On November 28th 1954, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, the first man to create and control a nuclear chain reaction died in Chicago at the age of 53. Fermi and Neils Bohr, a Danish physicist, hypothesised that it was possible to create a nuclear chain reaction and the Manhattan Project was born – America’s attempt to create an atomic bomb before the Germans did.
Fermi created a jury-rigged laboratory, complete with his own "atomic pile", in a squash court in the basement of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. It was there that Fermi, with other physicists looking on, produced the first controlled chain reaction on December 2, 1942 and the nuclear age was born. "The Italian navigator has just landed in the new world" was the coded message sent to a delighted President Roosevelt.
The first nuclear device, the creation of the Manhattan Project scientists, was tested on July 16, 1945. It was followed less than a month later by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To date, these have been the only nuclear weapons that have been used in war. They were responsible for the death of millions of innocent people, and this mass killing finally brought the end to the terrible war against Japan.
Ever since there has been a long debate on the pros and cons of nuclear bombs; some say it is very essential for world peace, but others still see it as a major threat to the human race. The idea of a world without nuclear weapons seems virtually impossible today. However, world leaders could rid the planet of them if there was the political will to do this. The old argument that as long as others possess them, no one will ever dare use them, is no longer valid when the most likely people to detonate a nuclear weapon do not fear this idea of mutually assured destruction. The possession of nuclear weapons no longer confers the status of super power on those who possess them. Many nuclear free countries such as Germany, Australia and Canada for example are leaders on the world stage but do not have a nuclear arsenal.
In 1954 Robert Oppenheimer, the Director of the Manhattan Project was asked if he felt guilty about Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He replied "When you come right down to it the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and its values."
If these scientists had not created this deadly weapon others would have. The issue is not who originally invented nuclear weapons but how humanity deals with the invention. Sunday marks the start of the Christian season of Advent. Even with the decline of religious faith in the west, the underlying message of this season remains appropriate – hope and patience. We will need both if a nuclear free world is ever to become a reality.