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THE STORY OF THE “LIES, PRE­TENCES AND DECEPTIONS” THAT DRAGGED THE WORLD INTO THE NU­CLEAR AGE

History of War - - CONTENTS -

A round-up of the lat­est mil­i­tary ti­tles

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.

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