Man's Gift to Nature

Fifty years ago when the war ended and the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, Gandhiji said that while he was not condoning Japan, the bomb had brought only "empty victory to the Allied arms", which "resulted in destroying the soul of Japan… The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter bombs."

At a time when people would think that the atom bomb was a figment of every scientist's imagination, it had already become a painful reality for the people of Japan especially those who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An atom bomb was just a mass of complicated mathematical and physics equation for a scientist. But did he really feel or come to know a little of the pain that the effect of the bomb had given to innocent people?

On the day of 6 August 1945 the first atomic weapon was dropped. The creators of this bomb were J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists who worked at the Los Alamos Laboratory· This team has contributed a great deal in the making of the weapon for a period of three years. The bomb was first tested in the Almagordo region of United States. This was the first time that the scientists saw what they had worked so hard for. Some of the men in their excitement, having had three years to get ready for it, at the last minute forget their instruments for measuring the explosion and stumbled out of the cars where they were sitting· They were distinctly blinded for two or three seconds. In that time they lost view of what they had been waiting for over three years to see. The unexpectedly powerful explosion had destroyed all the observation instruments. Even Oppenheimer himself was reminded of a line from Bhagvad Gita: "I am become death" - the destroyer of the world. A senior military official remarked, "The war's over. One or two of those things, and Japan will be finished." Everybody was in a state of shock and was a marked silence for a few moments. How had it happened people who had embarked upon their careers in order to ascertain a more comprehensive truth were in the end obliged to spend the best years their lives in the search for more and more comprehensive means destruction?

Seldom can celebration induce such sadness as they did in Oppenheimer, when he watched the delight with which his countrymen greeted the end of the Second World War. He suddenly came to be an object of admiration by the masses. He was also called 'father of the atomic bomb.' He was not only regarded as the man whose miraculous weapon had spared the country the dreaded prospect of war but also as a new type of bringer of peace to the world whose amazing discovery made all armies and wars unnecessary for the future. He watched the people with a pensive sadness for he knew that with the dropping of these bombs a beginning of a new arms technique would come into play to which no bounds could be foreseen.

Oppenheimer was later charge-sheeted and put on trial. For three weeks he was put through a rigorous inquisition. The inquisitor was one Roger Robb.

Robb : You mean you argued against dropping the bomb?

Oppenheimer : I set forth arguments against dropping it.

Robb : Dropping the atom-bomb

Oppenheimer : Yes. But I did not endorse them.

Robb : You mean having worked, as you put it, in your answer, rather excellently, by night and by day for three or four years to develop the atom bomb, you then argued it should not be used?

Oppenheimer : No, I didn't argue that it should not be used. I was asked to say by the Secretary of War what the views of scientists were. I gave the views against and the views for.

Robb : But you supported the dropping of the bomb on Japan, didn't you?

Oppenheimer : What do you mean, support?

Robb : You helped pick the target, didn't you?

Oppenheimer : I did my job, which was the job I was supposed to do. I was not in a policy-making position at Los Alamos. I would have done anything that I was asked to do.

On 21 August 1945 a scientist called Dagnian was exposed to radiation while performing an experiment. His right hand was very badly affected. After a painful 24 days Dagnian died of cancer. For the first time death by radiation, which the men of Los Alamos had inflicted upon thousands of Japanese by constructing their weapon had overtaken one of themselves. For the first time the dangerous effects of the new power had been brought to their notice, not in the form of impersonal statistics from a distance but as the suffering, pain and fatal sickness of one of their own group.

Gandhi had called the atomic bomb as a 'devilish use of science'. Does science have this to offer us as a present for the future?