When I was eight years old in 1952, my family bought our first TV set, a big 17" console. Wow, a brand new medium for a curious kid. I watched the political conventions and learned to “like Ike.” (Adlai Stevenson didn't appeal to eight year olds.) The biggest impact however was the live early morning broadcasts of atomic bomb testing from Nevada, just north of Las Vegas.
Imagine the effect on my eight year old brain of seeing this massive explosion, while at the same time, at school, being told to “duck and cover” because another country might drop those bombs on us.
Area 51 may not be the most important part of the very large federal government lands in Nevada. Area 7 is where 928 atomic bombs were detonated from 1951-1992. All but 68 were above ground, sending clouds of radiation across soldiers and reporters to the midwest and to the northeast. (Don’t worry, the government tells us not to.)
There is now an Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. When they opened a few years ago, I wrote them for information on the televised bomb blasts. They had little info, but said it was probably KTLA in Los Angeles that skipped the broadcast signal to WOW-TV in Omaha which broadcast it to me in Sioux City, Iowa, on the edge of the Great American Desert, as some of us thought it.
I had serious nightmares about nuclear warfare. As I got older I read Hiroshima by John Hersey, and saw documentaries on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, August 6, is the anniversary of dropping “Fat Boy” on Hiroshima. Isn’t that name cute? Something like 100,000 to 150,000 people died that day and about as many in the years that followed. Did it end the war early and save thousands of American lives? Maybe. One thing we know is that communications between our governments were very bad and confused in July and August, 1945. Japan was worn out and defeated before we dropped the bomb(s). And another thing we now know: American patience with the war had worn thin. There was little motivation to keep fighting after four years of devastating warfare. See Clint Eastwood’s film, Flags of Our Fathers, mostly about the battle of Iwo Jima, for insight into the mood of the US at that time. Patriotism had given way a lot to simple grief and sadness.
Later in the early ‘80's I fought the re-establishment of Civil Defense in New Jersey. I think there were 80+ Soviet nuclear targets in New Jersey. Yeah, hiding in a basement was going to help a lot. I was asked several times to preach a sermon I had on war and the need for nuclear disarmament, called A Covenant with Death. The text was from Isaiah 28: 14-20 --
Hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter’;
Therefore thus says the Lord God....
I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plummet;
hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.
Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
We were the only country that has ever yet used nuclear weapons. We still have thousands of them and who knows how many Soviet warheads are being traded around the world and to whom. We have a defense budget seven to ten times that of China and equal to half of the world’s spending on war. We spend more than a trillion a year now, counting the “off-budget” defense expenses. (Al Queda, not so much.) Also, there is not so much talk these days of justice and righteousness. We have trusted in chariots and horsemen rather than God (Isaiah 31:1) or simple human reason.