After the bomb, comes the nuclear fire
PeaceQuest Cape Breton’s Sean Howard takes you inside the Pentagon office studying the horrifying environmental effects of a nuclear explosion.
In her landmark 2004 study, Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, & Nuclear Weapons Devastation, Dr. Lynn Eden of Stanford University sought to answer a terrifying question: “How and why, for more than half a century, has the US government seriously underestimated the damage that nuclear weapons could cause?”
The fatal error was easy enough to identify: “The invention of the atomic bomb and the extraordinary blast and fire damage wreaked on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not disrupt the pre-atomic dynamics” of war-planning and damage assessment:
After the bomb, organizational goals remained concentrated on the destruction of specific targets, and government analysts…continued to understand blast damage as more certain, hence more predictable, than fire damage. In short, analysts ‘saw’ atomic weapons as ‘blast’ weapons.
So profound was this neglect that it led to “a total incapacity to predict nuclear fire damage” – “no recognized experts, no manuals, no knowledge-laden organizational routines” – and the acceptance of the circular argument that because such damage was ‘clearly’ unpredictable, it was a waste of time to see if it was! Even before the danger of nuclear winter was known, this was, in the words of historian Paul Edwards, an “astonishing case of self-inflicted institutional blindness.”
And in 2004, Eden stressed, it was still the case that the “conventional wisdom among the scientists, civilians, and military officers who compose what is called the ‘nuclear weapons effects community’ is that damage from blast is predictable but damage from mass fire is not,” despite mounting evidence that the impacts of nuclear firestorms “can indeed be predicted” and “will very often be more extensive than damage from blast.”
Seventeen years later, does that ‘wisdom’ remain conventional? To my knowledge, no one has reported or suggested otherwise; and no independent study has been ever ordered by the US Government to review the adequacies of the orthodox approach. Until, that is, now…
Read the full article in the Cape Breton Spectator, published on March 3, 2021.