by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, 2012
I don’t remember where I ran across this book, but its title and subject matter immediately caught my eye. You see, I grew up at White Sands Missile Range, a place whose large territory encompasses the Trinity testing site. Nuclear weaponry is part of our specific narrative as New Mexicans and it’s as common to learn about this in history class as it is to learn about the presidents. I wouldn’t say nuclear science is a particular area of my interest, but the idea of the area’s history told in graphic form was something I hadn’t seen before and the WSMR school child in me just had to get her hands on it.
Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb is, for the most part, an effective historical account of the building, testing, and use of the atomic bomb. I suspect that anyone with any science background will find the paltry descriptions of nuclear fission wanting, but I can affirm that, as someone with very limited knowledge of physics, I still found myself wondering how in the heck you shoot an individual neutron into an atom. So, I was glad that while the book did attempt to explain the more technical aspects of fission, it didn’t spend so much time there that I felt stupid, lost, and gave up. There are plenty of other, more technical books to turn to if the science is your thing. What we’re more concerned with here are the implications of using the atomic bomb – the chain reaction not just of uranium against uranium, but of society and politics and dangerous knowledge.
There is no question where Fetter-Vorm falls in the question of nuclear ethics and I’ll admit that this isn’t something we were taught to consider in my history classes. One of the central questions that Fetter-Vorm poses isn’t one of whether the bomb could be created (we all know it was), but whether it should. There are several wordless pages of black and white imagery that drive home the idea that this wasn’t just a scientific concept, but something tangible that happened to people. Additionally, Fetter-Vorm sheds light on the fact that many of the workers on the Manhattan Project knew only of the small part to which they contributed. Their guilt once they were privy to the full scale of the job, combined with Oppenheimer’s post-bomb doubts, add a great depth of humanity to a usually cold subject. Through God’s grace, may we never have first-hand knowledge of what that is like, but it behooves us to consider the very real ramifications of this sort of scientific advancement.
Overall, Trinity may not be the most detailed history of the atomic bomb, but it’s a very readable one that could easily be incorporated into a school curriculum that aims to do more than share a pro-American chronicle of events. We may have “won” the war, but Fetter-Vorm forces us to wonder, at what cost? For he asserts that the bomb will have lasting effects, not just physically in the cities where it was dropped, but morally in our culture and politics today. Kids may be familiar with the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and nowhere is that more evident than in this part of our history.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a nonfiction book about technology, read a book about war, read an all-ages comic.]