The sheer sizes of atomic bomb detinations were never really fully comprehended by my teenage mind. Yes, I had seen the photo of Hiroshima's mushroom cloud in it's black and white terror hundreds of times in my life. Indeed, I had seen grainy stock footage of tests, albeit from the dusty shelves of network newsroom film libraries.
A couple years back, I purchased a DVD of the film, "Trinity and Beyond", a retrospective look at the testing and development of the atomic bomb, and it's subsequent continuing growth. What I wasn't prepared for was the actual film footage. "Trinity" was made by Peter Kuran, a legendary special effects developer who had worked on such cinematic titans as "Star Wars", "RoboCop", and a couple of "Star Trek" films. Kuran retrieved declassified films, and footage from both China and Russia.
Here's the kicker: Kuran developed an Academy Award winning film restoration process that can make old film almost appear as if it was shot yesterday, on 35mm of course.
The majority of these clips are devastatingly effective. During these tests, it is apparent that the explosions were shot from a variety of angles, both on the ground and from planes. It was a shock to see actual celluloid images of things I had read about in history books. Creepily reminiscent of the accidentally caught moving images of Anne Frank leaning out of the window of her hiding place to overlook a wedding gathering, or the flaming deathdrop of the Hindenburg. They're simultaneously breathtaking and stomach-churningly disturbing.
The filmed "detonations", haunting in their obvious ability to eradicate life and inanimate objects, are somehow eerily dazzling, as they colorfully and gracefully rise up into the open skies. There's a menacing beauty there, much like Mother Nature's A-bomb, the F-5 tornado. Peter Coyote, the vibrant-throated narrator of National Geographic's doc, "Cyclone", described twisters as having the appearance of "the delicate dance of ghosts". This applies here. Even an unfortunate young eyewitness to Hiroshima's blast described it's multi-colored appearance and beauty. The shame is the horrendously revolting artifacts these masters of destruction leave behind. There is a subtle parallel there, as tornadic images also are not strangers to my evening slumber either. Although, that's a different story, for a different day.
Now in the wake of 9/11, there are rumblings of terrorists achieving nuclear capabilities in the form of potential "suitcase" bombs. Although experts claim the ability to weaponize nuclear material, either stolen or purchased from the fallen Soviet bloc, is unlikely. Though it was spookily illustrated in the BBC film, "Dirty War", that a "dirty" bomb, an explosion meant only to release dangerous radioactive material is more likely. Again, moviewise, "Right at Your Door" illustrates that terrifying concept in Los Angeles.
Incidentally, "Dirty War" was shot a year before the London subway explosions. Art preceding Life?
There is also the possibility of further nuclear nemeses in the distance as North Korea and Iran both display rumblings of pursuing that dark path. There's whispers on the wind that Brazil if feverishly developing a possible nuclear capability. The end result of this information in my youth would probably have resulted in me having a cardiac event.
Now as I've loaded myself with knowledge on these subjects, I'm more baffled at the "whys" involved than the ifs or whens. I no longer fear nuclear devastation. Why? I don't know the full answer to that question. Is it that knowledge is power? Maybe. Or is it that as awful and possibly needless as Hiroshima was, that my faith in mankind helps me to nurture a belief that maybe, just perhaps, even sixty years later, we've all learned our lesson.
I can only hope the activity existing today is merely sabre-rattling.
Hope, not fear, being the key word this time around.