On August 6, 1945 our world changed. The world’s first atomic bomb used as warfare was dropped from a B-29 bomber on Hiroshima, Japan. A subsequent bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9 hastened the end of World War II, and saved countless Allied lives, while taking approximately 200,000 Japanese lives – many of them civilians.
Albert Einstein, in 1905, discovered that a large amount of energy could result from a small amount of solid matter, part of his Special Theory of Relativity. And although he was a pacifist, he urged President Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb. This was due to the ascent to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany.
The Germans discovered nuclear fusion in 1938. And the world was concerned that their success in developing nuclear war capabilities under Hitler would be disastrous to the fate of the world.
At Einstein’s urgings, the Manhattan Project was undertaken to research atomic weaponry. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Harvard educated physicist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley led the Manhattan Project. Being hailed as a hero for aiding in the victorious end of the war, and having received the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946, he initially felt proud of his accomplishments.
But a mind that bright couldn’t rest in his laurels. Within months he saw its evil possibilities and spent the rest of his life renouncing it.
He predicted its use by terrorists more than fifty years ago. But this got him labeled as a subversive.
He was nominated by J. F. Kennedy for the Enrico Fermi Award for his role in the development of nuclear energy, that would ultimately have to be presented by President Johnson in December, 1963, after JFK’s assassination.
When Oppenheimer witnessed the detonation of the test bomb in New Mexico, he was quoted as saying a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now, I am Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Today, as we go about our lives, let’s take a moment to revisit the yin and yang of such power. What can be used for the ultimate good of all people, can also be its downfall when landing in the lap of those who would use it for evil.
J. Robert Oppenheimer wanted to see international restrictions on all such power. He was wise enough to realize that it wasn’t the bomb itself that held the power, but the hands that controlled it.
To date, these are the only two atomic bombings known to us, with the exception of test firings. The United States has been joined in its nuclear capabilities by the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and South Africa, although South Africa says theirs has been disassembled, North Korea’s remains somewhat questionable, and Israel doesn’t openly acknowledge it.
Can we be as strong without it? Can we ever go back? I suppose not, but in the hands of the wrong person, it would be the ultimate Pandora’s Box.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki have recovered and thrive today. But let us not forget the price they paid for world peace.
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