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[Nettime-bold] World Trade Center premonition 1973
Steve on Fri, 28 Sep 2001 02:30:17 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-bold] World Trade Center premonition 1973


Free society will survive terrorism. John McPhee wrote, in The Curve of
Binding Energy (1973):

        To many people who have participated professionally in the
       advancement of the nuclear age, it seems not just possible but
more and
       more apparent that nuclear explosions will again take place in
cities. ...
       What will happen when the explosions come --- when a part of New
       York or Cairo or Adelaide has been hollowed out by a device in
the
       kiloton range? Since even a so-called fizzle yield could kill a
number of
       thousands of people, how many nuclear detonations can the world
       tolerate?

        Answers --- again from professional people --- vary, but many
will say
       that while there is necessarily a limit to the amount of nuclear
destruction
       society can tolerate, the limit is certainly not zero. Remarks
by, for
       example, contemporary chemists, physicists, and engineers go like
this
       (the segments of dialogue are assembled but not invented):

        "I think we have to live with the expectation that once every
four or five
       years a nuclear explosion will take place and kill a lot of
people."

        ...

        "What fraction of a society has to be knocked out to make it
collapse?
       We have some benchmarks. None collapsed in the Second World War."

        "The largest bomb that has ever been exploded anywhere was sixty

       megatons, and that is one-thousandth the force of an earthquake,
       one-thousandth the force of a hurricane. We have lived with
earthquakes
       and hurricanes for a long time."

        "It is often assumed that a full-blown nuclear war would be the
end of
       life on earth. That is far from the truth. To end life on earth
would take at
       least a thousand times the total yield of all the nuclear
explosives existing
       in the world, and probably a lot more."

        "After a bomb goes off, and the fire ends, quiet descends again,
and life
       continues."

        ...

        "At the start of the First World War, the high-explosive shell
was
       described as 'the ultimate weapon.' It was said that the war
could not last
       more than two weeks. Then they discovered dirt. They found they
could
       get away from the high-explosive shell in trenches. When
hijackers start
       holding up whole nations and exploding nuclear bombs, we must
again
       discover dirt. We can live with these bombs. The power of dirt
will be
       reexploited."

        "There is an intensity that society can tolerate. This means
that x
       number could die with y frequency in nuclear blasts and society
would
       absorb it. This is really true. Ten x and ten y might go beyond
the
       intensity limit."

        "I can imagine a rash of these things happening. I can imagine
--- in the
       worst situation --- hundreds of explosions a year."

        "I see no way of anything happening where the rubric of society
would
       collapse, where the majority of the human race would just curl up
its toes
       and not care what happens after that. The collective human spirit
is more
       powerful than all the bombs we have. Even if quite a few nuclear
       explosions go off and they become part of our existence,
civilization
       won't collapse. We will adapt. We will go on. But the whole thing
is so
       unpleasant. It is worth moving mountains, if we have to, to avoid
it."

 And near the end of The Curve of Binding Energy, McPhee and Theodore
Taylor (former nuclear weapon designer) are on the road together:

        Driving down from Peekskill, another time, we found ourselves on

       Manhattan's West Side Highway just at sunset and the beginning of

       dusk. There ahead of us several miles, and seeming to rise right
out of
       the road, were the two towers of the World Trade Center, windows
       blazing with interior light and with red reflected streaks from
the sunset
       over New Jersey. We had been heading for midtown but impulsively
       kept going, drawn irresistibly toward two of the tallest
buildings in the
       world. We went down the Chambers Street ramp and parked, in a
       devastation of rubble, beside the Hudson River. Across the water,
in
       New Jersey, the Colgate sign, a huge neon clock as red as the
sky, said
       6:15. We looked up the west wall of the nearer tower. From so
close, so
       narrow an angle, there was nothing at the top to arrest the eye,
and the
       building seemed to be some sort of probe touching the earth from
the
       darkness of space. "What an artifact that is!" Taylor said, and
he walked
       to the base and paced it off. We went inside, into a wide,
uncolumned
       lobby. The building was standing on its glass-and-steel walls and
on its
       elevator core. Neither of us had been there before. We got into
an
       elevator. He pressed, at random, 40. We rode upward in a silence
broken
       only by the muffled whoosh of air and machinery and by Taylor's
       describing where the most effective place for a nuclear bomb
would be.

        ...

        We went down a stairway a flight or two and out onto an
unfinished
       floor. Piles of construction materials were here and there, but
otherwise
       the space was empty, from the elevator core to the glass facade.
"I can't
       think in detail about this subject, considering what would happen
to
       people, without getting very upset and not wanting to consider it
at all,"
       Taylor said. ... Walking to a window of the eastern wall, he
looked across
       a space of about six hundred feet, past the other Trade Center
tower, to a
       neighboring building, at 1 Liberty Plaza. "Through free air, a
kiloton
       bomb will send a lethal dose of immediate radiation up to half a
mile," he
       went on. "Or, up to a thousand feet, you'd be killed by
projectiles.
       Anyone in an office facing the Trade Center would die. People in
that
       building over there would get it in every conceivable way. Gamma
rays
       would get them first. Next comes visible light. Next the
neutrons. Then
       the air shock. Then missiles. Unvaporized concrete would go out
of here
       at the speed of a rifle shot. A steel-and-concrete missile flux
would go out
       one mile and would include in all maybe a tenth the weight of the

       building, about five thousand tons." He pressed up against the
glass and
       looked far down to the plaza between the towers. "If you exploded
a
       bomb down there, you could conceivably wind up with the World
Trade
       Center's two buildings leaning against each other and still
standing," he
       said. "There's no question at all that if someone were to place a

       half-kiloton bomb on the front steps where we came in, the
building
       would fall into the river."


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