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Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2003

Face to Face with the Bomb: Nuclear Reality After the Cold War

Prologue by Paul Shambroom

 

  I thought a lot about atom bombs as a kid, maybe more than most other kids. I wrote this haiku in fifth grade:

 

Look up in the sky.

See the pretty mushroom cloud.

Soon we will be dead.

 

            My teacher became very agitated, showing a weird mixture of pride and horror. She must have thought my poem represented the terrible psychological burden children were carrying because of the bomb. That was around 1966, four years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. By then schools had stopped holding the "duck and cover" drills that had been common in the late fifties and early sixties, although I have vague recollections from kindergarten or first grade of hiding under my desk or solemnly filing to the school basement fallout shelter.

            I remember a vivid dream from around the same time. It was nighttime. There was an orange glow in the sky, and things were burning everywhere. People were quietly wandering in a daze around our suburban neighborhood, although no one appeared to be dead or injured. No one spoke, but I and everyone else knew that "this was it" and that we would never see the light of morning.

            One summer evening when I was few years older I was walking by myself near the Hackensack River in New Jersey when I heard and felt an earth-shaking rumble and saw a glow off in the distant sky. For a few seconds I thought the apocalypse was actually at hand. My heart beating wildly, I waited for the shock wave, but it never came. Instead, the incident turned out to have been an explosion at one of the huge chemical refineries in the meadowlands fifteen miles away.

            In spite of these strong childhood memories, I was not obsessed with daily thoughts of the bomb, nor was anyone else I knew. The bomb was just part of our world, disturbing and sinister but unseen, remote, and ultimately unthinkable. My fear was similar to that raised by the science shows on television explaining the remote chance of an asteroid colliding with the earth. This seemed possible, in a way, but unlikely and completely beyond anyone's control. Who could imagine such a thing actually happening? Who would want to?

            It was not until adulthood and the birth of my own child that I came back to these thoughts with the realization that some things exist whether we can imagine them or not. For a child, the pile of unfinished homework or the broken vase cease to exist if he leaves the room and closes the door. Such denial seems to be true for many adults as well, and by extension for whole nations and societies.

            Maybe as a child I thought about nuclear weapons more than others, but I think everyone alive since 1945 has carried a profound awareness of them someplace inside. We live with the knowledge that we have the means to eradicate our own species.

            My father was convinced that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved his life (and made mine possible). In 1945 he was a navy officer on a landing-craft control ship preparing to invade the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. My father believed that had the invasion taken place, he would have been one of the many predicted U.S. casualties (some predicted as many as one million). Following the Japanese surrender he visited Nagasaki as part of the occupying force. I have a snapshot of him and his buddies at ground zero eight months after the "Fat Man" atom bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. Although he loved to talk at length about his navy days ("some of the best days of my life"), he never told me about this portion of his navy career until the last years of his life, and then only with considerable prodding.

            Historians have debated whether it was necessary to drop the atom bombs in order to bring about the surrender of Japan. For my father and most other Americans of his generation, however, the wartime use of nuclear weapons seemed justifiable and necessary.

            When I first had the idea of photographing nuclear weapons in 1989, I had little understanding of my own motivations. I had previously produced several photographic series on hidden places of power: factories, corporate offices, police stations. Nuclear weapons seemed like a natural extension of this work--the ultimate in power, and the ultimate professional challenge, to gain access to them and show what is hidden.

            As I proceeded, however, I realized that I was driven by something much deeper and more fundamental. I came to the awareness that for me the bomb takes up a lot of emotional space, mostly far below the surface. The bomb may have played a part in bringing me into the world. It certainly has played a part in shaping who I am. I felt an almost irresistible compulsion to confront this hidden entity that had made my birth possible and been the bogeyman of my childhood.

 

 

As I began researching avenues of access to nuclear weapons sites, I quickly learned how ignorant I had been about military structure, culture, and procedures. If I had had any idea how difficult and lengthy the process of gaining access would be, I probably wouldn't have even attempted it.

            I also learned that I had come to the project with a misguided paranoia about the military's interest in conducting background checks. I assumed that anyone trying to visit the very heart of the nuclear weapons establishment would be thoroughly investigated, but this seemed not to be the case with me. Although my political activities have always been legal and fairly mainstream, I have family members and friends for whom the same cannot be said. This never proved to be a problem. It is possible that the government did check me out and was so slick that I never knew what it was doing, but I doubt that very much. All that was ever required was that I give my Social Security number and state that I am a U.S. citizen.

