Little Boy at 68

Hell came to Hiroshima 68 years ago today.

My dad, who was flying C-47s out of in New Guinea at the time, said years afterward that he was convinced the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to save his life and the lives of his comrades, arguing that carrying conventional warfare to the bitter end with an invasion of Japan’s home islands would have been a long, drawn-out and very bloody business.

Maybe so. Greg Mitchell at The Nation has his doubts, and suggests that the notion that prevailed in 1945 and for decades afterward — that nuclear weapons were simply another tool of modern warfare, one that could be used surgically if need be with few serious consequences  — is a myth that persists today (see Israel v. Iran, et al.).

Kids today don’t enjoy the duck-and-cover drills that I took for granted as a child, or if they do, I haven’t heard about it. As a rabid consumer of apocalyptic fiction one of the first things I thought about our 1967 transfer from Randolph AFB outside San Antone to Ent AFB in Bibleburg was: “Holy shit. Cheyenne Mountain. Major Soviet target, right up there with the Pentagon and SAC at Offutt.” Ironically, one of the first houses we looked at was in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12. It had a bomb shelter, which would have been about as effective against a spread of SS-9s as the miniature parasol Wile E. Coyote deployed to deflect incoming boulders.

Today’s remote-control, push-button warfare mostly involves drones, but it’s still real people out there ducking, covering and dying. Whatever you think about what took place 68 years ago today, be sure to spare a thought for what might happen 68 minutes from now.


31 Responses to “Little Boy at 68”

  1. Khal Spencer Says:

    Ok, given my line of work, I have to chime in.

    There are definitely some out there in la-la land who think nuclear weapons can be used “surgically” as “just another weapon”. By and large, and without going into details, those people are discredited. Most of our more reasonable politicians (and most of theirs) don’t think of nuclear weapons as just another weapon. That’s probably the reason no one has pushed the button in sixty eight years, Curtis LeMay and other insane individuals notwithstanding. Nukes really are different in the same way a few tons of uranium in a power plant is worth all the coal in Wyoming.

    Father John Dear (of Swords to Ploughshares fame along with the Berrigan brothers), Pax Christie, et al, were up here on Sunday for their usual vigil. I missed it, being home recovering from intense self-inflicted waterlogging. As usual, he trashed the lab, comparing Los Alamos to Dachau (a direct quote) but saying we are all good people up here.

    How one can compare Los Alamos to Dachau and then say we are “good” is a little beyond me. If one reads Matthew 7:16, seems one can’t have it both ways–one is judged by one’s deeds. In my business, at least some of us worry about the potential misuse of our product, not to mention the exorbitant cost it extracts from you, my friend the taxpayer. At any rate, I am glad Fr. Dear and his colleagues visit Los Alamos and challenge us. As I once told the local parish priest at the end of a rather brutal conversation, if one can’t take the heat, one should get out of the kitchen.

    Two things should be noted. One, that about 40-70 million people were killed in World War II, one of the deadliest conflicts in human history**. That was barely a generation after a similar bloodletting in WW I. Two, in terms of the amount of destruction they caused, the two atomic bombs did a tiny amount of damage compared to six years of intense application of conventional weapons, including Operation Barbarossa and the firebombing raids on Hamburg, Dresden, Kobe, and Tokyo, for example. Atomic bombs were far more efficient. They actually gave us pause. About time, eh?


    What the bombs did was frighten humankind into the realization that the next world war, should it be fought with nuclear weapons, would likely be the last one for a millenium or longer–my high school reading of Level Seven (Mordecai Roshwald) comes to mind. Perhaps, therefore, we should realize the bomb’s mixed message: while they may or may not have “won” the Pacific war (that will be debated as long as we live), they made “total war” pretty much unthinkable. Unless you were Curtis LeMay, of course.

    Recent history, and our reticence to push the button, does make me wonder if those who wish to abolish these weapons should perhaps beware of what they wish for; would total war be thought of as “winnable” once again? That said, depending on humanity-ending stockpiles to keep the peace is a bit dangerous at best and expensive in any case. History has not always proven humankind to be capable of making the best decisions until we have exhausted the alternatives.

