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« Deciding to Use the Atomic Bomb: The Chicago Metallurgical Lab Poll, July, 1945 | Main | Empty, Blank and Disappeared Things 6: Skin and Sand »

August 06, 2008

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Rick

I can still clearly remember, John, how appalled I was when it was revealed that Ford Motor Company employees calculated the projected cost of losing lawsuits due to an expected number of fatalities directly attributable to the poor engineering of the Pinto. Rear-end collisions were more likely to produce a fireball than in any vehicle of its time, and Ford execs knew it, but the company decided the cost to reengineer the gas tank was a larger number. Therefore, they did not modify the design.

To read this calm explanation of the greater efficiency of the early atomic bombs in terms of dollars per sq mile destroyed is not an experience I hope to have again. It make the calculating monsters who ran Ford seem like small-time crooks when compared to this horror.

I did take the mention of Dean Rusk as a chance to read a little more about him. I did not know he graduated from Davidson, nor did I know of his military duties. By the time I was old enough to care much about it, he was already the Secretary of State. He still is, in my mind, the image of what someone who is Secretary of State should look like. No offense to Condi Rice (who shares her alma mater with my eldest daughter).

John PTak

Thanks for posting on this Rick, and yes, yes, and it was old William ("Don't Call Me Billy") Shockley who wrote it. But this was his task and he did it; really, just like the thousands of others who worked on the bomb, though Shockley's piece was/is. frankly, different. Remember too (and I hate, hate to defend the man) that this was an internal document so he really was just pushing out the data.

The other (bigger) thing that came out of this paper was that Shockley very clearly saw the Armageddon Trail in very stark terms as a result of doing this simple arithmetic...maybe he saw it as well as anyone could see it in 1945. And *that's* a contribution, though was there anything that could've been done, really, about it?

There was good reason for that coppery smell around Dean Rusk.

Rick

John, I totally get what you are saying, that it's not like Shockley was the decision maker, and his report was never intended for my tender eyes.

Sadly, I imagine that you are also correct when you theorize that nothing could have been done about the Armageddon Trail, as you put it, which we were already well on our way toward by the time Shockley did his analysis.

To date, humankind has yet to successfully turn its collective back to any weapon or weapons system. Even tools of war which have been outlawed (don't get me started on the whole idiotic concept of civilized warfare) such as poison gas are still available to tyrants who don't care what the world thinks. Until we learn how to really, truly, give up on the continued design and development of faster, cheaper, more deadly ways to kill people, we will continue to inch down that trail. And, the next step after we stop creating new Hammers of God is to begin the process of retiring the ones we already have created.

John Ptak

Thanks again for your thoughtful input, Rick. I'm not convinced though on us humans not turning our backs on the best of the Hammers of God (RIP AC Clarke)--I know that there are hideous, disgusting weapons that even a Mesmerick Claudius wouldn't use; though I wouldn't doubt that were it invented by the U.S. that a little bit of it isn't stored somewhere, just in case someone else stumbles across it and we need to figure out how to combat it....or some such storyline.

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