Pacific after the rapid expansion and successful conquest of most of south east asia by the Japanese. The Japanese were notably brutal to the conquered peoples, seeing them as inferior. Unlike the Allied soldiers, the Japanese soldiers fought (with negligible exceptions) not only to the death but were often eager to die for their cause. This fanaticism was enabled by a mix of traditional samurai culture, bushido code, honour in death, shame in surrender, extreme nationalism, and a belief that their Emperor, HiroHito, was an actual living Deity. All these factors combined meant that death was more honourable than surrender. The Allies would eventually win but the cost would be tremendous for both sides, especially for Japan and for Japans subjugated civilian populations. China losing some 15+ million.

Every island engagement from Guadalcanal, to Peleleu, to Saipan, to Iwo Jima ended in a similar slaughterhouse pattern, virtually no Japanese soldiers were left alive after each island or atoll was taken, stained red after an assault and the US flag was planted amongst the fly infested corpses. Yet each island hop brought the Allies closer to the final goal, the military invasion of Japan, something that appeared as the only way to win. Similar to Germany it would come down to troops on the ground, but due to the unbelievable suicidal defiance of the Empire of the Sun it would be paid in obscene numbers of human lives. The Manhattan Project could avoid US soldiers from dying on Japanese soil.

After the bloodiest battle yet, Iwo Jima, the Allies were ready to invade Japan. The plan was to head for Okinawa an island chain south of Japan's four main islands which could then be used as a launch platform or as the final preamble to the invasion. The Okinawa campaign began in April 1945. Three important factors in the the soon to be, one and only, nuclear war occurred in April. Firstly Eisenhower died, Hitler shot himself the same month, and President Truman now had to decide on the final strategy to end the second world war. Okinawa's body count was adding up, with about 400 000 deaths. This meant an invasion of Japan, assuming they will fight to the death, would reach a death toll in the many millions, for both sides.

Suicide Kamikaze pilots flew into Allied navy ships with reckless abandon, the remnants of Japanese regiments proudly banzai charged into the US machine guns, or committed mass suicide, all were preferable to surrender. Tragically surrender is what the Allies wanted, they wanted an unconditional surrender like they forced out of Germany after the leaders or Golden Pheasants all committed suicide. There was to be no unconditional surrender though, the Japanese mindset made surrender less plausible than Waffen SS troops surrendering pre-1943, unlikely to say the least. After Okinawa was finally subdued and the Japanese Commanding General committed the traditional samurai seppuku with his Katana sword, slicing his stomach open. The remaining officers were ordered to hold grenades to their chest and pull the pin.Truman assessed the gruesome situation unfolding and evaluated his options. Use traditional warfare or fast track the A-bomb?

Japan was in ruins, fire bombing had killed 100 000 people in Tokyo and burned their paper homes to ashes. The same was desolation occurred in most major cities as the US flew continuous bombing runs indiscriminately levelling civilian, industrial and military targets alike. The Soviet Union had entered the war and was pushing Japan back out of China, Japan was surrounded and like Germany seemed to be hell-bent on a fight to the death, only with an even greater, unrelenting resistant fanaticism.

By July the first atomic bomb in all history was tested in New Mexico, code named Trinity it was a plutonium fission reaction and was equivalent to 20 odd tons of TNT. Feynman recalls watching the mushroom cloud and later being ashamed for participating in what Trinity's siblings were later used for. Japan was still being bombed round the clock but they would not accept unconditional surrender. Japan had been isolationist for some decades and like Nazi Germany saw itself as superior or somehow above defeat. In July the Japanese were offered an ultimatum at the Potsdam conference, total surrender or total military defeat through invasion, Japan refused. Interestingly in another tragedy of history the Japanese were not really warned of the impending atomic bomb attacks, the targets of which city to test this awesome new weapon on were already being decided though. Leaflets were not dropped warning the Hiroshima or Nagasaki inhabitants. These unsuspecting people would be the first, and hopefully the last, to know the true horror of nuclear war. Would Japan have surrendered in another few months of traditional bombing? Perhaps, but the Allies were set to invade. Would they give up if they knew the atomic explosions were about to happen? Maybe. These are rhetorical questions as history only had one path and one true answer. For better or worse, the bombs would be used.

 When August arrived, two atomic bombs authorized by Truman, had been loaded onto planes and were sitting on Tinian island, 6 hours flight from Japan. One nuke was a Uranium bomb called "Little Boy' the other a Plutonium based weapon called "Fat Man". The first was flown over the city of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, it exploded above the city and that was the day humanity set a dangerous precedent - only to repeat the procedure again... Nuclear bombs had been used, and on civilians too - and possibly even in surplus to the actual requirements to attain a surrender. Three days later the second bomb was flown and detonated over Nagasaki, Kyoto was the original target but cultural sites changed the fate of the second bombs fallout, the last nuclear weapon to be dropped in a war was to be the city of Nagasaki. 100 000 people died from the explosions, similar to the death toll from the fire bombing of Tokyo, this new weapon was in it's infancy, thousands more died from radiation.

The clever minds who made the bomb must have known, spears get sharper, guns get more accurate, land mines get more refined, bombs deliver ever greater devastation. War and weaponry follows an upward trend toward less intimacy and more extermination. The fact of war repeats itself over time, and the nuclear spear will be no exception to the rule, instead it will get sharper, it will follow the rule of increasing lethality. Indeed it has done just this, now we can destroy not just a city but a whole planet.

On the 15th of August the Japanese Emperor/God signed the surrender, although not unconditionally. He spoke on Japanese radio for the first time to his people telling them the war is over, he announced as part of the surrender terms that he is not a Deity but is still the Emperor of Japan.

The first atomic bombs cost 2 billion dollars to make, and did in fact end the worst war in human history (which was already fizzling out). They also marked the end of the only nuclear war in history - for now. Yet the entire justification for using or even constructing the bomb in the first place did not deter their use, once the original justification ceased to exist, Truman found a reason and set a precedent. Precedents can lead to the same rationalization that led to the original precedent, once it is set it can be used as a case in point. Atomic bombs stopped the war, the cost of their 2 billion dollar construction may be nowhere near the actual price though, the knowledge that we killed 100 000 civilians with a new weapon to win a war that was nearly over is not the full cost. The future improvement of nuclear weapons and their combination with the Nazi V2 ballistic missiles and their subsequent refinements makes a price estimation impossible.

In Part three everyone wants the newest toy in their armory, and the most advanced societies get the toy. Then they make it even more deadly! Is Marx correct "history once a tragedy is now a farce"? The future is mutually assured to be either destroyed or preserved. It all rests on us and how it will be written, assuming someone is there to write it...

Part 3

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