The Big Bang

Saul Austerlitz in the Moscow Times:

Screenhunter_11Szilard — a Hungarian refugee and “inventor of all things” who wrote science fiction and sketched out plans for electrified barbers’ chairs and magnetized stockings in his spare time — stood in confrontational counterpoint to warrior-scientists like Edward Teller and Herman Kahn, who sought to weaponize atomic research. Szilard advocated fruitlessly for the United States to restrict itself to an atomic-bomb demonstration in order to frighten Japan into submission in 1945, and was suitably horrified by misleading pronouncements like that in the 1951 public-information film “Atomic Alert” that “the chance of your being hurt by an atomic bomb is slight.” Unchecked by the ramifications of their research, scientists pressed on to the next generations of superweaponry — the hydrogen bomb and the proposed cobalt bomb, which would create a radioactive cloud potentially powerful enough to end all human life. “Gentlemen: You are mad!” shouted the title of an incendiary essay by the historian Lewis Mumford, but at the time, the righteous outrage of a Mumford or a Bertrand Russell seemed positively feeble next to the careful, calculating sophistry of Kahn, who proclaimed that nuclear war was winnable, or of Teller, who argued that “radiological warfare could be used in a humane manner.”

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