Remembering the birth of the Nuclear Age

1-Mike Staton
Written by Mike Staton.

Two dates in August seventy-one years ago.

The sixth and the ninth of August 1945. Not many people alive today were also alive back then. Those old enough to remember are at least in their late 70s or in their 80s. The rest of us… we only knew the dates through newsreel footage, brittle newspaper or magazine headlines or books on World War II.

Two bombs dropped from B-29 bomb bays, two Japanese cities leveled.

Seven decades later, historians still debate the number of dead and wounded as a result of President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs. The best estimates: 150,000 killed and wounded in Hiroshima, 75,000 in Nagasaki. The experts say those numbers are overly conservative. But how can you really know… when the great fires raging in the cities consumed many bodies.

Mushroom Cloud over Hiroshima
The telltale mushroom cloud rises above the city of Hiroshima, Japan.

Back in the day we used to debate whether or not those two bombs should have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve heard some say that detonating a bomb off the coast of Japan would have spurred them to surrender. Leaflets dropped all over Japan would have read: “See what we can do to your cities.”

Yet I’ve read the historical accounts. How the fight-to-bitter-end faction of generals tried a coup d’état to prevent the emperor from accepting the terms of surrender. Those diehard military men from the Ministry of War and the Imperial Guard were willng to accept a rain of atomic bombs rather than undergo the humiliation of surrender. And I know the U.S. was preparing to invade the Japanese mainland, an offensive that could cost as many as 750,000 American casualties and three times as many Japanese.

So I do understand Truman’s decision to drop the bombs. And no doubt Truman meant the bombing missions as a warning to future adversaries. We did it twice… we could do it again if attacked. A brutal mission delivered by American leaders hardened by four years of brutal war against Imperial Japan, Mussolini, and the Nazis.

Hiroshima's peace park
Modern Hiroshima has a peace park.

Back in the early 1980s I read a science fiction book that offers up an alternate world where the United States actually invaded mainland Japan. Written by Alfred Coppel, the novel’s titled The Burning Mountain: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan. Coppel presumes a what-if. Suppose the Trinity atomic bomb test in New Mexico had failed and Truman had to order the invasion to proceed. It was a riveting book, and brought home just how devastating an invasion of the Japanese homeland would have been. Yes, we would have prevailed, but at great cost.

Baby-boomers like me can remember the nuclear attack alerts that took place in school. Sometimes we took cover under our desks. Other times we were allowed to rush home. Things got scary in the fall of 1962 – the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was nine years old, a few weeks from turning 10. Mom and dad went out and got war supplies – nonperishable canned goods, etc. – in case the Russians attacked us. It was weird seeing the stacks of canned goods lined up against the hallway walls in our Rialto, California, home.

Thankfully, those days are passed. While the world is still a dangerous place with Putin rattling his saber and terrorists hatching plots, it’s not like the 1950s and 1960s when our bombers flew constantly in the air and our missile silos were on 24-hour alert.

Want to know what an invasion of the Japanese mainland would have cost? Read this book.

We and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons. Other countries are nuclear powers as well – United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly North Korea. Online sources say 16,300 nuclear weapons in all. It remains a very dangerous world, just remember that. A miscalculation like what happened to start World War I, and mushroom clouds can bloom all over the world. Remember Carl Sagan and his Nuclear Winter scenario? Not a world I want to live in, if by chance I’m not turned to ash.

# # #

Get out of your reading rut. It’s time to try something new. My suggestion? Fantasy. Three fantastic novels — The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. I’m the author. They’re available at the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


25 thoughts on “Remembering the birth of the Nuclear Age

  1. It’s sobering to think of the power of an atomic bomb and realize those things were firecrackers compared to weapons now. And it’s also sobering to think of how close we’ve come to that nuclear winter scenario. So sobering I try not to ever think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. War is a very bad thing — I wish we could live without it. I know there are many leaders, bad, hardened ones, but I wonder if even those people would think twice about starting war if their own children/family members were the first ones to go or the first on the front lines when war is declared? It seems easy for them to send others to fight; if the tables were turned, perhaps warfare would be lessened. Sobering, educational, and enlightening post, Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always wondered if the military option became much more palatable for U.S. leaders when the country went to the all-volunteer military in the 1970s. Still chewing that one over.


  3. I remember how scary that time was, although in our little rural area of the world it seemed very far away. We didn’t do the “under the desk” routine or stock up on canned goods. We lived on farms that were self-sustaining and I guess people thought we were invincible. At any rate, my father was a news hound and we knew everything that was going on from the nightly news programs. That’s what made it real!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sure would be interesting to talk to someone who grew up in Southern Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. From historical accounts, it seemed the place turned into a giant military base for a possible invasion. Thank God it didn’t happen.


