The Rise of the Nuclear Poor.
By William Langewiesche.
179 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $22.
One need read only the first three pages of “The Atomic Bazaar” to be reminded of William Langewiesche’s formidable talent as a journalist whose cool, precise and economical reporting is harnessed to an invigorating moral and intellectual perspective on the world he describes. In a single paragraph, he lucidly explains the basic physics of the uranium-based atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Once a professional pilot, and the author of “Inside the Sky,” Langewiesche then leads the reader inside the “pressurized, well-heated” cockpit of the Enola Gay, flying at 31,000 feet in “smooth air,” piloted by the young Colonel Paul Tibbets, and vividly reconstructs the evasive maneuver taken by the B-29 as it banks steeply to minimize the coming shockwaves, while the bomb, named Little Boy, falls for 43 seconds before igniting several miles below, lighting the sky with “the prettiest blues and pinks that Tibbets had ever seen.” Tibbets’s subsequent career, from Air Force general to Internet purveyor of autographed souvenirs of that momentous flight, is adroitly sketched. The bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima, with a plutonium device, is handled in brisk but sufficient detail. Langewiesche counts the total killed in the two attacks (around 220,000), then delivers his own one-sentence bomb: “The intent was to terrorize a nation to the maximum extent, and there is nothing like nuking civilians to achieve that effect.”
There’s no missing the incendiary effect of the word “terrorize,” slyly linking the American attacks on Japanese cities in 1945 and Al Qaeda’s attacks on Manhattan and the Pentagon in 2001. Terrorism as a means of warfare is not confined to so-called nonstate actors like Mohamed Atta and his colleagues, but is habitually employed by nation states, including the United States. In 1958, Albert Wohlstetter, the cold war strategist (and guru to many current players on the scene, including Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle), published an influential article whose title, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” succinctly characterized the cold war itself. The chief purpose of nuclear weapons is to terrorize: “mutual deterrence” is simply a euphemism for mutual terror.
On our comprehensively terrorized globe, almost everybody, from covert, stateless bands of jihadists to accredited members of the United Nations, believes himself in need of either ready-made atomic bombs or the technology and expertise with which to manufacture them. “The nuclearization of the world,” Langewiesche writes, “has become the human condition, and it cannot be changed.” It is with that grim but realistic assumption ...full text