Edward Teller was possibly the most important political scientist of the twentieth century as his name will forever be associated with the ground breaking development of thermonuclear weapons. Teller was the key player of the atomic age from the nineteen forties onwards; he was a leading figure working in Germany when it during its time as the centre of physics before fleeing in response to the rise of Nazism, contributed strongly to the Los Alamos atomic project during World War II and had a profound influence over nuclear development during the Cold War (Goodchild, P, December, 2005). And furthermore, Teller was the most powerful driving force responsible for the development of the hydrogen bomb, a bomb that is thousands of times more powerful than the atomic bombs that wreaked destruction and devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which forced Japan out the of the second world war (Goodchild, P, 2005). Teller is also famous for testifying against Robert Oppenheimer, who had communist connections, who worked above him at Los Alamos above him, during American loyalty-security trials (Goodchild, P, 2005). Teller is also considered to be the crucial scientific voice responsible for ending disarmament talks in the nineteen fifties (Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, 2005). A Nobel Laureate, Eugene Wigner, declared him to be "one of the most thoughtful statesmen of science, however, another, Isadore Rabi, stated that "It would have been a far better world without him" (Goodchild, P, March, 2005). Would the world be a better place today without the threat of world wide nuclear destruction? Or is the threat of nuclear devastation enough the keep the world's super powers from engaging in costly wars? In Teller's opinion he's "proud to be the father of the H-bomb. It was necessary" (Voll, 93).
There is no doubt that Teller's legacy is a controversial one; he has acquired a significant amount of attention in the past, being thought of as the incarnation of Dr. Strangeglove; a one man axis of evil from the 1964 film of the same title by Stanley Kubrick (Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, 2005). This is as he not only conceived the hydrogen bomb, but made its creation possibly by relentlessly fighting arms-control left wing liberals, not only within the scientific community but in the political world as well. Teller managed to win the nuclear debate, forcing the creation of a second federal weapons lab in the United States, built in Livermore, Calif, and tirelessly advocated nuclear power in all its useful and or dangerous forms (Miller, 2002). He was also the genius who proposed Regan's missile defence Star Wars' program in nineteen eighty three. Never has there been a man so completely an utterly obsessed with nuclear weaponry and the absolute power which went hand in hand with a thermo nuclear armament.
Teller's legacy can be simplified; at eight fifteen on the sixth of August, a U.S bomber, Enola Gay, unleashed an atomic bomb of the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It exploded forty three seconds later at 1,900 feet, killing thousands deaths of innocent civilians instantly who were vaporised by the searing heat, whilst leaving others horrendously disfigured (Current Events, 2005). The second bomb fell of the city of Nagasaki three days later, killing up to 40,000 people in an equally brief period of time (Current Events, 2005). The deaths of these Japanese civilians were completely unnecessary as a simple demonstration of the atomic devices over Hong Kong's harbour would have been sufficient to scare Japan out of World War Two. Teller can also have added to his name the unprecedented fear and hysteria associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis of the Cold War, which placed the world on the brink of nuclear destruction. Add to this the acceptance of civilians as legitimate targets in warfare, the ramifications of the atomic age in television and movies, the effect on desert communities near test sites, and the areas of environmental degradation in the Pacific, Siberia and central Australia, and one can only begin to grasp the effect that this one man has had on human civilisation from the twentieth century onwards (Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, Dec 2005). All of which began with Albert Einstein whose special theory of relativity led directly to the discovery of atomic energy. He had realised the terrifying implications of his discovery and consequently wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, warning him that Nazi Germany was working on a weapon of unimaginable destructive power (Current Events, 2005). This of course caused the establishment of the Manhattan project which spawned a giant fireball on the sixteenth of July, nineteen forty five, when Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the world's first atomic test explosion (Current Events, 2005).. As he saw the mushroom cloud grow and the possibilities for catastrophe multiply he recalled the words of the Hindu religious text, the Bhagavad-Gita; "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds" (Current Events, 2005).
Stalin is one quoted as having said
"A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is just a statistic."
He was then referring to the mass killings of political opponents' throughout Europe with the rise of the Soviet Union's power following World War II. For the purposes of national security and international peace' this kind of thinking has become commonplace in countries which possess nuclear stockpiles. Political leaders are now willing to sacrifice millions of innocent civilians of enemy countries, or at the very least, threaten to, in order to insure their own countries safety. It's a frightful thought, that one country considers its well being of superior importance to that of another's, to the extreme point that they're willing to target innocent civilians in order to maintain their political supremacy. We have seen examples of this kind of thinking with the United State's recent invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq, with market places, suburbs and schools alike being bombed, supposedly by accident, as collateral damage.
The invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq can indirectly be linked back to the political instability and the climate of fear and hostility caused by the presupposition that Iraq possessed nuclear capabilities. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear weapons program until the factories accommodating the program were destroyed by Israeli jets in nineteen eight one (Current Events, 2005). But the threat of nuclear proliferation is not a concern confined solely to the Middle East. Recently, Iran and North Korea have developed nuclear plants capable of creating nuclear weapons, whilst North Korea is actually highly likely to possess a nuclear arsenal. The reality is, thanks to Teller's direct and indirect contributions to the nuclear age, more than forty countries are now considered to be capable of making nuclear weapons, according to the U.N's International Atomic Agency (IAEA), if they desired to do so. India and Pakistan, who have been enemies since nineteen forty eight, are two other major players in the nuclear scene, who have frequently come close to war over the disputed region of Kashmir (Current Events, 2005). Iran is a sworn enemy of both the United States and Israel and North Korea has threatened war with both South Korea and the United States. The threat of nuclear proliferation is one of the greatest problems of this modern age. George Bush has
identified the proliferation, or spread, of nuclear know-how as the number one problem currently facing the world' (Current Events, 2005).
