German dictator Adolf Hitler had a central role in initiating World War II, by pursuing a list of bold and aggressive foreign policy actions dating from the mid-1930s, and culminating in his invasion of Poland in the autumn of 1939 …
Hitler’s expansionist acts on the European mainland inevitably spread forth to a global scale and, most tragically, he would ruthlessly pursue an organized and therefore unprecedented genocide mainly perpetrated against the continent’s Jewish populations, and also targeting groups such as Romani people and those with physical disabilities.
The above criminal actions have been broadly documented by historians for a number of decades. However, receiving very little attention indeed from scholars is that pertaining to Hitler’s viewpoints on the critically important area of nuclear research, and regarding the atomic bomb then undergoing production in the United States. This subject is entirely relevant to the present day, with the threat of a devastating nuclear war hovering over humanity’s head, as it has been for at least two generations.
One of Hitler’s primary concerns regarding the weapon was that, on detonation, it could “bring about the final catastrophe” by igniting with the planet’s atmosphere, destroying everything: Humans walking the earth, birds and bees in the sky, fishes in the ocean.
Hitler’s fears on this subject were confirmed to him in mid-1942 by one of the Nazis’ leading scientists and Nobel Prize winner, Werner Heisenberg; who provided no definitive answer as to whether a successful nuclear fission could be kept in check, or if it would be of an uncontrollable nature, spreading forth and bringing about the doomsday scenario. In June 1942 Hitler said in half-jest to his armaments minister Albert Speer, recently succeeding the late Fritz Todt, that the scientists “might one day set the globe on fire” by their discoveries.
Hitler expounded on his hope that the physicists and weapons manufacturers – who were working on this atomic weapon – would refrain from deploying it, until they were certain it could not spark a chain reaction with the hydrogen in the air.
Unfortunately, the specialists in question were not as rational as Hitler had expected. They would in fact knowingly gamble with all life on earth. The following July, 1945 – in the hours preceding the first testing of an atomic bomb in New Mexico – America’s chief nuclear technician, Enrico Fermi, estimated there was actually a much greater chance of the planet being turned into dust than Western scientists supposed. Fermi calculated there was a 10% possibility that the world would be destroyed through an unstoppable chain reaction; exactly in the manner that Hitler had previously elaborated upon.
Fermi, who was born in Rome, had become a nervous wreck in the build-up to the atomic explosion in New Mexico’s desert, which took place early on 16 July 1945. Fermi even began taking bets on the danger of our world ending following the blast. Many other scientists working on the US nuclear program were also feeling extremely tense. Like Heisenberg, they were unable to rule out the hazard of the globe being sizzled akin to a tomato in a frying pan.
The possibility of worldwide apocalyptic scenes was also known by US military personnel such as General Leslie Groves, directing America’s nuclear program. The astonishing risks were brushed aside; nothing was done to halt the atomic test. It was deemed more important to acquire nuclear weapons with Soviet Russia in mind.
In a great irony, the democratically elected Western leaders expressed little concern regarding the construction of atomic weapons. Quite often to the contrary. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill were all advocates of the atomic bomb, especially the latter two statesmen.
After a B-29 aircraft unloaded an A-bomb on Hiroshima during 6 August 1945, president Truman called the weapon “the greatest thing in history” and, somewhat surreally,
“We thank God it has come to us, instead of to our enemies, and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and His purposes”.
Churchill outlined there was “unanimous” agreement to drop atomic weapons on Japan and that “there was never a moment’s discussion” otherwise. There were no qualms expressed for our planet’s security, no warnings for the future of mankind. Over the unfolding seven decades, humanity has had one close escape after another with nuclear weapons.