Thursday, February 20, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Trinity & Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie (1995) ***

Not Rated, 92 min.
Director: Peter Kuran
Writers: Scott Narrie, Doug Pugsley
Narrator: William Shatner
Featuring: Dr. Edward Teller, Dr. Frank H. Shelton

“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.”
                                                                                                    —Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Jurassic Park”

There is a nuclear physicist interviewed in “Trinity & Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie” who doesn’t question for a second that helping to develop the atomic bomb was the right thing to do. His reasoning is that it was going to be done anyway and it was his opportunity to be a part of scientific exploration and guide it in a direction he felt was helpful to humanity. This documentary, without ever blatantly pointing any sort of finger, demonstrates that eventually it was no longer about scientific discovery; and considering the fact that the U.S. military began their nuclear program out of suspicion that the Germans were developing nuclear armaments in World War II, scientific discovery was certainly not the impetus for developing these weapons of mass destruction.

It’s also hard to argue that this scientist was wrong in his assessment that someone else would’ve done it. In fact, this documentary doesn’t try to argue anything one way or the other. It is a decidedly unbiased endeavor. It simply reports the history of the U.S. development of nuclear armaments from the very first nuclear device detonated on U.S. soil, known as Trinity, up to the Limited Testing Treaty signed into law and upheld by 100 countries in 1963. Made in 1995, the film uses military footage that had just recently been declassified at that time to give a detailed history of our nuclear testing practices. I wonder why the filmmakers restricted themselves just to the testing of actual nuclear payload. Certainly the Cold War saw a great many more developments in our nuclear capabilities even after the Treaty.

Still I was fascinated by this documentary from its opening moments. I had seen many of the archival footage of many of the nuclear tests before, and I’d always wondered about their origins. This film puts all those mushroom cloud images into context. Throughout it all, the filmmakers don’t question what the government is doing, but it is impossible to watch what they did without asking for yourself, “what did all this do to our world?” We may never know what effects all those tests really had on our planet because of all the things we’ve done to destroy our environment, but I doubt 331 atmospheric nuclear tests by the U.S. alone could’ve been the least of the terrible things we’ve done to our planet.

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