Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Recollection

Today remains Thursday, 9 September 2010.

The physicist Edward Teller died on this date in 2003, aged 95.

Teller is remembered as the “father of the hydrogen bomb”. Teller was an early member of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic weapons which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His actual contribution to the Project was relatively minor, since he had developed a passion for indulging pursuit of an idea he called “the Super”. A man of enormous ego, he affected to dislike the “father” title, while claiming far more credit for the development of the H-Bomb than he deserves. Teller’s 1954 dissimulations before an investigating committee helped lead to the false condemnation of J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Project, as a security risk.

Late in his career, during the Reagan regime, Teller became a vocal advocate for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, dubbed “Star Wars”), a fanciful attempt to produce a shield against ballistic missiles, which, had it been feasible, would have given the USA/USE immunity against a Soviet missile strike, and therefore the ability to destroy the USSR with a nuclear first strike, with the accompanying deaths of tens of millions of human beings.

In the spring of 1985, Teller spoke in support of SDI at New York University. A friend served on the Speaker’s Committee, and, at the reception after the speech, we met Teller.

Teller was what I expected. A man long past his professional prime, desperate to believe that he was still an Important Public Figure, basking in the pale attentions of people, most of whom had no real idea who he had once been, and the role he had once played. Unless one knew, one would have had no clue that this tall egotist in an expensive suit and hand-tooled cowboy boots had made his mark helping to create a weapon, which, if ever used, would create genocide unlike any ever before seen on this planet.

No useful purpose would have been served by tasking him with his crimes. We shared cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and chat, and went on our way, marveling anew at the “banality of evil”.


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