Thursday, August 6, 2015

Darker Than a Thousand Suns


Seventy years ago, a nuclear weapon was used against human targets for the first time. Seventy years ago less three days, one was used for - so far - the last time.

The mythology of nuclear weapons and nuclear war is, understandably, much bound up with the element of surreal horror, from stellar temperatures and energies to lingering death from radiation. This is probably as it should be: those things stick in the imagination.

But what really sets atomic bombs apart is not the exotic horrors they release on top of the ordinarily horrific effects of blast and fire, but the mundane fact that nuclear weapons make devastation cheap. Individually they are expensive, but no more than the aircraft and missiles that carry them, and one nuclear-armed delivery vehicle wreaks the havoc that previously called for a thousand.

The good news - again, so far - is that the combination of vivid terror and stark economics has been enough to prevent a third use. It has become harder for elites to retain their illusion of invulnerability. Not only does the bomber usually get through, but if it does, a bomb shelter is unlikely to provide sufficient protection for you, your family, or your assets. These facts seem to be fairly well understood, at a fairly visceral level.

Which is a fairly thin sliver of hope to rest on, but it is the one we have.

The image of the Hiroshima mushroom cloud comes from Atomic Archive.