            In spite of my ignorance and fears, I proceeded with guarded optimism. I operated on the idealistic belief that "I'm a citizen and taxpayer, this is my stuff, and if I ask the right people in the right way eventually they'll let me in." Amazingly, I was right.

            My timing was also incredibly lucky. I did this work during a brief window of opportunity, a window that was opened by the ending of the cold war and resoundingly shut by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

            Had the cold war been in full swing at the start of the project, it's unlikely I would have gotten to square one. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, there was a slight but noticeable loosening of secrecy at nuclear weapons facilities. The first and most obvious reason for this was that there was a reduced likelihood of foreign espionage. Our former enemy could hardly afford to pay the electric bills at their nuclear weapons installations, let alone send agents to spy on ours.

            I suspect, though, that this was not a primary factor in the military's decision to allow me access. I don't think I saw or photographed anything that our adversaries, past or present, have not already seen. I learned that there is a big difference between "classified" (and its various shadings up to and beyond "top secret") and "unseen." I have photographed the unseen things, the things the general public has not been allowed (or never asked) to see.

            So why were U.S. citizens previously not allowed to see these things? Partly because the military didn't believe we had the right or need to, partly to maintain a mystique, and partly because of bureaucratic inertia and a tradition of secrecy dating back to the Manhattan Project during World War II. Potential enemies trying to build their own weapons or defend against ours would be provided with little useful information by the kind of access I was allowed. The opportunity to look at a warhead, bomber, or submarine would not give our enemies the knowledge or manufacturing ability to make one for themselves. It would, however, convince them that ours are real. Most of these sites have long been visible to curious parties with the proper resources. High resolution satellite cameras and other surveillance techniques provided observers in the former Soviet Union with clear views of things that the U.S. public was hardly aware existed.

            The military devotes tremendous resources to protecting things that it really wants to remain secret, but it allowed and even encouraged our cold war foes to see the full range of our nuclear capability. Seeing is believing, and believing is essential to the logic of deterrence. The dilemma for our government was to figure out how to reveal enough information about our weapons of mass destruction to terrorize our enemies without terrorizing its own citizens.

            I believe the main reason for the loosening of nuclear secrecy in the 1990s was the need for positive public relations. The military in general, and the strategic nuclear forces in particular, faced severe funding cuts and increasingly needed to justify its existence to the American public. The days of black budgets and blank checks were over. Nuclear weapons interests, both in the military and industry, felt their influence and prosperity threatened by every new arms reduction proposal. In response, the military took a lesson from corporate America (which is, ironically, structured after the military command model). To convince the board of directors (the legislative branch) to approve funding, the military made its case directly to the shareholders--the American taxpaying public.

            Using increasingly sophisticated public relations techniques, military leaders attempted to raise the visibility of the nuclear forces and tailor the media "spin" on that information to their own ends. I was very careful not to misrepresent my intentions to the military at any time. I used the phrase, "My intention with these photographs is neither to criticize nor glorify," in many of my letters to military authorities. But, although I never said that this project would promote the cause of nuclear weapons, I must assume that the Pentagon calculated that it would benefit from the exposure.

            Hence the slight parting of the veil of secrecy at the very moment when I began seeking access to nuclear weapons. This access continued (with ebbs and flows) for ten years, until I made my final authorized visit to Naval Submarine Base King's Bay in Georgia, in August 2001. One month later, four commercial airliners were hijacked and piloted into New York City's World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. The assumptions, priorities, and methods of the U.S. military profoundly shifted, and my project was unquestionably finished. The long-term effects of the terrorists' attacks on openness of government and freedom of information are yet to be known, but it is clear that the military criterion of "the need to know" now supersedes public relations considerations. (Although I did not seek any access to take any new photographs after the September 11 attacks, I did request and receive assistance from military authorities in fact-checking the notes just prior to publication.)

            I suspect that when I first made my proposal in 1990, the military authorities had no idea of what to do with me. They had procedures and staff for handling media and VIP requests, but there was probably nothing in their policy manuals regarding "artist/photographers who intend to demystify."

