Sixty-years ago today, in the desert of New Mexico, the Nuclear Age arrived with the explosion of the first atomic device at the Trinity site. It was a success. As many know, the leader of the bomb project, J. Robert Oppenheimer was moved to quote the Gita, “I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.” Less known is that the enormous explosion and “visual” impact of the blast made him re-consider an option he had long ruled out: a demonstration shot that might inspire Japan to surrender before The Bomb was dropped over a major city. But he believed the “mechanism”—that is, the momentum—for use of the bomb was unstoppable by that point, so he said nothing.
Three weeks later, the atomic weapon was dropped over the center of the city of Hiroshima, killing 75,000 instantly (and dooming as many to death later). Three days after that a plutonium device exploded over Nagasaki, off-target, killing tens of thousands. More American POWs than Japanese military personnel were killed by the bomb in Nagasaki.
Right from start, at the Trinity test, the decades-long official cover-up of nuclear dangers began. Not surprisingly, in wartime, media coverage was blocked out and nearby residents left in the dark. But it went much beyond that: For one thing, a radioactive cloud drifted from the site, killed cattle and other animals, and possibly poisoned people, and no one was informed. And so it went, for years and years.
This policy extended to the atomic bombings of Japan, as my new book, Atomic Cover-up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made, just published yesterday, makes clear. I’ll be returning to this subject over the next few weeks, so far now I will simply direct you to a two-minute trailer (below) for the book, which unveils some of the reasons for the cover-up, including film footage suppressed by the United States for decades.