Thursday, August 06, 2015

70 Years After Hiroshima: Nuclear Threat Remains

“If I were asked to name the most important date in the history and prehistory of the human race,” wrote author Arthur Koestler in the 1978 prologue to his final book, Janus: A Summing Up, “I would answer without hesitation, 6 August 1945.”

Before then, each person lived with the prospect of individual death, he explained.  But “since the day when the first atomic bomb outshone the sun over Hiroshima, mankind as a whole has had to live with the prospect of its extinction as a species.”

Seventy years later, the danger of instant eradication in a global nuclear war seems past, and we are becoming more conscious of ecological threats to long-term human survival. But the nuclear threat is not over, nor is it confined to the possibility of isolated terrorist attacks. The threat of human extinction that begins with a nuclear exchange may still exist.

While most attention has focused on the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the near future, some 15,700 nuclear bombs are in the hands of 9 other countries right now, including some 5,000 weapons in active deployment.

All 9 countries with nuclear bombs are either expanding their arsenals, building new delivery systems or modernizing old weapons and systems.

Though the U.S. and Russia have reduced the number of weapons from Cold War levels, together they maintain about 1800 missiles carrying thermonuclear bombs on hair-trigger alert, ready to fire within minutes and therefore most susceptible to momentary miscalculation and accident.

Those of us who lived through the Cold War could read and see films about how powerful each one of these bombs can be: vaporizing every living thing for miles, igniting firestorms and spreading radiation for hundreds of miles or more, killing and maiming for years, with documented cases of genetic deformities in the next generation.

These terminal dangers were embedded in popular culture for decades. But as memories of Hiroshima and the Cold War recede, so apparently does awareness of the nature and danger of nuclear weapons.

 The US has ten times the number of nuclear weapons that US citizens believe there are, according to polls.  A survey of members of Congress revealed that almost none of them knew how many nuclear weapons are in the US arsenal.  But the US is not the exception--several studies show that knowledge about nuclear weapons today is low.

In popular culture today, nuclear war has been reduced to the bright explosions and apocalyptic fantasies of video games, including the latest version of Fallout Shelter. “Simulate a beautiful nuclear war right in your browser,” says the headline of a recent Popular Mechanics post.

More worrisome are movies and TV dramas that treat nuclear bombs like conventional explosions, only a bit bigger and more colorful. For example, in the 2014 Hollywood remake of Godzilla, a nuclear bomb many times more powerful than the Hiroshima device was detonated on the water apparently within view of the San Francisco shoreline without damage to the city or its people. Not even a wave. 

This is an irony worthy of Doctor Strangelove, since the original Japanese Godzilla movie was a response to the radiation dangers of hydrogen bomb tests in 1954, directed by a man who had seen Hiroshima shortly after its atomic destruction.

To misconstrue the true nature and difference of nuclear weapons could lead to horrific mistakes. The Physicians for Social Responsibility calculated that a relatively small nuclear “bunker buster” attack on Iran would result in 3 million deaths within 48 hours, and expose some 35 million to radiation. Radioactive fallout would reach into Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.  Radiation killed almost twice as many people in Hiroshima over the following five years than died on August 6, 1945.

But even without radiation as a factor, research conducted a few years ago found that a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan (for instance) could lead to global famine within a few years, due to ozone layer damage caused by massive urban firestorms. If that study is correct, it’s another reason that a larger nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia could still lead to human extinction.  
In particular, the danger of instant nuclear annihilation remains because of those missiles on hair-trigger alert, especially with tension between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine and other matters, and both sides talking about nuclear options.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama are among the many leaders who have advocated an end to hair-trigger status. President Obama has the authority to take at least the 450 land-based ICBMs off hair-trigger. If Russian President Putin is serious about recent conciliatory statements, he could match that action. The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb would be a powerful moment to do so.

My essay on the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima, and my essay that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on the 60th anniversary.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Return of the Bomb (2006)

This week in 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bomb dropped on human beings in Hiroshima, Japan.  It is yet another year in which awareness of the danger of nuclear weapons seems to be dangerously waning.  In a few days, I will post a new essay on that.

But that ignorance has recurred for at least a decade, as the end of the Cold War and the dogs of war unleashed by 9-11 continue to encourage that blithe ignorance, that stupid bravado, that sooner or later might well end the human race.  For that danger is just as alive now as at any other time since 1945.

The idea of using nuclear weapons has been raised in 2015 by both Russia and (in veiled language) by US and European allies, all around the time that the Ukraine was a hotspot.  Before then, the last time it was seriously discussed was in 2006, when the Bush administration was caught suggesting that nuclear bunker-buster bombs could be deployed against sites in Iran that were suspected to be gearing up for possibly creating an atomic weapon at some unknown time in the future.

As I write this, the treaty negotiated with Iran by the world's major power to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon is being opposed by ranking Republicans and others, some of whom contend that only the destruction of Iran will be sufficient.

The following is a slightly re-ordered essay I wrote in 2006, that was posted at Daily Kos and several other political community blogs.

Return of The Bomb

When he read the first detailed reports on the development of the atomic bomb in the same issue of the New York Times that told of that bomb’s first use in destroying Hiroshima, Norman Cousins wrote an essay that would be published within days in the magazine he edited, the Saturday Review of Literature. Though it may sound like a sedate and specialized publication now, it was widely read, with over a half million subscribers. It became a well-known and much discussed essay, especially when Cousins expanded it into a small book, titled Modern Man Is Obsolete.

 Cousins advanced several philosophical and political arguments in this essay, but he began with the most vital assertion: the dropping of the bomb meant that humanity had entered an entirely new era. Total destruction of civilization and possibly of humankind, perhaps of most life on earth, was now possible.

 This fact had to brought into the consciousness of the species, so humanity could try to take control of its fate. The power of the atomic bomb “must be dramatized and kept in the forefront of public opinion, “ he wrote. “The full dimension of the peril must be seen and recognized.”

Operation Crossroads Able July 1, 1946
But that task was always going to be difficult, as he learned just a year later. Cousins was one of the reporters who witnessed the first postwar atomic bomb test at Bikini island, in the summer of 1946. The bomb was dropped into the ocean, with numerous naval vessels in the vicinity to test the extent of its destructive power. But the observation ship was far away, and the bomb had missed the target so the devastation it caused was not immediately obvious. The first reports to the world gave the impression, Cousins wrote, “that the bomb had been ‘oversold’—that it was ‘merely’ another weapon.”

Operation Crossroads Baker July 25, 1946
That bomb had indeed been highly destructive, and the second bomb exploded in this series surprised even the bomb-makers with its ferocious power, sending a half-mile wide column of water a mile into the sky in a single second, and spewing quantities of radiation farther than the military anticipated. But government officials would deny and then minimize the dangers of radiation for years. Even after the hydogen bomb and the era of overkill capacity on hairtrigger alert, what Cousins called the “standardization of catastrophe” became almost patriotic, as the knowledge and the fears were turned inward, to be expressed mostly in low budget science fiction movies featuring giant ants and death-rays from space.

 Now [in 2006] it’s been some 15 years since the Soviet Union dissolved, and the threat of thermonuclear war apparently ended, or at least disappeared from national consciousness. Could it be that today some young policymakers again consider “nuclear” to be only a bigger, better bomb?

 Seymour Hersh suggests that civilians in the Bush administration are pushing the nuclear option for Iran, to the dismay of some of the military. He quotes a former senior intelligence official: “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

According to various reports (beginning with Hersh but confirmed by several articles in the Washington Post and elsewhere), the use of tactical nuclear bombs is being considered in order to penetrate underground bunkers in Iran that may house nuclear research sites or command and control centers.

 In her strong denunciation of any imminent bombing of Iran, California Senator Dianne Feinstein also condemned the nuclear option: “As a matter of physics, there is no missile casing sufficiently strong to thrust deep enough into concrete or granite to prevent the spewing of radiation,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Nuclear ‘bunker busters’ would kill tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people across the Middle East.This would be a disastrous tragedy. First use of nuclear weapons by the United States should be unthinkable.”

 Senator Feinstein has been monitoring the Bush regime’s interest in new nuclear weapons for several years, so she also notes this: “There are some in this administration who have been pushing to make nuclear weapons more "usable." They see nuclear weapons as an extension of conventional weapons. This is pure folly.”

 Others are pointing out the nature of this “folly.” The National Academy of Science estimates that a nuclear bomb powerful enough to penetrate a bunker a thousand feet deep (1.2 megatons) would send 300,000 tons of radioactive debris some fifteen miles into the sky.

The Federation of American Scientists "the bombs would penetrate at most only a few metres into rock, causing no reduction in blast, fire, or fallout damage on the surface. The largest would have blown out a crater almost a thousand feet across and thrown a cloud of radioactive fallout tens of thousands of feet into the air where it would be blown hundreds of miles downwind."

