World War 2

This month marks the sixty-seventh anniversary of the mass destruction the United States wrought on the civilians in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And though it is often framed through the lens of ‘bringing an end to WWII’s bloody Pacific front’, the harsh images and stories of survival after the blasts reveal some of the most horrific realities of war and devastation any nation has ever had to face. Last year, the International Center of Photography exhibited many of the 1,100 images taken by the Physical Damage Division of the United States Bombing Survey in 1945. They have over 700 photos in their collection, and a new book published by Steidl:

After the United States detonated an atomic bomb at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the U.S. government restricted the circulation of images of the bomb’s deadly effect. President Truman dispatched some 1,150 military personnel and civilians, including photographers, to record the destruction as part of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. The goal of the Survey’s Physical Damage Division was to photograph and analyze methodically the impact of the atomic bomb on various building materials surrounding the blast site, the first “Ground Zero.” The haunting, once-classified images of absence and annihilation formed the basis for civil defense architecture in the United States.

What Stalin wanted, Stalin got, gravity be damned. No evidence the thing actually worked, even with the one “photo” taken of it. Via Wikipedia: The Antonov A-40 Krylya Tanka (Russian: крылья танка,…

FriedmanNYPL2_FINALCabinet Magazine has a fascinating and mysterious article on William F. Friedman, perhaps the greatest code-breaker in modern history. Friedman became a hero of World War II by breaking Japan’s PURPLE code and inventing the Army’s best cipher machine. He did it all using the ‘biliteral cipher’, a simple but powerful encoding technique invented in the sixteenth century, which allows for hidden messages to be conveyed by anything from flower petals to musical notes to faces in a photograph:

It is unlikely that Bacon’s cipher system was ever used for the transmission of military secrets, in the seventeenth century or in the twentieth. But for roughly a century from 1850, it set the world of literature on fire.

A passion for puzzles, codes, and conspiracies fueled a widespread suspicion that Shakespeare was not the author of his plays, and professional and amateur scholars of all sorts spent extraordinary amounts of time, energy, and money combing Renaissance texts in search of signatures and other messages that would reveal the true identity of their author. Even after the recent publication of James Shapiro’s comprehensive history of the authorship controversy, Contested Will, it is difficult for us to appreciate the depth of conviction — among writers as diverse and as distinguished as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Henry Miller, and even Helen Keller — that Shakespeare’s texts contained the secret solution to what was widely considered to be “the Greatest of Literary Problems.”…

Alex Pasternack writes on Motherboard:

In the early morning hours of July 16, 1945, some of the greatest scientific minds of a generation gathered in the New Mexican desert to watch the results of their unprecedented, world-changing experiment: to build the most powerful weapon in the world. But when they pressed the button on their bomb, nicknamed “Gadget,” they weren’t quite sure what would happen.

The general consensus was that the bomb would yield energy equivalent to 5,000 tons of TNT (the actual result as it was finally calculated was 21,000 tons). Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, had bet ten dollars against scientist George Kistiakowsky’s wager, with his entire month’s pay, that the bomb would not work at all. Enrico Fermi offered a wager on “whether or not the bomb would ignite the atmosphere, and if so, whether it would merely destroy New Mexico or destroy the world.”

Don’t worry, they’re just celebrating the 65th anniversary of our two countries’ tag team victory over the Nazis!  Wired reports: This weekend marks the 65th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of…

Julian Ryall writes in the Telegraph:

The Imperial Japanese Army’s notorious medical research team carried out secret human experiments regarded as some of the worst war crimes in history.

Its scientists subjected more than 10,000 people per year to grotesque Josef Mengele-style torture in the name of science, including captured Russian soldiers and downed American aircrews. The experiments included hanging people upside down until they choked, burying them alive, injecting air into their veins and placing them in high-pressure chambers.

Now new detail about their victims’ suffering could be revealed after the authorities in Tokyo announced plans to open an investigation into human bones thought to have come from the unit. A new search is also due to be carried out for mass graves that may contain more victims of human experiments.

Kate Connolly writes in the Guardian:

For decades she has been seen as a decorative companion to Adolf Hitler, an apolitical “dumb blonde” whose attentions served as an occasional diversion for the Führer. But the first academic biography of Eva Braun draws a different picture of the dictator’s long-standing girlfriend, claiming historians have hugely underestimated the role she played in his life.

Berlin historian Heike Görtemaker reveals her as a politically committed woman who won Hitler’s affections, enjoyed a healthy sex life with him, sympathised with Nazi politics and gave him psychological support. Görtemaker spent three years researching her book, Eva Braun: Life With Hitler, due out this month from the prestigious CH Beck publishing house. She was able to draw on previously unseen or little-known documents, letters, diary entries and photographs.

And you thought you had a bad week…Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only human ever to experience two atomic bombings, has died at age 93: The only person officially recognized as a survivor of…

On the fascinating site Letters of Note:

ABombAt 11:00 a.m. on August 9th, 1945, just a minute before the second atomic bomb in the space of three days was dropped on Japan, a B-29 bomber named The Great Artiste quietly dropped three canisters from the sky. Inside each of the canisters, alongside a shockwave gauge designed by American physicist Luis Alvarez, was an unsigned copy of the following letter.

The letter, written by Alvarez and two fellow scientists, was addressed to Japanese nuclear physicist Ryokichi Sagane —a man with whom Alvarez had previously worked at Berkeley — and pleaded with him to inform his ‘leaders’ of the impending ‘total annihilation’ of their cities.

The letter reached Sagane a month later after being found 50km from the centre of devastation: Nagasaki.

Alvarez and Sagane met again 4 years later, at which point the letter was finally signed.