            After getting advice and a letter of recommendation from my congressman's office, I sent my first requests to the navy and the air force in August 1990. The navy promptly responded, "Unfortunately, due to security considerations, we cannot support your request. Because of the security level aboard nuclear submarines, underway photography cannot be permitted. Thank you again for your interest, and best of luck on your project." Disappointed but not terribly surprised, I wrote back asking if I could photograph on board a submarine while it was in port. I didn't hear back for several months, at which point the war in the Persian Gulf began and security was heightened at all U.S. military installations. Not surprisingly, I received a letter from a Navy Media Services officer in March of 1991 stating that the navy still could not support my request "for a variety of reasons." The letter ended, "Please do not hesitate to revisit this idea at a later date." A flicker of hope was still alive.

            In late April 1991, immediately after the end of the Gulf War, I wrote again asking to visit a submarine base. In September 1991 the navy responded, "After much consideration, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Undersea Warfare has approved this project as an ideal way for the American people to see the complex and highly technological environment in which submariners work. The idea of making this environment look aesthetic is especially appealing." Did I say that I would make the environment look "aesthetic"? I didn't think I had, but I wasn't going to argue.

            After more than a year, I had finally gotten preliminary approval from the navy. The air force was a different story. A year after writing my first letter I still had received no response. Encouraged by my success with the navy, I called the air force public affairs office at the Pentagon to see what had happened to my request. It turned out that the general I had written to (on advice from my congressman) had been retired for years, and no one had seen my letter. I promptly sent a new letter, in which I mentioned the navy's approval, hoping to play on interservice public relations rivalry.

            The air force responded in the affirmative within one month. In September 1991, for the first time, I knew that my project was actually going to happen. I was eager to begin photographing, lest the authorities change their minds or start a new war.

            Even with a general endorsement from public affairs officials at the Pentagon, I had to get approval and make individual arrangements with each base I wished to visit. Thus began the second and more frustrating portion of my dance with the military bureaucracy.

            I came to learn that access to various areas on a single base can be controlled by distinct and separate chains of command, often with headquarters at several locations around the country. The structures and personnel of the strategic weapons chains of command were undergoing major changes in the aftermath of the cold war, so I was faced with a daunting and ever changing array of personalities, internal politics, acronyms, and terminology.

            As my requests were approved, after having been passed up and down the various chains of command, I found that they often became stalled in the public affairs offices of the individual bases. Whether due to staffing shortages or just plain confusion over how to handle me, my visits often remained at the bottom of a base's scheduling priority list, regardless of the high level of approval. Months would go by without any word. I would call the public affairs office and be told, "Oh, don't worry, we haven't forgotten about you." And then several more months would go by.

 

The torturously long periods of negotiations and arrangements for each photography excursion added to my sense, as I began each visit, of having infiltrated a bizarre and alien world.

            On my first trip, to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, I was stricken with a sensation that I would feel repeatedly throughout the project. It was the sound, sight, and smell of money being spent--lots of money. My escort and I stood by a runway, amidst the odor of jet fuel, and watched a constant stream of B-1B and B-52 bombers taking off and landing on training runs. The deafening roar brought to mind an image of a giant waterfall, with a wide, endless river of dollar bills cascading into a void.

            At most bases officials imposed several conditions that made photography very difficult. I was under constant escort, for security reasons. There was rarely enough time scheduled to allow for the slow, methodical way in which I prefer to work. The itineraries were often inflexible, so there was little opportunity to respond to changing light or unfolding opportunities at particular locations. In addition, I sometimes had to agree to have my film processed by the military and then undergo security review before it would be released. This condition made me particularly uneasy, because the quality of the processing at the in-house photo labs was often not up to professional standards. Some negatives came back smudged, scratched, or improperly washed.

            I feared that my pictures would be scrutinized for viewpoint and content, rather than for purely security considerations. With a few exceptions this proved not to be the case. As far as I know, only a handful of frames were retained throughout the entire project, and most of these were kept only because they showed some particular technology or dial on an instrument that revealed classified information. My escorts and I made a conscious effort to stay away from such areas, and apparently we were successfule for the most part.

