Saturday, 26 September 2015

Moments that changed the world

It's been a bad day and this is a weighty theme - moments that changed the world.

I've given it considerable thought and I've chosen that moment at precisely 08:15 a.m. local time  on 6th August 1945 when the first atomic bomb was detonated in anger over Hiroshima, Japan - a pivotal event in our stumbling evolution. I'm reminded of WB Yeats' refrain (from Easter 1916): "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."


The rationale for using nuclear weapons was that, despite the terrible destruction caused (over 100,000 people died as a result of that single bomb), it fast-tracked Japan's surrender, shortened World War II by several weeks, maybe months, and saved thousands of other casualties. Debate still rages over whether the end justified the means. I can't accept that it did, any more than did J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the atom bomb", who turned to the Bhagavad Gita for words to express the enormity of what he had been instrumental in engendering: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of the world."

He recognised that life on planet Earth would never be the same again. Man had become godlike, with his/her capability for the first time to blow our whole planet to smithereens. I believe Oppenheimer conceptualised the span of our civilisation from the dawn of creation to the impending eve of destruction - this transformation from plankton to potentate - and regretted his complicity. But there was to be no undoing, no going back.

The uranium-235 bomb exploded over Hiroshima, despite the havoc it caused, was woefully inefficient. Less than 2% of its fissionable material reacted. Soon the death-race was on to develop bigger, better atomic bombs, plus delivery systems, and to stockpile them in America, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India and on and on. By the 1960s the nuclear nations possessed enough atomic firepower to destroy civilisation many times over. We learned to live with the threat of imminent annihilation - four minutes warning was all we'd get, time for a few hasty good-byes and last minute regrets. Many of us (myself included) joined CND, the Campaign for Nuclear  Disarmament, marched, protested and lobbied for a safer, saner world.  The realisation that Mutually-Assured Destruction (MAD for short) was a likely consequence of this insane arms race led the superpowers back from the brink. Non-proliferation treaties were signed, monitored decommissioning of nuclear stockpiles commenced and the threat of man-made global nuclear destruction has receded from the forefront of most people's minds. Yet the threat remains.

This week's poem is an attempt (I'm not sure how successful) to capture some sense of the immense implications of the event from the perspective of the father of Colonel Tibbets, the pilot who dropped the first bomb. (In case you didn't know, Colonel Tibbetts named the Boeing B-29 Enola Gay after his mother and the bomb he dropped on Hiroshima was nicknamed Little Boy. The two other bombers on the mission were dubbed The Great Artiste and Necessary Evil.)



The Bomb
I.
She was a rhapsody
in blue stockings, Enola Gay.
I recall performing cunnilingus
to the strains of Charlie Mingus
back in the day
before the Baron swapped his cello
for the double-bass.
Red-headed and wound up tight,
Enola Gay would detonate
in carefully controlled explosions
deep in hot Nebraska summer nights.

II.
You will always be my little boy
asleep in the next door room,
an all-American clean cut kid
roaming the prairie of your dreams
with big plans to be
a cowboy or a medicine man;
yet you became Colonel Tibbetts, USAF,
first horseman of the apocalypse.
Child of my loins,
you swapped your thoroughbred for wings
bearing your lovely mother's name.
Were we in any way to blame?

III.
Hiroshima, Hiroshima,
in the land of the rising sun,
as early morning innocence dawned
a necessary evil fell towards you
out of clear blue skies,
bearing down the seeds of doom and liberation.
Alchemical flowering
at two thousand feet
showered a heavy metal incandescence
perpetrating mass annihilation
as shockwaves and firestorms
reduced a city to flattened ash
at the base of a mighty mushroom cloud.
Code red issued- one hundred thousand dead.
War lost and won.
Oh my wife.
Oh my son.
What have we done?
What have we done?


Thanks for reading. Ban the bomb! Have a good week, S ;-)
Reactions:

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog - but isn't the first verse of your poem a bit gratuituse?

Steve Rowland said...

Well, anonymous, no I don't consider it gratuitous (as in unwarranted or motiveless) or I wouldn't have written it into the poem.

Fiona said...

Very thought provoking Steve. I sincerely hope the world never witnesses this again.

Anonymous said...

Reading this sent shivers down my spine.