Sixty Years in the Shadow of the Bomb

Comment on this article

In August 1945, two nuclear explosions devastated Japan, and changed the world forever. Sixty years later, are we living on the brink of nuclear cosmocide?


Lifting off from the American base on the Pacific island of Tinian in the wee morning hours, the crew of the Enola Gay began its six-hour flight to Honshu, the main island of Japan. It was August 6, 1945, and the target was the city of Hiroshima. Just after 8:15 a.m., a trigger was pulled, releasing the single five-ton bomb that was the massive B-29's sole cargo. That bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," changed our world forever. Now, 60 years later, we are still living under the shadow of its famous mushroom-shaped cloud.

In the atomic bomb, the very power of the universe had been harnessed to create the most destructive weapon imaginable.

Tail gunner George R. "Bob" Caron, who had been momentarily blinded by the flash of the bomb's ignition, described the scene to the other crew members: "It's like bubbling molasses down there… the mushroom is spreading out… fires are springing up everywhere… it's like a peep into hell." Eighty thousand Japanese died as the direct result of that single blast, and another 60,000 died from the effects of radiation and other injuries before the year's end.

Over the weeks and months ahead, both the magnitude and the horror of what had been unleashed that August morning reverberated across the United States and around the world. A new age had been ushered in. People everywhere wondered: what did this frightening new weapon portend for the future of the human race?

Today, six decades after that fateful blast, people have not stopped wondering. Of course, now it is not only the U.S. that has the bomb. Nor is it simply a standoff between two nuclear superpowers whose vast arsenals guarantee "mutually assured destruction." As more and more nations gain the bomb, worries about nuclear proliferation continue to grow. And what will happen if terrorists obtain such awful destructive power?

At the close of World War II, many believed that with war having grown so terrible, mankind would finally be forced to renounce war once and for all. Yet the decades since Hiroshima have been marked with almost constant wars. Our world has grown more dangerous, not less so!

Did you know that the pages of your Bible directly prophesy the modern nuclear age, and the consequence of those weapons' future use? Do you know how this will affect you and your family? Against whom will such terrible weapons of mass destruction be used in the years to come?

Today's world is far different from the world of 1945. We need to understand where the world is going, yet neither politicians nor scientists have been able to give us the answer. But the answers are available, in the pages of your Bible!

The Dawn of the Nuclear Age

In 1938, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard fled to the U.S. to escape Europe's growing Nazi menace. Szilard knew that German scientists were trying to harness the tremendous destructive power of atomic energy, and he knew the danger of letting the Nazis have a monopoly on such knowledge. In 1939, Szilard persuaded Albert Einstein to write a now-famous letter warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt of this grave danger.

Einstein's tremendous prestige gave credibility to what seemed like a fantastic proposition at the time: the notion that human beings might actually learn to split the atom and unleash unparalleled power. This letter was the seed from which the U.S. nuclear program grew.

Shortly after receiving Einstein's letter, President Roosevelt appointed an Advisory Committee on Uranium. At Columbia University, in March 1940, scientists began to experiment with chain reactions involving carbon and uranium. In December 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, prompting U.S. entry into World War II and unleashing a massive infusion of funds for the research effort that eventually produced the first atomic bombs.

Just five months after America entered the war, the Army Corps of Engineers opened an office in New York City to oversee the construction of production plants for atomic weapons. That office was officially named the Manhattan Engineer District Office—which later came to be called the "Manhattan Project." Not long afterward—on December 2, 1942—Professor Enrico Fermi of the University of Chicago successfully produced the first atomic chain reaction.

The Manhattan Project grew until it had harnessed the efforts of about 150,000 workers at several sites across the U.S., and had spent about $2,000,000,000 to produce the very first atomic weapons. The first atomic bomb was successfully detonated at Los Alamos, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Later that very same day, the bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima was loaded aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis for shipment to Tinian Island, where the Enola Gay awaited.

Three weeks later, the Enola Gay released its terrifying cargo. Then, on August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese town of Nagasaki. World War II quickly came to an end, and the U.S. was for a time the only nation with nuclear technology. For a brief moment, the U.S. stood at a pinnacle of power both economically and militarily. However, the U.S. monopoly on power was not destined to last.

The Soviet Union, like the U.S., had been exploring nuclear technology for several years. Aided by captured German scientists, and by American military secrets obtained through espionage, the Soviets successfully exploded their first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949.