 Physicians for Social Responsibility calculate that a nuclear attack on Iran of this kind would result in 3 million deaths within 48 hours. Radioactive fallout would reach into Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, exposing some 35 million, including some 20,000 Americans deployed in the war against terror. There would be more fatalities from radiation illnesses as medical and emergency systems fail.

 On its website, the Union of Concerned Scientists has an animation which shows the effect of nuclear bunker busters on the bunkers (a single bomb is unlikely to reach the target), the contents of bunkers hit (the bomb could spread biological agents kept in bunkers into the atmosphere) and the spread of blast and radiation to surrounding areas.

The first three atomic bombs of 1945 were all about the same size, between 15 and 20 kilotons. The first bomb, tested in the New Mexico desert, killed every living thing inside a mile. The Hiroshima bomb leveled a city and reduced human beings a half mile from the blast to lumps of charcoal. Five years later, radiation had more than doubled the death toll.

In Nagasaki, a boy playing in the river with friends dove to the bottom to retrieve an object. When he rose to the surface, his friends were blackened corpses, the city around him was in smoking ruins. Again, the number of deaths doubled from radiation.

 Though aspects of the U.S. nuclear arsenal are obscure, the nuclear bunker-buster bomb B61-11 (which cannot penetrate to 1,000 feet) has a variable yield of up to 340 kilotons. Though these would not explode high in the air as those bombs did, one such bomb would be the equivalent of 30 Nagasaki bombs, the last nuclear device to be used as a weapon. One of the airmen in the Nagasaki plane described the bright, fiery cloud shooting up with enormous speed as “a living thing, a new species of being” with “many grotesque masks grimacing at the earth.”

 For sixty years, humankind has held that monster at bay. Can we now allow it to be unleashed so casually? It seems likely that at the very least, the nation that unleashes it will quickly become the pariah and the shame of the world. It is time we think very seriously about the consequences of opening this ultimate Pandora’s box, and join with others to stop it. The world may have changed on 9-11. But it certainly changed even more radically in August 1945, and we must not forget it.

Radiating Lies (2006)

Another long piece that appeared on various community blogs in 2006, as news continued that the Bush administration was considering nuclear attacks on Iran. 

Secrets and lies have driven the history of the Bomb. We see this pattern repeated today, in an effort to make nuclear weapons seem no different from other explosives. But with continuing signs that the Bush administration may be heading for war on Iran, with reports of U.S. officials considering using nuclear weapons in Iran, these lies become even more dangerous.

 The most important secrets and lies concerned radiation, the distinguishing effect of the Bomb, beyond its sheer power. The effects of radiation were denied, dismissed and minimized for decades. Today they are not even mentioned.

 It is especially important to revisit this history because, according to the the Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nuclear earth penetrating weapon “would actually create more fallout than a ground-burst or airburst weapon, due to the increased distribution of radioactive debris from detonation at a shallow depth in soil or rock."

 Radiation and the history of denying it and confronting it is the subject of this essay. From its very beginnings, the atomic bomb has been mysterious. Even the physicists who lived together in Los Alamos to develop it did not know what they had invented. They didn’t know how powerful the first Bomb would be—they had a betting pool on the yield, and many seriously underestimated and overestimated the result. About half the scientists didn't think the device would explode at all. Enrico Fermi was taking bets on whether it would burn off the Earth's atmosphere.

 But most of the mystery was deliberate. The Bomb was developed in complete secrecy so as not to tip off the Nazis, who were believed to be working on their own Bomb project. Even after Germany’s defeat, the Bomb was kept secret from the remaining enemy of Japan, but also from America’s war allies.

 Then after the war, as the truth of what the Bomb’s effects became clear to scientists, the American military and Washington policymakers tried to keep some of those effects secret from U.S. citizens, even to the point of outright lies.

 The Bomb produces three effects: blast, heat and radioactivity (commonly called radiation.) The blast is immensely more powerful, and the heat is immensely more intense, than any other manmade device can produce. Together they resulted, in the Bomb’s first test, in killing every living thing within a mile, including insects.

A single Bomb each virtually leveled the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Human beings were vaporized. Nothing was left of some but their shadows burnt into concrete. Others were seared to a small pile of ashes. The remains of some were fused with metal doors and other objects. Those effects were immediately apparent. But it took some time for the effects of radiation to be understood, and even longer to be acknowledged.

 What We Know Now 

 The first humans exposed to an atomic bomb blast were those living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. These included some American children of parents who were Japanese or of Japanese ancestry or origin living in the U.S. who were sent to internment camps. These children were sent to “safe” areas in Japan, such as Hiroshima. Some of those who survived the initial blast and heat but were heavily exposed to radiation began to develop radiation poisoning symptoms after about twenty-four hours: severe nausea, fever and vomiting.

In his 2005 book, “The Bomb: a Life”, scholar Gerard DeGroot writes: “The damage to cells was so widespread that recovery was impossible. Death occurred after about a week, before doctors had any inkling of what was wrong.” For others, symptoms didn’t begin for ten to fifteen days. They suffered from bloody diarrhea, “a loss of appetite, general malaise, persistent fever and hair loss.”

 The symptoms were delayed because gamma rays attack bone marrow where new blood cells are formed, and begin to produce defective cells. “In the worst cases of radiation poisoning, the gamma rays virtually destroy the entire bone marrow.. The cessation of red cell formation leads to progressive anemia. Deficiency of platelet formation causes thin blood to hemorrhage into the skin and the retina of the eye, and sometimes into the intestines and kidneys.

The fall in the number of white cells lowers the victim’s resistance to infections. When infections occurred among Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims, it usually spread from the mouth and was accompanied by gangrene of the lips, tongue and throat. Patients often emitted a terrible smell---they had effectively started to decay from the inside.”[pages 107-08]

 Those who escape this severe radiation poisoning, who may be farther from the blast, will not know for years, and perhaps will never know, the extent of the damage caused by radiation. “Ionizing radiation released in a nuclear explosion passes through the skin without causing external damage. It interacts immediately with tissues within the body, causing an irregular pattern of cell damage. ”

 Those who survive the attack on high turnover tissues, such as those involved in blood formation, may suffer effects on tissues with slower turnover, in the brain, liver or thyroid gland. In these, “…the effects of radiation damage may not become apparent for months or years, and can eventually manifest themselves as cancers.”

 Then there is danger to the unborn. Damaged or destroyed cells in a fetus may impair the development of organs and parts of the body. “Radiation can also damage DNA in the reproductive system, causing mutation in future generations. While scientists once thought that a ‘safe’ level of exposure existed, current medical opinion olds that there is no threshold dose below which an effect is not produced.”

 These effects were caused by the Bomb dropped on Hiroshima (approximately 20 kilotons) and Nagasaki (about 15 kilotons.) The nuclear bunker-busters that could be used in Iran may have a yield up to 10 kilotons, but most believe the yield goes up to 340 kilotons, more than 22 times more powerful than the Bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. More than half of those who died from the effects of that Bomb within the first five years after it was dropped, and more than two-thirds of those who died within five years after Nagasaki, had survived the blast and fire.

 A Generation of Lies 

 Although radioactive fallout from the first Bomb test in 1945 contaminated cattle, the effects were kept secret, along with everything else about the test. But even after the war, the secrecy continued. In “Bombs in the Backyard”, a self-described balanced account of nuclear testing, A. Costandina Titus writes that “Even Congress has been denied access to information.”

General Leslie Groves had ridden herd over the Manhattan Project that developed the Bomb, and he continued the policy of secrecy, which soon became a policy of denial. When the first reports of radiation sickness in Hiroshima surfaced, he dismissed them as “Japanese propaganda.” William Laurence, the only reporter permitted to follow the Bomb’s development, echoed the charge.

 Later, when radioactive fallout entered the news, American officials insisted that radiation exposure was painless to humans and test animals. General Groves testified to Congress that radiation poisoning was "a very pleasant way to die."

 Few precautions were taken for service personnel involved in the first postwar Bomb tests in the South Pacific in 1946, nor for many subsequent tests there and in Nevada. When military personnel and others exposed to test fallout either deliberately or accidentally later became ill, the government refused to consider that the nuclear explosions were related or responsible, and they maintained this heartless lie for decades.

 But one of the doctors involved in monitoring radiation and physical effects from those 1946 tests would be among the first to sound a public alarm. David Bradley’s book, “No Place to Hide”, was published in 1948 and became an immediate best seller. He later revised it to include further information as well as medical studies from later atomic and hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific. He reported for example that after 406 Pacific islanders were exposed to H-bomb fallout in 1954, nine children were born retarded, ten more with other abnormalities, and three were stillborn, including one reported to be "not recognizable as human."

