Commentary: On July 16, we should take a moment to reflect upon one of history’s key events – an ominous one as well for all of mankind. It happened in America on this date in 1945, at 5:29AM, just up the road not far from Socorro. It was the detonation of the first nuclear weapon, known then as an “atomic bomb”.
The blast was equivalent to 22,000 tons of TNT and the light given off the instant of the blast was brighter than the sun. It was said by onlookers that “the whole country was lighted by a searing light” more intense than the sun. And, the desert sand melted. Man, with incredible science, had freed the genie of destruction, self- destruction, never, ever to be recaptured.
And with that bomb as well, humanity’s potential for grace and goodness was put into question.
The site of the test blast is known as Trinity, named this by the project’s leader, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer. It has always been known as “ground zero” and is in a barren, isolated and remote stretch of desert known since the Spanish first traveled through there as the Jornada del Muerto. One translation has it as the “journey” or “trail of the dead”.
Given what the Trinity blast ushered into the world at dawn on July 16, 1945 I’d say that name, Jornada del Muerto, fits.
A few weeks later, August 6, a second atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 150,000 people; about half that number were instantly vaporized. And thousands of pedestrians, at the instant of the blast, “were crumpled into crisp black husks.”
Three days later, on August 9, another bomb, - this one called “Fat Man” – was dropped on Nagasaki, leveling the city and slaughtering 75,000.
I have to add here that I’ve never thought the humorous names - Little Boy and Fat Man - given to the bombs which killed tens of thousands were funny or appropriate. Those bombs were lethal beyond comprehension for the death and suffering they inflicted. Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed that with the atomic bomb, humanity had achieved a power “that could incite its own destruction.” So, not funny at all.
Atomic bombs are made from a process called nuclear fission – splitting the atom and releasing extraordinary energy. It’s been said that nuclear energy can light up a whole city, or destroy it. We are still debating which one we want. Sometimes I think we’re losing.