Cities destroyed? Chosen to be destroyed?


From The Believer:

One evening in February, I found myself attending a meeting of the executive board of the Association of Oak Ridge Engineers and Scientists (AORES), a chapter of the Federation of American Scientists, a quasi-political entity devoted to dealing with the consequences of the atom bomb.

I recall sitting in a small room, not at the large table where the twelve executive committee members sat but on a chair at the periphery. As I listened, I felt myself being drawn more and more deeply into this world of strangely apolitical politics. I remember paying close attention, even taking notes at times on what was being said. My notes have long since been lost, but the minutes and newsletters that I saved attest to the fact that at these meetings there was some focus on budgetary issues (AORES had a pitifully small budget), as well as discussions about contacting local and state representatives, emphasizing the importance of civilian rather than military control of atomic energy. There were reports of contacts being made with scientists in the international community. But again and again the discussion was brought back to unresolved questions about the bomb and its consequences.

As I listened, I found my thoughts reverting back to August 1945. At that time I was working at Princeton on a government wartime project, but I had taken a few days’ vacation to visit relatives in Pittsburgh. Almost immediately upon arriving, I became ill with strep throat. Penicillin was not widely available at the time, so I was given a sulfa drug, which had the effect of sending me into an almost-catatonic state while it did nothing to ease the strep throat.

Benumbed, in a strange bed in my relatives’ house, barely able to react to my surroundings, I heard a shout. My younger brother, George, rushed into the room and announced that we had dropped an atomic bomb on Japanese cities and destroyed—

Then he ran out again.

“Wait!” I called out, but he did not come back.

An atomic bomb? Cities destroyed? Chosen to be destroyed? Who chose? Who decided? What did he mean, “we”?

In my befogged state, I thought of electrons spinning around a nucleus, held in place—could one speak of “place” in such a small universe?—by the forces binding the atom together, an enormous energy locked within. But now that energy had been unlocked in a sudden, violent release that brought about the annihilation of a city….

And, later, a second city—to show that the annihilation could be repeated?

“In the Atomic City”, Millicent G. Dillon, The Believer