How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race (Dec, 1953)

This is a remarkably uninformed article about what effect a huge nuclear war would have upon the human race. The author seems to think that the radiation would create a race of bald, big brained super humans (Homo Superior) with no wisdom teeth and only four toes on each foot. Depending on the number and disposition of these new super humans they would either a) kill all the normal humans, b) be killed by all the normal humans, c) enslave the humans, or d) co-operate with humans and help them.

Of course this all relies on the well known evolutionary behaviour of synchronized mass-mutation, where by large numbers of a species spontaneously develop the exact same set of beneficial mutations.

Adding to the author’s credibility is the caption on the third page:
“These cows were exposed to the radiations of the first atomic blast in New Mexico, in 1943.”

Funny, I always thought the Trinity test was in July of 1945. But apparently it was in 1943. The plot thickens.

I, for one, welcome our new mutant overlords.

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How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race

An atomic war could produce an entirely new species of man. Would he be friend—or foe?

By O. O. Binder

“Now hear this, Earth! I am Mutant Man, Homo Superior! I have been created by radiation forces out of the loins of you, the human race, after your great and terrible Atom War. Yes, I am a step above and beyond you and I am now your master for better or for worse. You created me in your blind, savage, senseless war of atomic radiation. You have only yourselves to blame if I turn out to be your— Frankenstein Monster!”

WILL this voice someday thunder ominously over the world from a Mutant Man, not a human being, but as far beyond us as we are beyond the ape man? Will a new race, spawned out of the hellish radiation of a world-wide Atomic War, go on to challenge mankind’s supremacy on Earth?

Shrug this off if you can or laugh at it as fanciful Sunday supplement pseudo-science. But first, examine a few cold hard facts that stare us straight in the face today, showing that atomic radiation has changed us physically.

Dr. Robert M. Sinskey, Lt. J.G. USN, has reported to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Committee that there are known to be 154 cases of eye cataracts, resulting from the explosions of the two bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan. None resulted in blindness, fortunately, but many required operation.

H. J. Muller, Nobel prize winner for his famed fruit-fly experiments, said that in the next 1,000 years, there will be as many “genetic deaths” in Japan as there were casualties from the bomb blasts themselves. By this he means that unseen internal damage to their genes, or reproductive units, will continue to haunt and plague the Japanese people for the next 30 generations.

Dr. Karl Z. Morgan of the Oak Ridge Atomic National Laboratories told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that even the smallest amounts of atomic radiation do some damage to living tissue. He is careful to keep his workers at Oak Ridge below an average exposure of only four per cent of the danger rate, which is 0.3 roentgens of intensity. At any rate, below that, damaged human cells can easily repair themselves. Beyond 0.3, human tissue would be severely burned. Several martyrs to early atomic research have already died from excess radiation.

The Playtex Park Research Institute of New York warned recently that X-rays, akin to atomic gamma rays, if used too often, can affect the bones of children and stunt their growth. In Radiology magazine, it was pointed out that X-rays may damage the reproductive organs.

What does this two plus two add up to? A frightening four. First, that we are living in what might be called the new Age of Rays. X-rays, radium-ray treatments and new medical tools like radio-cobalt are used in hospitals. Cyclotrons pour out floods of high-powered rays in laboratories. Radar and other ultra-high-frequency rays are silently and invisibly filling the air. Last, and the least of the least, stepped-up atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb test explosions send clouds of radioactive mist and dust for thousands of miles.

We cannot escape all these rays, but neither are they harmful, except in rare instances—so far.

But in case of a world-wide atomic war, with hundreds and thousands of A and H bombs exploding in Earth’s atmosphere, the amount of dangerous and lethal radiation the human race would be subjected to might be catastrophic.

The Atomic Energy Commission, in charge of our atomic program in the event of war, is working just as frantically on defense for our people as on the weapons of offense. For they can guess only too well what ghastly events might result. In their observations of A-bomb explosions, with test animals like monkeys and cows and goats only two miles off, they found no bad results from by-product radiations. There was no sterility, for example, as the animals proceeded to breed quite as before, having normal healthy progeny.

But—and here’s the big but—each A bomb sends out a cloud of radioactive dust or mist which in one case started in Nevada and fell on New York City, 2,500 miles away. And this “fall-out,” as it’s called, when it mists down to earth again, is what they really worry about. None has yet been even 1/35 near the danger point of “burning” people (relax!) or causing any genetic damage. But they are fall-outs from only one bomb at a time, over long periods of time.

What if 1,000 bombs produced 1,000 fallouts in a year or month or less, as might happen in wartime?

