How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb

When driving from Albuquerque to Las Cruces you can go via the White Sands National Monument which is according to its website, is "great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand that have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this unique dune field, along with the plants and animals that live here."  The website is not kidding.  This is a beautiful place and the dunes are a sight to behold.  What the website has in an alert that comes up when necessary is that this national park is damn smack in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range.  Yes, the cradle of the American development of the atomic bomb,  missiles and the space program.  

According to wikipedia, "White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a rocket range of almost 3,200 square miles (8,300 km2) in parts of five counties in southern New Mexico. The largest military installation in the United States, WSMR includes the Oscura Range and the WSMR Otero Mesa bombing range. WSMR and the 600,000-acre (2,400 km2) McGregor Range Complex at Fort Bliss to the south, form a contiguous swath of territory for military testing.  An interesting area to drive through.  Jet fighters flying overhead and signs that say stop if flashing as missiles are being tested.  Thankfully, they were not testing the day I drove through.

On 16 July 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity test site.  Four years later, in 1949, German rocket scientists transferred from Fort Bliss to Redstone Arsenal.  The White Sands Proving Ground was offically renamed White Sands Missile Range on 1 May 1958.  And that is only a couple of snippets of information about what goes on here that are in the public domain.  

This is what the Trinity explosion looked like 0.016 seconds after detonation.

This is what the Trinity explosion looked like 0.016 seconds after detonation.

"This is the text of the letter signed by Albert Einstein which was delivered to President Franklin Roosevelt by Alexander Sachs on October 11, 1939. The chief author is believed to be Leo Szilard" which can be found on the the Official Home Page of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Albert Einstein 
Old Grove Rd. 
Nassau Point 
Peconic, Long Island 

August 2d, 1939 

F.D. Roosevelt 
President of the United States 
White House 
Washington, D.C. 

Sir:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations.

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable--through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America--that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable--though much less certain--that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.

The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is the Belgian Congo.

In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving this might be for you to entrust with this task a person who has your confidence who could perhaps serve in an unofficial capacity. His task might comprise the following:

a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problems of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States.

b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have the necessary equipment.

I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizaecker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

Yours very truly 
(signed) A. Einstein

SOURCE: U.S. Army in World War II Special Studies Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb 

by Vincent C. Jones 
Center of Military History 
United States Army 

Little did he know that five years later this would happen: Re-enactment from the BBC Worldwide Documentary, 2007.  Militarising scientific breakthrough is nothing new.  But nothing can excuse the devastation of these bombs.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy gives this account of the death toll of the bombing of Hiroshima:"By the end of 1945, because of the lingering effects of radioactive fallout and other after effects, the Hiroshima death toll was probably over 100,000. The five year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold."