Vision of a Safer World; Nazism Fuelled the Race to Create the Atomic Bomb. but, 70 Years Later, Is the Case for Disarmament Gaining Ground? David Williamson Reports: The Essay

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 3, 2009 | Go to article overview

Vision of a Safer World; Nazism Fuelled the Race to Create the Atomic Bomb. but, 70 Years Later, Is the Case for Disarmament Gaining Ground? David Williamson Reports: The Essay


NAZI Germany's combination of murderous anti-Semitism, crazed nationalism and totalitarian ambition presented the modern world with a threat of previously nightmare proportions.

This vision of mass-mobilised evil spurred one of the greatest scientific minds in human history to call for the creation of a weapon of such destructive power it also stretched the boundaries of the imagination.

Seventy years ago, as the spectre of war rose across Europe, Albert Einstein urged the United States to pursue the development of the atomic bomb.

On August 2, from his base on Long Island, he wrote to President Roosevelt with the suggestion that "it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium".

Einstein, who had witnessed the rise of the Nazis in his native Germany and explored uranium's potential with other brilliant minds who had fled, said: "This new phenomena would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable - though much less certain - that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory."

Einstein's gifts as a scientist and prophet are legendary, but in this case he was understating the power of what would become known as the Bomb.

Six years and four days later, the Japanese city of Hiroshima would be cloaked by a mushroom cloud and 140,000 people would perish.

This revelation of the true annihilating power of the weapon shocked even the genius who had helped ensure its birth.

He is reported to have said, "If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith."

In any analysis of the legacy and significance of World War Two, a defining aspect must be the engineering of this weapon which would transform geopolitics and threaten the survival of humanity as a species.

In the final letter Einstein signed, just days before his death in 1955, he added his voice to a call by the philosopher Bertrand Russell for the world to rid itself of nuclear weapons and renounce war.

It warned in stark terms that "H-Bombs might quite possibly put an end to the human race".

This declaration was a pivotal moment in the evolution of the peace movement..

Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, wishes Einstein had never written to President Roosevelt with his idea for a Nazi-stopping weapon.

She said: "We wouldn't have had the only use of nuclear weapons in war - the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which for many people is particularly reprehensible because it's now understood Japan was trying to surrender, so it wasn't as necessary as some people might have argued at the time. …

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Vision of a Safer World; Nazism Fuelled the Race to Create the Atomic Bomb. but, 70 Years Later, Is the Case for Disarmament Gaining Ground? David Williamson Reports: The Essay
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