 But the first writing to bring some of the reality of radiation to Americans was John Hershey’s Hiroshima, published in the New Yorker in August 1946, and soon after as a best-selling book. The stories of six Hiroshima survivors ended with riveting accounts of the ongoing effects of radiation.

This was the occasion for more stories (and more denials) about the effects of radioactivity. Still, Bomb testing went on, as necessary to the national defense, particularly when the Soviet Union unexpectedly exploded their first atomic Bomb in 1951. The U.S. returned to exploding atomic Bombs within its borders that same year, and radiation from a Nevada test was detected in the snow that fell on Rochester, New York.

 By early 1953, there had been 20 tests in Nevada. A seven year old boy 70 miles from Ground Zero in Nevada who died of leukemia “became possibly the first baby boom casualty of the atomic age.” (Great Expectations by Landon Y. Jones, p59.)


 The undercurrent of news about radiation’s effects continued throughout the 1950s, as the U.S. and Soviet Union exploded hundreds of atomic bombs, including hydrogen bombs (which some say are to atom bombs what atom bombs are to conventional explosives.) Testing and its effects became a campaign issue in the 1956 presidential election. Strontium 90, a radioactive isotope that lodges in bones and causes cancer, was discovered in cow’s milk across America. Still, the official word was there was nothing to worry about.

 The likelihood (since proven) that U.S. nuclear secrets were passed to the Russians, added fuel to what became McCarthyism in the 1950s. Now dissent concerning the Bomb could be criminal treason as well as unpatriotic. So much of the fear Americans had about nuclear radiation and the Bomb itself was driven underground, into the collective unconscious, and to the popular expression of that unconscious: the movies.

 Monsters created or unleashed by nuclear explosions became the decade’s B-movie cliché. But one of the first remained one of the best: “Them!” released in 1954. The film is fascinating today partly because several relatively unknown actors became stars, mostly in the new medium of television: James Arness in “Gunsmoke,” James Whitmore in “The Law and Mr. Jones,” Leonard Nimoy (with a very small part) in “Star Trek,” and Fess Parker, a young actor Walt Disney saw in this movie and cast as Davy Crockett, the first TV hero to be a national phenomenon.

But the fact that these actors were unknowns in 1954 led credibility to the story, which was mostly a step by step investigation into a horrific phenomenon---radiation from atomic testing mutated a colony of ordinary ants into a race of giant ants, killing, breeding and preparing to swarm on Los Angeles and other cities, where they could begin their conquest of humanity.

 The movie dealt with a number of themes related to the Cold War and the Bomb, but it was remarkably forthright about the source of the fears it symbolized. "If these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb tests in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?" asks James Arness, the FBI man of action. "I don't know," says the beautiful woman scientist. "Nobody knows," says her father, the elder scientist. "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door into a new world. What we eventually find in that new world nobody can predict."

 There would be many more Bomb-themed films (including the original Japanese version of Godzilla, which dealt more forthrightly with Bomb themes than the version Americans saw. The original will be available on DVD for the first time in September.)

 In his book, “Apocalypse Movies”, Kim Newman makes the valuable point that the B movie divisions of major studios tended to glorify the military in their Bomb-theme movies, while independent films were more questioning, and revealed more of the real horror. They also tended to extend mutations to human beings, as in “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

 But as these eruptions from the unconscious became formulaic “bug-eyed monster” movies, a few filmmakers began to deal openly with the effects of nuclear war. The most influential of the 1950s, and the one that dealt most directly with mass death by radioactive fallout as the ultimate outcome of nuclear war, was Stanley Kramer’s “On the Beach,” starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire. Set in Australia after the U.S. and the Soviet Union have destroyed each other, the characters learn they are doomed from the fallout heading their way.

 There are no explosions, no monsters, no gruesome deaths. Yet Nobel Laureate and anti-Bomb activist Linus Pauling said, “It may be that some years from now can look back and say that ‘On the Beach’ is the movie that saved the world.”

 Throughout the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, there were films and TV movies that tried to bring the horror into public consciousness. “The War Game” by Peter Watkin, a docudrama about the effects of a nuclear war in one English village, was made for BBC-TV in 1965 but the BBC refused to show it until 1985. It was seen in art houses in the U.S. and elsewhere as a feature in the 60s and 70s.

Also on British TV in the 1980s was “Threads,” which carried the effects of radiation past one generation. While a survivor society struggles in a burnt-out and irradiated world, a 12 year old giving birth screams at the sight of her deformed stillborn baby. It was a harrowing ending to a truly horrifying film.

There were two prominent TV films in the U.S in the 80s, which also showed survivors of nuclear war struggling valiantly and hopelessly. The better known was The Day After” directed by Nicholas Meyer, starring Jason Robards and JoBeth Williams. Set in Lawrence, Kansas, it centers on a doctor (Robards) who deals with an impossible emergency over days and weeks as he and everyone else gradually succumbs to radiation poisoning. The TV movie ends with the warning that as fatalistic as the story seemed, a full-scale nuclear war would have far worse effects. “The Day After” had an effect on American consciousness in the 1980s similar to “On the Beach” in the late 1950s. “

 But another TV film brought the effects home. “Testament” by Lynne Littman, starring Jane Alexander, followed events in an isolated northern California town. Without graphic images, it simply shows a family and a town living to the end of the world, as radiation poisons everyone and everything. Radiation from hundreds of thermonuclear bombs is enough to destroy civilization. But radiation from a single Bomb of relatively low yield killed hundreds of thousands in Japan. It could happen in Iran and perhaps the surrounding region, with some dying in days, some in weeks, and some in years or even decades. Yet no one is talking about this. It is time to start.

Hiroshima: The Birth of Nuclear Warfare

This piece appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

On July 16, 1945, the cruiser Indianapolis sailed from Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, carrying one 15-foot crate. Inside were the components for the first atomic bomb destined to be dropped on a city.

It was being shipped to Tinian Island in the western Pacific, and its final destination a few weeks later would be Hiroshima. It left San Francisco just four hours after the first successful atomic bomb test in history, in the New Mexico desert.

Sixty years is a long time to keep even such an immense memory alive, but several books published recently bring these events into sharper focus than ever before. Several are biographies of key figures like Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, but one is billed as a biography of the bomb itself. "The Bomb: A Life" by Gerard DeGroot (Harvard University Press), professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, benefits from newly available records, especially concerning the Soviet nuclear program. But mostly it is a skillfully condensed narrative of the nuclear era, fascinating in the selection of details and riveting in its revelations of how possessing nuclear weapons changed those involved, and changed America.

 On the day of that first test in July 1945, no one knew what would happen. About half the scientists didn't think the device would explode at all. Enrico Fermi was taking bets that it would burn off the Earth's atmosphere. It did explode, with such brightness that a woman blind from birth traveling in a car some distance away saw it. "A colony on Mars, had such a thing existed, could have seen the flash," DeGroot writes. "All living things within a mile were killed, including all insects."

America was now in sole possession of the most powerful weapon in history. The first effect of the bomb was in Potsdam, Germany, where President Harry Truman was conferring with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, premier of the Soviet Union, then an ally in the war against Japan. After Truman received the news of the successful test, he was "a changed man" and "generally bossed the whole meeting," according to Churchill.

That the second bomb left San Francisco on the day the first was tested suggests the momentum to use it. Whether dropping the bomb was necessary to secure Japan's surrender before an invasion became necessary is still being debated. DeGroot believes that Japan was looking for a way to surrender in June and July.

But there were other considerations, mostly to do with demonstrating American power, especially to the Soviet Union. Using the bomb quickly became a test of patriotism. "For most Manhattan Project scientists the bomb was a deterrent, not a weapon," DeGroot writes.

Szilard and Einstein
Physicist Leo Szilard had done as much as anyone to try to persuade FDR to develop the bomb because Germany was doing so. But on the day after that first test, he sent government officials a petition signed by 69 project scientists arguing that to use the bomb would ignite a dangerous arms race and damage America's postwar moral position, especially its ability to bring "the unloosed forces of destruction under control."

The petition was ignored, and Gen. Leslie Groves, the senior military official in charge of the project, began making a case that Szilard was a security risk. It's a pattern that would be repeated often.

General Groves and Manhattan Project scientists look
at what was left after the first atomic test in July 1945
DeGroot places the decision to drop the bomb on Japan in the context of the brutalization that occurred during the long years of World War II, with an unprecedented scope of savagery on both sides. The bombing of civilians and cities, morally unthinkable in the West before the war, became a major feature of it by its final years, long past the time many military targets were left. Gen. Groves, he writes, was worried that Japan might surrender before the bomb could be dropped.

Hiroshima was selected as the primary target because it had no allied POW camps. However, there were nearly 5,000 American children in the city -- "mainly children sent to Japan after their parents, U.S. citizens of Japanese origin, had been interred." It seems likely some of those children were from San Francisco.

