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Reckless Path to Nuclear Weapons Leaves Us Looking Over the Edge

Reckless Path to Nuclear Weapons Leaves Us Looking Over the Edge

The Doomsday Clock is likely to advance again later this January.

What heralded the United States as a uniquely dangerous force was its creation of the atomic bomb, the world’s first nuclear weapon. Prompting this was Albert Einstein‘s signing of a letter regarding nuclear research, drafted by his fellow physicists Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, then quickly dispatched on 2 August 1939 to president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The letter detailed a formulation of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” which “may thus be constructed”, and urged America to pursue the invention of such weapons before the Nazis. Fear of Hitler attaining atomic bombs was Einstein’s sole concern. Roosevelt responded on 19 October 1939 promising to “thoroughly investigate the possibilities of your suggestion”.

After two years of analysis and inquiries, Roosevelt formally established America’s nuclear program on 19 January 1942, called the Manhattan Project – with a final $2 billion budget supporting it ($36 billion today) and employing over 130,000 people.

Einstein himself, whose parents were Jewish, had much reason to be aggrieved with the Nazis. In March 1933, the 54-year-old Einstein was left severely shaken upon learning that men loyal to Hitler had raided his summer cottage in Caputh, a village just 30 miles from Berlin. His lakeside residence was then converted into a Hitler Youth camp. This was the due thanks afforded to Einstein after decades of glittering service to his country.

Einstein, born in the southern German city of Ulm, quickly renounced his citizenship and spent periods in Belgium and England, before settling in America by the mid-1930s.

In September 1933, after a visit to an exiled Winston Churchill, Einstein said of Hitler’s rise to power,

“I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism. Does the world not see that Hitler is aiming at war?”

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