Capturing the Atom Bomb on Film

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.

J. Robert Oppenheimer
reacting to the first nuclear test explosion… Trinity, 1945

Johnston Island test atomic explosion, 18 October 1962

Chama >1Mt, Johnston Island, 18.Oct.1962
Image from the Trinity Atomic Web Site
Originally hosted by Los Alamos National Laboratory

About fotdmike

Occasional photographer; occasional writer/blogger; occasional activist; occasional computer-geek. Bit of a fool really.
This entry was posted in History, Photography Chat, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Capturing the Atom Bomb on Film

  1. Robert C. says:

    I went off on a tanget again… sorry for the epically long post… And It might bug you abit my lack of punctuation XD Its always interesting hearing the words of the next generation eh? Sad that I cant really use punctuation correctly to make it less of a head ache x.x at least I use the spell checker ^^; I get Thanked for that some times because Its really lame when people don’t use it XD

    ^^;; had some extra browsing time before bed and stumbled across this, good read and the images are a bit frightening as well as the statistics of that neutron bomb…. I mean… The Original, yeah, you could tell instantly it was a Military action that wiped the place out, but if you hadn’t actually seen the blast, a whole Area could be wiped out and no one would know what killed them… Like that 24 hour Sickness My teacher told me about But I cant recall the name… But The Entire village would be wiped out and No one would know what happened, until some one got sick removing the corpses and it took out another village with no cure…

    Theirs Many frightening things about this world If you take the time to look >.>; your life can end over something meaningless in a matter of seconds… Like the Line in like the first 5 minutes of The New Avatar movie(the blue people one) “His Life was ended right before his dream, and for what, The Paper in his wallet….” Its sad and Scary at the same time… x.x But with my particular age group and area of the world we grew up sheltered and with “Always having a Happy ending” and if there was a hint of death or sex we couldn’t watch it… try having that same enviroment now a days though… The Popular singers singing about sex drugs and money, and Miley Cyrus Getting famous working for disney in kids shows and movies is now the Poster Child of Corrupted Youth…

    On a side note… Your Hope for The Next Generation being as aware of the possibility of being wiped off the planet with out warning…
    Ive never personally thought about it, so my self I’m Only sub-consciously aware But when I really think about it, Our Generation Looks at videos and we play games where entire citys get blown up or some one gets Annihilated with a single strike and think “OMFG THAT WAS AWESOME! hur hur” Dunno how to post links….. But as a Example of How Much we Take it to lightly….

    (dunno how to do the link thingy on here XD sorry)
    This was the intro to my favorite game At one point… and Its essentially Two breeds of humans trying to Erase the otheres existance, Theres “Clanners” which geneticly alter every new born to take the Genes of certain traits of their best pilots, for example. If you wanted a a new Warrior who advances in ranged sniping they would put all the genes of their best snipers and then you get a kid with natural talent that surpasses any one of the generation before him …

    Even worse!They are actually starting to experiment On Chickens and Cow’s Hold on i’ll get a link…

    Technically this is just Selective breeding… But it goes one step futher in the games… and yeah…

    But if you even youtube search any main stream “mecha” anime then you see how Commercialized War and destruction is now a days… Especially “Sky Girls” 13 year old girls fighting a war to save the world from demons spawned of bad experiments using nuecular weapons and robots with their own AI

    what it boils down to. which you will strongly dissagree with based on your generations upbringing, But My Generation sees war as a game and doesn’t see The Pain behind a Mass Loss of life until it happens to them or some one they know and then it turns their world upside down…

    But In reality… Off the Top of my head I can form an ENDLESS list of Games and Japanese Anime with War and Genoside, and Nukelular weapons made Into nothing but entertainment and when kids see it they are like “AWESOME!!!! DID YOU SEE THAT!?! THE WHOLE PLANET ASPLODED!!!”

    >..< that day will cause so much bloodshed… I hope it never comes…

    • Robert C. says:

      I double checked my comment and noticed It some how erased a bit XD… The “That day will cause so much blood shed” bit followed a comment about When a Person from my generation becomes a leader of one of the world powers >..<;;

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s