Trinity 75 Years Later

Trinity Marker near Bingham, N.M.

Trinity was the code name for the first nuclear bomb detonation 75 years ago today.

The test explosion was conducted by the U.S. Army at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project. It took place in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, on what is now part of White Sands Missile Range.

The day after Trinity, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson flew to Potsdam, Germany where President Harry Truman was meeting with Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Joseph Stalin to determine the fate of Germany which had surrendered unconditionally on May 8.

Truman wrote about this meeting with Stimson in his memoir:

We were not ready to make use of this weapon against the Japanese, although we did not know as yet what effect the new weapon might have, physically or psychologically, when used against the enemy. For that reason the military advised that we go ahead with the existing military plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.

A committee had been established to evaluate use of the atomic bomb once testing was successful. Before Trinity, on June 1, the committee of government officials and scientists made their recommendation, which Truman recounts in his memoir:

It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon as it could be done. They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning and against a target that would clearly show its devastating strength.

Ultimately Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on Aug. 6 the U.S. Air Force delivered it. Truman threatened to drop a second atomic bomb. On Aug. 9 the Air Force bombed Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered Aug. 10.

A friend and fellow Veteran for Peace, the late Samuel Becker, was in Guam in August 1945 preparing for the invasion of Japan. I recently asked him about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said the reaction in Guam was positive, they were in favor of it because it brought a quick end to what could have been a prolonged, bloody conclusion to World War II. In the years before he died, Sam didn’t believe it was a good idea. With time and reflection, the notion that the atomic bombings saved many lives turned out to be a myth. The Japanese were already in a position to surrender. At a Zoom call on Monday, author of the book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb Gar Alperovitz said that to a person contemporary military leaders went on the record to say there was no need to use the atomic bombs on Japan. The war had already been won.

On July 1, 1968, states began to sign the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which entered into force on March 5, 1970. Every state on the planet has joined the treaty with the exception of India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan. India, Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. The treaty has three interrelated parts: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. Article VI states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” 75 years after Trinity we missed the “early date” by a country mile.

Progress is measured in a meeting of the parties every five years. This year’s scheduled NPT review conference was postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the Trump administration nuclear arms control is not even up for discussion, except to eliminate constraints on “American freedom.” The U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion on the nuclear complex in the coming years. That will drive Russia to do likewise. FOX News personality Chris Wallace recently wrote a popular book regurgitating false myths about the history of the atomic bomb. Alperovitz debunked some of Wallace’s claims on Monday.

Also on Monday Sueichi Kido spoke about his experience as a five-year-old during the bombing of Nagasaki. People like him are called hibakusha or survivors of the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945. Over the years he and other hibakusha told their story many times. The hibakusha are aging and will soon all be gone. Along with them will go living memory of the effects of a nuclear weapon.

Truth matters and one truth is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary. Atomic bombs were never needed for defense. Their existence, as demonstrated at Trinity, would fuel the Cold War and the idea of mutually assured destruction should they be used. This is crazy talk. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated and the only way to do that, to pierce the wall of our federal government, is citizen action demanding it. On the 75th anniversary of Trinity it’s past time we took action.

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