This is what gives certain responsible men gray hair, for it is already known that one gamma-ray from an atomic explosion hitting one human gene can damage or alter or destroy it. The authorities? Professor Raymond E. Zwirkle and Dr. William Bloom, at the University of Chicago, are today conducting unique experiments, using a new cyclotron that hurls out two-million-volt protons in a beam so fine that it can be aimed at one tiny chromosome and its many tinier genes. They have already reported chromosomes and genes rendered useless and dead, from the same general type of radiation that atomic processes emit.

So, it is no longer wild imagination but sober scientific fact that if and when an atom-war comes, spreading frightful clouds of radioactive dust, the human race is going to be hurt badly. Hurt in a worse way than , mere death or physical injury. Hurt for a thousand years into the future, through damage and change in the genes and chromosomes that govern all human life on this Earth.

There are over 4,000,000 babies born in the U. S. every year. If only 1/10 of them are affected by atomic radiation, that would mean 400,000,000 of them affected in the next 1,000 years. And even more, for the 10 per cent group would have two or three children each themselves!

What are genes and chromosomes? Cytology or cell science tells us that in each and every small living cell in our body there is a nucleus of chromosomes. Exactly 48 of them in every cell, without variation. Each of those 48 chromosomes, however, is a chain of anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of genes. The genes are microscopic indeed, for it would take 25,000,000 of them to stretch one short inch.

Yet minute as they are, genes are the micro-giants regulating all life forms, human or otherwise.

Genes are the heredity units of the living cells that make up the human body. You are what you are, and I am what I am, due to a certain complex combination of those genes, as transmitted to us by our parents, and to them from their parents and grandparents, on and on back to Adam and Eve. Or back to the first Cro-Magnon tribe of prehistoric cavemen.

The science of genetics deals with genes. One of their basic proved rules is that if any genes are changed, they result in a mutation. • That is, a variation which may be as slight as a child having the pink eyes and white skin of an albino. Or a freak or “sport,” in the most extreme instance, which is actually a new and different species from the parents.

This has not yet happened to humans, but it has happened to fruit flies by the thousands.

Listen to the story of the “winged guinea pigs” and of the amazing Mutant Makers. Thomas Hunt Morgan will occupy the Hall of Fame forever for starting it all off back in 1909. He took common vinegar flies, boasting the Latin name Drosophila Melanogaster, and subjected them to all sorts of new and violent environments, such as strong heat. Having a rapid life cycle of a mere 10 days from egg to adult, the tiny flies were ideal for laboratory evolution, allowing scientists to make them evolve or change a thousand times faster than in nature.

A year later, in 1910, Morgan announced a truly startling milestone in biology—the first mutant produced artificially, of any living creature. Insignificant? Sure, as insignificant as one tiny plutonium atom that we can’t see but which holds the vast power to blow us into more atoms.

By 1912, Morgan had produced 40 mutants, some so different from the original Drosophila that they were Frankenstein monsters. He bred new fruit flies, for instance, without wings. Or black all over. Or with extra legs. And special billing must go, in the insect freak sideshow, to the Two-Headed Fly.

He had done in one lifetime what Nature had taken millions of years to accomplish— new evolutionary species.

But in his footsteps followed an even greater Mutant Maker. Hermann Joseph Muller, eventually a Nobel prize winner, who first used X-rays on fruit flies and thus sped up their mutational changes 150 times faster. He created an incredible number of completely new species of Drosophila that bred true. From his pioneering genius, later Mutant Makers were able to chart and map the positions of the genes within the chromosomes, and could thus predict new mutants and deliberately form them.

And note, X-rays did all that. X-rays are blood brothers to the more powerful gamma-rays of an atomic-bomb blast. What an X-ray can do, a gamma-ray can do bigger and better and faster.

So, if an Atom War converts Earth into one vast giant genetics laboratory, with human beings substituted for the tiny fruit flies —what will be the result?

The answer is—nobody knows. And not knowing, many geneticists and biologists and anthropologists wake up in the still *of night and wonder. And they wish they could just go back to sleep and have common ordinary horrible nightmares.

Assuming there is an all-out Atom War in which not only radioactive clouds from A-bombs drift all over but are used as a weapon and aimed at major cities (such weapons, whether we like it or not, are being worked on), the results from damage or alteration of human genes fall in the following categories:

1) The radiation may simply destroy human genes, rendering the human race partially or totally sterile. Briefly, that fate for humanity can be summed up in one word— finis. But take heart. The general consensus is that total sterility is almost impossible, no matter how long or savage the war is. Life is tenacious.

2) If enough reproductive genes are affected, say thousands of them, and if they are altered into defective new mutant-genes of the dominant type, the mutant children born would be monsters of some kind. Perhaps throwback forms of inferior mind which would then unleash a horde of savage new “sub-men” upon civilization.

