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1945 - The atomic bomb is invented (J. Robert Oppenheimer, et al., United States)
Washington Column by Peter Edson
WASHINGTON - (NEA) - When first publicity was given in the fall of 1945 to the men who had made the atomic bomb, interest centered on the then practically unknown young University of California physicist, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.
He had headed the Los Alamos, N.M. laboratory where the first three atomic bombs had been put together to win the war.
No one was allowed to see him there. He had to talk to visitors through the gate. But he was allowed to go down to Sandia, N.M., when the U.S. press was first taken to the proving ground to see the crater made by the first test bomb.
When this reporter asked Dr. Oppenheimer what he wanted to do next, he said he wanted "to go some place and run a lunchroom." After three years of the most intense mental strain, he was terribly tired. He wanted to get as far away from atomic bombs and killing as he possibly could.
If Dr. Oppenheimer had done just that, he would probably not be in the predicament he finds himself in today, with his loyalty under investigation and the top secrets of his government - about which he knows more than perhaps anyone else - denied him by the President to whom he was a confidential adviser.
Of course Dr. Oppenheimer couldn't forget the whole atomic thing that he and his associates had unleashed. He couldn't go off to run a hot-dog stand where there were no worries and no problems greater than the supply of buns and catsup, mustard or onions.
Dr. Oppenheimer was all wrapped up in the future of the atom. He was destined to play an important part in the development of atomic science. He had to see this through.
NINE YEARS AGO all the young scientists who had worked on the atom bomb had a great wrestling match with their consciences. Had they done right in releasing this great force to kill? Scientists are dedicated to making life better - not to destroying it.
Scientists are primarily humanists, Dr. Oppenheimer emphasized in that lunch-time interview in an Army mess hall in the New Mexico desert, nine years go. People were inclined to forget that scientists were humanists, he said.
Scientists aren't interested in the things they do in a narrow sense. It is the effect of what they do on humanity and everyday life that counts.
It was the belief that nuclear fission could be made a constructive force which kept Dr. Oppenheimer and all the other young scientists at work on further research. If this had not been so, all of them might have wished that they had failed in their first attempts to split the atom.
This background seems worth recalling now to recapture the spirit of the scientific mind shortly after the birth of atomic energy. It may also explain in some degree why scientists wanted to delay the decision to develop the still more powerful hydrogen super bomb.
AT THIS TIME, no useful, practical application of the hydrogen bomb force is known. That may come later. But today the hydrogen bomb is only an instrument of death and destruction.
Remember that scientists are humanists, what one of them or what individual with any degree of learning, or literacy, would like to take full responsibility for unleashing this killer?
Would not anyone knowing its potentialities urge a delay to think this thing through and be sure the answer was right? After all, a few months are as a mere second in the perpetual clock of creation and unending history.
Practical politics and the certain knowledge that the Russians would develop the hydrogen bomb if American scientists did not, would, of course, rule out any such philosophic considerations.
But these thoughts may help understand a great scientist who today needs understanding. And anyone who does not grant him that understanding puts himself in the class of a Hitler or Mussolini, who drove from Europe such men as Einstein, Szilard, Fermi and all the other refugees who fathered atomic science in free America.
The Victoria Advocate
April 25, 1954
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