Nevada Ghosts: photos from an early A-bomb test

Ben Cosgrove of Life says:

As the prospect of nuclear weapons testing by nations like North Korea and Iran once again makes headlines, presents rare and (mostly) unpublished pictures from the Nevada desert by photographer Loomis Dean shortly after a 1955 atomic bomb test.

These are not "political" pictures. They are, instead, eerily beautiful, unsettling photographs made at the height of the Cold War, when the destructive power of any atomic blast was jaw-droppingly huge, but positively miniscule compared to today's truly terrifying thermonuclear weapons. In short, these pictures from more than half a century ago serve as a quiet reminder of just how insane the very notion of nuclear warfare really is.

Nevada Ghosts: photos from an early A-bomb test


  1. When do we reach the point where the idea of any warfare is insane? No offense to Mark, but it needs to be said. And repeated as necessary.

    1. Yes, I agree with Sniffles. To state that these photos are not political is preposterous. War emerges from the politics of Men.As far as I know, the US is the only country ever to use atomic weapons on a civilian populace (Hiroshima/Nagasaki) – it sounds like Ben Cosgrove is saying that those atomic bombings were “miniscule” – there’s no one in the world who could convince me that these A-bomb test photos are art or eerily beautiful.

      1.  The Hiroshima bombing was indeed an atomic test. No U-235 “gun type” bomb had ever been tested.

        I an unsure whether the bombings were unjustified. They were certainly not the most deadly single raids of the war. Would Japan have surrendered without the atomic bombings? I don’t know. I do know that if the planned invasion of Japan had happened, many more Japanese would have died than died from the bombings.

        Maybe we were lucky that the bomb came when it did. The whole world got a warning that never would come if the bomb had not been used.

        1. “Would Japan have surrendered without the atomic bombings?”

          Who cares?  That simply cannot be part of the moral calculus.  If I want the contents of your wallet, and I can’t obtain it without stealing your wallet, does that play any role at all in determining whether stealing your wallet is justified?

          “They were certainly not the most deadly single raids of the war.”

          Every single bombing of civilians was a war crime. Simple as that. Doesn’t matter if they were conducted with fire bombs or atomic bombs.

          Robert McNamara, who was a part of the Air Force apparatus that directed the bombing campaign over Japan, discusses the issue. The salient part is over after about 4 minutes.

          1.  We already had a policy of mass killing of civilians. If you want to challenge that. The British already had that policy against Germany, and brought the US around to that way of thinking, though we usually denied it in the cases of killing Europeans.

            You can call this a war crime if you wish, and I agree that you have a good case. But mass civilian deaths were always a US policy for Japan as soon as this became possible. I make my evaluation of the morality of the atomic bombings in a context where where mass slaughter of civilians was already established policy. Your video link shows it was already policy. I consider it horrible it was established policy.

            In this context, demonstrating that there were new powers of destruction where three planes (there were observer planes in both cases) could cause the same damage as hundreds of planes with napalm is not that big of a deal.

            And I have to remind you that Olympic and other invasion plan involved the use of nerve gas and Lewisite gas, and all this while the civilian napalm raids continue.

        2. Though I can tell yours is a thoughtful comment, what exactly did the advent of the Atomic Bomb warn us about?

          1.  That Atomic warfare would give lots of people horrible fucked up deaths. Maybe that was worth learning that in a war where only two bombs were dropped rather than hundreds.

        3.  Interestingly, had the atomic bomb not been completed when it was, there was another idea just waiting in the wings — the ‘bat bomb’ and I am being serious. The idea was to drop bomb shaped casings with numerous compartments containing bats that had incendiary devices affixed to them. It seemed the idea worked far, far better than they had expected in a test run. See

        4. “Would Japan have surrendered without the atomic bombings?”
          The question should be, would the Japanese have surrendered if an Atomic Bomb was exploded off their coast with no loss of life, in order to prove our might? Yes, I know about fallout, and lives would have been lost also, but did the children need to die for the sins of the fathers? If you don’t think racism was involved you’re deluding yourself, all the “japs” were “subhuman”, that made the decison to drop much easier. Also, the second bomb was dropped without giving sufficient time for the Japanese government to respond to the first bomb. Once again, little kids didn’t need to die in order to create “a warning” for future generations, that’s revisionist thinking.