            My escorts from the base public affairs offices were usually quite helpful and open-minded. Several told me that they support the rights of the demonstrators who gather regularly outside the gates of their bases, and some even went so far as to stop and chat with them and look at their literature. In private conversations some were critical of the military for not being more open to the public. Most seemed to take a genuine interest in my project and did whatever they could to help arrange access to the areas I wanted to see. They sympathized with my frustration in dealing with the various bureaucracies, and adopted what approached an "us against them" attitude when trying to get me into sensitive areas. One even suggested that I hide my exposed film when we were approached by security officers after inadvertently photographing in a classified area (knowing that the film would undergo security review at the end of my visit anyway). In contrast, others only grudgingly offered assistance and questioned their superiors' wisdom in granting me access.

            Many of them had a wry sense of humor. I was told on more than one occasion, after asking to see a particularly sensitive area, "Sure, we could show you that. But then we'd have to kill you." While photographing in a Pentagon command center, I noticed a special telephone installed by the seat of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and asked what it was for. "For calling people," my escort deadpanned. At a weapons maintenance depot I was served coffee in a mug with the inscription "We live so others may die" under a mushroom cloud. (It was produced as a fund-raiser for their softball team. I bought as many as I could carry to give as holiday gifts.) There were limits to what could be joked about. On one visit I overheard my escort and another officer discussing a 1970s psychedelic band. Sensing common musical interests, I joked that I had been surprised upon my arrival to find that the flags were not at half-staff, to note the passing of musician and counterculture icon Frank Zappa, who had died the previous day. The public affairs officer said, in a humorless voice, "Frank Zappa was no friend of the military."

            The complexity of the paperwork and clearance procedures required to visit some areas was maddening. Every "i" had to be dotted and every "t" crossed, or there would be no access. The public affairs escorts responsible for making these arrangements sometimes neglected crucial details. Once, after driving several hours to a remote missile Launch Control Facility and showing our documents, we were told: "Yes, you have permission to be here, but there's no paperwork allowing you to take pictures."

            Security procedures varied widely at the different installations, and they sometimes bordered on the bizarre. At underground missile Launch Control Centers, I had to put down my camera and stand with my face to the rear wall of the capsule whenever certain coded messages were being received. To enter the warhead storage and maintenance area at one air force base, I had to walk down a narrow path across a no man's land (presumably mined) between two razor-wire-topped fences, undergo a body and equipment search, and approach a metal booth that looked like a confessional. After sliding two forms of picture ID (my driver's license and YMCA card) through a narrow slit, I was asked one question by the unseen soldier inside: "Are you under any form of duress?" I was uncertain what he meant, so I said "no," hoping that was the right answer.

            Although I tried to avoid doing so, I sometimes inadvertently saw something that was classified. Once while I was inside a missile silo photographing maintenance work, some people who weren't part of the regular crew pulled back the curtain covering the top and started installing a strange-looking device on the ledge over the missile tube. I continued shooting, and after climbing out of the silo I received some bad news from my escort. I was told that the equipment was top secret and "didn't exist." This was extremely upsetting, because I had some idea from spy movies what can happen to people when they see things that "don't exist." All that the team did, though, was confiscate my film and later return it to me after determining that their device was not showing.

            In order to gain access to the USSTRATCOM (formerly the Strategic Air Command) Underground Command Center, I had to agree to additional security requirements. I was not allowed to bring my own equipment, even though I had offered to send it ahead of time for examination. The public affairs officer told me, "This may sound a little like James Bond, but they are concerned about hidden recording devices and things like that." Also, I was not allowed to take the pictures myself. Instead, I set up and composed each shot and adjusted the camera settings, and then turned the camera over to a young air force photographer. The photographer would load and unload the camera, and would release the shutter on my command. He seemed as baffled as I was by the arrangement, but he did his best to accommodate me.

            The USSTRATCOM Underground Command Center and several other areas had to be "scrubbed" or "sanitized" before I was allowed to enter. This meant that all sensitive documents had to be covered, and all computer screens had to be cleared of classified data. I was greeted at one site by a wall-sized computer display reading, "Welcome . . . Paul Shambroom . . . to the USSTRATCOM Command Center." I tried not to rearrange things or pose people for this project, in hopes of documenting areas in their natural working states. In the command centers, though, this was not possible, so they put up computer displays that might look vaguely realistic. At USSTRATCOM the only unclassified monitor display they could find was the Cable News Network, which they apparently often watch anyway.

