Nuclear weapons

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A weapon is something with which you try to affect the purposes and the concepts of an opponent; it is not something with which you blindly destroy his entire civilization, and probably your own as well. ~ George F. Kennan
There are clear and predictable consequences for the world if human beings continue to rape the earth and plunder its resources; to exploit, oppress, and dominate the weak and the poor for the sake of greed and the hunger for power; to depend on ever-rising levels of violence and ever more lethal instruments of death and destruction in order to secure positions of power and privilege. ~ Allan Boesak
The atomic bomb had dwarfed the international issues to complete insignificance... the only way to end war was to have but one government for mankind. ~ Herbert George Wells
I don't think we ought to use this thing unless we absolutely have to. It is a terrible thing to order the use of something that is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had. You have got to understand that this isn’t a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses. So we have got to treat this differently from rifles and cannon and ordinary things like that. ~ Harry Truman

Nuclear weapons are explosive devices that derive their destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter.

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They have things like the atom bomb, so I'll think I'll stay where I am. Civilization? I'll stay right here! ~ The Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye
  • What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening the use of nuclear weapons. And we can't get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves.
    • Martin Amis, Einstein's Monsters (1987), "Introduction: Thinkability".
  • The arms race is a race between nuclear weapons and ourselves.
    • Martin Amis, Einstein's Monsters (1987), "Introduction: Thinkability".
  • The idea that every nation ought to have an atomic bomb, like every woman of fashion ought to have a mink coat, is deplorable.
    • Clement Attlee, cited in S. Beer, Modern British Politics,(Faber and Faber, 1965) and Stuart Thompson,The Dictionary of Labour Quotations, Biteback Publishing, (2013).


  • Now we're all sons-of-bitches.
    • Kenneth Bainbridge remark to Robert Oppenheimer immediately after the first atom bomb test explosion at Alamogordo as quoted in Lansing Lamont, Day of Trinity (1966), p. 242.
  • As the Director of the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos, I participated at the most senior level in the World War II Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic weapons.
    Now, at age 88, I am one of the few remaining such senior persons alive. Looking back at the half century since that time, I feel the most intense relief that these weapons have not been used since World War II, mixed with the horror that tens of thousands of such weapons have been built since that time—one hundred times more than any of us at Los Alamos could ever have imagined.
    Today we are rightly in an era of disarmament and dismantlement of nuclear weapons. But in some countries nuclear weapons development still continues. Whether and when the various Nations of the World can agree to stop this is uncertain. But individual scientists can still influence this process by withholding their skills.
    Accordingly, I call on all scientists in all countries to cease and desist from work creating, developing, improving and manufacturing further nuclear weapons - and, for that matter, other weapons of potential mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.
    • Hans Albrecht Bethe On the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima in letter, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Nov 1995), 51:6, p. 3.
  • There are clear and predictable consequences for the world if human beings continue to rape the earth and plunder its resources; to exploit, oppress, and dominate the weak and the poor for the sake of greed and the hunger for power; to depend on ever-rising levels of violence and ever more lethal instruments of death and destruction in order to secure positions of power and privilege.
  • We will be making a sufficient but necessary contribution if we simply jar the prevalent complacency on the doctrine of shoot-from-the-hip-and-empty-the-magazine.
    • Bernard Brodie, remarking on the prevalent 1950's strategy of massive retaliation, colloquially know as the 'Sunday Punch'. (Cited from a semi-classified RAND document, Must We shoot From the Hip?)
  • We may as well admit that the strictly tactical problem of destroying Manhattan is already absurdly easy, and time promises to make it no less easy. That is only to say that its protection, if it can be protected, is henceforward a strategic and political problem rather than a tactical one.


