Chicago is not only the birthplace of deep pizza, but also of atomic energy: the first artificial nuclear fission was carried out in 1942 at the University of Chicago.
So it makes sense that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists started here, too, 75 years ago on Wednesday.
“What?” you can ask. “Isn’t it about the hour?” »The Bulletin suffers – oops, advantages – perhaps the most wacky advertising gimmick ever created, its “end of the world clock”. Created in 1947 to graphically show how close our world is to a nuclear disaster, his hands always seem to get closer and closer to midnight of Armageddon without ever getting there.
An effective public relations tool, but so powerful that you can be forgiven for not realizing that there is a magazine behind the clock. I didn’t, and my dad was an atomic scientist.
The 75th anniversary number is available online, and a delicious treat, featuring past articles written by famous personalities from Richard Nixon to Albert Einstein.
Nixon pooh-poohs international cooperation as only an old Red-baiter can, writing in 1960, “The road to war is paved with agreements based solely on mutual trust.”
While Einstein falters the other way, putting more hope in global action in the face of the crisis than it would appear for a refugee from Nazi Germany. Writing in 1950, he wanted “a supranational judicial and executive body (…) put in place, empowered to decide questions of immediate interest for the security of nations”.
Don’t miss “Can Air or Water Explode?” 1946 by Hans Bethe. Bethe was the guy, as the Manhattan Project went on, cleared his throat, lifted his finger and watched, “You know, one of us should make sure we don’t go and set fire to. destroy the planet when we try this.
Talking about that. William W. Kellogg’s 1978 article, “Is Mankind Warming the Earth?” makes reading sober, for the clarity with which it poses the problem that we have blithely ignored for half a century. “Is it possible for humanity to change the heat balance (and therefore the climate) of the entire global climate system in any meaningful way?” The answer is, I believe, an unqualified “yes”. ”
An introduction to the kind of bright eyes, but-we-mustThe scientific “build-it” approach is Edward Teller’s “Return to the Labs” of 1950.
“Hydrogen bombs won’t happen on their own,” cooers Teller, dismissing the moral qualms the Bulletin exists to stoke. “It is not the scientist’s job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be built, if it should be used or how it should be used. This responsibility rests with the American people and their elected representatives. “
But, ah, this American people and their elected representatives. Read Sylvia Eberhart’s 1947 book How the American People Feel About the Atomic Bomb. Savor his astonishment at the deep vein of ignorance discovered here. Two percent of those polled say they have never heard of the atomic bomb. A third has no idea what the United Nations could do.
“The fact that a very large part of the American public is not concerned about the problems related to the bomb is strongly indicated by the level of their information on the most important of these problems,” she writes, clenched teeth. “More than a year after the creation of the United Nations and despite the virtually unlimited attention paid to it so far by the press and radio, a third of the population has not been able to say what it is for. The UN was meant to accomplish, even in such broad terms as “working for peace” or “getting the countries of the world to cooperate”. These people were hardly, if not totally, unaware of the existence of the organization to which it had been proposed to entrust control of the bomb.
Perhaps getting Americans to look at a symbolic clock every now and then is the best one can hope for. Anyway, happy birthday, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s sobering to realize that while Americans were once just misinformed on the most vital issues, we’ve now grown to half the public raving. Not only by ignoring the perilous reality, but replacing it with false realities rigged by a jury to obsess. Makes you nostalgic for the day when all we had to worry about was nuclear annihilation.