Monday, July 26, 2010


"I am become death, the shatterer of worlds."

July 16, 1945 Trinity at 0.025 seconds; pictures are here.

One of the things I didn't know I didn't know was that the first atomic test, or test site, or both, was called Trinity. About Los Alamos I knew. Some time ago, I shocked myself more than my host by declining an unexpected invitation to drive up there, to Los Alamos. I was staying in Santa Fe and I remember it was during the first Clinton presidential campaign. A typical starry ribboned red white and blue candidate poster (Clinton/Gore) was stuck in the front lawn.

Every second house had staked its intention, and Santa Fe was leaning strongly democrat. Now I wish I'd gone. Instead we went to the Gorge Bridge over the Rio Grande just outside Taos. My legs went to jelly and I couldn't even go near it. I wonder if I'd have gone jelly legged at Los Alamos.

Gorge Bridge over the Rio Grande, outside Taos, New Mexico, photo source

This has all come back after hearing the SSO under David Robertson play the John Adams Doctor Atomic Symphony. I'm not sure why, but I didn't buy the CD, (or better still record the broadcast) settling instead for the complete works of Chopin. All very nice, and very well played, thank you Garrick Ohlsson, and at 16 Cds, it took the best part of yesterday to load it all onto itunes. Now I need the Adams CD, and the Opera. I'm playing the Chopin, but thinking bombs.

Why Trinity? The origin is uncertain. John Adams, in the Opera (and with the trumpet taking the vocal line in the symphony) refers to the suggestion that it was J. Robert Oppenheimer who named it after the sonnett by John Donne: "Batter my heart, three person'd God". The historian Ferenc Szasz quotes the head of Engineering, Explosives Division, Manhattan Project as saying the devout Catholic, Major Lex Stevens , noting that the nearest siding to the test site was called Pope's siding, extended the connection from the Pope to the Christian Trinity. Another possibility is the divine Hindu trinity of Brahma (the Creator), Visnu (The Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer).

After the blast, Oppenheimer quoted the line from the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad-Gita: "I am become death, the shatterer of worlds."

From the Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, here is the history of nuclear explosions. A month in time is reduced to a second. What starts slowly gathers pace. There is no language.

21 UK tests were in Australia.

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