The nuclear era began with the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, which is perhaps partly why it was accompanied throughout its history by lies and denial. They began with Hiroshima. As many as 75,000 people died in the first blast and fire. But in five years the death toll would reach 200,000 because of what the U.S. government denied existed: lethal radiation.

Even after the hydrogen bomb was developed in the 1950s (so powerful that the first test vaporized an island and created a mile wide crater 175 feet deep), the untruths continued. In 1954, Dr. David Bradley reported on 406 Pacific islanders exposed to H-bomb fallout: nine children were born retarded, 10 more with other abnormalities, and three were stillborn, including one reported to be "not recognizable as human." Such information was denied or routinely suppressed through all the years of testing, even on U.S. soil. Groves even told Congress that death from radiation was "very pleasant."

Even after the war, criticizing the bomb in any way became a threat to national security, an act of disloyalty that only helped the communist enemy. And so people were silent and compliant, and streamed into air-conditioned theatres to see movies about monsters created by atomic radiation.

 This extreme weapon prompted extreme and contrary emotions, often within the same people. Some of the same Los Alamos scientists who cheered madly at the first news of Hiroshima were later shell-shocked with regret. Gen. Omar Bradley called his contemporaries "nuclear giants and ethical infants." Yet he pushed for developing the hydrogen bomb.

This peculiar combination of denial plus the immense power of thousands of bombs contributed to an era of deadly absurdities: the age of Dr. Strangelove. Yet reality was not so different, right down to the preposterously appropriate names: the head of the Strategic Air Command, Gen. Tommy Power, gave his philosophy of nuclear war in 1960: "At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!"

The warp in American political life created by the bomb might be summarized in two statements. "In order to make the country bear the burden," said President Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, referring to the Cold War arms race, "we have to create an emotional atmosphere akin to a wartime psychology. We must create the idea of a threat from without."

The second is more famous, but perhaps its connection to the bomb and its effect on America has been forgotten: Eisenhower's farewell address. "We have been compelled to create a permanent arms industry of vast proportions," he said. "We must not fail to comprehend its vast implications. ... We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Speed of Life

Sometime in the late 1980s I got interested in what I called "the speed of life."  Life was getting faster in many ways, as the economy and society were demanding that human life be governed by the maximum speeds allowed by new technologies. 

I began researching what turned out to be a potentially huge subject.  I worked on book proposals and article ideas, but perhaps the only evidence in actual print was an oped published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 1993.

Since then the challenge of technology and how it is used to human biology, psychology, relationships, families, peace of mind etc. has only grown.  The factors involved in accelerating the speed of life are more complex than faster machines.  Cell phones for example may not in themselves make for faster communication, but their portability means that people are more accessible--in fact, in the cliche that established itself in the mobile phone era--they are connected 24/7.  And because they can be accessible all the time, employers often expect that they must be accessible all the time.  There is no escape from work demands, and so everything else gets crowded into less time, which accelerates the speed of life.  

It's true of social life as well, thanks to texting and social media. Smart phone compete on the basis of how fast they can deliver information, so that people can instantly act on it.  

So aspects of this phenomenon I noted in the 90s have only gotten worse.  Particularly workplace pressures--I just saw a reference to post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of such pressures.

In the years since my researches began, a number of books have been published on the general subject of speed (including James Gleick's Faster) and "the speed of life" has been attached to television shows, sermons, etc.  

 When that 1993 oped was published I learned that it had been tacked up on bulletin boards at workplaces all over Pittsburgh.  An editor at the P-G called me her hero.  What follows is a re-ordering of that piece, plus more from a longer essay.

The Speed of Life

From the Pony Express to the expressway, America has always loved speed.  We invented a culture based on the efficiency of the assembly line and time-saving technology, on rapid promotion and upward mobility, the can-do and the quick fix, instant coffee and instantaneous communication; on fast cars on fast highways making fast deliveries of the newest products, promising quick results and fast, fast relief for those on the fast track.

But now we're not so sure.  America looks increasingly like the land of the frazzled and the home of the frayed.  It's crept up on us unconsciously but now in one way or another we're saying it out loud: we're worried about the speed of life.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, the productivity of American workers increased by 4% in the fourth quarter of 1992, the biggest gain since the early 1970s.  But the February report also showed that there was little new hiring.  "It's good for the improved efficiency of our companies and thus for competitiveness," said a senior economist at Morgan Stanley.  "But it is tough on workers, who are victims of the downsizing that has been required to boost productivity."

Business journalists confirm that with corporate downsizing, each white collar survivor is often doing the work previously done by three or more.  Some would point to the new productivity figures as proof that downsizing has worked but productivity is not the same as efficiency or effectiveness. Sooner or later the snap decisions, the sloppy work, the mail that gets lost or ignored and the phone calls never returned, are going to hurt the bottom line.  But the long-term health of people is at much at stake as the long-term viability of the economy.

Productivity gains are made possible by faster technology.  This results in longer work days, especially as communications and transportation become globalized. But it also means workers operate faster during those hours. The faster information flows and the more accessible everyone is to that flow, the more work there is processing and responding to that information, and the more time is taken up by that work.

Meanwhile, the bathroom breaks as well as the supposed productivity of laborers in electronic sweatshops are monitored by the machines they use.  They either deal with that kind of stress and long hours at their computers and telephones, or deal with the stress of no income.

But that technology also means that fewer workers are needed.  More people are working two and three jobs, spending more time commuting and away from their families--all of which accelerates the daily spin for everyone. The impact of so many frenzied hours scrapping for sustenance sends out devastating ripples through private life and society.  More and more must be done in less and less time. The health and social problems are already apparent: from stress-related chronic illnesses to alcoholism and drug abuse,family abuse and neglect, suicide, and accidents on the job and the highway caused by the sleepy and the wired.

According to Harvard economist Julie Schor, the combination means that Americans in every income category are working much longer hours than forty years ago, and more than in most other advanced societies.  At the same time, others deal with the stress of the job-search treadmill, as the world speeds by.  Schor's The Overworked American sits uneasily on the book shelf next to Jeremy Rifkin's The End of Work.

No institution has felt these impacts more than the family.  When half of American fathers and a third of mothers work more than 40 hours a week, poor parents must often leave children unattended, and even higher income parets rush around from job to child care, schools to swimming lessons, scheduling residual "quality time" when they can.  Meanwhile their hurried children are pressured to learn more faster, take more tests affecting their future sooner, while spending more time in the work world learning valuable lessons in fryer management and smileology.

It's the speed of life that has helped turn the suburban dream of peace and surcease into a blur of entrances and exits, and made the famous New York Minute about 45 seconds too long.  Today for both the fast track man (who sometimes takes more parenting and household responsibility) and superwoman (fighting traffic and running the rat race while still being mom) "having it all" seems to include having a nervous breakdown.

While time management consultants offer to start with six year olds, the tension of over-organized lives can reach the breaking point--we never know when one of us will snap like elastic, like an over-regimented postal worker with a grievance-loaded gun.  The Girl Scouts now give a merit badge in stress management.

Information floods us constantly but it blips and vanishes faster than we can take it in.  Every item masquerading as vital knowledge in the competing clutter is a perishable product clamoring for our attention so insistently that inflated claims and distortions routinely add to the constant rush of inescapable ballyhoo.

Our memories are overrun, and our battle to just keep up obliterates our appreciation of the present and our vision of the future, so today we are literally destroying the forest for the trees.  In what Joni Mitchell memorably called this "land of snap decisions, land of short attention spans," we are overbooked, overextended, overstimulated and overloaded, but we are also spiritually, intellectually and experientially underfed.

The general effect is that more and more of us are exceeding the human speed limit.  Our problem is that we are not made of silicon and plastic.  We are flesh and blood.  We are not tireless machines powered by electric current.  Time is part of our nourishment.  We do not operate at the speed of light.  We live at the speed of life.

As individuals and as a society, constantly breaking the speed barrier of life not only makes us crazy and sick, it leaves us with split focus, divided selves and cognitive dissonance that have become the norm.  Leisure is disappearing, and so is civility, craftsmanship and reflection.  We're outrunning our own senses--of sight, smell, taste and hearing as well as of perspective, decency, hope and humor.

Time seems abstract and ethereal until you realize you don't have enough of it.  Then it becomes clear that time is the very substance of life.  But the quandary is how to slow down without giving up; how to get control of the speed of life.

Even in tough economic times--in fact especially then--we need to think about this.  We will need the creativity, judgment and sense of values only time can allow.  And we need rest.  Despite our manic diversions, we have fewer traditions and rituals for real rest and relaxation than probably any culture in the world.  We act as if sleep is a shameful crime against efficiency rather than an integral and restorative part of life.

