Atomic/nuclear Weapons

Science pursues many avenues of acheivement; curing disease, taking man to the skies and exploring deep space. None, however, are pursued with such enthusiasm or vast sums of money, as scorching the entire planet to a smoking uninhabitable husk.

Just The Facts

  1. Developed at Los Alamos under the Manhattan Project, completed in 1945.
  2. Used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to prompt Japan's surrender at the end of WW2
  3. Rapid arms proliferation became the crux of the Cold War, continuing until the late 1980s

The 40's

Hitler pranced around Mittelwerk, his evil, hollowed-out mountain lair, demanding a buffet of increasingly bizarre Uberweapons, Including the first jet fighters and guided ICBMs. Although Mittelwerk wasn't in the shape of a giant skull, it did use slave labor from concentration camps, eventually resulting in 20,000 deaths- so it was plenty evil.

Evil as it was, most of Hitler's so-called 'Wunderwaffen' (Wonder Weapons) were mostly show pieces, like today's concept cars, they looked flashy in the photo-ops, but couldn't live up to the press releases. The infamous V2 rocket, for instance, ended 2,541 lives for the 3,172 times it was fired. Not a great batting average, considering the 20,000 that died during its production. The "groundbreaking" Me262 jet fighter was no better. Lacking landing gear or any safety features to speak of, it was little more than a spectacular way to dispose of surplus test pilots.

But the one to watch was the A-Bomb. Theorised in the mid-1930s by Leo Szilard, and after 6 years of bloody war, both sides were scrambling to make one before the other did. As it happens, the US could have taken their time on the Manhattan project. One thing that Hitler failed to take into account when assembling his crack team of German Physicists. He didn't really have any.

Now, nobody likes racial stereotypes or cliches, but sometimes they're unavoidably true. Just like you'll need some towering black guys to win an NBA championship, if you want to do some advanced Quantum Physics, you're gonna need some Jews.

Einstein, Feynman, Teller, Szilard, and Oppenheimer were all of Jewish extraction, and those that were born in Europe had largely fled to the UK or America by the start of the 40s. (Remember, these were not just Jewish guys, they were really smart Jewish guys.) So Hitler had few physicists to choose from, one of the most eminent being Werner Heisenberg, who had spent the last few years being harrassed by other German scientists for his acceptance of quantum theory (or "Jewish Physics") prompting his mother to telephone Heinrich Himmler and request that he lay off poor Werner.

Werner, however, apparently had stones like canteloupes, as upon being recruited to lead the atomic research, he repeatedly told his Nazi overlords that an atomic bomb was basically impossible without vast amounts of cash and personnel. Duly provided with ample quantities of both, Werner proceeded to spend the next 5 years continuing his own research into nuclear power on Hitler's dime.

An Unused Bush/Cheney Campaign Poster. (Iran just out of shot)

Red Alert!

Following the end of WW2, former allies became enemies as the whole world looked forward to 40 years of endless brinksmanship and paranoia, as the west was consistently informed that at any minute they would be vapourised into screaming piles of meat-flavoured ash by vengeful Russians, for reasons not entirely clear.

Children were instructed by a naively optimistic cartoon turtle to 'Duck & Cover' beneath blankets and newspapers in the event of multi-megaton nuclear apocalypse- presumably to make it more efficient when future generations emerged from fallout shelters to sweep up their remains.

The developments in technology made by the Russians and the US, with help from captured Nazi rocket scientists, meant that this was the age of the ICBM. Without planes, supersonic rockets could be launched from hidden locations and be unleashing a giant canister of highly pressurised doom on their chosen target within minutes.

They were far more accurate than their German predecessors, though accuracy was not an issue anymore, since the two countries had continued to develop the yield of their nuclear weapons to a frankly ridiculous degree. The pursuit of science had turned into an unsettling pissing contest of homicidal destruction.

The Americans carried out the 'Castle Bravo' test within less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a device 1,200 times more powerful. Less than a decade after that, the Soviets detonated the 'Tsar Bomba' (King Of Bombs,) twice as powerful again. It's worth mentioning that the weapons that both sides actually deployed were considerably smaller. These tests appeared to be for the benefit of the other side, as if world leaders had taken to standing on the borders of their lands, manfully thrusting their crotches toward the other side.

The 'Uneasy Peace' that so many movies like to use as a backdrop for events of this time seems to be a slightly more rose-tinted perspective than the way those in charge viewed it. The Cuban missile crisis is a prime example. The shock discovery of Russian missles in Cuba, only 200 miles from the soft craniums of Florida's old folks, led to 2 weeks of presidential strutting and posturing that literally held the world at stake.

Nikita Khrushchev and JFK exchanged letters, first of angry threats and bombastic proclaimations, then after slightly more modest threats and moderate suggestions, Khrushchev bowed to Kennedy's mighty pimp game and agreed to remove the missles from Cuba -on the grounds that the US remove its 60 Juipter missiles from Turkey and Italy. - something that Hollywood tends to gloss over when reporting the "ominous and sinister" Russian strategy - that placed only 12 missles in San Cristobal in response to the US pointing more than 4 times as many rockets at them.

An image search for 'Massive Bomb' returned this.

*Facepalm*

Having narrowly avoided global destruction, you would think that both sides would wisely "chill-the-hell-out". Alas, no. Like two characters in a John Woo movie, they aimed guns at each other's heads for close to fifty years, though unlike the cool-headed Chow-Yun-Fat, both sides seemed intent in goading the other to shoot first.

A prime example would be the 'Able Archer' operations in the early 80s, where Allied planes and subs would charge toward Russian borders, in full view of the early defence system so very likely so blow them to tiny pieces. At the last minute they would break away and return home, leaving the Russians with their fingers hovering over big red buttons, cold sweat beaded on their foreheads.

This 'russian roulette' approach to international relations was bound to backfire at some point. World leaders were balancing their junk on the nose of an angry tiger, only the tiger was fiery atomic holocaust, and their junk was-all the junk in the world. The Russian Airforce shot down a civilian Korean Airlines flight in 1983 as it marginally slipped over an aerial boundary.

The operation as a whole was said to have seriously shaken Reagan, and inspired him to start building a relationship with Russia, rather than threatening to destroy them at random intervals. Eventually leading to cooling of tensions, disarmament, and an end to the Cold War.

It's not without a bit of irony that the world's brightest scientific minds, and highly decorated military strategists had to have a man with a degenerative brain condition, tell them that they were being idiots.