People occasionally speculate about what may qualify as history’s most influential invention or innovation.
Some consider it to be the printing press.
We wouldn’t disagree, considering that this is a newspaper and printing presses are necessary for what we do — at least for the time being. Some newspapers have abandoned their printed editions completely and rely solely upon an electronic edition (one of which is part of what we do).
Printed editions of newspapers, magazines, books or leaflets may someday be rendered obsolete by computer terminals, laptops, smart phones or something else that has yet to be invented, but we will undoubtedly continue referring to one of our five First Amendment rights as freedom of the press — not freedom of the e-edition.
For all its importance, the printing press would have been useless without ink and paper or suitable substitutes. So far as historians and archaeologists have been able to determine, the written script was created in Mesopotamia about 5,200 years ago. It was carved into clay tablets.
Writing and the printing press are among history’s most influential inventions, and they could also be put at the top of the list of Things That Changed the World Forever.
Business Insider once listed what it considered the most important invention from every state and the District of Columbia. For all their significance, most had nothing to do with changing the world.
The latex glove was cited by Business Insider as Maryland’s most important invention, but it hardly changed the world. West Virginia’s most important invention (the steamboat) almost qualifies for that list, as do Ohio’s (the automobile) and Idaho’s (the television).
Fire and the weapon (in the form of a rock or wooden club or spear) changed the world as much as anything else ever has, and nobody knows precisely where or when they were first used — although it probably was somewhere in Africa.
Primitive humans used one to provide warmth and cook their food and the other to provide a food source, either by killing it or taking it from someone else — or to prevent someone else from taking it from them.
Business Insider said the airplane was North Carolina’s most important invention, and New Mexico’s was the atomic bomb.
They were used together for the first time 74 years ago today in a fashion that changed the world more than anything else ever has because for the first time, humankind had something it could use to destroy itself.
The atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1944, was called “Little Boy.” “Enola Gay” was the name of the B-29 Stratofortress bomber that dropped it. Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot, named the plane after his mother.
The aircraft is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia. Suspended in mid-air at eye level, she can be viewed from a walkway a few feet away.
Some who see her say they feel an unearthly chill when they think about what she did. A clear shield had to be placed between Enola Gay and the walkway because other people spit at her.
Estimates are that between 60,000 and 80,000 people died instantly when the Hiroshima bomb went off, and another 40,000 were killed when a second atomic bomb was dropped Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. The eventual death toll from radiation sickness and other injuries may be at least twice as high.
World War II air raids in Germany and Japan using conventional bombs killed more people than either of those bombings, including more than 100,000 in Tokyo during a single firebombing one night in March 1945.
The difference is that instead of several hundred or a thousand airplanes, it took only two airplanes to destroy two cities, and the lone bombs they carried were firecrackers in comparison to some modern nuclear and thermonuclear weapons.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 12, 1945, acknowledging that the reality of one plane, one bomb, one city was too much to resist and overcome.
Proponents and opponents of the atomic bombings continue to argue today. Some say it was necessary, others say it was not.
Of these things, though, we can be sure:
• The most terrible and costly war in human history ended three days after the Nagasaki bombing.
• The U.S. Department of the Navy estimated that between 400,000 and 800,000 Americans and up to 10 million Japanese would have been killed during the proposed invasion of Japan, but Japan’s surrender made that invasion unnecessary.
• Humankind became aware almost overnight that it can be the instrument of its own destruction.
• Having seen what they can do, mankind has so far refrained from using such weapons again.