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Hitler Wouldn’t Risk Doomsday, But The United States Did  - Daniel Ellsb...



Pretty amazing claim; not sure how solid it is. [EDIT: It's shaky: based on the memoirs of an unrepentant SS officer and comments by Speer. Might well be true; might not. Would need further verification, if possible. Till then, the point is what we know what the Americans' risk analysis was, whatever the case with the Nazi view on the development or use of nuclear weapons.]


PAUL JAY: [...] The beginnings of the American nuclear weapons program was based on the intelligence that the Nazis, Germany was developing the bomb themselves, and it became this great race. 
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Wait, not intelligence. Essentially assumption. It was a plausible assumption, but there was no direct intelligence on it, really, at all. It was quite plausible, because it was German scientists who had first discovered the fission of uranium in 1938, late in 1938, and German scientists who realized that this was, in fact, fissioning of uranium at that point. And the German scientists were, in general, somewhat ahead of anybody else at that point. And given that they were working for Adolf Hitler, it was very plausible to assume that they would go for a crash program in nuclear weapons. It was wrong, however. That was an assumption, it was not based on real intelligence. 
PAUL JAY: And then there came to a point, and I don’t remember the year, when there actually was some intelligence that the program had existed, but then had been stopped. 
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Ironically, we now know it was essentially stopped in June of 1942, exactly, by coincidence, the time when the American project was taking off and the Manhattan Project- so-called Manhattan Project. Scientists gathered together in June and July in Berkeley, California to discuss not only an atomic bomb, a fission bomb, but a possible H-bomb. Edward Teller, the leader of the, father of the H-bomb, brought that possibility up from the very beginning. 
At that very meeting there was another worry they had, Teller and the others. A fission bomb might not only serve to ignite a fusion bomb, a hydrogen bomb, it would be a thousand times more powerful. It might ignite the nitrogen in the air and the hydrogen in the seas, and in one flash- a tiny, micro part of a second, one flash- the world would become a barren rock. No life whatever on it. No microscopic life, either, essentially. Everything gone. And they couldn’t rule out that possibility. 
One of the most leading scientists, Hans Bethe, thought no, that can’t happen. Others almost no one else was that sure. And as late as the Trinity test in 1945, there was still considerable concern that this was a possibility. A very remote possibility, most thought. Some said even three in a million, a figure almost out of the air. The most advanced experimental physicist at that point, Enrico Fermi, who’d been critical in the development of the bomb up till then, had a very different conception. He went over and over the calculations. But his worry was they had missed some effect; that there’d be some interaction in this totally unprecedented event on the world- there hadn’t been a fission explosion- that would have effects that they had missed. And he thought the possibility that was, like, 10 percent. And yet he went ahead. The night of the explosion, he offered bets. He said, I can offer odds now- or make book, as he put it- on whether New Mexico will be incinerated, or the whole world. Two different bets. And that was when- 
Now, I mention that because at the very same month, we now know, Speer, the head of armaments production in Germany, and scientific work on this, was revealing to Hitler that yes, an atomic bomb was possible. But probably not in the short timetable that Hitler wanted to end the war, within three years. And it would take longer than that and more uranium than turned out to be necessary. And he also explained what Heisenberg, the German, great German physicist, had explained to him about the possibility of what was called atmospheric ignition. And Speer reports Hitler was not at all thrilled by the idea that he would preside over the ending of life on earth. And he went on to say, with his suspicion of scientists, these mad scientists probably will develop the means of burning everyone, burning everyone on Earth. But he said, not in my lifetime. This was in ’42. Actually, Hitler committed suicide in May of 1945, just months before Enrico Fermi was making his book on 10 percent chance that it would all go. Just exactly what Hitler had feared. But strikingly, that was a factor in Hitler’s mind not to go ahead with it.

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