Posted by: bkivey | 6 August 2015

This Day in History

A mushroom cloud forming.70 years ago today at 0815 local, Enola Gay released the world’s first operational nuclear weapon from an altitude of 31,00o feet. 44 seconds later, it detonated at an altitude of 1,900 feet, instantly destroying everything within a mile of the hypocenter. As such things go, it was small, inefficient weapon. The image at left was taken from the ground about 4.5 miles from Ground Zero. What made the nuclear attacks horrific wasn’t the number of casualties, far more people were killed in the firebombing of Japanese cities, but the fact that one bomb could accomplish what had previously required thousands of conventional weapons.

There has been much debate on whether the bombing of Hiroshima, and three days later, Nagasaki, were necessary. Certainly the US National Command Authority thought so. The bombs did bring about an immediate end to the war, and sent a message to our to soon-to-be adversaries the Soviets that we would, in fact, use nuclear weapons. A good argument can be made that using the weapons saved far more lives than they took, but that’s probably little consolation to the Japanese.

Last year I entertained the idea of visiting Hiroshima today, but considered that an American may not be especially welcome. You have to hand it to the Japanese, forty years after getting nuked, they were an economic superpower, to the point where there was real fear they’d take over the world. Success, as they say, is the best revenge.

Two Cold War Films

The end of WW II, and the near concurrent turn of the Soviets from allies to post-war adversaries ushered in the Cold War. For nearly fifty years Americans and Western Europeans lived with the very real fear that their lives could end in a split-second. I can’t speak for the Soviet side, but it was probably much the same.

A couple of weeks ago I watched two Cold War films released in 1964. The plots are similar in both: a group of American bombers goes out of control and head off to bomb Moscow. Although a low-probability event, the scenario had credibility at the height of the Cold War. While the plots are similar, the films treat the scenario in completely different ways.

Dr. Strangelove is a farce masquerading as a drama, and was very popular then and now. Nearly everyone’s seen it or at least heard of it. Some lines have endured in popular culture.

Fail Safe is straight drama, and one of the most intense films you’ll ever see. The pressure increases through the film all the way to the denouement. It’s one of those rare films that may actually be better than the book on which it’s based. Relative to Strangelove, almost no one has seen this movie.

Both pictures feature name directors and accomplished acting, but Strangelove was released prior to Fail Safe, and to an audience continuously on edge from the events of the day, probably came as a relief. That said, Fail Safe is far and away the superior film.

 

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