  4. I do remember those days, but not as frightening as you experienced living in a farming community in the mid-west. Still do we want history to repeat itself? Great post. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re sure right about living in Southern California in the 1960s. There were Air Force bases around San Bernardino and Riverside. And when I was in junior high in Norco/Corona, I could hear the rumble of rocket/missile engines being test fired at a nearby facility.


  5. I, too, try not to think about it. But acknowledging all you’ve written still must be done. However, there have always been wars and I believe there always will be. Power is intoxicating, and grasping for it addicting. We are involved in fighting now. But oh how terrible another nuclear war would be–and probably short-lived.


  6. Interesting thoughts Mike. I find it frightening that today children go into closets for active shooter drills. Another bomb could go off. I hope not. So far we’ve managed to have cool heads under pressure, but with the bombs out their the future is still uncertain. One corrupt or collapsing or Napoleonic nation could do terrible things with such a device. Besides ending the war in Japan, there have been arguments that Nagasaki was more for the Russians to see our power.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point about Nagasaki. More than 20 years ago I was having a discussion with a friend, and we concluded it was likely that nuclear bombs might be used in a Pakistan/India war. Thankfully, the genie’s been kept on the bottle.


      1. I worry about guards or mid-level captains in Russia, India or elsewhere selling a warhead for profit to a fanatic who will use it. It seems like Kashmir would be the place where the inciting incident between India and Pakistan would happen. But I wonder if it could be something else that could set it off. Pakistan has been known to have riots based on untrue rumors (as do many other nations) and it is a democratically elected government. I could see an extremist winning the popular vote, who then shows pure incompetence and tries to save face with a war. Of course this could be (and has been) our own fate too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Or perhaps a terrorist organization will get a hold of a cache of nuclear waste/material and use it as a bomb in a European or American city. Not sure how lethal the spreading radiation would be, but expect it would be troublesome. Would someone like North Korea sell some to ISIS?

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Although the bombing of Japan was long before my time, I remember learning about it in a high school U.S. history class. We even put Harry Truman on trial for the bombings. I don’t remember the outcome, though.


  8. I remember seeing films about hiding under your desk, but don’t remember ever actually doing it. Had a friend whose family had a fully stocked underground bomb shelter. Used to wonder if it would be worth it to survive the blast and then come out and try to survive in a destroyed world. Not sure I’d want that.
    Ever seen the movie “War Games”? At the time it was made the focus was on the USSR. Had a sequence where the computer demonstrated the possible outcomes from a nuclear confrontation. Chilling. Now we have so many others with nuclear capability. Scary and sobering. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea, I remember ‘War Games.’ Computer said something like: “That’s a dumb game. Nobody can win.” Remember the movie “Blast From The past”? The family takes up life in their well-stocked bomb shelter thinking there will be a nuclear war due to the Cuban MIssile Crisis?


      1. It starred Brendan Fraser. The synopsis: Adam Webber has lived his entire life in confinement in a fallout shelter in Pasadena, Calif. When the Webber family’s rations of food and supplies grow thin, Adam’s eccentric father, Calvin (Christopher Walken), sends him on a dangerous restocking mission. When Adam emerges from the Webber family’s subterranean refuge for the first time (late 1990s), he finds that rumors of a nuclear apocalypse were false — and meets gorgeous Eve Rustikov (Alicia Silverstone).


  9. Mike – Living in a very small country (Scotland) which has a nuclear base (with the aging Trident missiles) we neither asked for nor currently want, the horror of any mishap is terrifying. This isn’t the place for me to go on in detail how many Scots feel about this, but if either there was an attack on the Trident base or some kind of accident, the whole of Central Scotland would probably be wiped out. Nuclear weapons come with horrendous responsibilities and consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand how you feel. Nuclear sub bases, ICBM silos and AF Strategic Air Command bomber bases dot the U.S., all potential military targets. And a retired Army officer reminded me that artillery guns can fire battlefield nukes. Yes, “nuclear weapons come with horrendous responsibilities and consequences.”


  10. Very powerful post, Mike. That alt-history book by Coppel about invading Japan sounds intriguing. Today our fears are centered mostly on terrorists and extremists and school shootings that you don’t hear much about nuclear weapons anymore. But you’re right, they’re out there and what terrifies me is an unstable leader like Kim Jong-un getting his hands on one and using it.


    1. For example, if Pakistan and India go at it with nukes, it’s not just them affected. It’ll cause worldwide environmental changes. What if the North Korean leader decides to launch some submarine nuclear missiles from off the U.S. Coast? It’s still a nightmare world full of ‘Freddies.’


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