            My unfamiliarity with military terminology almost had serious consequences at one air force site. I was traveling by helicopter to remote missile facilities in order to make landscape photographs. I asked my escort if we could stop at a Launch Control Facility which we had not previously made arrangements to visit. We landed outside the fence, and after a discussion with the facility manager my escort whispered to me, "We have to get out of here, they're going to jack us up." I thought she meant they might get irritated with us and tried to convince her there would be no harm in taking a few shots around the outside. She said more insistently, "No, <sc>WE REALLY HAVE TO GO</sc> or they're going to jack us up!" After we got back in the helicopter and took off she explained what "jacking up" means: a guard pushes you onto the ground or against a fence with the muzzle of his M-16 (safety off) at your back and handcuffs you. Apparently the "cops" (the nickname for the security troops) are authorized to do this to anyone, regardless of rank, who does not follow correct procedures around nuclear weapons. I was told, "They live just to jack people up."

            Military people used terminology that seemed a denial of the real function of the hardware. Words such as "bomb" and "warhead" are rarely used. Instead, the air force uses the acronym "RV" (for "Reentry Vehicle"). The navy, perhaps just to be different, uses "RB" (for "Reentry Body"). I was sharply corrected the first time I referred to the MX missile and told that the official name is "Peacekeeper." Bombs are "gravity weapons." Warheads are jokingly referred to as "physics packages." Anything nuclear is "non-conventional."

            To my civilian ears, some of the terminology seemed so ridiculous that I wondered how they could use it with a straight face. The main technical area in the USSTRATCOM Command Center is called the "Essential Element." I wondered if the person responsible for this name ever saw Dr. Strangelove, in which a renegade air force officer is convinced the Communists are trying to deplete his "life essences" and "precious bodily fluids" through various sinister methods.

            I was the object of stares and great curiosity in many restricted areas, because it was so rare to see anybody taking pictures, let alone a civilian. I sometimes felt I was visiting a primitive society that had never seen a camera before. My passes were inspected over and over again by officers and cops who had trouble believing that I was actually authorized to be there.

            When doing this work I usually had simultaneous feelings of horror and fascination. Horror, because being around such potentially deadly weapons just gave me the creeps. Fascination, because, as with many American males, I grew up with a strong attraction to weapons and technology.

            During the long work days I was usually preoccupied with the photographic process, the effort to stay creatively focused, and the constant negotiations with my hosts over access to particular areas. It was only after I left the bases at the end of the day that I had time to contemplate the implications of what I had seen. I found these after-work periods very unsettling. Rather than sit in my hotel room, I would often go for long evening walks or drives, during which I would feel delayed but powerful emotional responses to the day's experiences. The dubious privilege of being able to touch, see, and walk among the physical manifestations of our societal nightmare left me shaken.

            Perhaps I was being two-faced, but while photographing I embraced my feelings of fascination and suppressed my feelings of horror in order to get along better with the people around me. I truly was amazed and curious about the incredible technology and engineering behind our nuclear weapons systems. I asked lots of questions about how particular gadgets or systems worked. I often had extended conversations on various nuclear strategies and technologies with my escorts and field personnel while traveling to remote sites. As they found that I was well informed on these subjects, they seemed to become more open and less suspicious of me. Sometimes, though, a raised eyebrow or awkward silence told me we had reached the limits of unclassified information and that it was time to change the subject.

 

 

            Between 1992 and 2001 I made thirty-four visits to photograph at twenty-five weapons and command sites (not counting hundreds of individual ICBM silos), in twenty states and abroad. My self-imposed parameters were to photograph deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and infrastructure that were current as of the end of the cold war. (Strategic weapons are weapons targeted at an opponent's nuclear weapons, command centers, or civilian populations, whereas tactical weapons are intended for use against enemy troop concentrations or to achieve other battlefield objectives.) I excluded tactical weapons, obsolete or retired weapons, and weapons development, testing, and manufacturing (with the exception of missile defense research). Over the course of ten years I learned a great deal and was forced to reevaluate some previously held notions. But my basic convictions about the monumental folly of nuclear arms were strengthened and confirmed.

            The level of access I was given surprised me and led me to become more patriotic in ways I never expected. I believe our Founding Fathers did a remarkable job of crafting a governmental system that remains open and accountable. I approached this project with the inherent privilege of being a white, college-educated American male, but other than that I had no special entr e ore or connections. With patience, persistence, and a legitimate purpose I was permitted inside America's most hidden and feared power structure. Overall, the system--in its own tangled and inefficient way--is more open to its citizens than I would have guessed. Much of what I've seen has not been shown before simply because no one has asked and been willing to go through the necessary procedures.

