4 thoughts on “What I Learned in Japan About Science

  1. Do you really feel shame over that? I mean, a lot of aerospace engineering work has gone into killing people [in the air and on the ground], but I lay those decisions at the feet of politicians, not so much the people who made it possible.

    [One may spin this into why I have a perhaps-overly-fond view of Wernher von Braun.]

  2. I think it’s easy and comforting to lay blame on the politicians and say that physicists weren’t at fault, and it’s just Big-S Science for them. After a while, you start sounding like a movie mad scientist: “This is my planet-killing death-ray. I built it for peaceful purposes.”

    Sure, politicians are to blame. And the people who elected them. And the great thinkers of the past who created and informed our doctrines of what you can and can’t do in a war. And the 16th century European colonial powers who imposed their empires on the world, ultimately creating the geopolitical landscape that gave rise to the wars of the 20th century. And Eve.

    The physicists who worked on that bomb knew damned right well what they were building and what it would be used for. Anyone who didn’t was engaging in some self-delusion. So yeah, they have a share of the shame.

    Don’t worry, there’s plenty of shame to go around.

  3. Geof, I absolutely think physicists are in large part to blame. In reading about the Manhattan Project, time and again I saw that the physicists and other scientists were starting to doubt what they were doing, especially after Germany surrendered. But they pushed on, tamped down any dissenting voices, and instead focused on it as, in Oppenheimer’s words, “a sweet technical problem.”

    The atomic bomb project wasn’t research on something that could be used either peacefully or for war, as was the case with RADAR work, crypto research, or airplane research, to name some other celebrated WWII projects. It was research on something designed to kill a whole hell of a lot of people efficiently.

  4. Okay. Re-thinking that, yeah.

    I guess I’m thinking about how manned spaceflight grew out of ICBMs. The whole scary bit about putting a man in orbit was that you could, of course, drop a nuke on someone.

    Fair enough. [I admittedly have but a thumbnail-level of knowledge about the Manhattan Project.]

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