The light is the end of the tunnel.
The Apache nuclear test, which was part of Operation Redwing, is one of the archetypal post-Hiroshima atomic images. We’ve even seen it described as beautiful. Based on pure aesthetics, perhaps that’s true. But of late, global events have reminded many people that these weapons are still the number one threat to human life. In fact, the current state of geopolitics makes the use of nuclear weapons inevitable—i.e., all the nations that have them, such as the U.S., Russia, China and others, routinely break international law, while those that don’t have them are routinely bullied and attacked. In such a two-tiered system, non-nuclear countries believe ultimate security can be derived from only one thing—the acquisition of nukes. It’s a recipe for global failure. The Apache nuclear test occurred at Enewetak Atoll in the South Pacific today in 1956.
What’s another nuclear bomb, more or less?
This nuclear test, which was codenamed Dione, was a 34-kiloton blast conducted by France in the South Pacific at Mururoa Atoll, which along with its sister atoll Fangataufa was the site of nearly two hundred atomic detonations. The bomb was named after one of the thousands of Océanides, who in Greek mythology were aquatic nymphs born of their father Ocean and their mother the sea goddess Tethys. We only mention all that because we love how the French can poeticize even the worst thing ever created by humanity. Anyway, the test was today in 1971, and if that seems late for an aboveground test, it wasn’t—France exploded its last nuclear bomb on Mururoa in 1996.
Our civilization has avoided nuclear destruction so far, but has it been by design or chance?
This debris cloud was generated yesterday in 1952 by the nuclear blast codenamed Dog, which was part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper, a series of tests that occurred at the Nevada Test Site that year. The people you see in the image are just a few of the 2,100 marines who observed the explosion. Last month Chatham House released a sobering nuclear study showing that there have been thirteen incidents since 1962 that qualify as “near use” of nuclear weapons. In two of those—the famed Oleg Penkovsky incident and the less famous but more serious Stanislaw Petrov incident—nuclear holocaust may have been averted only because individuals disobeyed orders. Chatham House also details many instances of “sloppy practice.” Two examples: President Jimmy Carter once left the U.S. nuclear launch codes in a suit that was taken to the dry cleaners, and in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was shot, his bloody pants containing the launch codes ended up in the hands of FBI agents who had no authorization to possess them. There are instances of sloppy practice from as recently as 2013. If you’re in the mood for some sobering reading, the report is here.
, Soviet Union
, Operation Tumbler-Snapper
, Chatham House
, Jimmy Carter
, Ronald Reagan
, Oleg Penkovsky
, Stanislaw Petrov
And poof! Like magic, a mushroom cloud. Now who wants to see me saw the principal in half?
In this photo taken today in 1950 a group of Washington, D.C. high school students watch a teacher simulate a nuclear pyrocumulus cloud. He did it by using a high frequency spark to ignite a mixture of sulfur and zinc. To complete the lesson the students simply had to imagine the cloud infinitely larger, preceded by an explosion hotter than the center of the sun, emitting an energy flash capable of instantly incinerating people, followed by hurricane winds, radioactive fallout, and millions of horrible, lingering deaths. Who said science can’t be fun?
This is one of the more famous images of a nuclear detonation, a shot of the American blast codenamed Dakota, which was part of Operation Redwing, conducted at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, today in 1956. The layered effect you see is sometimes called a Wilson cloud, and consists of water vapor condensed out of the atmosphere by rarefaction, an aftereffect of a shockwave traveling through humid air. In order to perform tests on Bikini Atoll, about 200 Micronesian inhabitants were forced to relocate. They and their descendants hope to return one day, but as of now their home is still too contaminated with radiation.
Exercise with no benefits.
U.S. Marines march beneath a debris cloud generated by the nuclear test George, which was part of the Tumbler-Snapper series staged at the Nevada Proving Ground. This particular troop exercise, which occurred today in 1952, was codenamed Desert Rock IV and was designed to gain knowledge of military operations on a nuclear battlefield, as well as determine troops’ reaction to witnessing a nuclear detonation. Since the government was less than forthcoming about radiation effects, we’re guessing the troops weren’t particularly worried. But they should have been—many later developed cancer, and some of their children were born with deformities.
Careful now—the footing is truly treacherous.
Above, two photos from today in 1955 of a superheated debris cloud over Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific. It was generated by the nuclear test George, which was part of Operation Greenhouse and was the first test of a boosted fission weapon. What is a boosted fission weapon? Well, it’s more advanced than the world-threatening weapons that came before it, but not as advanced as the world-threatening weapons that came after it. Or put another way, it was a completely redundant step on a ladder to nowhere.
These weapons have the power to kill every human on the planet. High five!
Back during the days of aboveground nuclear testing, particularly during the Korean War, the U.S. government wanted to be sure troops could operate under threat of nuclear attack. A field exercise known as Desert Rock IV was conducted at the Nevada Test Site during some of the detonations comprising the nuclear test series codenamed Operation Tumbler-Snapper. Thousands of soldiers conducted maneuvers as the blasts occurred, and were exposed to radiation, though the levels were said to be low. This particular photo is from the 20-kiloton airburst codenamed Dog, and shows two soldiers pretending to touch the bomb’s debris cloud. An aerial photo of the blast appears below. That was today in 1952.
I'm a very special pot, it’s true. Here’s an example of what I can do
Above, a photo of the American nuclear test codenamed Wasp, part of Operation Teapot, detonated at the Nevada Test Site today in 1955
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
1934—Baby Face Nelson Killed
In the U.S., killer and bank robber Baby Face Nelson, aka Lester Joseph Gillis, dies in a shoot-out with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois. Nelson is shot nine times, but by walking directly into a barrage of gunfire manages to kill both of his FBI pursuers before dying himself.
1922—Egyptologists Enter Tut's Tomb
British Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon become the first people to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. Though sometimes characterized as scholars, Carter and Carnarvon were primarily interested in riches, and cut up Tut's mummy to more easily obtain the jewels and gold affixed to him.
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