    I grieve for the folks who died or were left worse than dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I do every August. They may, however, have been martyrs to a cause a little greater: having kept Uncle Sam and Mother Russia from immolating the planet. Let’s not forget that, lest some future lunatic turn the place to radioactive dust.

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      p.s. The sad part is that we have replaced the idea of “surgical” nuclear strikes with “surgical” drone strikes. We talk about the genie being out of the bottle. No kidding.

  2. Jeff Cozad Says:

    Yeah… The current stock pile of weapons in the US is on the order of 5000 (Sept 2009 data). That makes this little video of all of the weapons tests all the more eye opening.

    Then you have to start thinking of India & Pakastan that are neighbors which are nuclear capable that havin to adopt a “launch on warn” posture to keep from “loosing” their “assets”. That’s the scariest place in the world to my mind.

  3. Stan Thomas Says:

    I’m always wary of judging a time when whole countries were given over to the waging of total war. But I am of the view that once this weapon was created it had to be demonstrated just so it was never used again. And callous as it will sound, Japan was probably justifiable in the minds of the time.

    Now, we’re all friends and I deplore the continued development and deployment of nuclear arms. These are weapons we simply cannot use, our World has shrunk, we are all intimately connected and any war anywhere affects us all. The ideas of the 20th century, that you could *win* a war are thoroughly discredited. Everyone loses.

    I am appalled that the UK is talking of renewing it’s Nuclear Deterrent. Who exactly are we deterring? Not the Russians, they’ll just turn off the gas. Not the Argentinians. Not al-Qaeda. But having a Nuke is about status and prestige. A seat at the top table. That’s why the UK won’t give it up, and why Iran wants one. And the one question I have is why is no one promoting a nuclear-free Middle East? Maybe, just maybe, the bargaining chip to persuade Iran is that Israel give up theirs.

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      Spot on, Stan. Thanks.

      I’ve pissed off a few people on my side of the Internet by equating nuclear bombs to Battleship Row: looking pretty and quite formidable, but largely obsolete relicts of the last war, in this case the Cold War. One can do far more damage these days, should one want to, with cyberwar, and do it on the cheap and without the radioactive blowback. I think leaders understand that, but just don’t know, politically, how to put the genie back in the bottle. Read Richard Rhodes “Arsenals of Folly”.

      The last pricetags for the “new, improved” nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos were pushing 4 billion bucks per installation. I suspect you could give those cyberwar hackers in China eight billion greenbacks and they would soon rule the world without firing a shot.

      Every time I think war is obsolete, some nutcase in N. Korea, Pakistan, or Beerinacanistan suggests otherwise. I wish the UN was actually a more potent force for slapping down these small rebellions, and that economic forces were not always one step away from doing people violence (in my opinion, the economic disparities in the nation and world will eventually blow up in our faces). For while we talk of war as too dangerous to fight, we are in an economic battle of sorts that too has winners and losers. My question is this: with the new economy of the 21st Century eventually breed peace or war? Anyone want to fire up their crystal ball?

      • Dale Says:


        I am afraid that the old and new economies embrace “take what you can get, no matter how”. It’s done slyly and cloaked in nationalism and patriotism. The defense industry drive the heels of this economy.

      • Steve O Says:

        Interesting that you mentioned economic disparity.

        It’s a Top Five on the Pentagon’s list.

        Along with global warming, the distribution of clean water (sometimes those two are lumped together), transnational crime, cyber-attacks (also sometimes lumped together), and then the whole illegitimate government, rogue nation thing.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Not exactly news to figure these are the big five, eh?

      • Steve O Says:

        Not exactly news, I guess, but most folks are surprised that the pentagon treats global warming seriously.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        You are right, Steve. the CIA and Pentagon has been treating global change, resource depletion, including energy independence as serious issues for some time. They are completely at odds with the right-wingnuts on that.

  4. Larry T. Says:

    I’m somewhat ashamed to be a citizen of the only country that ever nuked anyone, especially when I read claims that the Japanese were on the verge of surrender anyway. Kinda makes the claims of the lesser evil rather hollow in my opinion, but as they say, history is written by the winners, not the losers so the myths prevail. In some ways I think all countries should have nukes just so we’ll all be equal again, since few countries would be willing to get rid of theirs once they’ve got ’em. If anyone could cause the end of everyone, perhaps we’d all get along better?

