Nuclear Weapons and Physicists' Moral Choices Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3229 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Military


The physicists instrumental in the design and development of the nuclear atomic bomb are certain to have held a certain level of pride in their accomplishment however it is just as certain that there must have been regret as well due to the potential for destruction, death and war that had been loosed into the hands of mankind for use in war.

The work of Horowitz (1998) states that "With the Manhattan Project...many physicists would redefine purity and thereby their relation to society." In other words, science and politics had become very much interactive and as stated by J.H. Rush in 1947: "Science had become politically interesting and scientists had become interest in politics." (as cited in Horowitz, 1998) Horowitz states that while the physicists were "...dedicated to their project and to helping the United States win the war..." these physicists still had "grave doubts about the effects of their work would have on the postwar world. This internal conflict led the physicists to build bombs while talking peace." (Horowitz, 1998)

Fanton, et al. (1991) states it quite cleverly as follows:

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When its eager inventors confront the bomb's incredible destructiveness, they recoil. Albert Einstein gropes for the right English words to urge the President to make a Uranium bomb, then, years afterward, disowns the creation in disgust. Danish physicist Niels Bohr travels across the Atlantic to enlist the aid of scientists, only later to repeat the journey with dark prophecies of an arms race. J. Robert Oppenheimer drives himself to exhaustion to solve the puzzle of how to sustain an explosive nuclear reaction. Yet as he watches the first atomic fireball rise from the New Mexican desert, he thinks only of death and destruction." (Fanton, et al., 1991)


Term Paper on Nuclear Weapons and Physicists' Moral Choices Assignment

The work of Nina Byers (2002) entitled: "Physicists and the 1945 Decision to Drop the Bomb" states that in 1943 the: "Tide of World War II turned in the Allies' favor. In January, the siege of Leningrad was ended; in February, the Germans surrendered at Stalingrad and were in retreat before the Soviet Armies. The Anglo-American carpet-bombing of German cities was underway. In the Pacific, Japanese aggression had been checked the previous May in the battle of the Coral Sea. The fear that the German war machine might use atomic bombs2 was abating. Many Manhattan Project scientists found another fear was taking its place - that of a postwar nuclear arms race with worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons. Physicists had little doubt in 1944 the bombs would test successfully, though the first test was not until July 16, 1945. In the Los Alamos Laboratory there was a race against the clock to assemble the bombs." (Byers, 2002) the pace was not quite as hectic at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory as the complications had been worked out on uses of nuclear energy in the world following the war was the primary discussion among scientists and engineers. It was laid out in the 'Franck Report' that fissionable materials would not be available for other countries therefore; it had become necessary to put some type of controls on these materials. The Manhattan Project had moved forward with many of the scientists involved in the project becoming advisors to prominent individuals in the high workings of government. Stated in complete contrast to the Franck Report proposals were advisement for: "...immediate military use of the bombs." (Byers, 2002) it is related additionally, in the work of Byers, that Niels Bohr had expressed deep concerning about "a predictable postwar nuclear arms race. In 1944, he urged Manhattan Project leaders and government officials, including President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill to consider open sharing with all nations, including the Soviet Union, the technology to lay groundwork for international control of atomic energy.


This aspect of the concerns associated with nuclear power is the focus of the work of Silvan S. Schweber entitled: "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist." This work is a narrative of how two talented physicists, specifically Oppenheimer and Bethe "came to terms with the weapons they helped to create." (2006) it is related by Schweber that the lives of Oppenheimer and Bethe ran parallel with both earning liberal educations with an emphasis on moral and intellectual growth. Both of these individuals were renowned theoreticians and worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos lab. Bethe and Oppenheimer were advisors tot the government on issues of a nuclear nature and both resisted the hydrogen bomb development. The responses of Bethe and Oppenheimer to the use of the nuclear atomic bomb as well as the testing of the bomb and domestic politics and the treachery associated with those politics were different as Bethe "who drew confidence from scientific achievement and integration into the physics community, preserved a deep integrity. By accepting the modest role, he continued to influence policy and contributed to the nuclear test ban treaty of 1963." (Schweber, 2006) Oppenheimer, on the other hand, "embodied a new scientific persona - the scientist who creates knowledge and technology affecting all humanity and boldly addresses their impact - and then could not carry its burden. His desire to retain insider status, combined with his isolation from creative work and collegial scientific community, led him to compromise principles and, ironically, to lose prestige and fall victim to other insiders.

The work entitled: "Invisible: Atomic Bomb Efforts in the U.S., USSR and National Socialist Germany" relates that governments and physicists both came to realize "simultaneously...that their discoveries had military potential. If any nation could harness the energy of nuclear fission in an explosion, a super bomb would be possible." (Open Society Archives, 2007) the second World War erupted in Europe in 1939 and the publications concerning nuclear subject matter "disappeared from scientific journals and the race to the nuclear bomb was on." (Open Society Archives,

The United States won the race and in 1945 dropped two bombs on Japan. Leo Szilard drafted a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt and then managed to get Albert Einstein to sign the letter, which "raised the specter of a Nazi bomb and convinced Roosevelt to authorize a crash project to build the nuclear bomb, the 'Manhattan Project'. (Open Society Archives, 2007) in July 1945, the United States detonated a nuclear bomb at Alamogordo New Mexico. There was another project to which J. Robert Oppenheimer was appointed by General Leslie Groves entitled 'Manhattan District' which was for confusing those who might potentially be spies. A site at Los Alamos, New Mexico was selected by Oppenheimer as the base of the project in which the nuclear bomb was designed and built by physicists. The first nuclear test was called 'Trinity' and was held at the test range at Alamogordo, New Mexico involving a weapons designed for implosion which was called the 'Gadget' by scientists at Los Alamos.

III. HANS BETHE (1906-2005)

The work of Garwin and Hippel (2005) relates that Hans Bethe was: "...exemplary as a scientist, a citizen-adovcate seeking to stem the arms race; and an individual of warmth, generosity, tenacity and modest habits. Among the contributions of Bethe to the area of physics were those made the "secret U.S. World War II nuclear-weapon development program (the Manhattan Project). In relation to the development and use of the atomic Bomb by President Harry Truman in 1949 and since Bethe had advised the President against the use of nuclear weapons Bethe wrote the following as a way of providing explanation to the American public concerning the weapon as well as communicating his "fundamental objection to such a weapon." (Garwin and Hippel, 2005) Bethe wrote in the Scientific America Journal (1950) as follows:

believe the most important question is the moral one: Can we, who have always insisted on morality and human decency between nations as well as inside our own country, introduce this weapon of total annihilation into the world? The usual argument, heard in the frantic week before the president's decision and frequently since, is that we are fighting against a country which denies all the human values we cherish, and that any weapon, however terrible, must be used to prevent that country and its creed from dominating the world. It is argued that it would be better for us to lose our lives than our liberty; and with this view, I personally agree. But I believe that this is not the choice facing us here; I believe that in a war fought with hydrogen bombs we would lose not only many lives but all our liberties and human values as well." (Bethe, 1950)

Obviously, Bethe believed that America, who had always stood on morality and decent treatment of human beings between nations as well as within the borders of the United States, should not be the country to introduce weapons of such a large destruction and life-taking potential as the atomic bomb. It was the belief of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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