The brightness of a thousand suns

1 The old physicist plays with a loaded revolver. Remember the bright day when you discovered the equivalence between matter and energy. One can be converted into the other with an unimaginable glow. So unimaginable that matter may never cease to become energy and make everything created disappear. At times he rests the gun in his sien, at times spinning the drum full of bullets, at times pointing at children playing in the distant park of Princeton University. He doesn’t dare pull the trigger, don’t stop. He knows that others could also turn a piece of metal into a deadly weapon or a critical mass of uranium in the Apocalypse. Albert Einstein returns to his little house and writes to US President Roosevelt: “August 2, 1939. Recent work done by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, whose handwritten version has come to my knowledge, make me assume that the uranium element can become an important new source of energy in the immediate future[…] the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction has been opened up in a large mass of uranium through which a large amount of energy would be generated[…] This new phenomenon could lead to the manufacture of pumps and, although with less certainty, it is likely that this procedure will be able to build new type and extremely powerful pumps.”

Albert Einstein goes out back to the park, hands a child the loaded revolver, and locks himself in the small house, waiting to hear the gunshot.

2 In 1941, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg and the Danish niels Bohr gathered almost clandestinely in Nazi-occupied Stockholm to depart on winter sports and the annihilation of the world. Both are commissioned from opposing sides to create a nuclear weapon; both pledge not to produce such an abomination. Heisenberg will keep his word, hindering and deflecting the German project. Bohr will miss his, and will collaborate on the Allies project. That meeting decides fate and perhaps the end of the world.

3 The Messershmitt, Heinkel and Stukas of the Luftwaffe effectively gunn down radar stations and Airports of the Royal Air Force. If they continue like this, they will soon leave England helpless and win the war. The Allied Strategic Command meets to decide to turn German cities into funeral pyres for helpless civilians, saturing them with incendiary bombs in the so-called “Firestorm”. The idea is that for every wounded civilian five will have to devote themselves to caring for him, and that this will incite Hitler to waste his Luftwaffe bombing English cities in turn. Thus Dresden, Hamburg, Bremen, centres without military targets, with some 75,000 civilians incinerated per attack are incinerated. The same is done against Japanese cities: Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe. At the end of the conflict, Curtis Le May boasts a million Japanese. “If we had lost, we would have been tried as war criminals,” added Robert McNamara. Hitler becomes enraged, squandered his bombers against London, Liverpool and Coventry, and begins to lose the war. Subsequently, Kenneth Galbraith will demonstrate that the destruction of defenceless cities, far from weakening the war effort, left survivors no choice but to work in military industries, thus prolonging the conflict.

4 Albert Oppenheimer reluctances his finger towards the board that will blow Little Boy, as they confidently call the plump artifact armed in Los Alamos, a temporary citadel built in the desert to quarter thousands of scientists, technicians and police for the sole purpose of assembling the first atomic bomb. The security forces are harassing the director of the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer is leftist; her former lover Jean Tatlock is a militant, and has committed suicide by feeling abandoned by Albert. The physicist puts on the dark filter lenses, dispels his doubts by musing: “The scientist must only answer to science”, and presses the button that triggers the glow of a thousand suns. He knows what he has done: caught between conscience and remorse he recites a verse from Baghava Ghita: “I have become death, which advances by destroying worlds”. The father of the atomic bomb will be investigated by the Commission on Anti-American Activities and stripped in 1954 of any involvement in nuclear research.

5 On August 6, 1945, a free beer party was prepared for 2 pm at Tinian Island Air Base. No ration cards would be required. There would be lemonade for the teetotals. For the new philers, it would be projected It was a pleasure, with Sonja Henie and Michael O’Shea. “Wear old clothes” begged the posters: you had to be comfortable. The banners advertised the WELCOME PARTY FOR RETURN OF ENOLA GAY FROM HIROSHIMA MISSION. No social chronicler was planned. We’ll never know the expressions of the boys who came down reeling from the heavy B-29, sensing for a glow that hasn’t stopped burning. It no longer matters so much to distinguish between Tidbits, who prided himself on annihilating 90,000 neighbours in a split second, Beser, who regretted not dropping the bomb in Berlin, and Eatherly, who went crazy with remorse. In the long run, on the banks of that melancholy feast, we’ve all been sitting, joyful or reluctant, Russian or European, Chinese and Israeli, survivors of Hiroshima or the others. Because, until further notice, our official status is that of survivors.

6 Former President Jimmy Carter states that “America is the most belligerent nation in the history of the world for having enjoyed only 16 years of peace in its 242-year history.” Every day of those 236 years of aggression is signified by crimes against humanity. Let us rightly commemorate August 6 as America’s Crimes Against Humanity Day.

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