God has entrusted me with myself
Epictetus (AD 55 – 135)
At the tender age of twenty-two Werner Heisenberg received an invitation to the mediaeval town of Göttingen and its internationally renowned University, there to follow a discourse of one of the era’s most respected scientists. Who intended, as the awed audience had been informed in advance, to explain his latest conclusions regarding a consistent quantum theory that would replace classical mechanics and electrodynamics at the atomic level and be adequate for treating all aspects of the atomic world.
The man was Niels Bohr from Denmark, director of Copenhagen’s Institute for theoretical Physics. While Heisenberg attended the lecture, he noticed somewhere in the labyrinthine argument a serious flaw and dared to point it out to the great man. Who immediately recognized the young student’s scope of insight and invited him for a long walk in the adjacent hills. During the encounter, which lasted a few hours, both submerged themselves in the intricacies of the wondrous new science. For Heisenberg the meeting became a watershed. His entire scientific perception, based until then on a strictly classical approach, changed overnight.
I understood for the first time that the knowledge of any conceptual coherence did not spring from a mathematical analysis of the underlying facts, but an intensive preoccupation with the phenomenon that made it possible to grasp the inherent relations in an intuitive way.
A firm friendship developed between the two men. It led to a cooperation which produced marked advances in the task of unraveling an increasingly intricate nuclear riddle. When Heisenberg, not yet twenty-six years old, laid the theoretical foundations for a workable model that came to be called quantum mechanics, meaning how exactly an atomic nucleus and its many different planetary bodies were interacting, Bohr enlarged on the findings and brought them to a sound conclusion.
The combined effort caused extensive attention in international scientific circles, and Heisenberg’s genius was lauded accordingly. This with the outspoken exception of Albert Einstein who never seems to have understood the knotty configuration. In 1927 Heisenberg accepted the post of Ordinarius, or full professor, for theoretical physics in Leipzig. This was the first time in his career that he felt free to manage his own curriculum. He quickly built a circle of dedicated followers and established far-reaching contacts in the scientific world. His fame was by now such that students arrived from every corner of the world, and he instructed them scrupulously while employing their new-won skills in his own experimental research.
Yet while engrossed in these highly sophisticated pursuits, he was forced to observe every day more clearly how the world around him began to slide towards upheaval and chaos. The Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 had horrendous repercussions in Germany, a country continuously bled to its bones by the criminal Versailles instalments, because it happened just at a time when the faltering economy had begun to develop a measure of momentum again. With the result that unemployment soared to an hitherto unknown scale. Abject poverty and its attached miseries, like thieving, prostitution or downright murder, became rampant. Whole segments of the society began to form ideological blocks that were radically opposed to each other. The Moscow-financed communist Spartacus Bund controlled their quarters by driving around in sequestered lorries while openly brandishing guns and rifles, and Hitler’s SA soon followed suit in their own fiefs. Which led increasingly to full-blown street battles that were ignored by the established authorities.
What little wealth the country still called its own had been largely impounded by a tribe of money acrobats who knew how to turn the general suffering into enormous personal profit. Small wonder thus that by the end of the decade about 112 of the 115 Berlin banks were Jewish-owned. This ever recurrent scenario, based on a pathological lack of moderation, criminal greed and the total absence of any humane considerations, played an important part in the developments that led finally to Hitler’s ascension in 1933.
Hitler immediately concentrated the country’s entire executive power in his own hands by severing the Gordian knot of a stifling parliamentary encumbrance. Which enabled him to initiate far-reaching reforms, including a forced exodus of the money acrobats whose financial stranglehold was thus crushed overnight and replaced by a carefully balanced monetary system that benefited every honest citizen. The results were breathtaking. Within three years Germany rose like a Phoenix from the ashes. Its dignity was restored, law and order began to prevail again. The economy recovered and became healthy and strong.
Small wonder thus that a large part of the populace adored the Führer and saw in him what he increasingly believed to be himself, namely a divinely empowered Messiah with the directive to save humanity from auto-destruction.
Christian Misgivings about Hitler and National Socialism
It is here that among Heisenberg and like-minded Christian Germans the first serious misgivings began to crop up and develop with time into sincere moral dissent. Because many people, and particularly those whose beliefs were firmly grounded in Christianity, were forced to observe that their glorious new Leader had not only saved them from certain chaos and ruin, but also aimed for their hearts, minds and souls by disseminating a credo that was as far removed from Christ’s teachings as a pagan bonfire from the stars in the sky.
This credo soon became overpowering in every aspect of daily life. As, for example, in staunchly Catholic Bavaria. Here the inhabitants used to salute each other since time immemorial with a friendly Grüss Gott, or Greetings to the Lord, but were henceforth prevailed upon to snap up the right arm and yell Hail Hitler instead.
On the visual level the new doctrine became even more apparent. The Crucifix, until then present wherever one went, drowned nationwide in a sea of gaudy red banners that displayed the black Swastika prominently in a white circle. Many Christians were repelled by the new doctrine, seeing it as emphasizing FORCE , an unforgiving Nature’s preference of the strong over the weak, the divine unconcern of a hawk striking a mouse, and the certainty that gentleness created lambs in a country of wolves.
If seen against the very recent history, and particularly the terrible injustice of the Versailles treaties and its resulting destitution, it is small wonder that such seeds fell on fertile ground.