            There were, of course, many areas that I was not permitted to visit. In spite of repeated requests, I was only able to see and photograph the nuclear devices themselves (outside their delivery systems) at two of the air force bases I visited, and at none of the navy bases. Following policy, my hosts usually would neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons, even while I was photographing submarines and missiles that certainly contained them. Once, when requesting access to photograph warheads (on assignment for the New York Times Magazine in 1998), the air force accused me of having fabricated my earlier warhead photos. A public affairs officer said that it was impossible that they would ever have given such permission, and that the photos I was showing them must be fakes (an accusation that they later retracted when confronted by the magazine's outraged photo editor).

            I was denied permission to photograph any of the "continuation of government" doomsday leadership bunkers, including the underground White House command center. When I asked about the Mount Weather "Special Facility" bunker in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director of public affairs looked me in the eye and denied knowledge of its existence. (FEMA has since publicly acknowledged this site, believed to be where some of the country's leaders were evacuated after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.) I was unequivocally denied access to the military's largest nuclear storage depots at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The Department of Energy (DOE) completely ignored my requests to photograph weapons disassembly and plutonium pit storage operations at the Pantex facility in Texas. In contrast to the courtesy I universally received from military personnel, DOE officials never even acknowledged my letters and phone messages.

 

 

            As I began this project, I had rather rigid ideas about what type of people would choose to work with nuclear weapons. I expected mindless automatons, but I was wrong. My public affairs escorts and many of the people directly responsible for maintaining and launching weapons seemed intelligent, thoughtful, and committed. Many of those I met ardently support the constitutional right of ordinary people to have free access to information, although this is not a unanimous sentiment among military personnel. I could not do the work that they do, but I have grown to respect them and the choices they have made. I'm sure they believe they are doing the right thing for America.

            Nuclear weapons appear to be technologically sound, and to be safely and efficiently maintained by bright, competent, normal people. I'm convinced that, if ordered to do so, these people will launch the weapons, and the weapons will function as they're designed to. I make these assessments without any pretense of expertise, simply as a citizen who has been permitted an intimate look.

            It was never my intention to change anyone's mind about nuclear weapons. My modest ambition is only to help people believe that they are real, and to help people see through the abstract haze of policy debate and think about them in concrete terms. Real in an everyday, familiar, undeniable way.

            It's natural to want, to need not to believe that hardware for our extinction exists, is made of real nuts and bolts, and is kept at the ready by living, breathing, human beings. I've seen that nuclear weapons are real, and I'm terrified in a way that I never was before. Like Chicken Little, I feel compelled to spread the word. Not that the sky is falling, but that the means exist to make it fall. This may seem like old news, at least intellectually. But I've experienced firsthand the tremendous difference between knowledge and belief. Seeing is believing.

            "We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his 2001 Nobel Peace Prize lecture. The carnage visited on America by terrorists on September 11, 2001, although it was delivered through unconventional means, was caused by conventional forces of impact, explosion, and fire. The energy released was equivalent to a small tactical nuclear weapon. Thousands of people died instantly as the World Trade Center towers collapsed, instant mass death on a magnitude that the world has previously experienced only in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It takes but a small step of imagination to extrapolate to the number of deaths that would be caused by a modern nuclear weapon exploded in an urban area. It is a step of imagination I fear that many of us are unable or willing to take. My photographs may help bring nuclear technology out of the realm of abstraction, but they only show us the hardware, not the violence. Perhaps the previously unimaginable horror of September 11, 2001, will enable us to consider the nuclear reality we have created in a way we couldn't before.

            The world today may seem like a very different place compared to the world I lived in as a fifth grader in 1966, but we still all carry the same psychological burden that my teacher recognized in me. In that sense, very little has changed. Except, perhaps, that new concerns about American domestic security have replaced our cold war fears of instant death delivered by Communist bombers and missiles. Kids today don't hide under their desks, and they probably don't think much about nuclear weapons at all. Except my son, who is unfortunately burdened with a father who is obsessed with them. I thought about atom bombs a lot as a kid, but now I think about them all the time.