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      I wonder if we would have used the bomb had FDR still been president. My read was that he was far more knowledgeable than Truman about what he was about to unleash.

  5. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Well, I tried to order a Deep Red, 54 CM, Soma ES frame and fork today at the LBS (M&M Cycling.) Out of stock they were. Shit. Ran home and tried to order it on the Soma web site. No longer available. Shit. Now I read this. Shit. North Korea is very scary because of the leadership, and I use the term very loosely. Snot nosed kid trying to bully his way onto the world stage. Pakistan and India are even scarier because that is another situation that we and our allies created that cannot end well, just like many other places in the Middle East. Combine ignorance, poverty, and religion, especially more than one, in equal measure and you have all the ingredients for nuclear stupidity. But, I don’t despair too much. I think the human race will breed itself into an overpopulated extinction before we can kill each other off. That too can be attributed to religion, poverty, and ignorance. Of course, when we get to 10 or 12 billion hungry mouths, and the average world wide temp is up 2 or 3 degrees C, who knows? As far as Khal’s question goes, we are actually in a pretty peaceful overall situation in the world right now. And waging small wars is good business at this time, especially if you have a congressional member on the payroll. But the waste of preparing for war is economically unsustainable. And winning the economic battle to build more cheap shit for less goes to the lowest bidder, resulting in a race to the bottom where the 99% loses. You can already see production moving from China to other countries, Vietnam and Bangladesh for example, in our corporations zeal for more profit. No Clif Bar business model at work in the large scale in the good old US. Our (US) ace in the hole is food production if the weather doesn’t change too much. Shit.
    So, no new bike, that ES nickel color is really lame, and with countries still convinced that preparing to defend themselves threatens no one, my mood went from disappointed to down right shitty.

    But, I picked up a six pack of Sierra Nevada Summerfest Pilsner, one of the best pils in the world IMHO, on the way home and with one half a bottle gone while writing this, things are lookin’ up. And I don’t think the newest generation in this world will let the old ass wipes in charge now get away with ruining the planet. So, I’m going for a ride tomorrow; I just won’t read the news before I go. Then I will try to get some of the sand out of my nose.

    • Larry T. Says:

      Looked at the Soma, geez for less than $500 you’re lucky there’s more than one color….but now there’s not. The nickel color really doesn’t look too bad to me…and down the road if you really hate it you can always have a cheapo paint job done in your favorite color – so CHEER UP…though you’ve probably already done that courtesy of the rest of that six-pack?

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Thanks Larry. A whole six pack would put me to sleep! I think the ES is still a good value, but that red color really popped. It caught Mr. O’Grady’s eye as well. As you say, I could always get it painted any color I want. But, without a box full of suitable parts from other bikes or projects, I would have to buy new components, and that runs the project cost up considerably. I have to sleep on it. I am really happy with the Soma Saga.

    • James Says:

      Soma has been sketching for quite some time Patrick. If memory serves they were associated with Merry Sales in the beginning, and Merry was not always great at having items “in stock.” In fact it became a running joke at the LBS about what they “did” and “did not” have in stock and ready to ship. Needless to say that when we heard “Merry Sales” we usually said “Special Order: two to three months.” Bummer though that they let you down as they do have some really awesome stuff…..when they actually have it. 🙂

  6. Steve O Says:

    Interesting juxtaposition over at The Writer’s Almanac: on this day in history, we both signed into law the Voting Rights Act and bombed the shit out of a few million people. Can a nation be diagnosed as bipolar?

    On the lighter side, tomorrow’s anniversaries include one of the funniest judicial rulings ever.

    On this day in 1934, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the novel Ulysses, byJames Joyce (books by this author), was not obscene. It had been banned in the United States in 1920, and though it was a big-seller on the black market, and Joyce knew he was losing a lot of money to pirate publishers, the only way to fight the ban was to provoke the government into a new obscenity trial. So in 1933, Random House decided to import a single version of the French edition ofUlysses, and the company had people waiting at the New York docks for the book’s arrival. It was a hot day and the U.S. Customs inspector didn’t want to be bothered with another inspection, but the Random House people made sure that one book was seized. Random House and Joyce appealed, and the judge, John Woolsey, ruled that it was not pornographic. In his judicial opinion, Judge Woolsey wrote, “In respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of his characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring.”

