Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Greatest achievement of organized science"

Hiroshima was destroyed on August 5th, 7:16 PM, our time--just under an hour before our sunset.



Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. ... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. . . . What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.

It happened on this date, this "greatest achievement."

New technology used to "solve" an old problem. We cannot help ourselves.

Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, suggested "we ought to stay out of the nuclei." Until we have a clue what we want, sounds like good advice.

You cannot separate tools from the critters who use them. Teaching science as some compartmentalized thought process without cultural context is a dangerous game.

What is our responsibility as teachers of science?
As citizens of the United States?
As human beings?

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer

And now I teach science to (very) young adults. I have a responsibility to them, to the state, to myself.

Harry S. Truman called the bombing of Hiroshima "the greatest achievement of organized science." If that does not give you pause, you should not be teaching science.

You should not be teaching anything at all.

This is posted every year, as a reminder to me.


Tracie Schroeder said...

This reminds me of Ollivander talking about all the great things Voldemort has done. Terrible, but great.

doyle said...

Dear Tracie,

I fear our worst atrocities exceed even the imaginations among writers today.

Anonymous said...

As a young adult in the early 1960's and horrified by the atrocities on both sides, I challenged my WWII-veteran father on why it was necessary to obliterate two Japanese cities. Like a lot of battle-weary veterans he talked very little, if at all, about his experiences fighting the Japanese. And he was very patient with his inexperienced and ignorant son; explaining that the Japanese would never have surrendered without an event of the bombings' enormity. I ask you respectfully Mr Doyle, considering the circumstances just what would you have had our leaders do?

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

A fair question, but before this degenerates into an either/or binary intrawebs match (as often happens with folks named "Anonymous"), a few questions need answering first:

Do you know the specifics of how Nagasaki got "chosen"? About the broken fuel pump on "Bockscar"? About the history of the previous bombings on Nagasaki?

When (and why) did the Soviet Union declare war on Japan; how might this have changed Japan's end game strategy?

Was the Emperor removed? How much does that matter?

Was the objective unconditional surrender? Was that objective met?

Were there alternatives besides a huge (and costly)land invasion that might have accomplished the same thing?

And finally, did the Japanese surrender because we dropped nuclear bombs?

Anonymous said...

You offer "Anonymous" as an option when commenting. I can and will provide a real name if necessary. All of the questions have been considered by historians and philosophers in one form or another. The conclusions are debatable. And I posed some of them to my father some years ago, even adding a twist (at the time) of my own asking why an uninhabited area was not used to demonstrate for our enemy the terrible power of nuclear weaponry. Truman had much more to say on the subject including:

"I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb.

Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken by this Government. But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we knew the disaster which would come to this Nation, and to all peace-loving nations, to all civilization, if they had found it first.

That is why we felt compelled to undertake the long and uncertain and costly labor of discovery and production.

We won the race of discovery against the Germans.

Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.

We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us".

Based on my own research and analysis as well as my father's comments about the will of the Japanese to fight on, I unequivocally answer your final question as yes.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

You could argue "yes," but "unequivocally yes" suggests you might be underestimating the effect of the USSR's declaration of war.

Not saying the answer is knowable, but would argue the answer is certainly uncertain.