By Kirthi Tennakone
The dwellers of the Japanese city Hiroshima resorted to their routine on 6th August 1945. That day the morning sky had been clear – people observed three air planes and descending parachutes. These are happenings to be expected at the time of a war and largely ignored.
Around 8.15 am a flash of light intensely brighter than the sun and a burning sense of heat terrified the population. The noiseless instant effect reacted more severely over a circular area of radius approximately 1 kilometer. Men, women and children exposed to the flash were incinerated to ash or fatally burnt. Cloths crumbled to pieces or spontaneously ignited – particularly if the shade is darker. A man dressed in white was burnt lightly, but his wife in black beside him died as a result of harsh burning. Most people within the range succumbed immediately- very few shielded by thick concrete survived. After fraction of a second a blast wave flattened almost every building in an area of nearly 40 square kilometers. A fireball formed created in the atmosphere expanded rapidly blowing a horrendously hot wind – setting fires everywhere up to a distance of about 4.5 kilometers from the centre. The pressure of the blast wave and heat of the rushing wind killed or wounded many more people. Expanding and a rising fireball created a white plume extending to the atmosphere up to a height of 6100 meters darkening the city as if night has befallen. Around 9 am a black toxic rain poured over a large area, sickening those who got wet. The death toll in the day of the incident exceeded 40,000 and subsequent mortality resulting from injuries was estimated to be more than 100,000.
The Japanese government and most of the world at large could not immediately fathom how a ferocious calamity unheard previously was inflicted. A devastation of such magnitude would require dropping thousands of most powerful conventional bombs simultaneously – a technical impossibility. On August 7th, the American President Harry Truman announced ‘It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East’. He further stated that the bomb had more power than 20000 tons TNT- more than 2000 times the blast power of British Grand Slam which is the largest bomb ever used in history of warfare.
The bombs based on detonators such as tri-nitro toluene (TNT) derive energy by breaking of the molecules of this substance into lighter more stable fragments. In contrast atomic energy is released when the nucleus of the uranium atom disintegrates into lighter nuclei – a process referred to as nuclear fission. A calculation based on Einstein’s theory of relativity revealed that the energy liberated in fission of uranium is about one million times the equivalent weight of ordinary explosives. Fission is triggered by hitting the uranium nucleus with a neutron. When the nucleus breaks-up several additional neutrons are emitted. Hungarian-American physicist Leo Szilard speculated extra neutrons might disrupt other uranium nuclei causing an explosive chain reaction–a possibility of making a dangerous weapon. In 1939 he persuaded Albert Einstein to write a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt pointing out the urgency of the United States engaging in this effort – otherwise the consequences could be disastrous if Adolf Hitler develop a nuclear weapon. United States Intelligence found Germany had already started to work on the problem, hastening President Roosevelt to appoint a committee replying Albert Einstein. Soon the research work aimed to develop a nuclear bomb was commissioned as the Manhattan Project – under scientific leadership of the Robert Oppenheimer and a team of several other eminent physicists excluding Einstein. Perhaps Einstein was considered too much even for a project of this nature because of his extreme radicalism and pacifist views.
Leo Szilard with Albert Einstein
Despite theoretical soundness of the argument of achieving an explosive nuclear chain reaction, the Manhattan project encountered many astounding practical challenges. Natural uranium occurs in two forms named as isotopes U(238) and U(235). A chain reaction is feasible only with U(235) occurring as 0.7 percent of the metal found in the uranium ores. Furthermore to initiate a chain reaction at least a critical mass of about 60 kilograms of U(235) is required. Refining the ore to obtain this amount was an arduous costly task. Another option explored has been to use plutonium instead of uranium. The advantage of the latter is the smaller critical mass 5-10 kilograms. Plutonium is not found in nature can be synthesized – again a time consuming costly affair. Expenses of the project ran to 100 million dollars a month!
The other hurdle was assembling of the critical mass.
The requisite amount of uranium or plutonium cannot be simply cast as an ingot. Moment the critical mass which depend on shape and density of the sample is reached. The chain reaction propagate emitting radiation, because even one neutron is sufficient for triggering. Some neutrons always exist in the environment and also produced by spontaneous fission uranium. A method planned was to collide two pieces of uranium in a gun-like device using dynamite so that their union creates the critical mass. Another method considered was casting uranium or plutonium into a sphere of calculated size and implode it to increase the density by firing an appendage ordinary explosives. These methods needed to be secured foolproof and tested.
TESTING THE BOMB
After three years of intensive activity, scientists and engineers at the Los Alamos Laboratory assembled an atom bomb on 13th July 1945. It was a plutonium device containing around 6 kilograms of this metal in the form of a sphere. Why was a plutonium bomb instead of uranium chosen for testing? The amount of weapons grade uranium available at that time was sufficient to make just one bomb, planned to be fired by the gun mechanism. Plutonium of much lower critical mass, adequate for several bombs was ready in the processing line. Furthermore, the implosion firing mechanism worked out for plutonium bombs demanded experimental confirmation.
