Forty years after the A-bomb: The guilt remains


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Scientists who built the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima suffer guilt for bringing the world into the nuclear age 40 years ago, Manhattan Project scientists say.

'We were naive and idealistic. We thought that this weapon would make wars -- big wars -- impossible,' said Victor Weisskopf, a physicist at Los Alamos, N.M., who worked under J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb.


'When I found out that on the contrary here were more and more (nuclear weapons) I felt the guilt. It was our brainchild. Of course, if we hadn't done it, some one else would have. But that doesn't matter,' he said Wednesday.

Weisskopf is one of 11 professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked for Oppenheimer at Los Alamos during World War II. The 11, today aged 65 to 75, included physicists and a metalurgist recruited to work on the top secret project.

At a lecture series, 'Forty Years After: Los Alamos, MIT, and the Bomb,' the scientists pressed for greater international understanding and arms control.

Jerrold Zacharias, a physicist who headed the engineering division at Los Alamos, said some scientists' feelings of guilt came from continuing their work after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.


'Everybody else said the labs should continue,' said Zacharias. 'We didn't set a limit on the numbers. We just tried to make it possible to have a stockpile.'

'If I had known then what I know now, I would not have participated,' admitted professor Bernard Feld.

He said he, like many Manhattan Project scientists, saw the work at Los Alamos as a race with Adolf Hitler's scientists to develop the bomb. They learned later that German development was not as advanced as was thought.

Weisskopf said most scientists working on the bomb, called 'the device' at Los Alamos, never stopped to re-evaluate their mission after the Germans surrendered.

'The momentum of the work itself, the feeling that you must go on' carried the project, he said. 'You fall in love with your work. We were at that time very idealistic.'

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