A Half Century of MADness

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On this date sixty-five years ago, the planet had witnessed the detonation of just one nuclear device. That was the Trinity test at the Alamagordo Bombing Range in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Twenty days later came the second, and four days after that came the third. Since then there have been 2,050 more – or perhaps 2,053: there may or may not have been a nuclear test in the Indian Ocean in 1979, and North Korea claims to have tested two nuclear devices, although those claims are not universally acknowledged.

They began slowly, then picked up pace as the United States and the Soviet Union — and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, France and China — built up massive nuclear arsenals in pursuit of a Cold War strategy that was literally MAD, centered as it was around the notion of Mutual Assured Destruction.

And every single one of them — from that initial test in the New Mexico desert in 1945, to the detonations that confirmed the entry of Pakistan into the nuclear club in 1998 — has been recorded and animated in this extraordinary time-lapse map by Japanese artist Isao Mashimoto. After the initial three, the frequency of the detonations begins to increase, until by the end of 1958, prior to a temporary moratorium that was violated by the first French nuclear explosion, it seems that barely a day goes by without a nuclear weapon being tested somewhere.

There's another massive surge in 1962, a decrease in the 1970s and then a fairly consistent rhythm until, finally, with the end of the Cold War, a rapid end. The whole thing lasts a little over 14 minutes. It's worth every one of them. Haunting and strangely hypnotic.