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The First War of Physics

May 15, 2010

Michael Dobbs in The New York Times:

On Aug. 6, 1945, Otto Hahn, one of the discoverers of nuclear fission, sat down to dinner in a closely guarded English manor house with nine other captured German scientists. They switched on the radio at 9 p.m. to learn that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Hahn was so upset by the possibility that he might have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people that he contemplated suicide. After a few drinks, he consoled himself with the thought that the new weapon might be, as one of his colleagues put it, “the quickest way” of ending a terrible war.

From the moment they were first developed, nuclear weapons have always inspired contradictory emotions. On the one hand, they have been seen as the diabolic invention that might one day destroy civilization. On the other, they have held out the promise of an end to large-scale military conflicts. If global war is too horrifying to contemplate, then nations and politicians must look for other ways of resolving their most intractable disputes. [More]

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