The creation story of the atomic bomb told through a powerful and moving picture book


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/02/08/the-creation-story-of-the-atom.html


#2

Powerful and moving but is it accurate?

Perhaps it’s worth remembering that the biggest part of the Manhattan Project took place at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and in the early reactors where uranium was used to produce plutonium for the more “deliverable” bomb, the weapon that really started the Cold War.

I am very ambivalent about the Manhattan Project - we now know that Germany was indeed working on a bomb and that Stalin wanted to surround Berlin to ensure he got the German research labs, scientists and hopefully the uranium, and it’s possible that my father (who was out there, a naval officer trained in combined ops) would have been involved in any invasion of Japan. But testing the plutonium bomb reminds me of von Thoma’s comment - that once a war is lost the death of any civilian is unnecessary.

But what I’ve read here suggests that this is not the creation story of the atom bomb - except perhaps in the sense of a creation myth. If there is one thing I think we should have learned is that mythologising wars, their personnel and the surrounding events is a bad thing. Children should learn the truth.


#3

Dan Carlin just did a fantastic 6-hour audio program on this topic, on his “Hardcore History” podcast, highly recommended - http://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/


#4

I think the best history is “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes. I can’t recommend it enough. Also, Richard Feynman wrote some insightful essays on the day to day life working on the Manhattan Project, contained in “Surely you’re Joking, Mr Feynman”

I’ve done a little work at Oak Ridge. Rhode’s book details how the Calutrons there were wound with silver borrowed from the Treasury. The National commitment to this effort will likely never be repeated.


#5

I’ve recently read this book. Interesting in parts, maddening in others.


#6

I was going to suggest that; a powerful read and it does not flinch from the horror of its effects on people. In fact, the entire book up to that point, the minutiae of making one of these horrific weapons makes the victim’s suffering all the more real.


#7

Hmm. That may be worth checking out, then. Thanks.


#8

The problem I tend to run into with books on this topic is the demonization of the scientists involved. And, certainly, the atomic bomb is beyond horrible. Yet, somehow, the focus of this is always on the scientists involved, that they were arrogant in doing such a thing, or naive, or foolish, while the people in charge of deciding how, when, where, and why to deploy the actual weapon don’t seem to get the same focus. “The scientists,” people say “Should have known it would be used as soon as it was ready.” The blame rests on them, while being taken off of the politicians and strategists, because it’s expected of them.

Not to say I think they’re blameless, but imagine you’re an atomic physicist at the time. Your field is obscure, and theoretical. Everyone is pitching in whatever they can, including their lives to a war… and suddenly you’re told that your skills can uniquely contribute, and in a way where maybe no one has to die at all. You can help your country, or at least the one you happen to be living in, do research no one else ever could, and maybe even save some lives.

That’s become what I really need out of books on the creation of the atomic bomb. Not absolution of the people who made it, but rather to remember that the blame for it can lie across the board, rather than normalizing the behavior of everyone involved in making such a weapon, save for one specific group.


#9

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