With that event, the "arms race" was underway.

Great Britain tested its first atomic bomb in 1952. France joined the "nuclear club" in 1960 and China had its first nuclear weapon in 1964. As more nations gained the atomic bomb, nuclear technology also became more refined. In 1952, the U.S. exploded its first hydrogen bomb—a weapon that, although physically smaller than the Hiroshima bomb, was 2,500 times more powerful. The Soviet Union followed suit in 1953 with its own "H-bomb."

As more bombs were built, and bomb technology became ever more refined, military strategists devised more efficient methods of releasing those bombs. The B-52, a U.S. bomber introduced in the early years of the nuclear age, could deliver a nuclear payload within a range of 6,000 miles.

When the Soviet Union in 1957 launched the Sputnik satellite, the world came to fear the possibility of a missile attack from space. Soon came ICBMs—intercontinental ballistic missiles—such as the U.S.-deployed Atlas missile, which had a range of 5,000 miles and a cruising speed of 16,000 miles per hour.

Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed an elaborate network of underground missile silos, and developed rockets that could carry multiple warheads. Missiles could also be launched at sea; the U.S. in 1960 launched the Polaris-class submarine, which could carry 16 nuclear missiles, each armed with four warheads that could target different locations.

The Spreading Nuclear Danger

From the very beginning of the nuclear age, many scientists and military leaders suspected that this new weapon was a Frankenstein monster destined to do great harm. Though fearing the spread of nuclear weapons, most recognized that once the "nuclear genie" had been let out of the bottle, it could not be put back in. As a result, for much of the 1950s and 1960s, mankind lived in constant fear of a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

These fears were heightened by superpower confrontations such as the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948–49, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Schools across the U.S. held "duck and cover" drills, teaching students how to respond in case of nuclear attack. Thousands of families built personal fallout shelters. The nuclear threat seemed very real in those days, to an entire generation that came of age under the shadow of the mushroom-shaped nuclear cloud.

By the late 1960s, there were five known nuclear powers in the world—the U.S., the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China. Hoping to reduce the risk of global catastrophe, these nations in 1968 proffered the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Although 116 nations signed the treaty—often under pressure from their nuclear-capable benefactors—this treaty did not eliminate the growing nuclear threat. India did not sign the treaty, and in 1974 detonated its own nuclear device, becoming the sixth known member of the "nuclear club." Among the other nations that did not sign the treaty are Israel and Pakistan, both of which are now known to have developed their own nuclear weapons.

Researchers have estimated that by 1961, there were enough nuclear bombs in existence to destroy the whole world. In spite of the Nonproliferation Treaty, the race continued—for more and bigger bombs, and for better means of deploying them. When U.S. President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he became Commander-in-Chief of a military with 8,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles, facing a Soviet Union with 4,000 ICBMs of its own. The Soviets had 5,000 planes capable of delivering nuclear weapons; the U.S. had 4,000 such planes.

In the first year of Reagan's presidency, the U.S. spent $178,000,000,000 on defense. By 1986, that figure had more than doubled to $367,000,000,000. By 1986, researchers estimate that the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons included more than 40,000 nuclear warheads—the equivalent of one million Hiroshima bombs!

The 1990s ushered in a time of nuclear uncertainty. With the fall of the Soviet Union, experts have feared that Soviet nuclear technology—or even actual nuclear weapons—may fall into the hands of "rogue nations" and terrorist groups. Western observers have found murky but troubling evidence of nuclear programs underway in Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea. While many had hoped for a "peace dividend" upon the fall of the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear war—and the number of countries capable of waging it—has actually increased.

Libya has publicly renounced its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Any Iraqi nuclear research was effectively squelched by the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein. Yet other countries remain as nuclear threats. Antony Barnett, a correspondent for a respected London newspaper, reported last year on the vast illegal market for nuclear equipment and expertise, and concluded that the weapons programs of Iran, Libya and North Korea all led back to Pakistan. "In the network of illegal radioactive trade," he wrote, "all roads point to Pakistan. More precisely, they lead to the Khan Research Laboratories in Kuhuta in north Pakistan" (The Guardian, January 18, 2004).

