Tag Archives: history

Seventy Years on Suicide Watch

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“‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” Dr. Robert Oppenheimer.

Seventy years ago today, 15 July 1945, the world entered the Atomic Age with the successful detonation of “The Gadget,” a prototype atomic bomb device, in the desert of Alamagordo, New Mexico. Code named “Trinity,” the explosion crowned years of intense, sometimes maddening, more than once deadly, and always shrouded in I’d-tell-you-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you levels of secret research at Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Park, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois among many other places. It was a project so cloaked in silence and mystery the Vice President of the United States didn’t know of the Manhattan Project’s existence until shortly before he would be called upon to make the decision to use this terrible new weapon in combat against the Japanese.

The entire lead up to the test took on the quality of a March Madness office pool. All the physicists knew the device would work and go kaboom . . . THEORETICALLY. Empirically, no one, including them, had the faintest idea what was going to happen. The scientists placed bets on what would happen during the test. Most wagered on a specific “yield” the explosion would put off. One wag bet on a “fizzle” with nothing happening at all, which would have been ten kinds of disastrous, while a final optimist believed the bomb would go off and ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, incinerating the planet.

Now, we know what happened at the test. Books fill whole library shelves describing the Manhattan Project, the physics of the A-Bomb, and the results of Trinity. We also know that explosion, which turned the desert sand to green glass, ushered in the era of atomic weapons. Two of those weapons would end World War 2 in spectacular, if controversial, fashion. Still, that is not the ultimate legacy of the Manhattan Project and the culminating successful Trinity test.

What really happened in the desert that day in 1945 was the world purchased a revolver with six chambers and three mighty large cartridges. After the two bombs fell on Japan, the final cartridge would remain in the gun and that chamber would spin wildly for the next fifty years as nuclear powers like the USA and the Soviet Union played a dangerous game of Russian roulette with the world.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark.jpg

When that “gadget” worked, mankind, for the first time since God created us or we climbed down from the trees to stand on two legs, whichever scenario works best for you, now possessed the power of complete global annihilation. Before the Atomic Age, we might have been wiped out by a supervolcano explosion like Yellowstone or Toba. We may have bought the farm courtesy of a Texas sized asteroid hurtling into our planet. We may even have contracted some sort of disease no one could survive, but all those scenarios have a single thing in common . . . they are OUTSIDE forces.

With the coming of “The Bomb,” the decision of a few men could set in motion the end of the human race. We image-bearers of God or evolved monkeys now hold the power to kill everyone and everything on this planet except for cockroaches and, possibly, kudzu. I don’t know about y’all, but that is a staggering thought and one my generation was the last to fully appreciate.

See, I grew up in the ’80’s as a member of Gen-X. For eight long years, I watched Ronnie Ray-gun goad and cajole and threaten the Soviet Union into an unsustainable arms race which may or may not, depending on who you ask, have ultimately bankrupted and destroyed the USSR and with it, the USA’s only real rival in the world. Along the way, though, it looked more than once like a big crop of mushroom clouds was going to pop up all around the world as the USSR decided if they couldn’t win the Cold War, no one was going to.

I spent my tween and teen years watching movies and television episodes like Damnation Alley, The Day After, and Amerika. In junior high, we even had a War of the Worlds like moment when some local station started reporting Charleston Harbor and Naval Base had been nuked. It was another “docu-drama” but it scared the Hell out of those of us who hadn’t seen the previews. We knew we lived in a world that could end at any time just because someone on our side or their side got pissed off and pushed a button. We also knew, thanks to Mr. Stoddard and social studies, EVERYONE was going to die because no matter who shot first, the tons of nuclear “boomer” submarines in both superpowers’ navies would finish off whoever was left. I can’t speak to others, but I went to bed scared a lot of nights, but then I always was a sensitive child.

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According to the Doomsday Clock, it’s three minutes til midnight.

So now, we are seventy years removed from Trinity. The Cold War is over; the remaining ICBMs safely pointed, we’re told, into the ocean. Can we really say we’re any safer though? A nuke remains the Holy Grail of every terrorist organization in the world. Just imagine if one of the planes on 9-11-2001 had carried a suitcase nuke instead of just a full tank of fuel. New York City might not be nearly as crowded. Also, remember, at the fall of the Soviet Union, apparently some generals had a “Nukes-R-Us” type yard sale because several small to medium “devices” are still unaccounted for. Where are those bombs?

If the idea of terrorists with atomic weapons doesn’t chill you enough, keep in mind the nuclear club has gotten a bit bigger since 1945. The Soviet Union / Russia joined up in 1948 followed soon after by China, the UK, and France. Now Pakistan AND India (who HATE each other BTW) are both declared nuclear powers. Don’t forget the lunatic in North Korea. He SWEARS they have at least three small nukes. Who knows for sure? Then there’s little Israel with their Samson Protocol. Sure, they don’t advertise they have nuclear weapons, but it’s a pretty safe bet they do and you can bet the house and kids if Israel is ever invaded or attacked by a nuclear missile, they WILL blow AT LEAST the Middle East all the way to Paradise and back.