  • The American, English and French newspapers are spewing out elegant dissertations on the atomic bomb. We can sum it up in a single phrase: mechanized civilization has just achieved the last degree of savagery.
    • Albert Camus, Combat, 8th August 1945. Quoted in In a Dark Time Nicholas Humphrey, Robert Jay Lifton, 1984, (p.27).
  • May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything heretofore discovered? Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings—nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp or dockyard?
    • Winston Churchill, "Shall We All Commit Suicide?" Pall Mall (Sep 1924). Reprinted in Thoughts and Adventures (1932), 250.
  • Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.
    • Winston Churchill, Final Speech to US Congress, as cited in The War That Must Never Be Fought: Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence
  • The atomic bomb is the Second Coming in Wrath.
  • It is arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engine. Electricity opens a field of infinite conveniences to ever greater numbers, but they may well have to pay dearly for them. But anyhow in my thought I stop short of the internal combustion engine which has made the world so much smaller. Still more must we fear the consequences of entrusting a human race so little different from their predecessors of the so-called barbarous ages such awful agencies as the atomic bomb. Give me the horse.
  • On 17th July there came to us at Potsdam the eagerly-awaited news of the trial of the atomic bomb in the [New] Mexican desert. Success beyond all dreams crowded this sombre, magnificent venture of our American allies. The detailed reports ... could leave no doubt in the minds of the very few who were informed, that we were in the presence of a new factor in human affairs, and possessed of powers which were irresistible.


  • The historical record of terrorists pursuing nuclear and radiological capabilities is small in size, complicated by significant information gaps, and not well understood. The size of the dataset and the considerable unknowns about the cases where groups have sought these capabilities make it difficult to assess the nature of the danger and to anticipate new developments in the nature of the threat. However, given the potential consequences of terrorist theft of a nuclear weapon or indigenous development of a nuclear device—even one employing a crude design that produces only a small nuclear yield—poses a serious danger that the United States and other allied nations must take extraordinary measures to thwart. Developing an effective and comprehensive strategy to prevent terrorist acquisition of nuclear and radiological weapons capabilities must begin with a thorough understanding of the historical record of terrorist efforts and opportunities to acquire these capabilities.


  • Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration...

    This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat or exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.

    • Albert Einstein, letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (August 2, 1939, delivered October 11, 1939); reported in Einstein on Peace, ed. Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (1960, reprinted 1981), pp. 294–95.
  • The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.
    • Albert Einstein, Statement on the Atomic Bomb to Raymond Swing, before 1 October 1945, as reported in Atlantic Monthly, vol. 176, no. 5 (November 1945), in Einstein on Politics, p. 373
  • Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we know it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking.
    • Albert Einstein, "Only Then Shall We Find Courage", New York Times Magazine (23 June 1946).
  • Nuclear proliferation is on the rise. Equipment, material and training were once largely inaccessible. Today, however, there is a sophisticated worldwide network that can deliver systems for producing material usable in weapons. The demand clearly exists: countries remain interested in the illicit acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
    If we sit idly by, this trend will continue. Countries that perceive themselves to be vulnerable can be expected to try to redress that vulnerability — and in some cases they will pursue clandestine weapons programs. The supply network will grow, making it easier to acquire nuclear weapon expertise and materials. Eventually, inevitably, terrorists will gain access to such materials and technology, if not actual weapons.
    If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction.


  • We scientists are clever—too clever—are you not satisfied? Is four square miles in one bomb not enough? Men are still thinking. Just tell us how big you want it!
    • Richard P. Feynman as quoted in James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 204.


  • I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science.
    • Mohandas Gandhi, Harijan, 29 September 1946, quoted in The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb:Science, Secrecy and the Postcolonial State by Itty Abraham, Zed Books, 1998. (p. 30).
  • So far as I can see the atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained mankind for ages.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, (1946). In William Borman, Gandhi and Non-Violence (1986), 170.
  • Non-violence … is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, in William Borman, Gandhi and Non-Violence (1986), 170.
  • This weapon [the atomic bomb] has added an additional responsibility—or, better, an additional incentive—to find a sound basis for lasting peace. It provides an overwhelming inducement for the avoidance of war. It emphasizes the crisis we face in international matters and strengthens the conviction that adequate safeguards for peace must be found.
    • Leslie Richard Groves Opening address (7 Nov 1945) of Town Hall’s annual lecture series, as quoted in 'Gen. Groves Warns on Atom ‘Suicide’', New York Times (8 Nov 1945), 4. (Just three months before he spoke, two atom bombs dropped on Japan in Aug 1945 effectively ended WW II.)
  • I first met J. Robert Oppenheimer on October 8, 1942, at Berkeley, Calif. There we discussed the theoretical research studies he was engaged in with respect to the physics of the bomb. Our discussions confirmed my previous belief that we should bring all of the widely scattered theoretical work together. … He expressed complete agreement, and it was then that the idea of the prompt establishment of a Los Alamos was conceived.”
    • Leslie Richard Groves In 'Some Recollections of July 16, 1945', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Jun 1970), 26, No. 6, 21.
  • In answer to the question, “Was the development of the atomic bomb by the United States necessary?” I reply unequivocally, “Yes.” To the question, “Is atomic energy a force for good or for evil?” I can only say, “As mankind wills it.”
    • Leslie Richard Groves, Final statements in And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 415.
  • It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology.

