Era of 'uncertainly' still persits 35 years after A-bomb blast

The age of uncertainty began 35 years ago. The United States dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945. A larger bomb followed on Nagasaki 75 hours later.

Today the US and the Soviet Union face each other with nuclear weapons, and proliferation to other countries continues. Many nations are fearful either to have, or not to have, A-bombs. domestic nuclear power offers the same strange conflict between hope and fear: Will it fill the energy gap, or create more Three Mile Islands?

When Vice-President Harry Truman was called suddenly to the White House April 12 1945 to find that he was president, Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed him quietly that a new explosive of incredible power was about to be tested. Two billion dollars had been spent on it. Secretary Stimson said, "The most terrible weapon ever known in human history" would probably be ready in about four months -- August. Mr. Truman appeared impressed but not overwhelmed.

On May 7 the Trumans moved from Blair House into the White House, with the warning from Mrs. Roosevelt that they might be troubled by rats. It was the eve of VE-Day. It was necessary for the Big Three to meet, which they did -- Stalin , Churchill, and Truman at Potsdam in mid-July. Truman received a cryptic code message: "Results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations." It meant that a trial explosion had shattered the desert at Alamogordo. A mushroom-shaped cloud rose; the A-bomb was no longer theory.

With deliberate casualness, Harry Truman, wearing his double-breasted suit, asked Russian interpreter Pavlov to tell the uniformed Generalissimo Stalin at the break-up of the conference: "We have perfected a very powerful explosive which we are going to use against the Japanese, and we think it will end the waf." That was all.

Truman heard news of the Hiroshima bomb Aug. 6, sailing home from Potsdam on the Augusta. America learned of it, too. Astounded newspaper readers read the phrase "atomic bomb." What was that? "It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe," said the President in a statement. On Aug. 9 he broadcast that an estimated 70,000 persons had been killed. While the Japanese high command debated what to do, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito in an underground shelter ordered surrender. Diplomats knew the world shelter balance had shifted.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying at hearings on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty 1979-80, declare that a "rough equivalency" of arms now exists. The matter is debated in the 1980 election. The Office of Technology Assessment of the US Congress, April 1977, warned of other dangers: "there is a clear possibility," it reported, that "a clever and competent group" could construct a blackmail bomb. That brings the Era of Uncertainty through its 35th year.

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