Hell Unleashed

This week saw two powerful anniversaries – the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 followed by the bombing on Nagasaki on August 9.

As an American who studied physics and Japanese, I spend a lot of time thinking about these two horrific events.

Following the bombing of Hiroshima, President Truman released a statement saying:
Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy.┬áThat bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

What he didn’t say is that people were vaporized and you could see their shadowy remnants imprinted on broken walls.

That many who survived that initial blast walked for miles, futilely seeking salvation from the desolation that had become their home. But there was no escape. They died in the attempt.

Many more died in pain and agony days later as radiation slowly poisoned their systems.

Sixty eight years later the wounds are patched but unhealed.

As a human person, I feel an overwhelming horror at the events of those days.

As an American physicist, I feel a responsibility.

Genbaku Dome, the only building left
standing near the epicenter.

When I lived in Japan, I made a point of visiting Hiroshima. I saw the Peace Museum, the thousand cranes, the deformed trees, and the one building that still stands – a testament to the past and a monument to the future.

And I wondered.

If I was an American physicist earlier. What…would that have meant? (Gender issues aside for the purposes of this conversation.)

In 1895, at the age of 16, Albert Einstein famously imagined chasing a beam of light. That imagination led to his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905.

That theory included the understanding that a large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of mass (E=MC^2).

And from there, it was a small jump to imagine releasing a large amount of energy as a means of war and distruction.

And all from an idea.

From a man who thought big. Who imagined at the boundaries of human thought. Who did what he loved. Who only sought to understand the universe.

That has always troubled me.

There can be a real danger in striving too close to the edge. To pushing the boundaries. To seeking more understanding.

You never know where those thoughts will lead. How they’ll be used beyond your control. How they will change the world. Forever.

My senior year of college, I got a letter from the DoD. As someone graduating with a degree in physics, they wondered if perhaps I would be interested in working for them.

I politely declined.


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