Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test

Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test

In the first half of 1955, the United States performed more than a dozen tests of atomic weapons in Nevada, studying the destructive power of the country's most powerful weapons. These photos, from the 44th nuclear test explosion ever performed on US soil, capture the varied effects.

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Photographer Loomis Dean took these pictures of a detonation in Yucca Flat, Nevada, in May 1955. During an era when tourists would travel to Las Vegas specifically to witness the distant mushroom clouds, Dean's photographs showed the impact of these detonations on mannequins, buildings, vehicles, physical infrastructure, and household items. Some of Dean's photos have never before been published, but others appeared in the May 16, 1955 issue of Life, alongside a description of the destroyed million-dollar faux village:

The condition of the figures - one charred, another only scorched, another almost untouched - showed that the blast, equivalent to 35,00 tons of TNT, was discriminating in its effects. As one phase of the atomic test, the village and figures help guide civil defense planning - and make clear that even amid atomic holocaust careful planning could save lives.

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That cheery ending didn't anticipate the deadlier weapons that would come into existence, but it might have encouraged the readers, in the event of a nuclear attack, crawl into their refrigerators, à la Indiana Jones.

All photographs by Loomis Dean.

Nevada Ghosts: Rare Photos From an A-Bomb Test [Life via Boing Boing]

Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test
Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test
Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test
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Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test
Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test
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Illustration for article titled Rare and eerie photos from an early atomic bomb test

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DISCUSSION

In the early '50s when we had a deliverable H-bomb and the USSR didn't, many US leaders favored a preemptive nuclear strike. Influential mathematician John Von Neumann had developed the game theory scenario called "the prisoners dilemma" which he applied to the international defense situation and concluded that we should nuke them before they could nuke us. The government knew that even after a US first strike the Russians would retain some retaliatory capability. A major goal of the tests was to determine how much damage such a counterstrike would cause. They could then judge whether the benefit of a first strike was worth the cost. The dummies weren't Russians... they were us.

Kubrick caught this insanity perfectly in the uniformly excellent Dr. Strangelove. General Turgidson addresses the President:

"…an unofficial study which we undertook of this eventuality, indicated that we would destroy ninety percent of their nuclear capabilities. We would therefore prevail, and suffer only modest and acceptable civilian casualties from their remaining force which would be badly damaged and uncoordinated… I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say... no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh... depended on the breaks."