(The outcome of the work at what was then the Clinton Engineering Works was the incineration of Hiroshima. The destruction of Nagasaki with Hanford, Washington Plutonium followed anon. A nun who was part of the protest party had an uncle who bore the burden of having witnessed what happened in Southern Japan). It was a weight that (Megan) Rice, who listened to his stories, would come to shoulder as well. She grew up in New York City, steeped in the progressive Catholic tradition. Her parents were friends with Dorothy Day, the radical founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which practiced voluntary poverty and service to the poor. Rice went to a high school run by an order of sisters whose motto was ‘action not words.’ Before returning to the U.S. in 2003, she spent 40 years in Africa, where she taught children in rural villages without electricity, slept on the floor, and regularly contracted malaria and typhoid fever. In a broken world, privation was a form of comfort. …
The book draws much of its strength from Zak’s ability to present the trio with neither lionization nor ridicule. However one feels about breaking into nuclear facilities, it’s hard not to admire the bravery and sacrifice such acts require. It’s also impossible, as the break-in makes clear, to have faith in the ability of human beings to safely manage nuclear material. A week before the activists’ first court hearing, a laundry truck leaving Y-12 was discovered to be carrying 20 grams of highly enriched uranium, accidently left by a technician in his coveralls. And then there is Eric Schlosser’s 2013 book,Command and Control, a dizzying catalog of nuclear near-misses. Yet as I made my way through Almighty, I began to question the heavy emphasis on symbolic acts that define the Plowshares movement. These are dramatic and heartfelt, but in some sense they amount to a retreat — from politics to political theater. In 1982, the nuclear freeze movement brought 1 million people to New York’s Central Park, which remains the largest political mobilization in American history. Today, a handful of hardcore activists risk everything to break into facilities and splash their blood on weapons, doing so as individual acts of conscience. Such incursions have done little to threaten the status quo or shift the debate.” —TruthDig
Today nuclear power is a reality only fifteen years old. It is causing us to rethink our whole relationship to power. For this awesome power now in the hands of men puts mankind’s future in the balance. It is a power which can be used for good or for evil. Because of this new factor in today’s life, the Christian church needs both to have the factual information and to seek to address herself to this new condition in a Christian way. The Peace and Social Concerns Committee of the General Conference Mennonite Church’s Board of Christian Service has sought to do this.
Dr. Erwin N. Hiebert, associate professor of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin, presented a lengthy paper to this committee on the nuclear question. His impressive work inspired the decision to publish this book. Further, this effort to face the question of nuclear power brought forth a statement of position regarding nuclear power which was adopted at the 1959 session of the General Conference held at Bluffton,
Ohio. Mr. Hiebert reviews the facts of the development of the atomic bomb and the reactions to this power on the part of scientists, the political community, nations, and the church. From this, one can gain an insight into the moral implications involved.
The author of this work comes eminently qualified for this task. Originally a Canadian, he did undergraduate study at Tabor College and Bethel College in Kansas. During the war he was a research chemist on the Manhattan Project. He did graduate work at the University of Chicago and received his doctorate in chemistry and in the history of science at the University of Wisconsin. He has taught at San Francisco State College and Harvard University and was a Fulbright visiting lecturer at the Max Planck Institute, Goettingen, Germany.
The Peace and Social Concerns Committee commends this book to your careful study. It comes from the hands of a scholar deeply concerned about nuclear power and one who can speak with authority. An informed and sensitive Christian conscience is essential if the church is to speak to the new world being born.”—Archive.org
Separately, there is another, related issue that complicates our understanding: people who met with FDR would often use tales of his agreement as a form of authority. Vannevar Bush did this repeatedly, and this is no doubt a pretty standard mode of operation regarding advisors and presidents. Bush would go to FDR with an idea, convince FDR to sign off on Bush’s idea, and then claim it was FDR’s idea, because while people might feel free to disagree with Bush, they couldn’t really disagree with FDR. One of the most famous examples of this is Bush’s report on postwar American science policy, Science—The Endless Frontier, which is constructed to look like it is a reply to a letter by FDR for guidance, but was entirely engineered by Bush as a means of pushing his own agenda, with FDR being a complicit as opposed to a driving force.
(Because FDR died just as the rapid-fire pace of events began after the Spring, 1945 certainty of success became certain, his choices about and attitudes toward actual, as opposed to hypothetical, nuclear weapons is difficult to discern). It seems fairly clear that FDR’s approval of the Uranium Committee in 1939 was initially because he was interested in the deterrent quality of the bomb. Alexander Sachs, who had the meeting with Roosevelt, related that FDR had confirmed that the goal was ‘to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.‘ Again, this wasn’t yet a bomb-making program, it was just a ‘see if bombs are worth worrying about’ program, but that’s still a little insight: it shows, perhaps, that the initial, explicit attraction was not in making a new wonder-weapon, but deterring against another one.
