This is an image of the fireball from the first test of a thermonuclear weapon, Ivy Mike, Pacific Proving Ground, November 1, 1952. In this image, published in Life magazine in April 1954, a sketch of the skyline of Manhattan is silhouetted at the bottom, not quite to scale. In the fireball of a nuclear weapon, everything is instantly obliterated.
What’s This Newsletter About?
When it came to nuclear weapons, the shroud of secrecy was tight during the Cold War. Now and then we members of the public were allowed to see impressive photographs. They were hard to read. They never had any people in them. Just how big were these things?
We were also being taught, and learning, not to ask questions. We learned we should leave these matters to the experts.
The Cold War ended in 1989. After that, if we were interested, we could learn more about nuclear weapons—if we hadn’t learned too well the lesson that we should leave these matters to the experts. Maybe we didn’t need to know. Hey, for 44 years, nothing had happened. We’d won the Cold War, hadn’t we?
Maybe. We didn’t seem to have lost it. We hadn’t won the nuclear arms race though. No one had. No one has.
This newsletter is going to offer information and stories about the technology of nuclear weapons and the history and strategy of the Cold War. Is this “news”? It may not be “current events.” But I’ve found that for a great many of us, it’s news. Few of us know the kind of historical and technical information that will be found in these reports. I’ve also found that we do still want to know it. Especially when, periodically, the monster heaves up its head, in, say, an alarm about an incoming ICBM. Or when a leader of a nuclear power threatens to deliver “fire and fury” upon another country. Or when it occurs to us that “deterrence” can’t possibly work with suicidal terrorists.
If news is, as the editor Arthur MacEwan said, “anything that makes a reader say, `Gee Whiz'!,” news will abound here.
The items I will post here will be educational, the fruit of my research over thirty years. With an edge. Edge-u-cational, we might want to say. Or not.
Finally, I agree with those who argue that if we accept the existence of nuclear weapons in our world, we must also accept the fact that they will at some time be used. I believe also, with General George Lee Butler (ret.), the last Commander in Chief of our Strategic Air Command, that when it comes to nuclear weapons, beliefs about the efficacy of “deterrence” are deeply misguided. I also agree with those who argue that nuclear weapons cannot be prohibited and policed out of existence, that a world free of nuclear weapons will not be simply this world, minus the weapons.
Finally finally, I agree with the language philosopher Kenneth Burke who argued in Attitudes Toward History (3rd ed, U. California P, 1984) that “A history of the past is worthless except as a documented way of talking about the future.”
Some questions these entries will address: Were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs the same or different? Has any of our presidents ever witnessed a nuclear detonation? How big can these things get? How long does it take for a missile to get here, or there? How does missile guidance work? How did our strategy change during the Cold War? What should you do if one goes off in your neighborhood? And much more, as discussion unfolds.
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