3) On the other hand, a superior species might be born. Homo Superior, more intelligent than Homo Sapiens. But they, in turn, might be more dangerous in our midst than the previous Homo Inferior, for Mutant Man might then war on us and kill us off, scorning us as a useless breed that no longer has any right to rule Earth.

Picture the final poignant result of this deadly struggle for supremacy, between Old Man and New Man, as somewhere on Earth a panting, frightened figure is cornered in the ruins of a city by Mutant Man and there he dies—the last man.

4) The above assumes that radiation is so widespread during and after the Atom War, and so many new Mutants are born, that they outnumber their human parents. But the reverse might also come true, that we humans outnumber the Mutants. They might be comparatively rare, say 1,000,000 against Earth’s 2,000,000,000 humans. In which case the tables would be turned and we would hunt down and kill the last Mutant.

5) And this might be a pity, especially if the Mutants are our superiors. Then it would be a tragic, stupid witch-hunt, destroying creatures better and finer than we are. But it would be necessary—at least from the human viewpoint—in order to keep our freedom.

6) Because, if we didn’t succeed in wiping out Mutant Man, his great superiority of mind would inevitably make him the master of the world. He might be tolerant enough to let us live as his slaves and even treat us kindly.

But humans would then be mere dumb slaves, living in humiliation, dreaming of past glory that is gone forever.

There is another possibility. But first, what would Mutant Man (and Woman), or Homo Superior be like?

Going back to Darwin and his theory of evolution which burst like an atomic bomb into human thought in 1859, we find that when true man, Homo Sapiens, appeared on the scene somewhere during the Ice Age, he was infinitely brainier and more skilled and finer than any of the prior sub-men such as Neanderthal, Heidelberg, Piltdown, etc.

And so we can expect Mutant Man to be that much above us. Ales Hrdlicka, famed anthropologist, once described the new species of man that might arise on Earth by natural evolution in the dim future. He saw Homo Superior as follows.

He would be taller than us, perhaps averaging 6’2″ ft. His head would be broader and larger, holding a brain much, bigger, maybe by 50 per cent. But as a “penalty, he would be almost hairless, perhaps totally bald. His features would be thinner, finer, with delicate bones, smaller and fewer teeth and no useless wisdom teeth at all.

Hands and feet narrower, fingers long and thin, legs longer, arms shorter, whole body willowy—this completes the physical picture. Except for one more interesting thing—that the recessive fifth toes would vanish. Mankind would be four-toed!

Mutant Man’s body processes would be speeded up, Hrdlicka surmises. He would have a faster metabolism rate, giving him quickness and deftness and more energy, faster pulse and respiration rate, higher body temperature. In general, he would live a longer, better and healthier life.

Finally, it would be only the wisdom teeth that would vanish. In wisdom itself. Mutant Man would gain tremendously. His larger brain would give him intellectual powers and immense intelligence beside which we would stack up like clever, trained apes, or low-grade morons. Mutant Man might very likely reach a high enough ethical, moral and spiritual level to eliminate the social maladjustments that cause war, crime and insanity.

7) This brings us to a more optimistic, heartening peek into the future, after an Atom War dumps Mutant Man in our startled laps. There might be, as said before, only a few thousand or million Mutants born out of Earth’s billions. They might then co-operate with humans, joining and helping them.

Mutant Man might then become a sort of wise, scientific, leadership class, leading civilization to undreamed-of heights. They might in time be duly elected into government authority, to the benefit of Old and New Man both. It might mark the end of what they will call a long “Dark Era” of humanity’s struggle toward the light of reason and universal peace and one-world brotherhood. And it might mean the final wiping-out of all prejudice and race discrimination.

But this beautiful dream might be a bursting bubble containing its own tragic irony. For it is quite possible that Mutant Man, a freakish result of man-made atomics, might be a “mule”—a sterile offshoot of the human race, unable to reproduce his kind. And one somber day would come the sad moment when the Last Mutant waved farewell to his human brothers and passed on, to be honored down through time for what he and his fellows did in one short life-span, leading mankind to a pinnacle of civilization.

Granted that all the above is sheer speculation. No crystal ball can show the future. Mutant Man may never appear.

Which will it be? The men who hold the power today to unleash the frightful furies of an Atom War have in their hands our future, for ages to come. It would be well for them to think twice before giving the signal.

16 comments
  1. jayessell says: August 16, 20067:19 pm

    I wonder if Stan Lee read this article years before creating the X-Men comics?

