Thursday, August 30, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Stories About the Bomb

This week I've been watching Dunkirk, a powerful retelling of the near loss of the British army which would have undoubtedly resulted in the fall of Britain. Had that event occurred it is quite possible Adolph Hitler could have successfully conquered the world, for there would have been no impediment to Rommel's conquest of the Middle East oil fields, the primary objective of his North Africa campaign. And was it not the Turing Machine, a Brit breakthrough, that broke German code thus enabling the Allies to intercept messages and destroy Rommel's re-supply efforts? 

That moment in time (Dunkirk) was recently highlighted in the 2017 Gary Oldman film Darkest Hour. It's good to be reminded of how much of history is determined by singular moments and "little things." I think of here of the Ben Franklin quote that begins, "For want of a nail..."

And so... for Throwback Thursday I share this story about a little thing... with big consequences.

Stories About the Bomb
I don't think there's a one of us in the Baby Boomer generation who lived unaware of the Cold War and that dark shadow of potential nuclear winter. It's one of those things that was always out there, though each of us reacted differently to this ominous reality. I remember reading On the Beach as a young teen, which had already become a film in 1959 starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner among others. A vividly written story about the end of the human race makes an impression on one, especially if you permit imagination to enter in to suggest all the things you may never experience before you die. Yes, even then we had fledgling versions of a bucket list.

Many of us also read Hiroshima by the Pulitzer Prize-winning John Hersey, a story about six survivors of the bomb that shook the world, with images so vivid it will straighten your hair.

So it is that many of us write in order to process our life experiences. I once wrote a poem on this theme called Bad Break which attempted to capture a measure of this Cold War anxiety.

In part, this is where my story "Two Acts That Changed the World" came from, which is currently the opening short story in my short collection of stories called Unremembered Histories.

The second inspiration for the story comes from having been enthralled by the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, whom I consider a primary influence on all of the stories in this particular volume. Borges is the master of reality-bending hyper-real story-telling.

For what it's worth, consider this intro something like a movie trailer, designed to entice you to fork over a few bucks to see the flick. It's a buck-ninety-nine if you have a Kindle. For iPad owners you can also download a free app. It's also now available in print.


Of the dozen or so German physicists who had been assigned the task of building a super-bomb for Germany, Wilhelm Kurtweil more than any knew the consequences for humanity should the Nazis succeed in being the first to achieve this ultimate quest. Kurtweil had been a leading voice in German physics before the war, was now a respected scientist in the twilight years of a fabulous career.

For him personally, Nazism was an odious blight on the German peoples, but he had remained silent, hoping against hope that the dark season would pass and German character would rise above its brutal cancer. By 1942 he’d lost this hope.

The super-bomb project was in full swing. The Nazis already dominated Europe. England was about to fall.

His worst fear of all: that the project would succeed and his name be forever associated with its success in bringing the world to its knees at Hitler's feet.

In November he began praying for divine intervention. He did not believe in God, but not knowing where else to turn and hoping that he was wrong, he prayed that God would give him wisdom. The following week he conceived in a dream, visualized with perfect clarity, the formulation for the Atomic Bomb. It was so perfect, so brilliantly conceived, and remarkably clever. He woke in a sweat. With an over-stimulated mind he spent the rest of that night hastily scratching notes on scraps of paper. For three successive nights he worked out the details, occasionally catching fitful moments of sleep to sustain his strength.

On the fourth night, he saw clearly the two actions he must take. First, he must find a way to undermine -- without drawing suspicion -- the efforts of his fellow scientists. And second, he must find a way to communicate his findings to the American scientists whom he believed were actively pursuing the same designs.

The first task was easy enough. He saw that the labyrinthian formula was built on a series of equations which flowed with a counter-intuitive divergence from logic at several critical points. How he had seen this so plainly baffled him. In presenting his discoveries to the group, he merely had to re-arrange the equation at two points and the system would forever fail to detonate. Once these two re-arrangements were made, no amount of re-evaluation would point to this particular detail as being faulty. All corrections of the misfire would focus on other areas of the formulation, with over one hundred million permutations. If all went well, it would be ten years before the mistake was discovered.

Though he intended to delay as long as possible the presentation of his formulation, he knew he must be the first to present, lest the correct thesis be presented in regards to the critical path. By early spring of 1943 he saw that two of his young proteges were uncovering significant portions of the path and he was forced to the first task. On April seventh, he presented his findings with cool reserve and astounding humility. The team was ecstatic at the breakthrough.

The second task proved more daunting... 

Read the reviews here, and check it out: Unremembered Histories


LEWagner said...

The evacuation at Dunkirk was allowed because the Germans were still hoping for peace with England.
Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess's flight to England took place a full year AFTER Dunkirk, and was still in hopes for peace. Hess was rewarded for his efforts to stop the war by a life-long incarceration as a "war criminal".
The Western leaders insisted on war, and got it. Five years and dozens of millions of dead later, the USSR was handed Eastern Europe in the "liberation".
And it is against the law in nearly every European country to even discuss the real events. Any discussion of who the real villains were is called "anti-Semitic hate speech", and people are beaten up, ostracized, and given jail terms for it.
So went the "liberation" of Europe.
And now the United States is fully controlled by the same criminal cabal. That is why we have been involved in perpetual war ever since the "peace" was declared in 1945, with the deaths of dozens of millions more people, including maybe 100,000 Americans, continuing in the Middle East to this very day.
But people would rather worship the comforting myths than to face the truth. It's going to be a rude awakening.

Ed Newman said...

Orwell foretold "perpetual war" in his book 1984.