Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The 'Long War' enters its capsule

Just playing catch up with a couple of articles.
Can you imagine what Manhattan would look like if a nuclear bomb exploded there? Well, just in case you can’t this article (which can be read in full here) paints a pretty graphic picture. While an electromagnetic pulse ripples roughly 4 kilometres and wipes out all of the electronics in that range, “the shock wave levels every building within a half-kilometre, killing everyone inside, and severely damages virtually all buildings for a kilometre in every direction."
Wow, talk about making "the unimaginable" imaginable. Then, "detonation temperatures of millions of degrees ignite a firestorm that rapidly engulfs the area, generating winds of 600 kilometres an hour.”
Walls of flame belched across the landscape at 375 miles an hour.

[Image: Remains of bombed tenements in Second Avenue in Radnor Park, March 1941.]

Ahh….scenes scorched into the American psyche since those epic imaginary days embalmed in the Cold War. Just when the atomic nightmare seemed to almost be reduced to the filmic rubble of a pale and redundant scene played out too many times in our heads, the nuclear complex goes and revs up its engines again full bore hyping tensions with Iran, and warning of foreboding new terrorist threats that could conceivably (the article tells us) drop “a 45-kilogram lump of weapons-grade uranium” onto another similar lump and “from a height of about 1.8 metres [could] produce a blast of 5 to 10 kilotons.” That's apparently a good 5 to 10 thousand tons of TNT.
This fear detonates from the concern that too much highly enriched uranium is floating around today from old and raided Soviet bunkers that could sooner or later end up in the wrong hands (many times over).

[Pokhran in Rajasthan, May 1974, NTI.]

With the now (what is almost) banal spectacularity of Hollywood effect, “The explosion scoops out a crater 20 metres across and 10 metres deep, sending thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive debris into the air as a cloud of dust."
It's Manhattan splattered into a searing post-urban aerosol of indiscriminate material and debris, whirling through -- wake after wake – an ignited atmospheric grinder; the metropolis as urban corpse set sail in a billion dismembered parts, grafted, confused, singed along the way like some biblical hail storm raining down the shrapnel concrete and steel bits of an entire city back down onto itself; an infernal image of civilization made leftover in a single flash.
The article goes on to describe a whole pharmaceutical dream of ingestible radiation countermeasures, alluding to perhaps another future classic apocalyptic flick where catatonic pill-popping zombie survivors wander tunnels and pace the contaminated wreckage in search of escape, buried loved ones, or perhaps something to eat.

Speaking of lost wreckage and something to nibble on, a couple of weeks ago New York City transit officials discovered an old Cold War fall out shelter (or, perhaps just a dusty storage unit?) holed up in the base structure of the Brooklyn Bridge, stocked with empty water drums, medical supplies and boxes of 44-year-old crackers with special survival instructions for eating them.

[Images: Inside the Brooklyn Bridge, a Whiff of the Cold War, John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times]

With all this renewed nuclear tension boiling up around the world, the discovery of this spat up little fossil is a silly archaeological trace of the eerie paranoia that governed the American psyche for decades while posturing with the Soviet Union, but also makes us wonder: has the Cold War really ended, or is it something that constantly lurks just below the surface, regurgitating itself up off the geopolitical backburner when it needs to, playing the earth for a hollow museum of nuclear urbanism inscrolled in synchronous economic timebelts perpetuated by run-on projections of post-future nuclear war? Today, the 'Long War' enters its capsule.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are documents that suggest that an underground shelter may have been constructed below NYC. Hugh Ferris may have been the first to give us a glimpse of its feasibility and its consideration. Koolhaas makes obscure references to evacuation/exodus/devestation/peoplemovers..., and the interest in the redevelopment of Welfare Island by Koolhaas, Herman Khan, Guy Panero, etal is quite curious.
Also Robert Smithson's treatment of adjacent sites. Is Manhattan the Island of Broken Glass?


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