So we may have been more productive in the fourth quarter, whatever that really means.  But in addition to a sustainable economy and sustainable environment with sustainable energy sources, we must find a speed of life that we can sustain, and that can sustain us.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Penn's Hard Woods

This is my text before editing of an article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine July 25, 1993. The biggest cut was most of the Gifford Pinchot section. This was my first sustained yield on forest issues, and I may have been too easy on foresters---but that might be subsequent years in California talking. I learned a lot on this piece, especially from my old friend, Michael D. Krempasky, who has worked on PA environmental issues as director of a nonprofit watchdog organization and then within state government for most of his career. Thanks again, Mike.

It turns out that this work of a neophyte is now cited in various official documents including at least one by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania itself.   

For more up to date statistics on Pennsylvania forests, particularly its state forests, try this site.  Obviously other elements in this story have changed in 20 years, such as the destination of logs (China would be my guess.)  There are also new concerns about widespread drilling for natural gas in state forests.  But at the very least, this piece provides historical perspective.  The key paragraph--that Pennsylvanians don't pay much attention to forest issues in this heavily forested state--I'm pretty sure still pertains.


They're the most valuable hardwoods in America and maybe the world. Who cuts them and who profits? And will we lose our forests for the trees?


 The snow is blowing across U.S. Route 80 in Clarion County. It coats the exit ramp and layers along the silent road to St. Petersburg, a town that on this cold Tolstoyan morning in January seems aptly named.

About halfway between the highway exit and the tiny town center, a gravel road cuts through the trees to George Freeman's land. In the field behind the picturesque red barn there are rows of seedling trees, each in its own plastic coat to protect it from nibbling deer, part of a tree farm experiment. But elsewhere on Freeman's 612 forested acres, the order of the day is harvest.

Winter is the preferred season for timber cutting. In Pennsylvania's past, logs were stacked on the river banks to await the spring thaw so they could be floated to sawmills and market. Today, it's partly because the trees are easier to skid on hard ground, which also pleases foresters trying to minimize damage to the forest floor caused by dragging big logs behind heavy machinery.

But mostly it's that cold temperatures preserve the wood better, especially the lucrative veneer. Some of the timber cut across the state this year will go to local sawmills and eventually to manufacturers of wood products, many of them in the Philadelphia area. But many of the best logs have long voyages ahead: they're loaded on trains carrying them to Baltimore and New York, and then onto boats bound for Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, and increasingly to Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

George Freeman's land is home to several species of hardwoods: oaks, poplar, beech and cherry. Deer roam here, sometimes by the dozen, along with other forest creatures. George watched a bear crash by him once; this morning he spotted coyote tracks. But at the moment wildlife is staying out of sight. The only sounds are the roar and whine of the chainsaw.

Down a steep road within a right-of-way already carved out of the landscape for the high tension power lines hissing overhead that carry current from Homer City to Erie, a two man crew from Georgia Pacific is completing a cut of mostly oak and black cherry. These trees are very valuable at the moment. Wood prices have been going up for several years, and so far this is the best year in the last five. 1993 may very well turn out to have the highest prices in the state's history. As prices increased, so did cutting: the rate has more than doubled in the past decade in the areas of the state that sell the most timber.

But this isn't just any wood. Pennsylvania grows the best black cherry in the world, highly prized for veneer. Here is the kind of red oak that Europe craves, and the white ash that is hewn into hockey sticks and Louisville Sluggers. The state's hardwoods are just now coming into commercial maturity in great numbers, at a time when high quality hardwoods from other forests are getting scarce. The result is that right now, Pennsylvania's hardwoods are the most valuable in America, and the most sought after in the world.

Timber is already a major industry in Pennsylvania--our sixth largest, generating 9% of the state's jobs, and 14% of the industrial employment. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the production of hardwood timber, and hosts the country's largest hardwood manufacturing industry.

Despite urbanization and agriculture, almost 60% of the state is covered with forest. According to the just released inventory figures, 93% of this 17 million acres of forest is classified as timberland--appropriate and available for timber harvest. More than 90% of that potential timber is hardwood--oaks, maples, birches, ashes and cherrys. (Softwoods are pines, spruces, cedars, hemlock: the evergreens.)

"It's All Woods!"

Steve Thorne, Goddard Professor of Forestry at Penn State, was Deputy Commission of Natural Resources in Minnesota for 13 years. He remembers what it was like arriving here a year and a half ago. "Your first impression of Pennsylvania from the air is 'its all woods!' When you get on the ground that impression is intensified. The eastern hardwoods are beautiful. These are magnificent trees, equal in many ways to anything you can find in the west. This still is Penn's Woods--it's still a big expanse of contiguous forest."

"But one thing that has perplexed me since I've been here," he adds. "Back where I come from, forests are a major public issue. Here in Pennsylvania, which is one of the most heavily forested states in the country, people don't pay attention to their forests."

But there are issues involving the Pennsylvania forest industry, and the future of the forests themselves.

"There's plenty of timber out there," says Kent Fox, government affairs lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Hardwood Lumber Manufacturing Association. "The problem is being able to access it." His group supports responsible forest practices, but Fox has no patience with environmental groups who try to stop timbering, threatening to recreate a "spotted owl type situation" in Pennsylvania forests. "This is the type of thing that's beginning to generate into a powerful force that threatens the industry," Fox maintains.

Does that mean there's a jobs versus environment problem here? "It's a false dichotomy," says Dr. Cynthia Walter, associate professor of biology at St. Vincent College, and forest ecology research associate with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. " Jobs and environmental degradation don't have to be linked. The real issue is long term versus short term thinking. Unless handled carefully, hardwoods won't be a long term industry." She urges more caution, and in some cases, less cutting.

There is one long term issue that troubles nearly everyone: as this generation of hardwoods is being cut, a new generation is not growing at anywhere near the same rate, especially the most profitable species. The future of Pennsylvania's present hardwood forests is in danger.

A week or so before this snowy morning, even while the cut on his land was progressing, George Freeman took time out to attend a workshop on Forest Stewardship in Monroeville, outside Pittsburgh. Under this program authorized in 1990 and administered nationally by the U.S. Forest Service, the state Bureau of Forestry gives advice and provides some money for small landowners to develop plans to manage their wooded properties. This was the first such meeting held near a large city, and the organizers seemed pleased with the turnout of about two hundred. Another workshop is planned for Philadelphia in late summer.

Some of Pennsylvania's forests are controlled by the federal and state governments, and timber is cut and sold by both. Timber and paper companies own some forested land, but most--some 75% of the total--is in the hands of half a million individual landowners like George Freeman. It's from them that the state's hardwood manufacturing businesses get 80% of their raw timber. What these small landowners do is the key to the forests' future.

Those gathered this Saturday in this windowless function room were mostly men, but about a third were women. Most wore sweaters and slacks, though there were a few tweed jackets scattered in the crowd, only one black and white checked lumberjack shirt, and no ties.

The basic idea of forest stewardship is to get landowners to think about more than their own land and what they can get out of it right now. So to get them thinking about the future, the morning started with James Nelson, Pennsylvania's State Forester, talking about the past.

The Extinction of a Forest
Eastern white pine

It was a cautionary tale. For example, there is no controversy in Pennsylvania as there is in the West over cutting old growth forests, for one simple reason: except for a few protected stands, there is no old growth left. And Pennsylvania has already had its spotted owl. It was called the passenger pigeon.

Back when the peoples of Europe and the Middle East were destroying their abundant forests to clear land for crops and for wood for shipbuilding and fuel--creating the deserts of Syria, the bare rocky slopes of Greece and the treeless fields of western Europe in the process--the people of what came to be called Penn's Woods lived in symbiotic harmony with their lush forests for twenty thousand years. But when Europeans arrived, displacing the Lenni Lenape, the Munsee, the Susquehannock and the Seneca, the trees began to fall.

In 1662, Swedish settlers set up the colony's first sawmill in what would someday be the city of Philadelphia, and the first papermill in America was built there in 1793. So many trees were cut by early colonists that the first conservation measure was instituted by William Penn himself, providing in his 1681 Charter of Rights that one acre of forest should be left for every five acres cleared. Even that was ignored.

Forests were cleared for farm land and towns, and to limit the animals living in them that threatened livestock, crops and people. As historian Robert P. Multhauf wrote, "Wood was thus seen as a menace and its disposal as an urgent 'necessity.'" But from the beginning the trees were also cut for profit, for wood and wood products such as potash sent back to Europe, and for new domestic industries.

In the early 1800s, the thick forests of titanic white pines (100 feet from the ground to the first branch) in north, west and central Pennsylvania were cut for the masts of sailing ships, including the Clippers of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Hemlocks fell to feed the iron industry's enormous hunger for charcoal, and tannin was extracted from the bark for tanneries. By mid century, lumber was the leading manufacturing industry in the United States, and Pennsylvania led the nation in timber production.

