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From Hiroshima to the Moon: At a flea market Sumana got me a really good book: From Hiroshima to the Moon: Chronicles of Life in the Atomic Age by Daniel Lang. It was published in 1959, so the "Moon" in the title is purely aspirational--nothing in this book even gets close to the moon. But Philip Morrison does go to Hiroshima, a month after the bomb is dropped, and Lang gets him to tell the story of that initial fact-finding mission.

The commander started things off by gravely explaining that he had asked one of his aides, a young major, to tell the Americans the "facts of the disaster." "They always referred to it as 'the disaster,'" Morrison said. "It made me feel as though I were a member of an earthquake commission."

"A Fine Moral Point" is one of many amazing essays in the book, all written for magazines in the 1940s and 50s, when the world was just starting to measure the effects of fallout, learning how to treat the diseases caused by radiation, and coming to terms with the inevitable destruction of civilization. As Lloyd Smith says in one of the essays, "If war should come, we scientists might die the same as anyone else, but at least we would understand exactly what was causing our death." It's a time that's obscured in hindsight by our view of the Cold War and the Apollo program, but there's a lot of interesting and/or horrifying stuff going on here.

Other books I've read about the atomic bomb focus heavily on the scientists who designed it. Lang has a lot of scientists, but he also writes a lot about their families, the workers at plants like Oak Ridge, and the soldiers who work with the bombs—the people who are buying the magazines.

In "What's Up There?" Lang visits the White Sands Proving Ground where they're strapping scientific instruments onto leftover Nazi V-2 rockets. Capt. Edward Detchmendy shows him around the base and introduces him to Lt. James Kincannon, the Recovery Officer. Once the rockets go up, Kincannon very much cares where they come down, because he has to go out in a Jeep and recover the instruments. Lang asks to tag along:

"Well," [Kincannon] said, "meet me outside the blockhouse right after the shoot. Don't be late. Look for the Monstrosity—that's the name of my jeep. Can't help spotting it. It'll be kind of loaded. I carry ten gallons of water for the vehicle, five for passengers. Also four quarts of canned oil. Tools for the vehicle and rocket extricators will be in it. It has two-way radio-communication equipment, a bedroll, and binoculars. I carry a first-aid kit and a snake-bite kit with serum. I always have my forty-five for snakes and mountain lions, and also for coyotes. And don't bring a pillow, the way some people have. That's sissy stuff." Kincannon abruptly proceeded into the blockhouse, and Detchmendy said to me, "Take along a pillow."

Apropos Werner von Braun and the other German scientists, Lang gets off this line:

They were originally signed on for one year at a small wage and six dollars a day for expenses. Since the expiration of the contract, however, they have come into substantial raises. It is probably the first time that the kidnapper has also paid the ransom.

In "Bombs Away!" (1952) Lang visits Yucca Flat for an Army field test involving a live bomb drop. It's like getting to see Dr. Strangelove twelve years early:

From [a helicopter] emerged a lieutenant general, who strode past us halfway up the knoll, turned around, and delivered a talk. He had been up forward with the troops, he said, and the boys had made jokes immediately before and after the explosion. The weapon, he declared, had to be regarded as so much firepower. From a tactical point of view, he went on clinically, the day's bomb had been too big, because it had prevented the troops from advancing quickly enough. "We learned in the war that you have to follow close behind your firepower to capture your objective," he said.

...

Of the various officials I talked with during the tours and between lectures, none awaited the impending test more eagerly than the civil-defense people. "We're counting heavily on this bomb," one of them told me. "It's a tough job selling accident insurance."

...

Eight hours after the detonation, a hundred troops who had been in the foxholes and trenches that morning were marched into the City Hall auditorium. They were ranged against the walls in groups, by states, for the convenience of newspapermen interested in local stories. Almost instantly, the barnlike structure was alive with the din of feature stories. I wandered down one of the aisles, listening to snatches of the interviews, and found that the atomic G.I. sounded very much like his counterpart of a few years ago. An Arizona boy had prayed. A chipper California man said that he'd take the atomic bomb any day over those German 88s he'd known in Sicily. An Illinois corporal said that he'd drawn a stranger as his foxhole mate, but that after the hot earthquake they'd experienced together he was sure they'd be buddies for life. A very young blond New York City corporal wanted the reporter talking to him to do him a favor. "My name is Geiger, Vincent Geiger," he said, "and all the fellows in my company keep asking me if my father's the guy who invented that counter. I would appreciate it if you wrote that he isn't." The most hopeful, though unconsciously hopeful, words I heard were uttered by a New Mexican, an earnest, swarthy private first class named Evaristo Hernandez. "I passed up my furlough to be in on this test," he told his interviewer. "I figured I might never have another chance to see an atom bomb."

I could just go on and on. The book ends with a story on the impending launch of the first Vanguard rocket, a postmortem on the failure of said launch, and the super-speculative early phases (1958) of "what is known to researchers, in and out of the U.S. government, as 'the man-in-space program.'" Apparently the word "astronaut" hasn't yet found currency outside the pages of Astounding, because the still-hypothetical astronaut is always referred to by ominous terms like "the space man" or "the space traveller".


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