Monday, August 06, 2012

Atom bomb vs house and mannequins

Sixty-seven years ago today an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, the first of two bombs that ultimately ended the war with Japan. Almost eight years later a test was made of a nuclear device, slightly smaller than the Hiroshima bomb, against a couple of houses built for the purpose in the Nevada desert. It was reported in the Life article of March 30, 1953, below.

The idea for the test had two purposes: the Army wanted to prove to soldiers that the atom bomb wasn’t much more terrifying than a conventional bomb, so troops were deployed less than two miles away from the site of the test. On the other hand, the civil defense people wanted to show Americans they needed to do more to protect themselves. To that end two “$18,000 Colonial-style houses” were built, with mannequins positioned inside for some verisimilitude. Cameras recorded the houses being blown apart, and had the mannequins been living people they would have been killed (well, duh, no big surprise there).

What wasn’t said, but understood at the time, was that the bomb used in the test was much smaller than weapons being produced at the time, so it was a show and not much more. The reporters and observers went away without being much impressed. “I rather expected something more violent,” a “women dressed in a lumberjack shirt” was overheard to say.

As for what happened to the troops placed two miles away I can only imagine. I’m sure in time a higher than average number of them developed thyroid cancer, and other health issues tied to nuclear testing. Ultimately testing like this, with the fallout carried by the prevailing winds, killed a lot of people. Unlike the Hiroshima bomb, where citizens near ground zero were killed quickly, the victims of bomb testing conducted in the Nevada desert took a long and agonizing time to die.

Copyright © 1953, 2012 Time-Life

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