In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term. In April, 1945, Roosevelt died in office and was succeeded by Vice-President Harry Truman. One of Truman’s early decisions ushered in the Atomic Age. On August 6, 1945, a single bomb was dropped from a single plane on the Japanese city of Hiroshima resulted in nearly 80,000 deaths.

Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, destroying the city.

The year 1962 also saw the beginning and the end of a crisis that threatened the entire world with nuclear destruction. On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy, acting on photographic evidence that Russia had established a nuclear missile base in Cuba, an island only ninety miles from the United States, ordered a blockade against further shipment from Russia of missiles and demanded the removal of all offensive missiles from Cuba.

In the tense days of the blockade, the entire world realizing that Russia could have refused and started a war or possibly a nuclear exchange, became aware that the threat of atomic warfare was not an impossibility in the modern world.

The following year, 1963, the United States, Russia, and Great Britain signed a nuclear test-ban treaty, which banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere, under the ocean, and in space. 

To understand fully why world leaders are concerned about the possibility of modern nuclear war requires an understanding of the effects of atomic warfare.

To take an example, what would happen if a 20-megaton hydrogen bomb were dropped over Columbus Circle in New York City? The immediate effects from heat, nuclear-radiation, explosion, fallout and social economic disruption, would only be the beginning. The long-range effects are equally serious and disturbing.

As the bomb explodes, the sky fills with a bluish-white glare. A man sixty miles away from Columbus Circle could see this as a fireball thirty times brighter than the sun. People who actually see the bomb explode would suffer eyeburns that could lead to blindness. Had an observer been only twenty-one miles away, his clothes would have caught fire; at a distance of thirty-one miles, his exposed skin would still be seriously burned.

At Columbus Circle, there would be little immediate effect from radiation – the explosion and heat effects from a 20-megaton bomb are so great that everyone there would be killed immediately.

Damage to buildings would be devastating. Damage to buildings occurs in several stages. The shock front squeezes everything in its path, causing buildings to topple or collapse inward. At the same time, drag forces act like a strong winds to blow over structures such as telephone poles and towers that may escape effects of the shock front. Within a few seconds, there is a complete reversal of pressure. Partial vacuums are created in buildings still standing, and the winds blow toward the center of the explosion, completing the property destruction.

 Columbus Circle is now the center of a hole covering about twenty blocks and deep enough to bury a twenty-story building. Severe damage extends throughout an eight-mile radius—houses are demolished and large buildings are nothing but shells. At a distance of fifteen miles, damage is less severe. Frame houses are still standing, but doors have been torn away and all the glass has been shattered. Even at forty miles from Columbus Circle, windows are broken. Such mass destruction creates a secondary danger from flying debris – chunks of stone and glass dislodged by the blast can cause injuries up to fifteen miles away from ground zero, the explosion point. Up to that distance, another effect of the explosion is displacement: a man can be literally picked up by the force of the blast and smashed into a wall.

Fire quickly becomes a serious threat. Thermal radiation ignites flammable material on contact. The force of the explosion breaks gas, electric, and oil connections. Each of these breaks becomes an ignition point. Within a radius of twenty-one miles from Columbus Circle, approximately two million fires will break out at these ignition points.

Fire storms cause an even greater hazard. Winds of hurricane velocity hit an area filled with small fires and cause them to merge into an all encompassing fire storm. Fighting these fires is impossible because of lack of manpower, damaged equipment, no water pressure, and impassable streets. As the buildings burn, carbon monoxide is trapped inside. Exits are blocked by rubble, so people taking shelter in these areas become the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Transportation, and other vital services are disrupted. Streets within a fifteen mile radius of explosion point are so clogged with debris that no vehicles could pass. Bridges, tunnels, railroads, and subway lines become impassable, making emergency assistance and evacuation impossible. No food, fuel or medical supplies can be brought in. Water supplies within the city are quickly contaminated and food supplies are wiped out by the explosion and ensuing fires. Food stores in the shelters, if available after extensive damage, might provide sustenance for a limited period. Suburbs are affected by the damage to the metropolitan distribution centers for food, water, and fuel.

Most hospitals and other public facilities are destroyed or severely handicapped. There is a shortage of medical personnel and supplies. The destruction of city power plants results in insufficient power to operate hospital equipment and facilities. Vital drug supplies cannot be replenished because of the interruptions in transportation. A water shortage quickly creates sanitation problems. Epidemics develop as a result of vermin, contaminated food and water, and lack of medical facilities. Other health problems develop because people suffering from radiation exposure are especially susceptible to infection.

All of the effects discussed thus far occur soon after the bomb has been dropped. There are also long-term effects from radiation which include such things as miscarriages, still-births, congenital defects, reduced physical and mental vision, feeblemindedness, and a whole series of diseases and malfunctions. Men exposed to a moderate dose of radiation followed by a continuous low dose over a period of time are likely to become sterile. Other possible effects of radiation are the increase in various kinds of cancer and related diseases, the shortening of the average life span, and the disturbance of normal growth and development.

These are some of the disasters of nuclear war which make all leaders of the world insecure. Today five nations possess nuclear capabilities and within a few years approximately fifteen nations eventually will have atomic weapons. To the American statesman, the aggression of the Communists must be contained. But the Communist believes history is on his side. He says a new world order will be proclaimed and he will lead it! The United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China all have nuclear capabilities. All these nations want to preserve the world in their own image, so these questions remain for all statesmen: How can nations avoid using nuclear weapons? How can the world survive what the scientists calls the “Death of the Earth?”