Including accessories the bomb nicknamed ‘Gadget’ weighed nearly 5 metric tons. Gadget was transported to the testing site in the New Mexico desert and hoisted to a 100 m high steel tower. The bomb was scheduled to be exploded at 4 am 16th July 1945. However because of bad weather the time was pushed forward to 5.30 am. Scientists stationed 10 km away eagerly awaiting to watch the test were concerned. Some doubted whether the bomb would turnout to be a dud. Other pointed its power might exceed the expectation and pose danger to observers and community in the neighbourhood. Emphasizing this point, Edward Teller who later came to be known as the father of the hydrogen bomb distributed suntan cream.
When the trigger was switched-on at 5.30 am, the whole landscape was instantly lighted many times brighter than sunlight and a rising vividly coloured fireball appeared in the sky. The test was a success and a moment that changed the world forever. Seconds later the bang was felt, following a gush of wind. Physicist Enrico Fermi floated pieces of paper, timed their motion and quickly calculated the strength of the bomb, saying it is equivalent to 10 kilotons of TNT. More precise calculations carried out later revealed that strength was 22 kilotons.
The success of the atom bomb test was conveyed to President Truman but not publicly announced. general public inquisitive of the blinding flash and the bang were told an explosion occurred in an ammunition storage. President was planning to visit Germany to attend Potsdam conference – the famous big three Truman–Stalin–Churchill meeting. At the proceedings he hinted new development but did not elaborate. On 24th July Truman met Stalin casually and told him the United States has developed a weapon of unprecedented strength. Stalin did not react with excitement or interest and said ‘I hope the United States would make good use of it ‘. The reason for Stalin’s indifference became clear later. Soviet intelligence had been aware of the achievements in the Manhattan project.
Potsdam deceleration warned Japan to surrender unconditionally or suffer utter destruction – which Japan did not accept. Immediately the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was confirmed. The directive was said to be – hit Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata or Nagasaki after 3rd August as weather permitted.
The bombing operation was assigned to Colonel Tibbets of the US Air Force. On August 6th early morning he took-off from Tinian Island air base in the Pacific carrying the bomb. Two other planes accompanied the B-29 bomber to monitor weather and parachute instruments to record the physical effects of the explosion. At about 8.15 am the pilot released the bomb from an altitude of 9.5 kilometers. The bomb fell down for 47 seconds and exploded at a height 600 meters above the ground – the triggering mechanism designed to explode the bomb in mid-air for the purpose of maximizing the destructive power. Tibbets who hurried away was at a safe distance of 18 kilometers when he observed the flash and the fireball.
The bomb aimed to the Aioi Bridge missed the target by 250 meters and detonated overhead Shima Hospital flattening it instantly. Amazingly the structure of the Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall almost at the epicenter did not collapse. A temperature exceeding 4,000 degrees Celsius burnt the roof killing everybody inside, but the peculiar way in which the shockwave approached, left the structural shell largely intact. This landmark ruin named Atomic Bomb Dome serve as a memorial for lives lost and a reminder for peace.
I (the author of this article) visited Hiroshima in the year 2000. My daughter then a high school student posed in front of the dome for a photograph and smiled. When I said this not a place to smile. A group of Japanese visitors at the site understood what I meant and emotionally expressed appreciation of my remark.
WORLD AFTERMATH HIROSHIMA
Even after Hiroshima attack, Japan did not surrender but vowed to fight. Soviet Union declaring war on Japan 8th August 1945 and United States dropping of a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki next day changed the situation. On 15th August 1945 the Emperor Hirohito agreed unconditional surrender effectively ending Second World War. Some celebrated the bombings implicating it’s a lesson to warmongering and crimes committed, but those died were innocent civilians. The horror atomic bombings particularly the late effects of radiation continued to uncover as days and months passed. Nevertheless there were glorifications of nuclear weapons. Many nations strived hard acquire them, boost their destructive power and develop strategic methods of delivery. Human desire for increasing power of self-destructive weapons did not end with atom bomb. In 1952 United States tested first hydrogen bomb or the thermonuclear device based on nuclear fusion – the opposite of fission where lighter nuclei similar to hydrogen fuse together to yield heavier nuclei liberating extra-large quantity of energy – thousands of times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb. In the following year, the Soviet Union exploded a similar weapon. Between 1950 -1962 the competition of super powers in detonating nuclear bombs polluted the atmosphere- increasing the incidence of cancer.
The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 forbid atmospheric tests. However, underground tests continued and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of the United Nations could not be strictly enforced as some nations avoided the agreement. On July 2017, United Nations proposed the resolution – The Treaty on the Prohibitions of Nuclear Weapons. The enforcement of the agreement require signature and ratification of 50 states. To date of the 82 countries, who have signed the treaty, only 40 have ratified it. Some countries seem to abstain from signing and ratifying the accord on the presumption that those who might not agree will pose a threat – vicious circle contradicting attitudes. Global citizens worldwide and a number organisations advocating peace, campaign to prohibit nuclear weapons. Most vociferous among them are the survived victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki- popularly known as ‘hibakusha’. Their pledge is ‘so that the people of future generations will not have to experience hell on earth, we want to realise a world free of nuclear weapons while we are still alive’.
The first sitting US President to visit Hiroshima was Barak Obama. On May 26th , 2016, talking to a gathering there, Obama said ‘Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom require moral revolution as well ’.
Human greed – the limitless urge to acquire material possessions – is blind to dangers ensuing in the horizon, threatening their own existence. Nuclear weapons and excessive burning of fossil fuels are two examples.
The author Prof.Kirthi Tennakone, National Institute of Fundamental Studies can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!