As he recites this history, Nelson projects images he's carefully restored from old glass slides and photographs: the huge river rafts for transporting logs and the river booms for storing them which created literal boom towns, such as Williamsport, which created more millionaires in the 1860s than any city before or since; the logging roads and railroads, the lumber camps, timber towns and tanneries that grew overnight and disappeared just as fast, as well as the burned and devastated hillsides. Nelson is himself a product of this history. His Swedish grandfather came to America to work as a logger in the feverish heyday of what's now known as forest mining. His father was born in a logging camp, and became a tanner.

Johnstown Flood
Timber production reached its peak in Pennsylvania in 1899, the same year that rain water roared down tree-denuded hills to end up killing more than 2,000 people and destroying a city in the Johnstown Flood.

The white pines were already gone, and because of the unchecked fires that destroyed their seeds, they never returned. The final blow came in the early 1900s, with the chemical process that could distill any wood species into alcohol for fuel, which resulted in the clearcutting of all remaining forests to feed the biggest wood chemical industry in the world. Together with the fires and a chestnut tree blight, more than 90% of Penn's Woods had been obliterated. "The result of this clearing, burning, lumbering and charcoal making," writes horticulturalist Ernesta Ballard, "was the destruction of our native forest on a scale comparable to the current destruction in the Amazon."

The wolf, cougar, lynx, wolverine, the native elk and even the deer disappeared from Pennsylvania. At least partly because the forests were gone, the once abundant passenger pigeon disappeared from the planet, except as a textbook example of extinction.

The timber companies, some of which had cut their way to Pennsylvania from New England, then left the state for the virgin forests south and west. They sold some of the devastated land dirt cheap (a 19th century American phrase) to the state government, which is why we have state forests. The first two million acres cost less than the 14 acres of Philadelphia's Independence Mall. The Allegheny Plateau of northern Pennsylvania had been so totally logged in just 35 years that it came to be known simply as "the Blackberry Patch," which was all that grew there. The federal government acquired some of it for the Allegheny National Forest.

The great conifer forests that covered most of the state never really came back, but the hardwoods--deciduous trees like oak, cherry and maple--that thrived in the sunlight from the Atlantic to the Appalachians, took over much of the abandoned range. Now at seventy to a hundred years old, the trees of this second generation forest are considered mature, and timber companies are very interested again.

Pennsylvania's second growth forests are valuable now for their quality and quantity. Because of their slower growth, plus the nearly ideal climate and soil, these hardwoods have better texture than those grown farther south. They make good saw wood for boards used to make panelling, doors and furniture. Lower grade wood is cut for railroad ties and pallets for steel mills, and pulped for paper. But the greatest prize is veneer: the sheets of rich-colored wood used for the surfaces of the finest furniture. Because it is sliced so thin (from 1/32 to 1/52 of an inch thick), a single log can yield a lot of very valuable veneer.

The best veneer comes from black cherry, and Pennsylvania has a lot of it. One-third of the world market in black cherry is supplied by the Allegheny National Forest alone.

But in addition to these intrinsic properties, on the world market Pennsylvania's hardwoods probably benefit from the exploitation of other forests. Nigeria, for example, was one of the world's major hardwood log exporters in the 1960s but now has little left to sell. It's the same story elsewhere in Africa, so high prices for the remaining mahogany make black cherry a better buy. Tropical hardwoods from endangered rainforests may also be in shorter supply because pressure from environmental groups has curtailed exports.

So with high prices and lots of trees coming into commercial maturity, there's considerable interest in cutting into Pennsylvania forests. But the situation now is different than it was the last time there was heavy logging. Today few defend or intend to repeat the devastation in Pennsylvania's past. There seems to be a modicum of agreement, cooperation and mutual respect among many in the timber industry, professional foresters and environmentalists, and a certain willingness to work together. But they can still be at loggerheads on some issues.

There are three main branches of the forest-management tree today, and two of them have roots in our state's history. Although Jim Nelson didn't mention him in his presentation to the landowners, one of his predecessors as Pennsylvania's chief forester is the individual most often credited with beginning the change in policies and attitudes about American forests. He's even been called the father of ecology.

"Drenched! You've been out with the President!"

Gifford Pinchot
Gifford Pinchot's family home was in Milford, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather settled after emigrating from France. His father, James Pinchot, made a fortune in dry goods in New York City (and served on the committee in charge of erecting the Statue of Liberty) but built a estate in Milford, where he became involved in the fledgling field of forestry.

Developed in Europe, forestry was so new to America that when at his father's suggestion young Gifford Pinchot went to France in 1889 to learn about it, no other American had yet chosen forestry as a career.

The study of forestry proposed that trees are a crop, like wheat, rather than a resource to be mined, like coal. (So later on, instead of letting it become part of the Department of Interior, Pinchot fought to place the federal Forest Service within the Agriculture Department, where it remains today.) With proper scientific management, trees could be cut, a new crop grown to maturity, and trees harvested again. It was (in the words of a Pinchot biographer) "the art of using a forest without destroying it." The forest had to be used wisely, so it would regenerate. But at the time, even this approach was opposed by powerful timber interests.

Pinchot was a skilled and relentless advocate, comfortable among the powerful who had been coming to his family homes since his childhood. He also loved hiking through the forests, had a reputation for skilled shooting and riding, and in an impromptu boxing match with his friend Teddy Roosevelt, knocked the future President flat.

It was that friendship with the like-minded President Theodore Roosevelt that enabled Pinchot in 1905 to consolidate all federal forest administration in the United States Forest Service, with dominion over 86 million acres of the newly acquired national forest, and with himself as its first chief. The American Forest Congress that Pinchot called in Washington warned that if the timber cutting continued at the then current rate, the nation's forests would be entirely depleted by 1965. Pinchot got new laws with enforcement powers to limit exploitation of the federal forests, and he created a system for administering these vast tracts, while loudly promoting the practice of forestry.

Pinchot and Roosevelt still hiked together in Washington; when Pinchot arrived home muddy and soaking wet one evening, his boyhood nurse exclaimed, "Drenched! You've been out with the President!" Together they effectively promoted the new doctrine of conservation, which held that the nation's "natural resources" were not the exclusive property of great monopolies, and should be managed for future generations as well as all the people.
Governor Pinchot

Pinchot later became Pennsylvania's Forester before twice being elected Governor; his populist first term is still counted among the most successful in Pennsylvania history. Today he is best remembered as a progenitor of environmentalism. After his death in 1946, the Sierra Club affixed a plaque to a Redwood in Muir Woods that calls him "Friend of the Forest/Conserver of the Common-wealth."

Today many government officials who have dominion over the trees as well as many managers in big timber companies hold degrees in forestry. Managing the forest as renewable resource has become the conventional wisdom, and Pinchot's principle of "wise use" is more or less the official doctrine.

But even during his lifetime Pinchot met opposition from a new direction--represented by John Muir himself, founder of the Sierra Club. They clashed over a power project that would flood substantial woodlands in Yosemite National Park. Muir was a proponent of preservation, of protecting the natural beauty and wildness of the forest. (Pinchot won that round.)

Today's forestry establishment has to some extent accommodated Muir's concerns: both the state forests and the Allegheny National Forest set aside wilderness and natural areas, and protect the last old growth stands (a few 400 year old beeches survive.) In their approach called "silvaculture," they manage for wildlife and wilderness as well as future timber.

Still, when the appreciation of "serene, majestic, snow-laden, sun-drenched, vast domes and ridges" or "rocky strength and permanence combined with beauty of plants frail and fine and evanescent" that Muir wrote about are categorized as managing for "aesthetics" and "recreational uses," it seems to lose something in the translation.

When A Tree Falls: Biodiversity
Cook State Forest

These two old streams of thought have been recently joined by a third, which foresters and timber interests are just beginning to understand and include--when they aren't feeling threatened by it. This latest buzz word in the forest (pun intended) is biodiversity.

Fostered by a new generation of ecologists and biologists, the basic idea is that diversity is good for the forest's health, for reasons known (animals that eat tree seeds in one spot and deposit them in another) and not yet fully understood ('cornerstone' species whose disappearance starts a chain of devastating changes). So besides the more familiar environmental concerns of water impurity and soil erosion, there are hot biodiversity issues such as forest fragmentation, or the breaking up of forest corridors more far-ranging species need, especially those that live only deep in the forest interior. The disappearance of once-familiar songbirds in Pennsylvania is thought to be due to fragmentation.

In addition to active and even large-scale management for biodiversity, its advocates urge caution in altering environments we don't understand. Conservation biology is a young science, and a certain humility is one of its current hallmarks.

"We Europeans and descendants of Europeans have only been on this continent for a few hundred years--one or two lifetimes of a tree," Cynthia Walter says. "We're not very experienced. We don't know how many harvests a particular site can handle. The forests of Pennsylvania were treated so brutally in the past, it's a miracle the hardwoods have come back as well as they have. Now these same sites are being disturbed less than a century later. We look back with horror at those who destroyed the forests the first time. How do we know that a hundred years from now, somebody isn't going to say of us, 'they had the ecology, they had the biology to know better what they were doing, but they went ahead and harvested at this rate and with these methods'? Will they look back at us and say we blew it?"

