Nuclear war. The words that fill our hearts with dread and send chills down our backs are being spoken far too nonchalantly these days. By people who should know better but refuse to step down, and by those who understand far too little but refuse to admit it.
I wrote about this several years ago when Lawrence Johnston died. He was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project in White Sands, New Mexico, and helped develop the atomic bomb in 1945. The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima and led to the Japanese surrender. The one that hastened the end of the war in the Pacific, but opened the door to the Atomic Age of catastrophic warfare.
According to his obituary, Dr. Johnston was one of the last survivors of the 49 scientists who had gathered near a squash court at the University of Chicago’s abandoned Stagg Field and witnessed history when Chicago Pile 1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, went critical.
I didn’t know Dr. Johnston. I’d never even heard his name. But I did know Dr. Roger Voskuyl who had also worked on the Manhattan Project. He was president of Westmont College when I attended there. When I was first dreaming of one day becoming an honest-to-goodness writer. For my first serious article, I interviewed Dr. Voskuyl about his part in the project.
Not long ago, I read about the pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped that first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The young lieutenant colonel, Paul Tibbets, watched in shock as a horrible boiling mushroom cloud enshrouded the city of Hiroshima. Afterward he wrote these words in his journal: My God, what have we done?
That was what I wanted to know when I interviewed Dr. Voskuyl. The question I posed to him was this: “If you had known then what that bomb would lead to, would you still have been a part of it?”
When I interviewed that dignified, white-haired man, he took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at the tears that filled his eyes.
“I did know,” he said. “We all knew. But what choice did we have?”
I never wrote the article.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
~Song lyrics by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~