16 July 1945–Anyone Remember Trinity?

This morning I was bemused to discover what mainstream news considers to be newsworthy.  It is the 70th anniversary of the Trinity detonation: the world’s first atomic bomb.  Rather than spend a moment or two on merely noticing the inauguration of the nuclear age, they spent most of their time on an awards program where a transsexual was given a “courage” trophy, a deeply unpopular treaty with a Middle East theocracy that achieves none of its stated goals, and a few amusing videos of robbers being taken down by civilians.

An age ago, a school friend’s father told of what he saw that morning.  He was in the Special Engineering Division (SED) working at Alamogordo on some diffusion experiments.  The SED was an organization of engineers, technicians, chemists, and other specialists who, plucked out of the military, helped with the more mundane tasks required for the highly technical work while nominally under military discipline.  The dad was a metallurgical chemistry PhD candidate when he was drafted, and soon after he reported he was sent first to Chicago, then to St. Louis, and finally to New Mexico, all the while knowing just enough to do his job, which was mostly metallurgical studies of exotic materials.

Just after midnight on the 16th of July he and several thousand others were bused to a set of grandstands in the desert, where they shivered in the dry cold for hours.  About an hour before dawn, two spotlights pointed straight up into the sky turned on some miles away, and a siren sounded.  They had been issued goggles and were told to put them on as soon as the siren went off.  The lights began to move back and forth, and they had been told to turn away when the siren stopped and the lights crossed.  They did.

After the flash, the roar and the blast, the most common reaction can best be described as “oh wow: we did that?”  A few were positively giddy; most merely excited.  Others were contemplative, wondering if the war would last long enough to be used.  No one was concerned about any future victims.

I will watch with interest and amusement the saturation coverage of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a couple of weeks.  It may offer an interesting counterpoint to the attitudes of the people who actually built the bombs at the time.


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