Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
writes from Mainville, Ohio, USA, on Monday, December 20,
Did Heisenberg want to build The Bomb?
I'M a Junior at Kings High School in Maineville, Ohio. I'm taking the Honors Chemistry class this year. We have just finished Nuclear Chemistry, where we studied about the Atomic Bombs. Over Winter Break, we have to write a research paper on a chosen topic. My topic is on [Professor Werner] Heisenberg and whether or not he didn't know how to build the bomb, or he didn't want to. And if the bomb was made, how would the outcome of the war be different. I'm having a difficult time with my paper. If you wouldn't mind e-mailing me your opinion on this topic, I would greatly appreciate it. Sincerely
Well done for getting through to me. I hope my little six year old Jessica turns out to be as bright as you. (We just went out and bought a Christmas tree for her, her first! Her eyes are shining as brightly as the candles on the tree this evening).
I expect you can find somewhere a copy of my book The German Atomic Bomb (Simon & Schuster, New York). If you cannot, find a book on Heisenberg by Thomas Powers. It is a controversial subject. After the war, when they were in British captivity (at Farm Hall, Cambridgeshire) the German atomic scientists like Heisenberg and (right) Otto Hahn were at first sure they alone knew the secret of atomic bombs; when they heard the radio news of Hiroshima, they were mortified, and began squabbling with each other about who was to blame for letting their side down.
Later this evening (it is a cold and wintry evening here already in London, England) I will copy part of a new book I have written on Farm Hall for you, and send it to you as an e-mail text attachment. You will find the conversations recorded by British hidden microphones in that. (I knew Heisenberg incidentally, interviewed him several times, and gave the transcript of that to the archives. He reviewed my book brilliantly in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)
If you really want to shine in your class, write to Edward Teller, the "father of the Hydrogen Bomb", at Stanford and ask him the same question: he knew Heisenberg really well. (Address: Professor Edward Teller, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010 USA. The website of the university is http://www.stanford.edu). I know that Teller is still there because when I was at Stanford a couple of weeks ago, researching in their manuscript archives, I bumped into him: a bit more bent, a bit grumpier, but still the same old gentleman I once interviewed -- for Penthouse!
As for how the war would have ended differently, I once asked Colonel Nicholas von Below, Hitler's air force adjutant, that question. (It was 1982, and German television had just been "obliged" to show the Hollywood schlock mini-series "Holocaust" twice running.) "Colonel," I said, "Don't you think Hitler made a mistake in expelling the Jews, because if he had not then he, and not the Americans, would have got the atomic bomb first." "You're right," said the colonel. "Not only that: We would have had all the best film producers too. With our producers we could have made films about the American holocaust of the Red Indians, -- and with our atomic bomb we could have forced all the American cinemas to show them!"
All the best, for Christmas and the new Millennium. If you're Ohio, don't forget out annual Real History event at Cincinnati!