|Vermork Hydroelectric Plant in Norway. |
Site of German production of Heavy
Water as mixer in Atomic
stew during WW II.
For a couple plus years I have been jabbing at a book on the German bomb. I can't really put Thomas Powers' Heisenberg's War ahead of American Prometheus, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, or Now It Can be Told – all important stories of the atomic bomb - but it belongs on the same shelf that tells the saga of the Western World's creative drive toward absolute destruction. That the Reich team sputtered does not detract from the tale - failure can be informative.
It is the story of Germany's failed effort to build a bomb before and during World War II, and as such is faced with the difficult task of unraveling a botch. Hovering ever over the story has been the notion that Heisenberg may have cleverly sabotaged the project; Heisenberg's War sheds light on the issue, but I am not sure that it moves the notion - true or not - even a bit toward more clarity.
Werner Heisenberg was a far more accomplished physicist than his bomb building American counterpart Robert Oppenheimer. Heisenberg formulated basic concepts of quantum mechanics, and won a Nobel prize in 1932. He did not want to leave Germany, despite some persecution as a "Jew Lover". As the greatest living German physicist still in Germany he got the assignment.
There is little evidence that Heisenberg's technical organizing skills were on par with Oppy's. But some disavantages were not of his making. His project was under funded and constantly on the run.**
Having to vie for attention among assorted German mega weapon projects - the V2 was Hitler's favorite up-and-coming death instrument – Heisenberg's program didn’t have the resources that the US program had. I read recently that Germany only spent an estimated one million dollars in their efforts. While, the Americans spent over two billion dollars.***
Tentative Conclusion: The bomb set the tone almost 50 years out – the people who lived under its specter are themselves leaving terra firma – as in history eternal, a new generation is coming to the fore in more or less total oblivion of what went before. Was this not possibly behind some of the thinking that led President Obama, as he looks toward retirement and to a presidential campaign dominated by blowhard know-nothing Trumpf, to orate at Hiroshima? Have we looked into our most spectral depths?
The Atomic Bomb was created by and in turn it spawned what President Obama described as a special logic of fear.* The failed Nazi quest is ably detailed here, but there is a feeling very much still prowls in the murk of time. I'd suggest this is a must read for most anyone interested in engineering, technology and history.
** Bombings, commando attacks, etc.
* In American Prometheus: Doctorow is quoted in the book saying “The Great golem we have made against our enemies is our culture, our bomb culture-its logic, its faith, its vision.”
*** I've grappled with Heisneberg book for many years... meanwhile I find what I am looking for in a simple theme paper tonight.
[[[I'd like to add more to this. Some consideration of heavy water. And The history of science failure. I'm listening to a lecture in the philosophy of science that starts with a discussion of Thomas Kuhn in the structure of scientific revolutions in his interest on the less on the underlying rationality of the scientific method and more on trying to explain various kinds of scientific billiards the new rationality and of course we have that here with Heisenberg ]]]