Luckily today there is the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, signed on the first of July in nineteen sixty eight, by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, along with fifty nine other non-nuclear nations (Current Events, 2005). However, in spite of this nuclear weapons are currently finding their way into more and more people's hands; from terrorist groups to nations who are secretly attempting to build up a nuclear stock-pile of their own.
This is the worldwide situation which Teller's dark creations have thrown us into. Despite cleaner energy from nuclear power, the advances in missile defence systems, which would not have been necessary if the atomic bomb hadn't been conceived by Teller in the first place, and then leaked to the Soviet's, the pros and cons of nuclear devices do not balance out. Creating a nuclear bomb once used to take the combined effort of thousands of people, and the bomb itself would have been the size of an SUV. Nowadays a bomb of the same strength which destroyed the city of Hiroshima can fit inside a moderately large suitcase (Current Events, 2005). And in the worst case scenario a terrorist who manages to get his hands on enriched uranium or plutonium can make a compact bomb. And this is not such a far-out scenario, as a black market of bomb making apparatus and materials exists today and is centred in Russia (Current Events, 2005).
In spite of the way that Teller changed the world, scarring its surface and the minds of its inhabitants, Teller still advocated nuclear power as in his mind it was the greatest defence the United States could harness. He viewed nuclear power as a force capable of preventing war, stating that
"The second half of the century has been incomparably more peaceful than the first, simply by putting power into the hands of those people who wanted peace" (STAFF, 2003).
This may seem to be a reasonable statement but the use and abuse of nuclear power and its ability to strike fear into the heart of any nation on the wrong side of the United States cannot be ignored. America's nuclear arsenal has given it unprecedented power to act as the world's police state, interfering in the affairs of countries thousands of miles away; launching countless wars and political campaigns, without the threat of any real backlash. A nation would be mad to declare war on the U.S or one of its allies as the threat of complete devastation is enough to keep any militarily inferior country from retaliating. Nuclear power has in effect created a group of elite international bullies' who dominate the world's political scene. No one nation should hold that many cards up their sleeve. This is why the countries who advocated disarmament as so unwilling to do so themselves; they simply have refused to relinquish their power over the world scene. Countries such as the U.S argue that their weapons are there for preventative purposes only, as Teller often did, claiming that Americans would now all be speaking Russian if it wasn't for him, but non-nuclear nations are quite right in seeing this as a pathetic excuse for continuing to maintain a possibly deadly nuclear stockpile.
We now live in an altogether different world due to Teller's creations and push for nuclear weapons. War would once cost the lives of only those at the home front, but now there's the possibility for the death of millions of innocent civilians. Thermonuclear weapons fly in the face of conventional morality and ethics and have been directly responsible for much of the political turmoil the world has experienced over the last sixty years. With the fall of the World Trade Towers the U.S launched a military campaign in the Middle East to avenge to death of three thousand of its civilians and to track down Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. In nineteen forty five over 150,000 people were killed instantly due to the catastrophic effects of atomic power, a tragedy which turned the United States military into the greatest international terrorists that the world has ever seen. These events are unimaginable atrocities that one can barely comprehend. Teller has unleashed an age of madness upon this planet, one that will forever stay with us as thermonuclear devices cannot be uninvented. The world is lucky enough to have survived sixty years with the threat of nuclear devastation but there can be no doubt that once again, sometime in the future, we will yet again find ourselves in that climate of unprecedented fear and the end of human civilisation as we know it.
The title Dr. Strangeglove is clearly the most appropriate for Edward Teller. The world had never seen such lunacy, even the deaths of millions in the war of attrition that was World War One doesn't compare to the terrifying potential of nuclear weapons. The simple fact is that the world now has upon its surface enough thermonuclear devices to make it unliveable for thousands of years to come. Who would knowingly plant the seeds of destruction for all of humanity? While nuclear weapons may be effective in the short term in keeping the world in relative peace the fact that one day the political climate is bound to reach the heights of hostility experienced during the Cold War should have been enough to make Edward Teller abandon his profession entirely before bringing these awful devices into existence.
- Current Events, 2005, Nukes on the loose: can the spread of nuclear weapons be stopped before disaster strikes?, Current Events, <[link]
- Goodchild, 2005, Edward Teller: The Real Dr Strangelove, Science News, March 26, <[link]
- Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, 2005. Edward Teller: The Real Dr. Strangelove/The Bomb: A Life, Canadian Journal of History, Dec 2005, <[link]
- Miller, 2002, Truth Teller: The nuclear scientist the Left loves to hate Edward Teller Interview, National Review, <[link]
- Voll, 93, What I've Learned: Edward Teller, Scientist, Palo Alto, California, <[link];oliID+2...