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January 11th, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1965

It’s difficult to describe why I laughed. There it was, the end of the world, staring us in the face, and it simply struck me as absurd. We had worked at a frenzied pace for months trying to outwit the enemy and reach the goal of nuclear fission first. And then suddenly there it was, that world-altering fireball, the doomsday siren. What the hell could you do but laugh?

I cried afterward, almost daily, and that was before any of the Japanese bombings. We had unleashed a hurricane of destruction, the roadmap to extinction of all we’ve ever known. I blamed myself, but also knew someone else would have gotten there if we hadn’t first. My guilt was a burden, an anvil of regret and worry I dragged behind me, yet something inevitable all the same. Better to be the winner of the race, wasn’t it?

The best reason I could give for laughing was the triumph of the moment. There was a sense of joy in it, witnessing our theories come true, watching the physics unfold in such spectacular fashion. That was never it, though. Wile E. Coyote doesn’t laugh in the moment between him realizing he’s run off the cliff and actually plunging downward, but you do as you watch. And that’s all it was, the ridiculousness of doom, the clumsiness of the end.

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