Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Flash in a Pan

I went on a bus tour to visit the Trinity site today. This is the location where the first ever atomic explosion occurred. It was a plutonium bomb set off in a 100 foot tower just before dawn on July 16, 1945. The Atomic Age began and the world changed.

My father was on a train heading to the west coast early August of that year, destined for Navy duty in the Pacific theater. The war ended and instead he finished out his tour of duty in California. I was born four and a half years later. Without the quick end to the War in the Pacific, and my father's safe return to civilian life, I might not have existed.

I grew up in the aftershocks. Images of atomic explosions were common. Fear of ICMB's was a reality. When I was a teenager, the coming attack was just a matter of time.

Seeing the depression in the ground where it all started was somehow very satisfying. On an earlier trip, I bought a small chunk of Trinitite from a local rock shop and it still sits in my desk at home, the pale green glass formed by the heat of the explosion still emitting very small traces of Alpha particle radiation.

But, at the same time as I felt a historical satisfaction at being there, I was also a little disappointed by the site itself. Back in the 50's the government scraped up almost all the green glass and buried it somewhere, probably as a health and safety issue. The bowl isn't a deep crater, more the imprint of the shockwave from the explosion 100 feet up on the tower. If they took down the barbed wire fences and removed the memorial stones, it would be easy to lose the site entirely. Grass and stickers grow there. Ant hills churn the soil. Rain and wind remove the traces of human activity. What radiation still exists isn't enough to affect the native plants and animals.

Something so significant in human history has come, made its brief impression in the soil, and without a memorial to mark the spot, is almost gone.

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