    When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atomic bomb, and then puts its hands over its eyes and says, "My God what have I done?"

    • Ursula Le Guin, "The Stalin in the Soul" in The Language of the Night, 1976.


  • Anyone who thinks we can continue to have world wars but make them nice polite affairs by outlawing this weapon or that should meditate upon the outlawing of the cross-bow by Papal authority. Setting up the machinery for international law and order must surely precede disarmament. The Wild West did not abandon its shooting irons till after sheriffs and courts were established.
    • Joel H. Hildebrand Speech, American Library Association Conference (3 Jul 1947), as quoted by Lawrence E. Davies in "Army's Atomic Bid Viewed in Making," New York Times (4 Jul 1947), 11.
  • The use of the atomic bomb with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.
    • Herbert Hoover, Letter (8 Aug 1945) to Colonel John Callan O’Laughlin, publisher of Army an Navy Journal, as quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1996), 459. Cited as O’Laughlin Correspondence File, Box 171, Post-Presidential Papers, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.


  • The belief of some governments that nuclear weapons are a legitimate and essential source of security is not only misguided, but also dangerous, for it incites proliferation and undermines disarmament. All nations should reject these weapons completely — before they are ever used again.
    This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The specter of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.
  • We applaud those nations that have already signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and we urge all others to follow their lead. It offers a pathway forward at a time of alarming crisis. Disarmament is not a pipe dream, but an urgent humanitarian necessity.


  • The unacceptability of the Doomsday Machine raises awkward, unpleasant, and complicated questions that must be considered by both policy maker and technician. If it is not acceptable to risk the lives of the three billion inhabitants of the earth in order to protect ourselves from surprise attack, then how many people would we be willing to risk? I believe that both the United States and NATO would reluctantly be willing to envisage the possibility of one or two hundred million people (i.e., about five times more than World War II deaths) dying from the immediate effects, even if one does not include deferred long-term effects due to radiation, if an all-out thermonuclear war results from a failure of Type I Deterrence. With somewhat more controversy, similar numbers would apply to Type II Deterrence. (For example, some experts would concede the statement for an all-out Soviet nuclear attack on Europe, but not if the Soviets restricted themselves to the use of conventional weapons.) We are willing to live with the possibility partly because we think of it as a remote possibility. We do not expect either kind of deterrence to fail, and we do not expect the results to be that cataclysmic if deterrence does fail.
  • I consider your crime worse than murder... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-Bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension. We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack.
    • Judge Kaufman's Statement Upon Sentencing the Rosenbergs. University of Missouri–Kansas City. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
  • [We must examine] the thesis that these devices, the so-called nuclear weapons, are really weapons at all—that they deserve that designation. A weapon is something with which you try to affect the purposes and the concepts of an opponent; it is not something with which you blindly destroy his entire civilization, and probably your own as well.
    • George F. Kennan, The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age (1983), p. 243.
  • Continued unrestricted testing by the nuclear powers, joined in time by other nations which may be less adept in limiting pollution, will increasingly contaminate the air that all of us must breathe. Even then, the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard -- and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby -- who may be born long after we are gone -- should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent.
  • During the next several years, in addition to the four current nuclear powers, a small but significant number of nations will have the intellectual, physical, and financial resources to produce both nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. In time, it is estimated, many other nations will have either this capacity or other ways of obtaining nuclear warheads, even as missiles can be commercially purchased today. I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands, in the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world. There would be no rest for anyone then, no stability, no real security, and no chance of effective disarmament. There would only be the increased chance of accidental war, and an increased necessity for the great powers to involve themselves in what otherwise would be local conflicts. If only one thermonuclear bomb were to be dropped on any American, Russian, or any other city, whether it was launched by accident or design, by a madman or by an enemy, by a large nation or by a small, from any corner of the world, that one bomb could release more destructive power on the inhabitants of that one helpless city than all the bombs dropped in the Second World War.
  • I happened to read recently a remark by the American nuclear physicist W. Davidson, who noted that the explosion of one hydrogen bomb releases a greater amount of energy than all the explosions set off by all countries in all wars known in the entire history of mankind. And he, apparently, is right.
    • Nikita Khrushchev, Address to the United Nations, New York City (September 18, 1959), as reported by The New York Times (September 19, 1959), p. 8. The physicist quoted was eventually found to be William Davidon, associate physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, Illinois.
  • We have genuflected before the God of Science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate.
  • The great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an aeroplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people as dangerous as that is. But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness—that's the atomic bomb that we've got to fear today. Problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem.