  7. Khal Spencer Says:

    Given that Patrick’s father was dodging Zeros over there, I’m surprised he has been as quiet or circumspect. My uncle was safely in India for most of the war. My other uncle was unsafely dodging 88’s from German artillery.

    I think, from a human and political point of view, that it is simply irrelevant to judge history from the comfort of our computers and cold beer. The bombs were used in the aftermath of Okinawa and Iwa Jima at the tail end of a war that was, to be sure, intensely personal and racist. Given that Japan didn’t literally run up a white flag, I’m convinced that had we had a few more flattops hit by kamakazes, the GI in the field would have been wondering why he was still taking incoming while we held off on using that new secret weapon.

    Sherman and Lee had it right with their famous quotes, that war is hell, and that it is good that it is so terrible,lest we grow so fond of it. I’m sure that to Truman, and the average sailor in the Pacific, the bomb was there to be used. I’m not living in mortal fear of being burned alive by gasoline on the flight deck of a carrier just hit by a Zero, so who am I to judge?

    • Steve O Says:

      Sherman and Lee both believe that war was hell, but at the same time, thought under the code of conduct, sense of honor, and faux civility that we would not recognize today. They had no problems calling a virtual timeout in the middle of a battle to walk across enemy lines and she cans with opposing generals who were West Point classmates. (only a slight exaggeration, possibly ham-fisted use of hyperbole, there.) They also have no trouble sending privates to an assured death in order to draw the first volley from the other side. We send kids on deadly missions all the time now, but we try to give the appearance that we’re hoping they come back alive.

      It’s very hard and also dangerous to judge the actions of another era when we do not share their cultural beliefs, values, and other intangibles.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Sometimes I just like to pitch a big ol’ hunk of raw meat out there and watch all y’all tear into it. I’m not the only person in the joint with an idea or two, and some of you have more personal experience with a given topic than I do.

      I agree with Stan, Khal and Steve about the dubious clarity of 20-20 hindsight. If I’m a grunt hitting the beach at Honshu in 1945-46, I’m wondering why higher-higher hasn’t deployed every long-range armament at its disposal before feeding my ass into the blades.

      That The Bomb was developed was inevitable, though we already had plenty of hideous methods for shuffling folks off this mortal coil (the firebombing of Dresden, Tokyo, etc). That it would be used, likewise (did you ever get a new toy and not want to play with it as soon as possible?) We should count our lucky stars that the cursed thing has only been used twice so far, in part because a few other outfits got their hands on it and the game suddenly changed from One Bomb To Rule Them All to Mutually Assured Destruction. Self-preservation is a powerful motivation.

      And it’s the primary motivation for outfits like Iran and North Korea to acquire a Bomb. Lil’ Kim wants a big-boy chair at the table, Iran wants to serve Israel a piping-hot cup of shut the fuck up, and so on and so forth.

      Maybe the deterrent of the future is to open-source the program — give everyone a Bomb of their very own. Just think what that would do for the Ambien market.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Tru dat! It’s a nice day here in Ioway, maybe time to test ride this?

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Hey, O’G. Thanks for chiming in.

        Making nuclear information “open source” was actually considered seriously right after the war. If you read Dark Sun (Richard Rhodes) you will see the discussion led by folks like Oppenheimer. Unfortunately, the Cold War intervened and instead we got “Born Classified” as policy. Since the Russians had spies who could tell you Oppenheimer’s brand of toilet paper and underwear, that didn’t work for long.

        20-20 hindsight is dubious in this case. We look back from having seen the video clips from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and with the knowledge of the H-bomb, MAD, Duck and Cover, and for folks like Patrick and Yours Truly, shitting our pants during the Cuban Missile Crisis and a few other close calls during the depths of the Cold War. I lived a mile from a missile battery meant to protect Western New York. Kinda kept things in context.

        But that’s not WW II. Most of the generals and certainly Harry Truman had not the foggiest idea of what an atomic bomb really was–Truman had no advanced degrees, had only recently inherited the Presidency, and was literally out of the loop on the Manhattan Project. All he knew about was the death toll from Okinawa and Iwo Jima and I suspect he saw the Japanese as little more than rodents to be killed (they thought precious little of us, too). Being in the middle of a horrific war is not a good time for intellectual reflection such as we enjoy here.

