Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview

33
DOWN TO EARTH
1955—1958

AT SOME POINT during the 1980s, when my grandson Eric was attending Stanford, he insisted that I go to see the movie ET with him. I am very fond of Eric, and I have never had much ability to refuse my children's requests, much less a grandchild's, so eventually we went. The movie told a simple story about the troubles that a creature from another planet encounters on earth. My grandson, my son, and my editor-collaborator all claim that the film character ET and I have more in common than our initials. 1

Theodore von Kármán was the first to suggest that he and I, and other émigrés from Hungary in the 1930s, had an extraterrestrial origin. A curious preponderance of Hungarians played highly visible roles before and during World War II: Theodore von Kármán, the tireless advocate of U.S. Air Force preparedness and the founder of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, made great contributions to the aeronautics of U.S. planes; Leo Szilárd, the first to envision the atomic bomb and the initiator of the action that brought the need for its development to the attention of President Roosevelt; John von Neumann, who, as one of the foremost mathematicians of the century, made fundamental contributions to work on the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb and developed the necessary computational resources for the development of such weapons; and Eugene Wigner, whose work on symmetry was fundamental in applications of quantum mechanics and whose work on nuclear structure was most helpful, played a leading role in reactor design. As

____________________
1
Perhaps it is our bewilderment over some human behavior; or perhaps all nonagenarians can be considered extraterrestrials of a sort: Surely the world we live in bears little resemblance to the world we entered.

-415-

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