          Read “The Myths of August”

  2. One of my dreams in life is to find a place, like in these pictures, out in the Southwest. Off-road vehicle + no roads + abandoned nuclear test sites = fucking sweet. Thank you for sharing.

  3. “Ben Cosgrove”?  Is that yet another nom de plume for Ken Cosgrove/Ben Hargrove, when he’s not writing ad copy for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce or scribbling SF stories for the pulps?

  4. Ben Cosgrove of Life may be correct the pictures aren’t political but Ben’s writing is, Iran does not have nuclear weapons, conflating it with N Korea (who do have nuclear WMD) is sloppy. Conventional bombs make you just as dead as nuclear weapons, as Sniffles says, any warfare is insane.

  5. Do not wear synthetic fabric or cotton sun dress during a nuclear attack. Remove tie if still alive. Oh yeah, duck and cover.

  6. Mr. Smith, suburban everyman, is delighted to report that nuclear warfare is eminently survivable with a can-do attitude and proper cooperation with civil defense workers…

  7. If any other member of your family should die whilst in the shelter,
    put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes.

    Mine is the last voice that you will ever hear.
    Do not be alarmed.

  8. This is probably the Apple-2 test conducted to evaluate civil defense structures.  Looks like that particular structure failed.

    Also, it’s not an *early* A-bomb test, as they had been doing these tests already for 10 years. This was an unusual test in that they built all this stuff to see how people would be affected. Usually, they just set a bunch of soldiers way too close to the blast and watched them die from radiation poisoning or leukemia. 

  9. As someone who went through the Cuban missile crisis as a first grader in Houston, Texas, I kept looking for the school desks.  I’m certain that there would have been happy and safe dummies under those, right?  More school desks, that’s what they needed.

  10. At first glance, I thought that was a photo of James Marsters as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  11. Has there been much of an increase in bomb yields since 1955? I thought hydrogen bombs already existed then.

    1. They did test some huge H-bombs in the Pacific Ocean back then, but all of the Nevada tests were tiny A-bombs since otherwise the state would have been incinerated. Well, almost.

    2. I’m pretty sure you’re right. The Tsar Bomb (most powerful bomb ever built) was tested in 1961, and they only built one because it was too powerful to be practical, even by crazy Cold War logic. The U.S. never bothered with a bomb even that big. Once you can erase your biggest possible target with one hit, there’s no point in going bigger.

  12. A-Bombing Japan wasn’t (and isn’t) a question of “Was it morally right to do it ?”

    – It was a demonstration of how far things can and will go, in ANY conflict, before the other guy finally says “Uncle”. Morally “Right” doesn’t really enter into it.

  13. Not 1, not 2 but a total of over 2100 nuclear explosions since we figured it out.  Like a cop with a new Taser, somebody is getting screwed.  Hmm strangely enough Japan has a reactor go to pot and America has fallout…. Wow I have an idea, lets nuke the shit out of the Nevada desert, thereby insuring the fallout doesnt git california but pretty much blankets the rest of the entire US.

    Nah the sharp rise in skin problems, food problems, animal/fish deaths, cancer and diseases arent likely related to thousands of rampant nuclear experiments on domestic soil and oceans….

    1. A year after this particular test, John Wayne’s movie about Genghis Khan, The Conqueror, was filmed 137 miles downwind of the site.  Of the 220 people in the cast and crew, 91 of them had developed some form of cancer by 1981.  Director Dick Powell and stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, John Hoyt, and Pedro Armendáriz all developed terminal cancer.

      Of course, The Duke smoked six packs a day, too.

  14. “the prospect of nuclear weapons testing by nations like North Korea and Iran”

    …except Iran does not have nuclear weapons, is not interested in building nuclear weapons, and will obviously not be testing any nuclear weapons. But let’s not let unfortunate facts get in the way of warmongering propaganda!

  15. Sadly, the “madder” world leaders get, the more likely they will consider the nuclear option as sane. Once a nuclear war would start, then the only sure thing you could say, is that increased profits would be short-lived (for maybe half an hour after the war started). Is there anything more insane than backing Iran in a corner, thereby making SURE that they develop what we cornered the market on and don’t want them to develop? Do as we say, not as we do! Iran may be a nutty theocracy, but we’re making them nuttier.

  16. There’s a movie I’ve been trying to find for years that I remember as a kid late at night on TV of two guys having a fistfight in an abandoned nuclear test dummy town, complete with mannequins in houses.

    Anyone know what it is?

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