Just came across a mention of this on Flickr (in a forum topic started by this guy) and thought it sufficiently unusual and interesting enough to share. For me the images evoke all sorts of not entirely pleasant feelings, and suggest quite a few questions. Like, for example, would the capturing of such images be possible with a digital camera? Do nuclear explosions emit an EMP and if so would that knock out digital equipment? I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know when I come to think about it.
From 1945 to 1962, the United States military detonated hundreds of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. George Yoshitake, 82, speaks about his experiences documenting the explosions and their destructive effects.
Courtesy of the New York Times
Curiously I often find myself speculating upon whether, by how much, and in what ways, conscious awareness of the atom bomb may have affected myself and others of my generation.
I was born just a few years after the end of the Second World War (or WWII) that, where Germany was concerned, undoubtedly had its antecedents in the Great War… the so-called “war to end all wars”. And it may still prove to be that the nuclear legacy of the Second World War (and therefore, although once removed, of the Great War) will indeed end all wars… by totally obliterating the whole of humankind!
To this day I remember how, as an infant in those few years following WWII, the sound of air raid sirens continuing to be tested was a quite common occurrence… at least in the area where I lived.
I remember playing with other kids in a, by that time grassed over, “bomb pit”… presumably caused by a dropped (“conventional”!) bomb that had probably been intended for the nearby De Havilland aircraft factory where mum had worked.
I also remember a particular one of the then fairly rare occasions when mum took me to the local cinema (now changed into something entirely different of course).
Bizarrely I cannot now remember what the main feature was, but still have a vivid recollection of the short “newsreel” documentary from Pathe News that accompanied it… in black and white of course. And from that newsreel (a report of yet more test explosions being conducted, for at that time the technology was still very new) the image that made the strongest impression on me was of a mushroom cloud from an atom bomb explosion. The drama of those scenes magnified for me, little more than a toddler, by seeing them on a larger-than-life screen in a rarely-visited cinema.
That image of the mushroom cloud has stayed with me to this very day, becoming an integral part of my psyche, and I’m sure is to some extent responsible for my absolute opposition to and horror of nuclear weaponry. Indeed, shaping a bias in my mind against all forms of nuclear technology. And it is that type of effect I mean when I mentioned just now about “conscious awareness of the atom bomb” affecting my generation.
As I grew older and learned of Hiroshima and Nagasaki such knowledge merely served to reinforce the open-mouthed fearsome awe with which I’d watched that mushroom cloud blossom, imprinting upon my mind forever the conviction of the absolute obscenity of nuclear weapons and the inhumane madness of those who even consider deploying them.
Surely no similar “awakening” and sense of terrible immediacy will have been experienced by subsequent generations, for whom the reality of nuclear weaponry has been a permanent and almost unremarked part of their mental landscape as it were.
In much the same way perhaps that the advent of air travel opened up new and exciting possibilities for those who witnessed the first powered flights (possibilities that nowadays have become accustomed realities, taken for granted and not spared a thought), so the advent of nuclear weapons (the atom bomb, the hydrogen bomb etc, and the even more obscene concept of the neutron bomb), for those who witnessed it, opened up a new and terrible future. A future in which we’re now all residents.
This slideshow from the New York Times has been an uncomfortable reminder (as if I needed such!) of that childhood experience, although perhaps that is why the images in the slideshow exert such a strange fascination for me, with hints of that “Age of Innocence” (best represented, so it seems to me, by the 21st image of the set) in pre-atom bomb days that disappeared a mere handful of years before I was born… a freer cleaner world so close yet now forever beyond reach.
And, I wonder, do any of the more recent generations regard nuclear weaponry and its unimaginably devastating power with the same total abhorrence as myself? An abhorrence that is not diluted in the least by knowledge of the hands in which this horrendously destructive power resides.
Can they who did not witness the beginning of this Nuclear Age have any conception of what life must have been like in an Age before we had the means to totally obliterate ourselves (and practically every other species) from the face of the Earth?
Perhaps the real malaise of society today is an unconscious acceptance that at any moment we could all be totally wiped out… upon a mere politician’s whim. A politician as fanatical, say, as a Tony Blair or a George W. Bush… maliciously using lies and deceits to achieve ungodly aims.
Quite understandable if it be asked, what’s the point of anything at all when at any time and virtually without warning we may all be consumed in a nuclear holocaust initiated by some lunatic across the other side of the world? Unlikely perhaps but, for the first time ever in the history of the human race, a possibility brought into being by the concluding events of WWII.
The recognition of personal mortality is something we all eventually have to come to terms with. But the wiping out of our whole species? That’s on another scale entirely! Difficult to believe that this (for most, unthinking) awareness, having been absorbed by the mass psyche, has not informed our behaviour and attitudes… perhaps in ways that we don’t even suspect.
And such is the power of imagery that these photos should have plunged me once more back into my childhood days and recollections of the lasting impact that newsreel, and its own images, had upon me.
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.