Barnett recounted the history of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist and ardent champion of Islam who, as the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, has been dubbed "the godfather of the Islamic bomb." In the 1970s, Khan worked for Urenco (an Anglo-Dutch-German nuclear consortium). When India exploded its first atomic bomb, Khan set out to obtain a bomb for Pakistan. As Barnett explained: "Khan became aware of secret blueprints for two types of uranium enrichment centrifuges… [and] went on to steal the blueprints and a list of Urenco suppliers" (ibid.). In 1998, when Pakistan finally exploded its own bomb in the deserts of Baluchistan, Khan was hailed as a national hero.

Since renouncing its own nuclear program in 2004, Libya has helped the International Atomic Energy Agency piece together the cartel of middlemen feeding the network of nuclear know-how and equipment. A frightening picture has emerged, as Barnett reported: "It is believed that rogue scientists from Pakistan, motivated by million-dollar payouts, were helped by German middlemen and Sri Lankan businessmen based in Dubai. The middlemen are believed to have secured items for Iran from European, Asian, and North American companies… U.S. intelligence claims that the Pakistani government, through the Khan laboratories struck a deal which swapped Pakistani nuclear centrifuge technology for North Korean long-range missiles" (ibid.).

Indeed, in the summer of 2002, American spy satellites actually photographed Pakistani cargo planes loading missile parts in North Korea.

How can—or how should—the U.S. respond to the prospect of a nuclear North Korea? As Newsweek magazine reminds us, "Kim Jong Il has one thing going for him: his ability to threaten the world with doomsday weapons" ("Nuclear Offense," February 21, 2005). The Newsweek article by reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry went on to observe that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is aging, and that "the last scientists who helped build America's Cold War arsenal will retire in about five years."

It is one thing to hold an enemy state at bay with the threat of "mutually assured destruction," but it is quite another to try to use the same threat against terrorists who have no state—and whose exact locations are not even known.

Is nuclear proliferation destined to continue indefinitely? Will armies devise ever-more-effective ways to bring destruction on their intended targets? Where will this ongoing threat of nuclear terror actually end?

What Bible Prophecy Reveals

Have you ever considered that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the greatest newscaster who ever lived? Jesus did not simply report the news that had already happened—He reported what would happen in the future! In the pivotal Olivet Prophecy, spoken just days before His crucifixion, Christ told his disciples how to recognize the end of the age—the time just before His return. He mentioned specific events such as warfare—not only large-scale conflicts among sovereign countries or kingdoms (basilea, in Greek), but also ethnic conflicts within and among nations (ethnos, in Greek). Bloody ethnic conflict was a hallmark of the twentieth century, playing a major role in launching both World Wars and scores of smaller subsequent wars.

Christ went on to describe a terrible time ahead, in which—were it not cut short—"no living thing could survive" (Matthew 24:22, NEB). Before the atomic age, which began in the middle of the 20th century, mankind had never had the ability to exterminate all life from the planet. Jesus of Nazareth foretold our modern age of weapons of mass destruction, nearly two millennia before it came!

The book of Revelation depicts scenes of future battles and warfare unlike anything known in ancient times. The Apostle John, who saw in vision the weapons and armies of the future, did not have words for much of what he saw; he could only compare it to things with which he was familiar. Yet we can discern much from his descriptions. Describing the future attack by an Asian alliance against the coming European superpower, John uses the language of his day to describe futuristic weapons out of whose "mouth" issued "fire, smoke and brimstone" (Revelation 9:17). John is not describing conventional weapons, for he tells us that this massive attack will destroy one-third of humanity (v. 18)—destruction on a scale that is impossible without the most modern weapons of our day.

Describing the final destruction of Babylon, the ancient headquarters city of the Beast power, John again describes something that can only be understood in the light of modern day weapons of mass destruction: "Therefore her plagues will come in one day… and she will be utterly burned with fire… and the kings of the earth…will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come" (Revelation 18:8–10).

The weapons available in John's day could not have carried out such swift and total destruction. His description, however, is perfectly compatible with the scope and effect of the nuclear destruction to which the world was introduced at Hiroshima in 1945.

When mankind discovered nuclear weapons, many feared that science's final gift to mankind was the ability to destroy itself. This frightening legacy was foretold in the pages of your Bible nearly 20 centuries in advance! Human beings have incredible intellect, but lack the wisdom and the spiritual character to avoid misusing that intellect. The real answers do not lie within ourselves. Rather, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote long ago: "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Mankind's very survival will depend upon the direct intervention of the coming King of kings—Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace. Only He—not mankind—can finally dispel the shadow of the bomb, and bring about a peaceful future in Tomorrow's World.

OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE

View All