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5 October 2012 BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD – AND STEAL – THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON by Steve Sheinkin, Roaring Brook/FlashPoint, September 2012, 272p., ISBN: 978-1-59643-487-5


“As Oppenheimer walked home, he saw one of his scientists bent over a bush, vomiting.

“He thought to himself, ‘The reaction has begun.’”


Here are ten U.S. Supreme Court cases that I believe have radically affected the course of our history for better or for worse:


Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Bush v. Gore (2000)

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)


Feel free to pick your own ten. Or think about what might well be coming down the pike in terms of same-sex marriages, voter ID laws, and immigration laws.


Think about how our country’s history might have been radically different if a more enlightened Court had decided Dred Scott or Plessy? What would have been the long-term impact of Roe getting decided the other way, had a somewhat different mix of justices been sitting on the Court? These justices get lifetime appointments which, in some cases, mean that they serve for decades. This is why I’ve long believed that the most important consequence resulting from who does or doesn’t get elected President of the United States is who gets to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court.


But I am reassessing this belief, of what is the most important consequence, after reading Steve Sheinkin’s BOMB.


“The men saw a purple-gray mushroom cloud rising above Hiroshima, its top reaching three miles above their plane. The cloud boiled and writhed, they said, like a living thing.

“’Even more fearsome was the sight of the ground below,’ said Tibbets. ‘At the base of the cloud, fires were springing up everywhere amid a turbulent mass of smoke that had the appearance of bubbling hot tar…The city we had seen so clearly in the sunlight a few minutes before was now an ugly smudge.’

“The entire city, said Van Kirk, looked like a pot of boiling black oil.’

“’A feeling of shock and horror swept over all of us,’ said Tibbets.

“Robert Lewis picked up his pencil and made a note in his logbook: ‘My God, what have we done?’”


BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD – AND STEAL – THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON reads like a fast-paced, taut spy thriller. It is, in fact, a spy thriller. But it is the real deal, the history of how nuclear fission was discovered and how the United States (with British assistance), the Soviet Union, and Hitler’s Germany all rushed to build the first atomic bomb – through their each attempting to obtain the necessary technology and materials by whatever means possible.


“Oppenheimer knew that this was a duel the United States could not afford to lose.

“’We were aware,’ he said of the Germans, ‘of what it might mean if they beat us to the draw.’”


What becomes so clear here is that Oppenheimer needed every available scientist in that field to participate – immediately – on the American side, and that the ease of doing background checks here in this digital age did not exist back in the forties. Thus, we now see -- in retrospect -- that there was so much classified scientific information leaking out from Los Alamos, New Mexico. One of the subjects on which I am finding a new personal point of view – thanks to Steve Sheinkin – is the Red Scare of the fifties. I understand now that there was much more to the paranoia than I’d come to believe.


“How can I save my little boy

From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy

There is no monopoly in common sense

On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology

Regardless of ideology

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too.”

-- Sting (1985)


Imagine being one of the best in your field and being sought after by your country to do incredibly important work. Imagine the price of success for the scientists who were involved in the Manhattan Project. Imagine that poor guy puking in the bushes when he realized what he’d been part of creating. It breaks my heart to think about it.


Given the world’s tension over whether or not Iran is developing nuclear weapons, BOMB is such a particularly relevant story today. It becomes all the more clear to me that the weight of the world rests on the shoulders of each of those who have the ability to unleash one of these weapons.


God bless all of us everywhere, and make us wiser.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com


Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/middle_school_lit/





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