Bomb Power

Monday, February 01, 2010

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills reveals how the atomic bomb transformed American democracy, increasing the power of the presidency and redefining the government as a national security state. In Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, he draws a line from the Manhattan Project to the Cold War to the war on terror, fostering a state of war for sixty-eight years and counting.

Event: Garry Wills will be in conversation with Paul Holdengraber, Director of Public Programs for the Research Libraries
Monday, February 1 at 7 pm
New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
Tickets: $25; $15 library donors, seniors, and students
More information and tickets here.


Garry Wills

Comments [23]

gaetano catelli from downtown manhattan

yes, Germany surrendered without being atomic bombed -- after losing *3 times* as many service personnel *and* civilians as Japan lost -- because we didn't have the bomb in time to shock the Germans into surrendering *before* Berlin had to be taken *building by building*.

now, excuse me while i take a shower (i'm feeling as if my ears have been soiled).

Feb. 02 2010 01:20 AM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

to alvin from Manhattan

Regarding Szilard are you familiar that:

a. He patented the chain reaction process in Britain in 1934, and gave it to the British Admiralty for safekeeping?

b. That Szilard authored the letter he convinced Einstein to sign to send to FDR that started the whole thing?

c. That his insistence on the use of the purest graphite as the moderator for the first reactor in Chicago that he and Fermi jointly invented is what made it work, and that the Germans failed because they could not detect the impurities introduced therein?

That and more is what makes him the rightful father of the thing, though he wouldn't have been happy with the distinction as he soon argued equally vigorously that it should not be used on Japan and quit physics when his advice was ignored.

Feb. 01 2010 01:10 PM
kai from NJ-NYC

@ Hugh - I feel you on the disturbing show front. Although knowledge is incredibly valuable and appreciated, it begs the question: Would we be more blissful if we stayed ignorant?

Feb. 01 2010 12:51 PM
Alvin from Manhattan

Leo Szilard could be called the father (or a father) of the plutonium bomb, but not the uranium one. The concept of an explosive lens to implode the plutonium was genius. However, it was fairly well understood that a supercritical mass of uranium could be made to explode.
More overlooked is Leo Szilard's indirect contribution to communications. His 1929 seminal paper explaining Maxwell's Demon provided the basis for Claude Shannon's pioneering work at Bell Labs in the 1940s. Shannon's theory of the capacity of a data channel is studied in college by all electronics engineers (including me).

Feb. 01 2010 12:49 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

I'd say that Leonard Lopate has about one interview (at least one) per month that disturbs the hell out of me. (And I miss a lot of the interviews.)

So today is Garry Wills. Not long ago it was John Wargo on environmental pollutants. Others escape my memory right now.

Just depressing. I can't even work up my standard teeth-gnashing.

Feb. 01 2010 12:43 PM
Rick from Connecticut

Gary Wills ignores the 2 major issues that Truman dealt with, firstly that the Japanese were so recalcitrant that the war cabinet voted 3 to 3 to continue the war after Nagasaki and that Truman faced a giant, powerful and aggresive Soviet Union after the wars end and we had to stand up against that

Feb. 01 2010 12:42 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

He should "look back" and prosecute bush and cheney!

Feb. 01 2010 12:37 PM
Eric from B'klyn

Wow... Gary Wills asserts that the US has a secret empire with over 800 military bases... that is news; its only secret to the American people [and the mainstream media], not to the rest of the world. But the people who 'matter' those in official Washington would not admit the US is an empire.

Feb. 01 2010 12:36 PM
Alvin from Manhattan

Re Drora's question:
The song, and many others, are available on an expensive CD set called "Atomic Platters". If you plan to shell out the 100+ dollars for the set, make sure you get the latest one; I've read that the more recent editions have additional songs. (NOTE: I do not own the set.)
Check out the site (No, I'm not a shill for them.) It has hours of fun/scary stuff, such as the notorious Goldwater ad, the "Duck and Cover" film, and more. They're also pushing the above-mentioned CD set, but the other stuff is free.

Feb. 01 2010 12:33 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

Maybe you addressed it and I missed it but how did the President "change his tune" as you say?

Feb. 01 2010 12:33 PM
kai from NJ-NYC

The national security state allows the Federal government to maintain technological, military, and intelligence superiority over competing countries as well as maintaining its relative control of its own civilian population through monopoly of power.

Feb. 01 2010 12:32 PM
john from office

I was hoping for George Wills, not this guy.

Feb. 01 2010 12:31 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Gary Will, like most historians, totally ignores the TRUE father of the American atoomic bomb, the Hungarian Jewish physicist Leo Szilard without whom either (a) there would not have been a Manhattan project at all, or (b) it would have been unsucessful as were the German and Japanese atomic bomb projects.

Feb. 01 2010 12:31 PM
Alvin from Manhattan

The Bomb had a great influence on the space race. The Pentagon was not very interested in missile technology because they thought that a launchable weapon wasn't practical. The Soviets thought otherwise, and developed powerful rockets. The launch of Sputnik was a wake-up call to the U.S. military, because they realized that the Soviets planned to build nuclear ICBMs. As a result, the "civilian" NASA program initially had a strong military and security component.

Feb. 01 2010 12:26 PM
john from office

Openhiemer was a traitor to his country.

Feb. 01 2010 12:19 PM
john from office

Len, don't Judge the players during the 2nd world war. It is so easy to be judgmental. Thousands of Americans would have died in invading Japan. It is so easy to poo poo that now.

Feb. 01 2010 12:19 PM
Eric from B'klyn

On Mr Wills referenced Obama's decision not to revoke the Bush era war powers, in the logic of the national security state, the current 'war on terror' is ongoing, thus Obama is within his Presidential 'rights'.

Feb. 01 2010 12:17 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

Was the power to make sole snap-decision on bomb use granted to the president before the Soviets even had the bomb?

Feb. 01 2010 12:11 PM
drora kemp from north nj

Please let me know , someone - what is the song from the promotion to the segment on the atom bomb and its influence on politics? The lyrics are something like "The A Bomb is bad but the H bomb is worse". For once I can't locate the song by googling this line. (Wasted an hour or so and found out that there are many songs out there about the bomb and about nuclear war.

The Lopate Show responds: The song is called “Atomic Sermon” by Billy Hughes and the Rhythm Buckaroos.

Feb. 01 2010 11:42 AM
Mary Hersh from New York, New York

The reason governments do not give up their weapons is to keep a big ace in the power play. The tale they tell us is that it makes us safer: either because of the mutual deterrent or because of the missile defense shield. In the time of a possibility of a suitcase bomb attack by individuals who are not afraid to die neither plan is relevant. It is also a fact that the missile defense shield has technically failed. Why has it not been discussed?

Feb. 01 2010 09:37 AM
Mary Hersh from New York, New York

By all accounts, Gorbachev and Reagan were genuinely intent on nuclear disarmament when they came to Reykjavik. Apparently, Richard Perle who invited himself to the summit played a detrimental role in the negotiations (it was he, the neoconservative, who coined the phrase "Reagan is out to lunch" because he was so furious about this possibility). What exactly happened in Reykjavik? Why was this opportunity wasted?

Feb. 01 2010 09:29 AM
Ed Helmrich from Larchmont, NY

Garry Wills is a wonderful historian, it's such a shame that he wrote a few horribly inaccurate books about religion, which is not his area.

Feb. 01 2010 08:08 AM
George from Bay Ridge

How has the bomb influenced domestic politics and the press?

Feb. 01 2010 06:14 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.