Joseph Rotblat: the moral dilemmas of working on the atom bomb

Joseph Rotblat recalls his moral dilemma over working on the atom bomb in the Second World War.

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Something much more awesome occurred to me. And that was that if all this energy, this huge amount of energy, is released in a very short time, and by short time I mean less than a microsecond, less than a millionth of a second, then of course if you get a large release of energy in a short time you get a mighty explosion. The idea of the atom bomb then occurred to me at that time. Thinking backwards I think maybe that the reason why I did not want to publish this paper after this debacle was because I was afraid. Having been brought up by [inaud] scientists it didn’t occur to me that I will do anything about it, I’m a scientist and not an atom bomb maker, particularly a bomb of this magnitude, therefore felt I’m not going to do it. But, I was at the same time afraid that other scientists may not have the same scruples, the same moral scruples as I had. And the thing about other scientists I had in fact specifically in mind German scientists, because I was afraid that if the bomb can be made and if Hitler would get the bomb, then he will use it to rule the world. I knew that there was going to be a war, in Poland all of us knew that Hitler’s going to invade. It’s not a question whether it will be but only when, and we just had to live with knowing it’s going to happen. And therefore I was afraid that if the bomb can be made and Hitler will have the bomb, then he will win this war.
  • Interviewee Joseph Rotblat
  • Duration 00:01:45
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Katherine Thompson
  • Date of interview 6/1/1999
  • Shelfmark C464/17

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