  • The Atomic Age began at exactly 5.30 Mountain War Time on the morning of July 15, 1945, on a stretch of semi-desert land about 50 airline miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico. And just at that instance there rose from the bowels of the earth a light not of this world, the light of many suns in one. ... At first it was a giant column that soon took the shape of a supramundane mushroom.
  • That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The [atomic] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.
    • Admiral William D. Leahy comment on the U.S. Atomic Bomb Project, to President Harry S. Truman in 1945. Memoirs: Year of Decisions (1955), Vol. 1, 11.


  • Can one imagine that The Bomb could ever be used "in a good cause"? Do not such means instantly, of themselves, corrupt any cause? The bomb is the natural product of the kind of society we have created. It is as easy, normal, and unforced an expression of the American way of Life as electric ice-boxes, banana splits, and hydro-matic drive automobiles.
  • Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he's speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily—his own troops or other troops—through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But… he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom is don't make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. But there will be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.
  • I will have nothing to do with a bomb!
    • Lise Meitner Response to being invited (1943) to work with Otto Robert Frisch and some British scientists at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb. life inRuth Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (1996), 305.
  • If we ourselves happen to survive, are any of us prepared to press the button or allow our elected representatives to command that this be done, in the certainty that it will kill millions of other people?
  • The future of mankind is going to be decided within the next two generations, and there are two absolute requisites: We must aim at a stable-state society [with limited population growth] and the destruction of nuclear stockpiles. … Otherwise I don't see how we can survive much later than 2050.
    • Jacques Monod quoted in John C. Hess, 'French Nobel Biologist Says World Based On Chance', New York Times (15 Mar 1971), 6.
  • It doesn’t even matter if we ever fire these missiles or not. They are having their effect upon us because there is a generation growing up now who cannot see past the final exclamation mark of a mushroom cloud. They are a generation who can see no moral values that do not end in a crackling crater somewhere. I’m not saying that nuclear bombs are at the root of all of it, but I think it is very, very naïve to assume that you can expose the entire population of the world to the threat of being turned to cinders without them starting to act, perhaps, a little oddly.
    I believe in some sort of strange fashion that the presence of the atom bomb might almost be forcing a level of human development that wouldn’t have occurred without the presence of the atom bomb. Maybe this degree of terror will force changes in human attitudes that could not have occurred without the presence of these awful, destructive things. Perhaps we are faced with a race between the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in one line and the 7th Calvary in the other. We have not got an awful lot of mid ground between Utopia and Apocalypse, and if somehow our children ever see the day in which it is announced that we do not have these weapons any more, and that we can no longer destroy ourselves and that we’ve got to do something else to do with our time than they will have the right to throw up their arms, let down their streamers and let forth a resounding cheer.


  • Russian inventory of nuclear weapons, particularly tactical weapons, remains larger than any other in the world. In its report, the NIC indicated that it remained “concerned about vulnerabilities to an insider who attempts unauthorized actions” at Russian nuclear weapons storage facilities. Similarly, the NIC noted that “Russian facilities housing weapons-usable nuclear material . . . typically receive low funding, lack trained security personnel, and do not have sufficient equipment for securely storing such material.” As a result, security “varies widely among the different types of Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) facilities and other Russian institutes. The NIC report concludes by noting that over the course of the last seven years, “Moscow has recognized the need for security improvements and, with assistance from the United States and other countries, has taken steps to reduce the risk of theft of its nuclear weapons and material.”
    • National Intelligence Council, Annual Report to Congress on the Safety and Security of Russian Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces, (February 2003), p. 2.; as quoted in p.4.