But to some in the forest industry, this talk implies unnecessary and harmful limitations on timber cutting. The Hardwood Lumber Manufacturers Association represents some 400 sawmills, paper and pulp companies, and is working with a number of other forest product groups in an industry notorious for its independence. They have their own forestry and biodiversity concerns, but they also worry about local ordinances that restrict timber harvesting on private lands, too little cutting permitted on state land, and the increasing number of environmental appeals that at least temporarily stop timbering in the national forest.

In fact, the appeal process at Pennsylvania's only national forest is the only way citizens can stop or alter timbering directly anywhere in the Commonwealth.

Allegheny National Forest

Spread across four northern counties (Elk, Forest, McKean and Warren), the Allegheny National Forest contains just 3% of Pennsylvania's total timber lands, but it has the greatest abundance of the most commercially valuable wood in the state. According to official Forest Service figures, it is the most profitable national forest in America outside the Pacific Northwest.

By law, the counties where the national forest is located divide 25% of its profits. (Even after costs, the Forest claims a 1992 profit of $10.9 million.) According to their figures, timbering in the national forest meant more than a thousand jobs in 1992, with an estimated value of $56.4 million. "They're a major employer up here," says Mike Bleech, an outdoor writer and photographer who lives in Warren, where the national forest is headquartered. "There's a lot of logging, but people aren't opposed to it."

But some local citizens have joined in the appeals, which began only in recent years. "People from the Allegheny Forest area who were concerned about what was happening there got in touch with us," says Lisa Mosca, one of twenty members of the Eastern Forest Mountain Conservation Project, a student group at Swarthmore that filed several appeals. "They wanted to do something but didn't have the technical expertise."

The Allegheny didn't retain mineral rights in the nation's first oil field area, so private companies keep some 6000 oil and gas wells going, the most extensive drilling on any national forest in the country. Critics such as Sam Hayes, advisor to the Sierra Club, say it has resulted in a steady stream of water and soil pollution. They also claim the 1100 miles of roads through the forest (most of them for oil, gas and timber companies) cause serious erosion as well as disrupting migratory wildlife patterns. New roads are built at the rate of 12 to 29 miles a year (nationally, the U.S Forest Service is the biggest road builder in the world).

"No data shows a seriously affected ecosystem," according to Dale Dungy, Information Management Staff Officer. Others say that there is a serious effort underway to incorporate environmental and biodiversity concerns in Allegheny National Forest management--and that joyriders in all-terrain vehicles are doing as much damage as timbering or drilling anyway.

While environmental appeals don't seem to have seriously disrupted the pace of timbering on the Allegheny National Forest in any case, there is no direct appeals process at all for timber sales on state forests. Some environmentalists question where and how some cuts are done, and how the state arrives at its overall "allowable cut." They call for more access to information about forest practices on state lands, as well as formal mechanisms for input and appeal. But timber harvesters complain that they get to harvest less than half of that allowable cut, basically because there aren't enough state foresters to decide exactly which areas and which trees are to be harvested. A recent report by the Citizens Advisory Council to the Department of Environmental Resources calls for an increase in cutting of 10% a year for the next five years, to help finance needed state forest conservation programs.

But all together, public lands make up only 21% of the state's timberlands. Private lands account for most of Pennsylvania's timber sales, but environmental laws and a scattering of township ordinances notwithstanding, there is little regulation on how much or how private forests are cut.

All this leads some to say that the real jobs issue has little to do with the environment and a lot to do with exports. Officially, about 40% of Pennsylvania's hardwood timber is shipped overseas, although other estimates go as high as 75%. " No one really knows," says Maurice Forrester, of the Citizen's Advisory Council. (He allows that a forebearer might have been a forester, but one who couldn't spell.). "But everyone agrees the volume of raw logs leaving the state is very high, and higher than it ought to be."

The problem is that a greater number of higher paying jobs come after the timber is cut: in kiln drying it, and fashioning it into dimension stock and furniture parts and finally into cabinets and cherry wood tables. These are the "value-added" process jobs, which are lost when logs are exported.

Pennsylvania has a substantial value-added industry, but it is still operating below capacity. According to the state Commerce Department, employment is increasing in these secondary processing jobs, while decreasing in timber cutting itself. Although this is better for overall wages, it has some regional impact: most value-added industries are in southeast Pennsylvania but the timber jobs are mostly in the northwest and central regions. In Philadelphia, for example, 1988 forest products employment exceeded 1300 jobs and average wages exceeded $21,000 a year. But in Warren County, host to the Allegheny National Forest, there were fewer jobs (though they accounted for a greater proportion of the county's employment) and an annual wage of under $14,000.

The Hardwoods Development Council operates out of the Commerce Department with members from other state departments, forest agencies, forest product companies, academia and the state legislature. It gets about $300,000 a year in state funds to help value-added companies expand and retool with new technology, find new ways to use hardwoods (a research and building program for timber bridges is underway) and to convince foreign countries that it's cheaper to buy Pennsylvania value-added wood products than it is to import Pennsylvania wood.

The Council was charged specifically with expanding the value-added industry beyond the southeast quadrant, so its largest single investment was in construction loans, infrastructure improvement and job training for Allegheny Particleboard in the northern county of McKean. Overall, there's been about $85 million in state assistance to over 100 companies in the hardwood industry, which state government claims has created 3500 jobs in 50 counties.

But exports of green lumber is probably still increasing, because foreign importers will pay top dollar, pricing some Pennsylvania value-added companies out of the market.

The economic future of the wood industry depends in the long run on another generation of these valuable hardwoods. But that future is in question. The problem is regeneration.

Allegheny National Forest in autumn

"Natural regeneration has been the standard practice in the management of eastern hardwoods--you don't plant them, they come back aggressively after harvesting if conditions are right," Steve Thorne explains. But a recent meeting of forestry experts from federal and state agencies, private groups and universities ranked regeneration as the number one problem facing Pennsylvania forests, according to Thorne. The same conclusion was reached in a survey of the state's district foresters, who called it a pressing problem in three-fourths of the districts.

The problem is greater than some statistics seem to indicate. "We're still growing twice what we're cutting" is how Forester Jim Nelson puts it, but he's not talking about new trees replacing those that are cut or die. "In Pennsylvania forests from one year to the next, a lot more is growing than is being cut," explains Maurice Forrester. "But basically that means the trees are just getting bigger. Regeneration--getting new trees to grow after the existing ones are harvested--that is a problem. In many situations where timber is cut, new trees do not begin to grow, for reasons known and suspected."

Among those reasons are disease, pests, low seed production, acid rain and even the greenhouse effect. But there is one that nearly everyone--foresters, environmentalists and loggers--agree on: Bambi.

After they disappeared along with the trees, deer were reintroduced from other states. But their natural predators, the big bad wolves, were not, and limits on hunting along with the deer's adaptability have swollen the herds. They nibble away at so many young trees that few live to grow beyond their reach.

They also eat away the undergrowth that harbors other animals and are crucial to forest biodiversity. Solutions are expensive (fencing) and controversial (more hunting). But solving the deer problem is seen as essential to increasing regeneration.

Because deer and gypsy moths favor them, oaks are especially threatened. But they are also numerous, so some oak decline could make way for more species diversity.
black cherry

A lack of diversity invites disaster, which is why some are also concerned about black cherry. "That's a big worry here," Mike Bleech maintains. "The National Forest seem to be managing for black cherry to the exclusion of everything else. We've had oak blight and beech blight. If some kind of black cherry disease came through, this would be a plain."

National Forest officials deny they are managing exclusively for black cherry, and others tend to agree. "Certainly they're concerned with maintaining black cherry, which is their most valuable species," says Steve Thorne. "but I don't think that's their only goal, or that it overshadows their other management goals." In any case, in her research at the Powermill Nature Reserve in southwestern Pennsylvania, Cynthia Walter has already seen evidence of a disease that attacks black cherry.

Because of regeneration problems and other factors, the tree species mix appears to be changing. Red maples, already the most numerous trees when the forests were surveyed in 1978, have increased dramatically since then. Some experts (including Jim Nelson) expect it to be the clearly dominant tree of the future. The only problem is that red maple doesn't make for very profitable timber, partly because it is more vulnerable than other species to diseases that spoil its wood. So unless forests are successfully managed to reverse this trend, Pennsylvania's third generation timberlands may be less commercially valuable.
red maple

Another cause of regeneration problems may be the timber cutting method called high-grading, which essentially means "take the best and leave the rest." Loggers cut down the biggest, strongest trees of the most valuable species in the stand, taking with them the source of viable seeds for the next generation. In Pennsylvania, high-grading occurs predominately on private land, where the forest's future will likely be decided.