Oppenheimer, et. al. let a potent genie out of the bottle on those plains of New Mexico. We’ve got the means of global suicide sitting beneath the Siberian and American Great Western plains. I just hope cooler heads always manage to prevail and if they don’t, then I hope I’m really close to the first wave of nuclear blasts because, as the man said, “It’ll sure hurt bad, but it won’t hurt long.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Bread and Circuses Before the Fall

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The Tribe is Speaking!

At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from the British Isles to Turkey and the Middle East. The Romans built roads, aqueducts, and elaborate public baths. They produced writers like Virgil, orators like Cicero, and model statesmen like the Catoes. Under Rome, culture and civilization reached a pinnacle the Western world would not see until centuries later.

Then Rome declined and fell.

One of the salient traits of the late Roman Empire Period was a reliance on what one writer called “Bread and Circuses.” The bread was the public dole of bread each citizen of Rome received, but I’m not really interested in that part of the phrase in this post.

I’m talking about the circuses . . . the games.

At one time, Rome had incredible playwrights and poets who performed their creations in packed amphitheaters. It was a triumph of culture. Somehow, though, the amphitheaters started to empty and fell into disrepair. New plays and poems didn’t come out as much anymore because there was no longer a viable market.

People had swapped the aesthetics of drama and poetry for the circus and in Rome, the circus was the arena for the gladiatorial games. Day after day the throngs would pack out the Colosseum and structures like it, not to watch a play, but to watch men kill each other in a first century prequel of reality television.

The Roman games were the original Survivor: Colosseum. We know what happened to Rome. What I’m afraid of now is the same thing is happening to the United States and I really believe one main symptom is our obsession as a country with REALITY TELEVISION. First came Survivor, then Big Brother, and now the floodgates are wide open. We can watch has-been athletes and actors try to dance or cute little girls try to sing. We can tune in to a real live guy trying to choose among twenty or so nubile young women all vying for his attention as well as his hand in marriage. Now, we can even watch the “saga” of teenage girls too lazy or ignorant to use birth control get rich on a TV contract instead of going away to a relative’s house to keep the matter quiet.

Televisions got the nickname “The Boob Tube” for a reason. Prime time (or anytime) programming has never been mistaken for high art. TV has always been the voice of the masses, but at times, the people in charge of the programming seem to try to have something to say. These guys and ladies called “screenwriters” actually labored away to try and make something worth watching — to try creating “must see TV.”

Sure, it wasn’t all great. For every Hill Street Blues we had four or five Manimal horrors. Still, though, behind it all we at least had a sense of some intelligent life form trying to make us cry or laugh or wring SOME sort of emotion from us. Then a funny thing happened. The writers asked for a little more money. The TV execs said no and the writers went on strike. Then some genius rolled out Survivor and the race for the gutter was on.

“Reality TV” pretty much defines this period in America’s life cycle. Instead of any semblance of plot or characterization, we vicariously follow a group of total losers with names like “Snooki” and “The Situation.” Let me just say this for the record — if you are not a multimillion dollar Hall of Fame quality athlete OR an incredibly talented statesman or possible singer — you DO NOT get an article like “the” in front of your nickname. Babe Ruth could be “The” Sultan of Swat and Abraham Lincoln could be “The” Great Emancipator, but by God no orange faced, greasy haired, chest baring goober of a “Jersey Boy” is going to be called “The Situation” and NOT get laughed at.

Freak of nature. I just want to scream, “Hey, moron, they’re laughing AT you, not WITH you!!”

The burning public buildings in this painting of the sack of Rome look a lot like many of our government buildings. Coincidence or prophecy?

But that’s what television has devolved to. Americans don’t want to think, they want to sit and mindlessly absorb. They

don’t want programs to stimulate them mentally or emotionally so the networks give them what they want — “The Biggest Loser”.

Really?

I started this out talking about Rome. The last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was quietly toddled off into retirement by a German king in 476 AD, but the “Grandeur that was Rome” had been dead long before that historic day. Rome died once “The Games” became the “In Thing” to do. Oh, they had always been around, but mostly for special days or in some lower level prestige. By the end though, the emperors controlled the masses, not by brute force, but by entertainment. Fifteen centuries give or take before Kurt Cobain penned the words “Here we are, NOW ENTERTAIN US!” The Romans had forsaken their great heritage for celebrity worship. They stopped building, stopped writing, and eventually stopped existing.

With Reality TV on 24/7/365, are we becoming like the Romans?

I hope not, but it doesn’t look good.

Love y’all.