He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible, swift sword…

The beginning of noteriety may be the end of discovery – at least such was the case for Oppenheimer who had no more understanding of duty than he had of the Bhagavad Gita. Bethe was a fellow traveller but never quite made it off the bus.

George Orwell said, “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” In an age where war has become increasingly complex sometimes we can not rely solely on rough men but have to depend on the man, behind the man behind the gun to make sure that our side has the best guns.

In all of the moral equivocating over Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and please remember it took two bombs to convince the Japs to surrender – I never hear anything about the projected one million American casualties if we had been forced to invade Japan in 1945.

There are always those who want us to beat our swords into ploughshares even though reason dictates that those who do will soon be ploughing for those who didn’t. Maybe Oppenheimer thought he would be as exempt from labor in the new regime as he had been in the old. I submit he was wrong and we should never allow those like him to lead us down the primrose path to slavery.

In the shadow of the bomb : Bethe, Oppenheimer, and the moral responsibility of the scientist  S.S. Schweber Atomic bomb Moral and ethical aspects Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967 Bethe Hans A. (Hans Albrecht) 1906-2005 Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press, c 2000 Hardcover. xviii, 260 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 239-255) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

In the Shadow of the Bomb narrates how two charismatic, exceptionally talented physicists – J. Robert Oppenheimer and Hans A. Bethe – came to terms with the nuclear weapons they helped to create. In 1945, the United States dropped the bomb, and physicists were forced to contemplate disquieting questions about their roles and responsibilities. When the Cold War followed, they were confronted with political demands for their loyalty and McCarthyism’s threats to academic freedom. By examining how Bethe and Oppenheimer – two men with similar backgrounds but divergent aspirations and characters – struggled with these moral dilemmas, one of our foremost historians of physics tells the story of modern physics, the development of atomic weapons, and the Cold War.

Oppenheimer and Bethe led parallel lives. Both received liberal educations that emphasized moral as well as intellectual growth. Both were outstanding theoreticians who worked on the atom bomb at Los Alamos. Both advised the government on nuclear issues, and both resisted the development of the hydrogen bomb. Both were, in their youth, sympathetic to liberal causes, and both were later called to defend the United States against Soviet communism and colleagues against anti-Communist crusaders. Finally, both prized scientific community as a salve to the apparent failure of Enlightenment values.

Yet, their responses to the use of the atom bomb, the testing of the hydrogen bomb, and the treachery of domestic politics differed markedly. Bethe, who drew confidence from scientific achievement and integration into the physics community, preserved a deep integrity. By accepting a modest role, he continued to influence policy and contributed to the nuclear test ban treaty of 1963. In contrast, Oppenheimer first embodied a new scientific persona – the scientist who creates knowledge and technology affecting all humanity and boldly addresses their impact – and then could not carry its burden. His desire to retain insider status, combined with his isolation from creative work and collegial scientific community, led him to compromise principles and, ironically, to lose prestige and fall victim to other insiders.

Schweber draws on his vast knowledge of science and its history – in addition to his unique access to the personalities involved – to tell a tale of two men that will enthrall readers interested in science, history, and the lives and minds of great thinkers.


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