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“Why Did We Have to Win It Twice?”: A Physicist Remembers His Work on the First Atomic Bomb

by Bernard Feld

Those who built the atomic bomb at the secret Los Alamos, New Mexico, facility understood very well the potential for destruction and death they had created, though individual reactions of the scientists varied widely. Some argued that America needed to develop nuclear weapons before the Germans did. Others argued that a war against fascism demanded the most lethal measures. Still others, as they witnessed the blast on July 16, 1945, were appalled at what they had unleashed. In this excerpt from a 1980 interview, Bernard Feld recalled his work as a graduate student at Los Alamos. While he had few reservations about the bomb’s development and its first use at Hiroshima, he had profound reservations about using the second bomb against Nagasaki.

Listen to Audio:

Bernard Feld: On August 6th, when the bomb was dropped, everybody was elated. When we got the information on August 7th that it had gone off and that apparently had, as a bomb, worked extremely well. Well, people were used to killing a lot of people. Strategic bombing was an aspect of World War II, and people didn’t think much about that aspect.

To me, actually, the important event was not the first bomb, but the second. When they announced the second bomb, that came as a shock to me. I said, “But the war is over.” In fact, the headlines at that time were the Japanese were suing for surrender. And then, bang, there was the bomb in Nagasaki. And that hit me like a glass of cold water thrown at you. I suddenly said, “Now, wait a second. What for? Great! We ended the war. But why do you have to end the war twice?” That really started me thinking about what it was all about.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Columbia Oral History Research Office, Columbia University.