Between 1939 and 1941 there are big gaps in anything that would indicate FDR’s views on the bomb. This is not surprising, because this was a period of relative lack of movement in the US fission program, which was not yet a bomb program. FDR was occasionally involved in discussions about the program, but there was no ‘bomb’ yet to worry about one way or the other. In late 1941, FDR approved accelerating and expanding the research, at the urging of Bush, James Conant, Ernest Lawrence, and Arthur Compton, and in mid-1942 he approved of a full bomb production program… .None of these documents indicate intent for use, however. The June 1942 report by Vannevar Bush and James Conant, whose approval by Roosevelt is indicated only by a scrawled ‘VB OK FDR’ on its cover letter, indicates that a weapon made with 5-10 kilograms of U-235 or Pu-239 (then just called ‘Element 94’) would have an explosive power of ‘several thousand tons of TNT.’ It goes into great detail on the types of plants to be constructed and the organization of the research. It predicts a ‘bomb’ would be ready by early 1944. But at no point does it indicate what the point of such a weapon was: as a deterrent, as a first-strike weapon, as a demonstration device, etc. There is only point, towards the end, which suggests that a committee be eventually formed to consider ‘the military uses of the material,’ but even this is primarily concerned with research and development for the plants. This is not to say that Bush, Conant, et al. did not have their views on whether it would be a weapon to use or not — but the report does not indicate any such views, and so FDR’s endorsement of it doesn’t tell us much.
(The entire process was very much a joint American and English program that Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke of on various occasions). Another meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill, in Hyde Park, New York, produced yet another fascinating agreement. The Hyde Park Aide-Mémoire of September 1944 contained the following clause: The suggestion that the world should be informed regarding tube alloys, with a view to an international agreement regarding its control and use, is not accepted. The matter should continue to be regarded as of the utmost secrecy; but when a ‘bomb’ is finally available, it might perhaps, after mature consideration, be used against the Japanese, who should be warned that this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender. Here they were explicitly rejecting the appeal by Niels Bohr (which he was able to make personally to both FDR and Churchill, on separate occasions) to alert the world about the atomic bomb. But it is of interest that they were, at this point, specifically thinking about using the bomb against the Japanese (not Germany), but that they thought it would require ‘mature consideration’ before use, and that they were putting ‘bomb’ in scare-quotes. This is one of the few indications we have of FDR’s awareness and acceptance of the idea that the bomb might be used as a first-strike weapon, and against the Japanese in particular.”—Restricted Data
(To ‘prove’ such a contention would be at best difficult, though from almost a century before Hiroshima, clues of the central point abound. For instance, Frank Stockton, of “Lady and the Tiger” fame, also wrote The Great War Syndicate at a period in his life when he found electromagnetism and James Clerk Maxwell–or Lord Kelvin–fascinating. Here is a quote from this circa 1880 novella in which ‘motor bombs’ of thermonuclear destructive force first appeared). ‘The unmistakable path of national policy which had shown itself to the wisest British statesmen appeared broader and plainer when the overtures of the American War Syndicate had been received by the British Government. The Ministry now perceived that the Syndicate had not waged war; it had been simply exhibiting the uselessness of war as at present waged. Who now could deny that it would be folly to oppose the resources of ordinary warfare to those of what might be called prohibitive warfare. Another idea arose in the minds of the wisest British statesmen. If prohibitive warfare were a good thing for America, it would be an equally good thing for England. More than that, it would be a better thing if only these two countries possessed the power of waging prohibitive warfare.’
To anyone who has studied the development of what in this writing we term the Modern Nuclear Project, the language here recalls both the formative years prior to the Manhattan Project and the early attempts, no matter how self-serving and duplicitous, of the Atomic Energy Commission and its cohorts in England after the United States had waged the first nuclear war on Japan. Stockton’s prescience in this vein appears simply astonishing. ‘No time was lost by the respective Governments of Great Britain and the United States in ratifying the peace made through the Syndicate, … the basis of which should be the use by these two nations, and by no other nations, of the instantaneous motor, …for both Governments felt the importance of placing themselves, without delay, in that position from which, by means of their united control of paramount methods of warfare, they might become the arbiters of peace. The desire to evolve that power which should render opposition useless had long led men from one warlike invention to another. Every one who had constructed a new kind of gun, a new kind of armour, or a new explosive, thought that he had solved the problem, or was on his way to do so. The inventor of the instantaneous motor had done it. The treaty provided that all subjects concerning hostilities between either or both of the contracting powers and other nations should be referred to a Joint High Commission, appointed by the two powers; and if war should be considered necessary, it should be prosecuted and conducted by the Anglo-American War Syndicate, within limitations prescribed by the High Commission.
(Of course, Stockton’s foresight had its limitations). That the Anglo-American Mandate has failed to forestall ‘motor-bomb’ nuclear arms races that threaten mass collective suicide emanates from Stockton’s chauvinism, a naïveté that might seem paradoxical in contrast to the incredible precision with which he foresaw aspects of how the coming decades would develop. In any event, this incisive description of how ‘prohibitive warfare,’ or (what we now term) ‘strategic armaments,’ would rule the future represents an inescapable recognition of an intersection of industry, finance, government, and hegemony, a predictive portrayal of an atomic military industrial complex in charge of everything.
The remainder of this portion of today’s report lays out a handful of elements that thinkers need to ponder when they seek to grapple with the technical, political, and social enormities, not to mention the potential ecological Armageddon, that inhere in the human uptake of this Modern Nuclear Project. Those who ‘butter their bread’ as a result of atomic processes can rail against such a conclusion, but Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are just a few of the eventualities that force any but the fatuous at least to contemplate the ecocidal potential of this course-of-action that syndicates have so ardently syndicated for over a century now.”—Contributoria