"If we're going to look at whole ecosystems, then we come right up against a very serious difficulty here," Steve Thorne says. "Most of this forest is held in small parcels--about half of timberland is owned in parcels of less than 100 acres--for a whole bunch of different reasons, and not held very long--an average of something like 15 years. You're dealing with 500,000 people and they're turning over the land like crazy. When you look at the data including turnover, it seems clear that virtually all of this land is going to be harvested sooner or later. How do you get consistency, not only over large geographic areas but over the long run? "

Some favor a state forest practices law or model ordinances, but for now, the strategy is to educate the people who log and own that land. State government sponsors a logger training and certification program (which Thorne says is "probably one of the best in the country") that provides courses in silvaculture and ecology, through Penn State. At least as important is the Forest Stewardship program, which provides private landowners with forestry information and specific guidance.

They are especially urged to obtain the services of professional foresters. Only one out of five of timber harvests on private land are supervised by a professional forester, and just 10% of these cuts are done according to a written management plan. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of local sawmills and logging operations in the timber regions, some of them eager to cut whatever they can talk a landowner into selling. Some experts suggest that this is the closest analogy to the forest mining of the past.

So what are these forest owners supposed to do? What they heard in that sunless ballroom in Monroeville from Penn State forestry experts like Steve Jones and Ellen O'Donnell, wildlife biologist Jerry Hassinger, and Tom Schmidt from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, was a mix of still evolving approaches to what should happen in today's forests.

Conflicts still exist: biologists criticize foresters for pushing timber sales, and forestry-minded officials hint darkly that biologists are really Muir-like preservationists out to stop logging which benefits the forests. Some tension was in evidence at the Monroeville meeting. Biodiversity advocates asserted that private landowners attracted to stewardship are often more interested in wildlife and simply keeping a healthy forest than in timber sales. A show of hands seemed to confirm this.

"You might argue that foresters can do better," Thorne acknowledges. "We're learning a lot more. But having a forester involved is a lot better for the land than what happens when they aren't involved. At least they're worried about the health and future of that forest stand. People may argue that they ought to be worried more about things like non-game wildlife--those are valid arguments. Those kinds of issues are being debated in the profession, and programs like stewardship are an attempt to bring those into the process a lot more than they have in the past. It's not perfect but it's moving in that direction."

Towards the end of the day, Jim Nelson seemed to speak for many when he said, "We're still in a learning mode. We need to learn how to merge biodiversity, biology, forestry and fish and game concerns."

But while the professionals were learning to merge, George Freeman had to go back to St. Petersburg and finish his cut.

Whose Woods These Are

It wasn't the first Forest Stewardship event Freeman had attended. In fact he was one of the program's stars: an example of a forest landowner who was doing the right things.

When a tree falls in his forest on this January day, there are several people around to hear it. Besides George and the bearded young man wielding the chainsaw, there's John Chapman, the consulting forester who has been working for Freeman for years, and Ron Weisenstein, the logging superintendent from Georgia Pacific.

John and George walked these acres together for the first time in 1981. George talked about what he wanted to do with his forest, and John applied forestry principles to his objectives and came up with a management plan. Computer programs and even aerial photographs were part of the process of assessing, evaluating and choosing.

When it came time for this cut, John cruised the parcel and marked the trees to be offered. Bids went out to 40 mills, with maps and contract requirements. As procurement forester for Georgia Pacific at the time, Ron took a look, made his own estimates and his offer. John drew up the sales agreement, which specified what trees were to be cut, how the trails will be restored and any damages to the forest rectified, as well as the monetary terms.

Of the trees he knows are valuable to timber companies ("merchantable trees" in the forestry parlance) John slashed blue paint across those he selected for their individual characteristics but also for their relationship to nearby trees or the forest as a whole. For example, a mix of large and small trees of roughly the same age aids in regeneration. The crew is also supposed to leave underbrush low on the ground, to protect seedlings while the dead wood decays and nourishes the soil.

Now there are only a few days left in this cut and everyone seems pleased. While Ron goes ahead to meet his logger, John and George keep looking up and around as they tramp together through the woods. Even in the dead of winter when there is nothing but black branches and white snow, they know these trees, their histories and condition, sometimes even individually. All three took pains to show that they were not high-grading.
red oak logs

John stops and regards a tall red oak. "Look at those upper branches," he points. "They're dead. Gypsy moths got this tree. This time next year it's going to be dead."

George and Ron gather around it now. The tree isn't marked for cut, but clearly John is considering it. "If this tree is worth $100 this year, say, by next year it'll be worth $2. We're better off salvaging it now. I don't know how we missed it before."

Not all dying or dead trees are removed--a nearby red maple was left because wildlife could live in its cavities. Others are cut when they crowd out the growth of a younger or healthier tree. But in this case, the decision is to cut it for the timber value while it still exists.

John and Ron agree on a price. Then Ron talks to the man with the chainsaw--they decide how to cut it so the tree won't hit a nearby poplar when it falls. For all their care the tree falls in a slightly different direction anyway, though the poplar isn't damaged. It thumps to the ground, kicking up a shower of snow.

They all bend down to examine the stump. Small piles of snow lay on the visor of John's green cap, Ron's blue corduroy cap and George's turquoise hunting hat.

"It didn't fall right because it's nearly dead. It's already started to break down," Ron says.

"See how it's cracked?" John says. "That tree was damaged."

Ron brushes the sawdust from the base of the log to look for imperfections. "No problem," he says. "It'll go veneer."

Back at the landing site where the trucks are parked, they swap stories about other timber harvests--about how trained horses once pulled timber in Amish country, or how Huey helicopters lifted out logs in Alabama. Then the talk turns to local activity, especially in the area from McKean to Clarion counties, where there is a lot of private forest land, and a lot of timbering going on right now--not all of it as carefully and prudently done as this cut.

"Within an 80 mile radius of our mill I found 270 different saw mills," Ron says. "There may be more than that. Not everybody uses good forest practices. But it can be a big temptation for landowners who've never done anything with their timber. It's just out in the backwoods and they get $3000 an acre to clear cut it."

"But they haven't anything left either," George says. "People get greedy, or they need the money. They say instead of leaving some of the good stuff, take it all out. They don't think about the future. We could have come in here and cut all of this. But in another 10 or 15 years we can cut here again. "

"That's right," John agrees. "I've had landowners say to me I want to get all the money I can out of this timber so let's clear cut it. I say first of all you aren't going to get all the money you can out of it by clear cutting. Let's go in and we'll make a select cut of these individual saw timber trees and you're going to make more money going that route, and still have a stand of timber left--still have an investment in your property."

"That's right," Ron says. " With interest rates down to 2 or 3%., timber growing at 6% a year is an attractive investment. And that's just the 6% growth in volume in a good managed stand, plus a greater percentage of veneer and higher quality saw timber."

"I think records show that if you invest in timber land today and hold it for 10 years you can double your investment," John adds. "I've seen it. Probably even more now."

Clarion County

George Freeman is 62, and this forest is his nest egg, but now that he is retired from his sales job at Quaker State, it's also pretty much his life. He's spent untold hours tearing out the wild grape vine that was literally choking many of his trees.

He has his tree farm stands going, his experimental seedlings, and plans new plantings of the decorative pin oaks, his favorite tree. "It's never been about money for me. Maybe it should have been," he says. " We want to do this right, the way it ought to be done. I have three sons. I want to leave this in better shape than I found it."

"Pennsylvania's forests are the result of a tremendous disturbance," Steve Thorne says. "You can't find a forest that's been more abused that the forest here. It's a lot different than the forest our ancestors found when they first landed here in the 17th century. It's less diverse in a lot of ways in both age and species. Now if we're trying to achieve improvement in diversity in terms of age, species mix and their structure, how can we do that?

"Those kinds of problems make Pennsylvania forests ripe for some kind of innovative cooperative approaches amongst landowners and environmentalists, and the industry," Thorne continued. " I don't see any other options. What we really ought to be looking at is designing our harvests so they achieve biodiversity goals and other non-timber goals simultaneously. We have the opportunity, because we're now harvesting, to take this forest which is the result of a whole bunch of disturbances--this accidental forest--and help to design it to achieve some of the objectives that as a people we want to achieve now. Or we can go about it sort of willy-nilly like we did before. But it's going to get harvested either way around."

There's a lot that George and other landowners can't do alone. The average private forest is only 23 acres, and planning for biodiversity and healthy forests needs to be done on a larger scale. Cynthia Walter suggests financial incentives to encourage forest owners to work together with their neighbors, similar to programs that help keep farm land intact. But George Freeman does point the way in several respects. He takes the future into consideration. And it's likely that future will depend in large part on people who walk their land and know every tree on it.