A 1.6 Megaton Terrible, Monstrous Sight

The Soviet Union tested a two-stage, lithium-deuteride-fueled thermonuclear device on November 22, 1955, dropping it from a Tu-16 bomber to minimize fallout. It yielded 1.6 megatons, a yield deliberately reduced for the Semipalatinsk test from its design yield of 3 MT. According to Yuri Romanov, Adrei Sakharov and Yakov Zeldovich worked out the Teller-Ulam configuration in conversations together in early spring 1954, independently of the US development. “I recall how Andrei Dmitrievich gathered the young associates in his tiny office,” Romanov writes, “… and began talking about the amazing ability of materials with a high atomic number to be an …

An Arms Race is a Hall of Mirrors

But [Enrico] Fermi and [Isidor Isaac] Rabi also condemned their friend Edward Teller’s Super [hydrogen bomb design] in the strongest language that appears anywhere in the nine pages of the GAC [General Advisory Committee] report. “Necessarily such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of the very great natural catastrophes. By its very nature it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide. “It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground which gives a …

Why Should He Presume He Could Fix the World?

If the atomic bomb had shocked the Japanese, it had also shocked America. Materializing from secrecy to such conquering effect, it seemed a mysterious and almost supernatural force. It was a new fact dropped into the world- “a new understanding of man, which man had acquired over nature,” as I. I. Rabi called the first explosion at Trinity- and no one at first knew quite what to do with it. The discovery of how to release nuclear energy was a technological revolution, most of all a revolution in war; like all revolutions, its meaning would not necessarily accord with hopes …

War Creates a Single-Minded Focus

The United States agreed to furnish Lend-Lease and the Soviets did not doubt that they had earned it- at Leningrad, at Stalingrad, in the monstrous enclosures in the western USSR where the Germans, as they advanced, confined Soviet prisoners of war completely exposed without water or food. At least 4.5 million Soviet civilians and combatants had been killed by 1943; at least three million combatants died in enclosures and camps throughout the war; at least 25 million Soviet civilians and combatants died before the eventual Allied victory. From the Soviet point of view, Lend-Lease was the least America could do …

A Chance Racist Taunt Strengthens the Resolve of a Soviet Spy

South Philadelphia was a tough neighborhood. Harry Gold thought the “fertile soil” of his “earnest desire” to work with the Soviet Union lay there, in his early experience of anti-Semitism: “When I was about twelve I made regular trips to the Public Library at Broad and Porter Streets, a distance of about two miles from my home. On returning from one such trip I was seized by a group of about 15 gentile boys at 12th and Shunk Streets and was badly beaten.” Gangs of Neckers, kids who lived in the marshy Neck section of South Philadelphia near the city …

The Alternative To Doubt Is Authority

What makes the planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler, some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inwards. A law is not a cause; yet it is more than merely a description. It is true because it is beautiful and simple; yet it is never quite true at all. “That is the …

Scientists Must Stick Their Necks Out

How is it possible that we can extend our laws into regions we are not sure about? Why are we so confident that, because we have checked the energy conservation here, when we get a new phenomenon we can say it has to satisfy the law of conservation of energy? Every once in a while you read in the paper that physicists have discovered that one of their favorite laws is wrong. Is it then a mistake to say that a law is true in a region where you have not yet looked? If you will never say that a …

Mathematics Is More Than Just A Language. It Is Language Plus Logic.

There is no model of the theory of gravitation today, other than the mathematical form. It this were the only law of this character it would be interesting and rather annoying. But what turns out to be true is that the more we investigate, the more laws we find, and the deeper we penetrate nature, the more this disease persists. Every one of our laws is a purely mathematical statement in rather complex and abstruse mathematics. Newton’s statement of the law of gravitation is relatively simple mathematics. It gets more and more abstruse and more and more difficult as we …