        The bomb stuff was entirely classified; we didn’t even know if the implosion device would work until July of ’45, and the entire field was barely a decade old and largely unknown outside a few elite chemists and physicists (all that is in Dark Sun). So to some degree, the knowledge of the horrors of the bomb were only obvious to most mortals (folks like Oppenheimer knew, at least after Trinity) after the bombing. Most of us are not that prescient. Going back to what Steve said about operational morality, by the end of WW II that morality was largely defined by “kill as many of them as you can, using whatever you can, as fast as you can, because another wave of kamikazes and the next suicide charge is right over the horizon”. Hence flamethrowers and massed numbers of B-29’s carrying incendiaries.

        Use of the Bomb, rather than defining a precipitous decline of wartime civility, was a result of it. We already went over the edge (Verdun, Stalingrad, Dresden, Tokyo), and perhaps never recovered. I’m sure that if stupider heads ever prevail, someone will think its a great idea to use it again in a so called “surgical strike”, to use the dishonest vernacular about modern weapons. Or, as Patrick suggests, to start the Terminal Jihad. I’m hoping the deterrent value of those two bombs, along with all the sci-fi and braniac calculations on war damage (i.e., nuclear winter, etc) keeps cooler heads in charge. But its that nuclear failed state problem that really scares the crap out of me.

        War can’t just be Hell. Its gotta be mutual suicide. Even that might not work.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Nice bike, Larry!

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Oh, I feel so manipulated. But, Patrick, no red ES frames left. Doesn’t that deflate your bubble just a little? Is the nickel color really that bad? Man, that deep red was pretty!

        My small experience with war, on a fire support base in Vietnam taught me three things. War is a great way to waste money, fuck up perfectly beautiful countries, and ask our service folks to risk all for dubious causes. In my opinion WW II was the last war worth fighting, but I don’t think Japan would have lasted long under more intense and ever increasing bombing combined with a blockade. Invasion should not have been an option in the first place.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Larry, that is really nice.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:


        Purdy bike, Larry. I like that seat cluster … reminds me of the treatment Nobilette gave my custom model.

        And yep, Patrick, I confess to coveting that red ES. I nearly went for it, and then started thinking that it was too similar to the Nobilette for me to justify the expense, however minimal, to the accountant, a.k.a. Herself.

        Like you, I would have had to go through some gyrations to dress it up, too. Cranksets, bottom brackets and brake levers I got; derailleurs, maybe; but wheels and pretty much everything else would have to be acquired or stripped from another bike.

        And that’s about when I would catch fire for some unknown reason. I can hear Herself now: “No idea what happened, officer. He was puttering away in the garage when suddenly he just exploded. That gas can? It’s for the mower.”

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        I promised Meena that I had enough bikes. That is, unless I find a vintage Bianchi with full Campy. In that case, any rational explanation on why I do not need another bike is irrelevant. Those pics on Larry’s site just make one swoon.

      • Larry T. Says:

        In a bass-ackwards way I’m trying to have less bicycles, though taking the bikes to Italy for l’Eroica just moves ’em to another place in reality. Their replacements, once sent out to SoCal will free up space down in the shop – but then there’s another Mondonico frame fork upstairs on the bookshelf, waiting to be built up with something – perhaps a Campagnolo Athena 11-speed triple gruppo? We’ll see after Interbike.

  8. weaksides (@weaksides) Says:

    Every cyclist should always “need one more bike”.

    It’s written, that’s why.

  9. Khal Spencer Says:

    Better one more bike than one more bomb….

    Frankly, that whole era was immoral. The Axis was trying to carve up the world, and one reason others objected (France, England, to some degree the US) was that interfered with the Western powers efforts to do the same damn thing. Vietnam is a good example of that fight lasting long beyond WW II. Bombing brown people for the French ain’t my idea of idealism (Vietnam, by Stanley Karnow, for reference).

    Back to bikes…I’ll see how those 700-25 Gatorskins work. They look awfully damn small compared to the 700-23/25 Specialized tires I just took off the commuter.

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