We’re still all sons-of-bitches

This new day (11/14/14) greeted Americans with news that the Pentagon needs to spend billions of dollars to repair our apparently neglected U.S. nuclear weapons system, including the submarines that prowl the world’s oceans, bristling with nuclear-bomb-tipped missiles, and the underground siloes across the country that house even larger missiles waiting to carry nuclear death to our “enemies.” In reporting the story, national media reaffirmed their endorsement of the nuclear gunslinger approach to national security by focusing on a shortage of wrenches and obstinate silo doors rather than the question of nuclear disarmament.

Having written a book about the advent of nuclear weapons (Rain of Ruin, 2011), I wonder what the scientists and soldiers who made the bomb would think of this new development. After World War II, bomb patriarch Albert Einstein warned, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” A moment after the Trinity Test shockingly demonstrated the immense destructive power of a nuclear weapon, test site director Kenneth T. Bainbridge turned to project director Robert Oppenheimer and said, “Now we’re all sons-of-bitches.” Oppenheimer responded from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become death, The Shatterer of Worlds.”

After the war, Oppenheimer pleaded with national security officials not to adopt the strategy of nuclear deterrence, “…these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.”

Oppenheimer also said, “If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people must unite, or they will perish.”

One World War II military leader, General Omar Bradley, acknowledged the bomb’s larger threat to humanity: “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

Fifty years after Hiroshima, Manhattan Project physicist Hans Bethe urged the scientific community not to contribute to the madness: “…I call on all scientists in all countries to cease and desist from work creating, developing, improving, and manufacturing further nuclear weapons-and for that matter, other weapons of potential mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.”

If the people who gave birth to the atomic bomb understand why it should be eliminated, not repaired and improved, why can’t our leaders today? They actually posed that question to Einstein: “Dr. Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom, we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?” Einstein replied,”It is because politics is more difficult than physics.”

It certainly is. And until we find a way to stop politicians from taking us down this path toward nuclear destruction, Kenneth Bainbridge still has us pegged: “…we’re all sons-of-bitches.”

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