  • The flame from the angel's sword in the Garden of Eden has been catalyzed into the atom bomb; God's thunderbolt became blunted, so Man's dunderbolt [sic] has become the Steel Star of Destruction.
  • I am become death, The Shatterer of Worlds.
    • Robert Oppenheimer, quoting from the 2,000-year-old Bhagavad Gita of India at the instant the first test atomic device exploded. Abraham Pais and Robert P. Crease, J. Robert Oppenheimer: a Life‎ (2006), 44. Also seen translated as “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
  • When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you've had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.
    • Robert Oppenheimer, testifying in his defense in his 1954 security hearings (page 81 of the official transcript). Quoted in Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. University of Chicago Press,2008 (pp. 223-4).
  • We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it.
    • J. Robert Oppenheimer, Speech to the American Philosophical Society (Jan 1946). Atomic Weapons, printed in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 90(1), 7-10. In Deb Bennett-Woods, Nanotechnology: Ethics and Society (2008), 23. Identified as a speech to the society in Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer‎ (2005), 323
  • But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values.
    • J. Robert Oppenheimer, regarding the atomic bomb project from speech at Los Alamos (17 Oct 1945). Quoted in David C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century (2009), 214.
  • Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
  • If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people must unite, or they will perish.
    • J. Robert Oppenheimer, Speech at Fuller Lodge when the U.S. Army was honouring the work at Los Alamos. (16 Oct 1945). Quoted in Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer‎ (2005), 323.
  • It did not take atomic weapons to make man want peace. But the atomic bomb was the turn of the screw. The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.
    • J. Robert Oppenheimer, Commencement address (1946), as quoted in book review, William J. Broad, The Men Who Made the Sun Rise, New York Times Book Review (8 Feb 1987), 39.


  • The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies.
  • In plain words; now that Britain has told the world she has the H-Bomb, she should announce as early as possible that she has done with it, that she proposes to reject, in all circumstances, nuclear warfare. This is not pacifism. There is no suggestion here of abandoning the immediate defence of this island.... No, what should be abandoned is the idea of deterrence-by-threat-of-retaliation. There is no real security in it, no decency in it, no faith, hope, nor charity in it.
    • J. B. Priestley, "Britain and the Nuclear Bombs", The New Statesman, 2 November 1957.


  • Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen or that I think anyone has ever seen. It blasted; it pounced; it bored its way into you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; altogether it lasted about two seconds.
    • Isidor Isaac Rabi, witnessing the first atomic bomb test explosion, in Science: the Center of Culture (1970), 139.
  • I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering those nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.
    • Ronald Reagan concerning his proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, later to be known as 'Star Wars.' National address (23 Mar 1983)
  • Nuclear weapon: an agency reserved for use by the most civilized nations for the settlement of disputes that might become troublesome if left unadjusted. Unfortunately, too many formerly uncivilized nations are becoming civilized.
  • Amazing, the respect that nuclear weapons bring.


  • Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches. The other has seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger. Well that's the kind of situation we are actually in. The amount of weapons that are available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what's needed to dissuade the other, that if it weren't so tragic, it would be laughable. What is necessary is to reduce the matches and to clean up the gasoline.
    • Carl Sagan, during a panel discussion in ABC News Viewpoint following the TV movie The Day After (20 Nov 1983). Misquoted as “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.”
  • To my knowledge there are no written accounts of Fermi’s contributions to the [first atomic bomb] testing problems, nor would it be easy to reconstruct them in detail. This, however, was one of those occasions in which Fermi’s dominion over all physics, one of his most startling characteristics, came into its own. The problems involved in the Trinity test ranged from hydrodynamics to nuclear physics, from optics to thermodynamics, from geophysics to nuclear chemistry. Often they were closely interrelated, and to solve one’it was necessary to understand all the others. Even though the purpose was grim and terrifying, it was one of the greatest physics experiments of all time. Fermi completely immersed himself in the task. At the time of the test he was one of the very few persons (or perhaps the only one) who understood all the technical ramifications.
  • The most striking impression was that of an overwhelming bright light. I had seen under similar conditions the explosion of a large amount—100 tons—of normal explosives in the April test, and I was flabbergasted by the new spectacle. We saw the whole sky flash with unbelievable brightness in spite of the very dark glasses we wore. Our eyes were accommodated to darkness, and thus even if the sudden light had been only normal daylight it would have appeared to us much brighter than usual, but we know from measurements that the flash of the bomb was many times brighter than the sun. In a fraction of a second, at our distance, one received enough light to produce a sunburn. I was near Fermi at the time of the explosion, but I do not remember what we said, if anything. I believe that for a moment I thought the explosion might set fire to the atmosphere and thus finish the earth, even though I knew that this was not possible.
    • Emilio Segrè in Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147.
  • [After the flash of the atomic bomb test explosion] Fermi got up and dropped small pieces of paper … a simple experiment to measure the energy liberated by the explosion … [W]hen the front of the shock wave arrived (some seconds after the flash) the pieces of paper were displaced a few centimeters in the direction of propagation of the shock wave. From the distance of the source and from the displacement of the air due to the shock wave, he could calculate the energy of the explosion. This Fermi had done in advance having prepared himself a table of numbers, so that he could tell immediately the energy liberated from this crude but simple measurement. … It is also typical that his answer closely approximated that of the elaborate official measurements. The latter, however, were available only after several days’ study of the records, whereas Fermi had his within seconds.
    • Emilio Segrè in Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147-148.
  • In an enterprise such as the building of the atomic bomb the difference between ideas, hopes, suggestions and theoretical calculations, and solid numbers based on measurement, is paramount. All the committees, the politicking and the plans would have come to naught if a few unpredictable nuclear cross sections had been different from what they are by a factor of two.
    • Emilio Segrè, Epigraph in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), 8.
  • If some nuclear properties of the heavy elements had been a little different from what they turned out to be, it might have been impossible to build a bomb.
  • There was a lot of protest after Bravo, from countries like India, for example. India was the first country which came forward and proposed at the United Nations that all of these nuclear tests should be stopped, that there should be a complete ban on nuclear testing.
  • The dropping of the Atomic Bomb is a very deep problem... Instead of commemorating Hiroshima we should celebrate... man's triumph over the problem [of transmutation], and not its first misuse by politicians and military authorities.
    • Frederick Soddy address to New Europe Group meeting on the third anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb. Quoted in New Europe Group, In Commemoration of Professor Frederick Soddy (1956), 6-7.
  • [The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task
    We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
    • C. Guy Suits Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946)


  • Knowing he [Bob Serber] was going to the [first atom bomb] test, I asked him how he planned to deal with the danger of rattlesnakes. He said, 'I'll take along a bottle of whiskey.' … I ended by asking, 'What would you do about those possibilities [of what unknown phenomena might cause a nuclear explosion to propagate in the atmosphere]?' Bob replied, 'Take a second bottle of whiskey.'
    • Edward Teller with Judith L. Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001), 211.
  • The fact is that nuclear weapons have prevented not only nuclear war but conventional war in Europe for forty years.
    • Margaret Thatcher, Speech at Lord mayor's Banquet 1986. Quoted in One of Us:A Biography of Margaret Thatcher by Hugo Young, Macmillan, 1989 (p. 480).
  • Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT....
    With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces...

    It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East....
    Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.
    We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.

    • Harry Truman, radio address to the American people, following the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan (August 6 1945).
  • I am not sure it can ever be used... I don't think we ought to use this thing unless we absolutely have to. It is a terrible thing to order the use of something that is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had. You have got to understand that this isn’t a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses. So we have got to treat this differently from rifles and cannon and ordinary things like that.
  • The atom bomb was no “great decision.” It was used in the war, and for your information, there were more people killed by fire bombs in Tokyo than dropping of the atomic bombs accounted for. It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness. The dropping of the bombs stopped the war, save millions of lives.
    • Harry Truman in reply to a question at a symposium, Columbia University, NYC (28 April 1959). In Truman Speaks (1960), 67.