  2. [...] How radiation will change our race By ragmanx Not only do we find interesting ancient articles over at Modern Mechanix, we also get humorous commentary. I’ll skip much of the commentary, but point out that this December 1953 Mechanix Illustrated article gets rightly ridiculed over the implied idea that large numbers of humans will simultaneously get mutated with the same beneficial changes which will result in massively oversized brains inside hairless heads: [...]

  3. Stannous says: August 16, 20069:53 pm

    Or a race of mutated (damned, dirty) apes could take over and rule us, (and I for a second, welcome our primate overlords).

    jayessell is right, this sounds exactly like the anti-mutant plot line of the X-Men but the artist, Kurt Schaffenberger was a DC Comics artist, best known for Supergirl and Lois Lane.
    http://lambiek.net/arti…

  4. Stannous says: August 16, 200610:06 pm

    Uh-oh- according to this it’s already happening!
    (see giant brain pic here:
    http://www.space.com/se…

  5. [...] Gesammelt gibt es derartigen und anderen Trash bei Modern Mechanix (”Yesterday’s tomorrow, today.”), darunter auch einen Artikel darüber, wie radioaktive Strahlung eine Rasse von Übermenschen mit großen Köpfen und lustigen Uniformen hervorbringen könnte – und wie man gute von bösen Mutanten unterscheidet, wenn sie mit ihrer Strahlenkanone vor der eigenen Haustür stehen. [geek-pride] [...]

  6. Keras says: August 17, 20067:10 am

    Just to answer the question at the head of this page, Trinity may have been the first nuclear *bomb* blast but in 1943 there were plans afoot for developing nuclear explosives. Einstein proposed a theory of delivery over water using ships that could be floated (unmanned) into harbours and detonated. It’s possible that the first explosion was a prototype of one of these bombs – not certain though, it’s just a theory.

  7. steve says: August 18, 200610:57 am

    Nice,

    I’ve got a full page spread of the opener here:

    http://www.finkbuilt.co…

    steve-

  8. [...] Modern Mechanix has posted the entirety of an article from 1953 outlining how nuclear radiation will wind up creating a race of superhumans–the only question is whether or not they will be our amigos or want to enslave and kill us all. Um…in that order. Check out this opening paragraph: [...]

  9. Needcoffee.com says: August 22, 200610:13 pm

    How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race: A Frightening Four…

    Modern Mechanix has posted the entirety of an article from 1953 outlining how nuclear radiation will wind up creating a race of superhumans–the only question is whether or not they will be our amigos or want to enslave and kill us all. Um…in tha…

  10. Jeffery Wright says: October 24, 200710:53 am

    we’re all devo

  11. [...] Modern Mechanix has posted the entirety of an article from 1953 outlining how nuclear radiation will wind up creating a race of superhumans–the only question is whether or not they will be our amigos or want to enslave and kill us all. Um…in that order. Check out this opening paragraph: [...]

  12. [...] be preserved by the process. Radiated foods can be kept for years with little or no refrigeration.Even back in 1953 they knew better than to play with radiation.   Bacon in a Toaster. Bacon would be prefried, then hermetically sealed in this design for a [...]

  13. slashjpl says: March 25, 20089:46 pm

    Not only was the art done by Lois Lane and Supergirl artist Kurt Schaffenberger, but the article was written by Otto Binder, who wrote many Captain Marvel/Shazam stories for Fawcett and Superman and Superboy stories for DC in the Silver Age.

  14. Firebrand38 says: April 14, 20082:18 pm

    Keras, in 1943 the plans afoot to develop nuclear explosives resulted in Trinity, Little Boy and Fatman. That was the Manhattan Project. It’s not like guys were working on sticking fuses in sticks of Plutonium to make “nuclear explosives”.

    The “proposal” made by Einstein of ships in harbors was in his 1939 letter to FDR. He stated this (as he goes on to say) because he thought that the bombs might be too heavy to deliver by air.

    The “theory” that a nuclear explosion took place in 1943 is hogwash. The world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction only occured in 1942 http://www.ourdocuments… The ground was broken for the plutonium plant and gaseous diffusion facility in 1943 http://www.atomicarchiv… There’s your “plans afoot”.

  15. [...] How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race, Mechanix Illustrated, Dec. 1953 So, if an Atom War converts Earth into one vast giant genetics laboratory, with human beings substituted for the tiny fruit flies — what will be the result? The answer is — nobody knows. And not knowing, many geneticists and biologists and anthropologists wake up in the still of night and wonder. And they wish they could just go back to sleep and have common ordinary horrible nightmares. [...]

  16. John Savard says: February 12, 20099:50 am

    Kurt Schaffenberger is indeed well known for his work on Lois Lane. But DC’s best known Supergirl artist was Jim Mooney – who, later, did a considerable amount of work at Marvel.

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