‘‘Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.’’
(Lady Lazarus, Sylvia Plath)
It was yesterday whilst watching a quite brilliant documentary on BBC 2 titled ‘A British Guide To The End of The World’ that I found myself sitting in my living room and confronting a vision of evil on my television. Of course this is rather melodramatic and, on showing my adult son the scene from this documentary, is exactly what he said to me. But I tried to explain to him, that this was where, I felt, that I had witnessed evil for the very first time in my life. I didn’t do a great job explaining to him as he responded ‘‘that science is not evil’’, so I am going to try again but this time in writing. So here goes.
The scene is of the explosion of the first British atomic bomb at Christmas Island in 1957. It is accompanied by the eye witness accounts of 3 or 4 now elderly men who were part of the military sent out to the Island to both build the test site and act as human guinea pigs. Their ‘superior officers’ as one man states were nowhere to be seen. They it transpires were well screened from the effects in protective clothing and in bunkers. The guinea pigs describe what they saw. As they describe the explosion we see in vivid coloured detail the bomb dropped, the initial explosion, the fireball, the mushroom cloud and then the shockwave.
I have seen the aerial film of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima many times, but this captures for the first time I would strongly suggest, the true horror of the A bomb because it utilises the accounts of men who were placed there to feel and be affected by the detonation.
The men who were in simple khaki dress describe the explosion as they looked towards it as being the ‘‘birth of a new sun’’. Then the fireball and then a description of a cascading fire like the carousels in a firework display but these were not carousels lit by man, but birds on fire. Thousands. Lit up and burned to death by man.
Then a torus shaped fire ring suddenly accumulates. The eye witness account describes the colours he saw inside the torus: ‘‘greys, blacks, greens, oranges, reds, all…