THE STORY OF THE “LIES, PRETENCES AND DECEPTIONS” THAT DRAGGED THE WORLD INTO THE NUCLEAR AGE
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Author: Peter Watson Price: £25.00 Publisher: Public Affairs Released: Out now
In a single moment on the morning of 6 August 1945, an event changed forever the course of warfare. For eight months, the USA and Britain had worked in the utmost secrecy to build the most devastating killing machine the world had ever known. It was intended to be used against the Nazis, but that regime’s collapse in May 1945 obviated the need to drop an atomic bomb on Germany. Instead, Japan became the target of what has become one of military history’s most controversial decisions. The first bomb was detonated over Hiroshima and the second was dropped on Nagasaki, killing a total of 129,000 people, most of whom were civilians.
Journalist and historian Peter Watson recounts in his fascinating and meticulously researched narrative the making of the atomic bomb. He argues that it was an unnecessary weapon whose nature politicians failed to understand. The book is essentially about the history of atomic bomb wartime intelligence, drawing the conclusion that a series of momentous mistakes and lies took the world stumbling into the nuclear age.
The bomb, Watson writes, came about as the result of a series of
“lies, pretences and deceptions” between the Allies, all of which brought into being the most dangerous killing machine in history. Two scientists, the Danish Nobel Prize recipient Niels Bohr and the German Klaus Fuchs, occupy the heart of this tale. Both worked on the Manhattan Project, the US research and development project that produced the bomb. Both also advocated sharing nuclear weapon technology with Stalin. The difference was that Bohr worked honestly for the British war effort, while Fuchs was an active Soviet agent, who was later convicted of passing information about the Manhattan Project to the Kremlin.
Watson’s focus is on the early years of the war, when fears ran through London and Washington, DC that Hitler’s scientists were developing a nuclear weapon. It was discovered that these fears were unfounded, yet this intelligence was covered up by politicians who later took the decision to use the new weapon. The author contends that the bomb need never have been built, nor the world thrust into the threatening and precarious balancing act that it still inhabits. “Errors were made, and lies were told, to bring us a weapon that was not needed,” he writes.
The spectre of a nuclear conflict has so far been forestalled, ironically thanks largely to Fuchs having leaked information to the Soviets. This, Watson states, speeded up the production of Russia’s nuclear program, so that by the time of the Korean War, the first East-west conflict of the nuclear age, the US saw fit to refrain from using this deadly weapon against an equally armed adversary.
Watson acknowledges that Fuchs betrayed his colleagues as well as Britain, which had provided sanctuary when he fled the Nazis. The author then makes the intriguing point that it was precisely Fuchs’s treachery and cunning that in the end propelled the world into its tableau of terror of nuclear warfare, and in doing so saved us from disaster.
“THE BOOK IS ESSENTIALLY ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ATOMIC BOMB WARTIME INTELLIGENCE, DRAWING THE CONCLUSION THAT A SERIES OF MOMENTOUS MISTAKES AND LIES TOOK THE WORLD STUMBLING INTO THE NUCLEAR AGE”
Nevertheless, we live with the relentless spectre of nuclear devastation. Sabre-rattling against Iran and North Korea as potential nuclear aggressors carries the peril of igniting a nuclear showdown or pre-emptive strike – and this from the only country that has ever used the bomb against an enemy.