  • With the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union was now high on the list of tyrannical enemies of democracy, and American nuclear weapons development and strategic theory were fashioned with that enemy foremost in mind. Oppenheimer’s sympathy for Communism, his enthusiasm for world government as the ultimate arbiter of nuclear technology, and his qualms about the proposed second generation of nuclear weapons, played a critical role in the history of the Cold War and in the precipitous course of his subsequent career. Already, in the fall of 1945, when Edward Teller was pressing for immediate development of the hydrogen bomb (the “Super,” as it was called), Oppenheimer responded coldly and tersely: “I neither can nor will do so.” Oppenheimer regarded the Super as a genocidal weapon: its only conceivable purpose would be the destruction of civilian populations by the millions — and ideally in the tens or hundreds of millions. The sole end of war with H-bombs would be annihilation. The peace that such a war would bring would be that of the mass grave; and if there were any survivors, they would likely prefer to have been among the dead. Civilization would have to be reconstituted from radioactive ash.
    And yet the undeniable perfidy of the Stalinist Soviet Union convinced even Oppenheimer that the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), created to oversee the use of atoms for peace, would be above all the instrument of war. In 1947, Oppenheimer declared that the agency’s main job was to “provide atomic weapons and good atomic weapons and many atomic weapons.” And Oppenheimer wanted to be the moving force in this work, despite his ever-deepening moral qualms.
    But Oppenheimer was never of one mind for long. The Soviets’ test of an atomic bomb in 1949 propelled him back to the internationalist position he had taken just after the war, believing that a single world organization should govern the nuclear policies of every individual nation. While Edward Teller insisted that the Super was needed now more than ever, Oppenheimer huffed, “Keep your shirt on.” He joined Enrico Fermi and other eminent physicists in lobbying Roosevelt’s former vice-president Henry Wallace to stop H-bomb development, “primarily because we should prefer defeat in war to victory obtained at the expense of the enormous human disaster that would be caused by its determined use.” To possess a weapon of incalculable potency — some theoreticians feared it could ignite the atmosphere in an explosive chain reaction and destroy the earth — would pose graver dangers than not to have one at all.
  • While Oppenheimer was making the case for tactical nuclear weapons, useful on the battlefield, the Strategic Air Command’s war plan emphasized a massive and decisive nuclear first strike in the event of a conventional Soviet attack on Western Europe. According to Bird and Sherwin, the H-bomb advocates were so obsessed with the threat of Communism that they believed “Oppenheimer’s championing of tactical nuclear weapons was a ploy to block the Super Bomb.” Teller went so far as to spread the word that in trying to block the H-bomb Oppenheimer was acting on “direct orders from Moscow.” Teller may have been out of control, the Strategic Air Command may have been defending its turf, and Strauss may have been seeking personal revenge against Oppenheimer, but all the same, the gravest matters were at stake. The Soviet Union was a real threat that needed to be confronted with sobriety; seeing the defenders of the H-bomb as fanatics and conspiracy theorists foolishly belittles the existential challenge America was then just beginning to face.
  • Machiavelli, so widely considered the founding father of modern political morality, or immorality, understood prudence, or the ability to choose among possible courses of action, as the sine qua non of the conqueror. But in the atomic age, the foremost aim of prudence among more or less decent nations is no longer to conquer but to avoid annihilation, while also avoiding the evil of annihilating the enemy — i.e., nuclear genocide. In October 1949, the General Advisory Committee to the AEC recommended that “a super bomb should never be produced” — that it “might become a weapon of genocide.” Oppenheimer was one of the signatories. To assume that the Soviet enemy would share this American scrupulousness was the committee’s fallacy; and to make such an assumption of Stalin was the depth of folly.


  • The only use for an atomic bomb is to keep somebody else from using one. It can give us no protection—only the doubtful satisfaction of retaliation...

    Nuclear weapons offer us nothing but a balance of terror, and a balance of terror is still terror.

    • George Wald, from speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
  • The only absolute defence against nuclear weapons is to do away with them.
    • Francis Wheen, "Dr. Stranglove, I Presume", The Guardian, 12th April 2000.
  • When A. J. P. Taylor, having described with lurid relish the effect of a nuclear explosion, asked "Is there anyone here who would want to do this to another human being?" there was a complete hush until he yelled, to thunderous applause, "Then why are we making the damned things?"
    • David Widgery, on Taylor's speech at a February 1958 CND meeting. In "Don't You Hear the H-Bomb's Thunder?" in David Widgery, The Left in Britain", 1976, (p.101).

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