Women. Power. Peace.

Bob Farquhar: Weapons of Genocide – What really happens whan an a-bomb is dropped

August 6th and 9th mark the 66th anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II.  In memory of those cities and the human beings who were there, I thought it would be good to describe what happens during a nuclear detonation as most people have no idea.  After WWII, information, photographs, and film about what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were suppressed by U.S. officials.  They didn’t want people to know the absolute horror of those two days and those that followed.

This description is for a 20 kiloton bomb detonated 1,500 feet above Ground Zero. That is the same size that destroyed Nagasaki, killing over 90,000 human beings in a city of 240,000.  Had the bomb been dropped on the intended target of Kokura, the toll would have been higher than the 140,000 killed at Hiroshima.  The average warhead in the U.S. stockpile today is about 475 kilotons, 24 times more powerful.

At the moment of detonation the sky fills with a blinding white/pale blue light that blots out everything and penetrates everywhere with its intensity, blinding anyone looking in its direction.  Its light can be seen for over 100 miles.  The temperature at the center of the nuclear detonation exceeds that of the sun, creating a 300,000 degree fireball that expands to over 800 feet in diameter at the speed of light, emanating a 13,000 degree thermal pulse lasting 3 seconds that scorches or ignites anything in its path.  At 1-1/2 miles the temperature is 1,500 degrees, enough to blister clay roof tiles.

Prompt gamma and neutron radiation spew from the fireball, penetrating everything in a wide circle.  People closest to Ground Zero receive enough radiation to fry their sensory and bodily functions, causing immediate death at about the time the thermal pulse vaporizes their body, leaving only a shadow imprinted on nearby surfaces.   Two-tenths of a second have passed since detonation, not even enough time for their senses to react.  Then they just don’t exist.

The blast wave leaves the fireball at over 10,000 miles per hour, smashing and crushing even concrete-reinforced buildings below it.  When the blast wave hits the earth, it joins with its reflection to create what is called a Mach Stem that moves across the ground at over twice the speed of sound.  Little stands in its way, a thick wall of air and blast winds that tear apart and demolish buildings, blowing over trains and vehicles like toys, shredding and throwing debris and humans like rag dolls.  At 1-1/2 miles from ground zero, it has slowed to 200 miles per hour, still powerful enough to destroy brick structures and completely gut those of concrete. Glass windows shatter into hundreds of fragments that penetrate people standing near them, even amputating limbs with shards of glass.   As far as 2-1/2 miles, wooden houses are destroyed, glass windows are broken at 15 miles.

As the blast passes, a vacuum is created, sucking debris back towards Ground Zero, much of it rising into the fireball where it becomes radioactive from the nuclear reactions still taking place before falling back to earth.

The nuclear reactions within the fireball continue to burn for nearly a minute, changing colors of purple, orange, yellow, blue, and red while emitting gamma rays and neutrons as it rises like a pillar of fire into the atmosphere to create the familiar mushroom cloud.  At a distance of 1-1/2 miles, people receive lethal doses of radiation, but their death may not come for many days, weeks, or months after suffering greatly.

What had been a city moments before no longer exists, an area of over 4 square miles lays devastated in the blink of an eye.

All around is dark, filled with black smoke, dust and fires.  The sun cannot be seen. Nothing remains standing.  Bodies lay all over; many carbonized and burned beyond recognition, torn apart or with their eyeballs hanging out of their skulls from the blast pressure.   Survivors moan, begging for water and help, some calling out their mother’s name.  Many walk in a daze, arms outstretched, skin and flesh hanging down in sheets, or those whose charred flesh looks like crusty alligator skin, their faces, arms and backs charcoaled.  Cries and screams for help come from people buried under smashed buildings as fires begin to consume the wreckage and its victims.

Balls of fire drop from the darkness above along with debris that was sucked up into the stem.  Whirlwinds of fires dance over the destruction and dead.  People may sense a metallic taste in their mouths as Alpha and Beta particles of fallout drift downward along with unfissioned Uranium and Plutonium, covering everything.  A black, oily rain begins to fall from the cloud leaving streaks on concrete walls and coating people, some whose thirst drive them to turn their faces upward to catch as much as possible in their mouths or drink from puddles.  The radioactive liquid begins its damage from inside their bodies.

Radiation sickness sets in.  Those affected begin vomiting, suffering diarrhea, having an insatiable thirst and purple splotches that develop on their skin.  Some die within minutes or hours.  People’s hair begins falling out in clumps over the next few days as symptoms worsen.  After a week or two, some begin to improve and become more active, but then slip rapidly down to death.   The process continues for months.

Keiji Nakazawa, six at the time, was nearly a mile from Ground Zero in Hiroshima and partially protected from radiation, flash and blast by a concrete wall at his school.  In 2007 he stated, “The only things that moved in Hiroshima were the flies circling over the dead.  A Godforsaken place covered with dead bodies.  At first, you feel completely overwhelmed.  Then you become numb and you can’t feel anything.”   Keiji’s pregnant mother survived but was in shock and delivered her baby girl beside the road.  The child, Tomoko, died four months later from malnutrition and radiation-induced causes.

No human being should have to experience the forces unleashed by a nuclear detonation.  They serve no rational military purpose and are simply weapons of mass destruction, no matter how small you make them.  They have no business in our world, but they are a business, $55 billion a year, plus some.

Still today, most Americans have no idea of what a nuclear weapon can do, many don’t even know these weapons of genocide still exist.   I’m not sure how we can get their attention, but I don’t want a mushroom cloud to be their wake-up call.

While I have tried here, words cannot adequately describe what is incomprehensible to the human mind when seen and experienced firsthand.  A 2007 film, “White Light - Black Rain” uses declassified film and interviews with Hibakusha to show part of the horror and inhumanity of nuclear weapons.  I would recommend its viewing.   If that doesn’t firm up your resolve against nuclear weapons, nothing will.

In June, 1947, a report entitled "The Evaluation of the Atomic Bomb as a Military Weapon" was prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I’d like to end with one conclusion from that report.

“We can form no adequate mental picture of the multiple disasters which would befall a modern city, blasted by one or more atomic bombs and enveloped by radioactive mists. Of the survivors in contaminated areas, some would be doomed to die of radiation sickness in hours, some in days, and others in years. But, these areas, irregular in size and shape, as wind and topography might form them, would have no visible boundaries.  No survivor could be certain he was not among the doomed and so, added to every terror of the moment, thousands would be stricken with a fear of death and the uncertainty of the time of its arrival.”

Robert B. Farquhar is a retired Air Force master sergeant who served the United States for over twenty-four years. During his service he studied the effects of nuclear warfare and was trained as a fallout shelter manager. He an anti-nuclear activist in Georgia and a prolific writer, with many op-eds published and his book "Duck and Cover" is in the publishing process now. Bob lives in Bonaire with his partner, Beth




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