Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States, 1940-1980

By Gerard H. Clarfield; William M. Wiecek | Go to book overview

3
The Destroyer of Worlds"

WHY HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI?

IN THE EARLY HOURS of August 6, 1945, a lone B-29 Superfortress, stripped of all nonessential gear and carrying a 9,000- pound uranium-type atomic bomb, waited at the end of the air strip on the captured island of Tinian. Colonel Paul Tibbets, USAAC, commander of the Enola Gay, understood that this was no ordinary mission. The bomb his plane was carrying would explode with a force of perhaps 20,000 tons of TNT, enough to destroy an entire city.

Tibbets had been warned by General Leslie Groves to expect "a little publicity" prior to takeoff. But what he found at the landing field took him completely by surprise. His plane was surrounded by floodlights that made a circle of harsh white light against the darkness beyond. Inside this circle were perhaps a hundred men--his own crew, scientists, military police, security personnel, and filmmakers sent by Groves to record the historic undertaking. William Laurence, the science reporter for The New York Times who had been flown in for a special briefing, was also on hand.

Tibbets later recalled his amazement at what he described as this "full-scale Hollywood premiere treatment. I expected to see MGM's lion walk onto the field or Warner's logo to light up the sky. It was crazy."1 In a way it was crazy. That the atomic age should be ushered in with spotlights and public relations hoopla seems in retrospect to go beyond mere insanity to the genuinely

-53-

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