Hitler was too intelligent, too clever a manipulator, and thus wisely refrained from an open rupture with the established church. He and his favourite minions created a kind of Dark Grail instead, symbolically kept in the Wewelsburg, a massive castle not far from where in AD 9 Herman the Cherusker and his Teutons had annihilated the invading Romans under Publius Quinctilius Varus to the last man. Here the higher echelons of the Führer’s praetorian guard, the SS with its sinister emblem of Skull-and-Bones, indulged themselves in fantasies of a Brave New World under a strictly Aryan leadership.
Thus it was, within limits, possible that believers and disbelievers alike could live side by side and express their different creeds without hindrance.
Heisenberg and the Atomic Bomb
As to university life, a major debacle happened when large numbers of Jewish professors and their assistants were forced to leave Germany. Heisenberg deeply regretted this, and openly spoke out against it. But when old colleagues encouraged him to turn his back on Germany as well, he refused downright. One reason was his deep and near mystical love for his country. Another perhaps the knowledge that the removed scientists had been, due to a rigorous inter-tribal cohesion, over-represented. Yet it defined his position within the new regime, and when he received the Nobel prize and was asked shortly afterwards to publicly express his solidarity with the Führer, he declined the invitation quietly but firmly.
His position, understandably, was henceforth precarious, but his professional standing such that it made him one of the leading authorities in nuclear science worldwide, and thus fairly invulnerable. An uneasy status quo was the result, and he continued to teach and research unhindered while his fame grew steadily.
Until the end of 1938, when a veritable thunderclap shook the scientific world to its very foundations. It happened after Otto Hahn, a nuclear chemist and director of the Berlin Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute, discovered nuclear fission by bombarding a Uranium nucleus with neutrons. His findings paved the way for a concept of a nuclear chain reaction that promised, if properly tamed, to unleash an amount of energy so gigantic that it defied human imagination.
Prometheus thus, or the Wizard’s apprentice who fiddled with his Master’s most secret spells and found himself overwhelmed by them.
When Werner Heisenberg read the rather arid exposé in a scientific magazine, he must have realized instantly the true scope of the discovery. And perhaps he too felt the earth heaving under his feet. Because what it implied was on one hand a near inexhaustible production of nuclear energy for peaceful means, or alternately the construction of a bomb with an explosive force a thousand times stronger than any weapon known until then.
It was the moment when a terrible predicament began to unfold, because he knew perfectly well what kind of confrontation would sooner or later come his way.
And it came.
The top echelons in the Heereswaffenamt, or Army Weapons Department, had realized early on that Otto Hahn’s findings might lead to the construction of a weapon that could beat all others by far. But since the whole issue smouldered still in its purely theoretical stage and needed extensive practical research to prove its feasibility, it was decided to coordinate all efforts by placing them under the control of the one man most versed in the complex science.
In September 1939 war had been declared on Germany, a largely unforeseen move that enhanced the importance of advanced weapons technology accordingly, and Heisenberg received orders to present himself at the Heereswaffenamt. There, during a tense meeting, he was told that the possibilities concerning a practical utilization of nuclear fission must be seriously explored. The organizational frame for this undertaking was quickly established. By appropriating the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physics in Berlin, the German Nuclear Energy Project saw the light of day. It should have grown, as it happened later in the USA, quickly out of all proportions, and this simply because its leading protagonists were some of the world’s brightest minds who at that moment knew better than anybody else what they were dealing with and how exactly the bomb could be built. Yet the effort never managed to mature beyond infancy.
The reason for this strange state of affairs was Heisenberg himself, who, as director of the entire project, conducted research in such a way that would have, if recognized by his superiors, landed him immediately in the dungeons of the Gestapo and, at a remove, on the guillotine.
This because he had realized by now, just like a handful of scientists the world over, how unbelievably hideous and horrible the new invention might turn out on the practical level. Namely as a bomb whose destructive power would result, as estimated in those days, in a hole about one mile deep and a glazed desert with a radius of at least forty miles wide. Meaning that if it were dropped on London or Paris, not a single brick would be left standing while millions of human beings perished in the monstrous firestorm.
When Professor Hahn, who looked and behaved like a quintessential patrician out of a Thomas Mann novel, met Heisenberg shortly after the latter’s instalment, he declared unequivocally: “I’d rather die than build the bomb!”
And that was that. Thus an ethically correct sentiment, no doubt, yet it would have been the easiest way out. Because Heisenberg and the small inner circle of his staff, all men with a strong Christian foundation, knew what would happen eventually. Namely that other countries might feel less encumbered by moral restraints and indeed build the terrible weapon. Particularly the USA, where so many Jewish scientists had found refuge after their enforced German exodus. And who all nourished a massive grudge against their former country of birth.
Thus from now on a terrible dilemma began to overshadow Heisenberg’s life. Because just as he was capable of performing the most complex combinations on a scientific level, he understood as well the obvious consequences and repercussions of whatever political and moral decision he must finally opt for.
Whose choice had to be gleaned from the following alternatives.
Follow his Christian conscience and, at the risk of his life and that of his colleagues, pretend that the whole thing was nothing but a chimera, a wild-goose-chase bound to consume mountains of money and working hours while simply leading into nowhere? And to launch this ruse with the clear understanding that other countries were less inhibited and conducted their own nuclear program with all possible speed?
Or entrust Hitler with the bomb while hoping that it would never be used, but instead constitute a iron-clad status quo which nobody dared to upset? It is a fair guess that he would not have dropped it on London or New York. Perhaps just a bit outside to make his point. Which might have avoided the whole bloody war and Germany’s utter destruction.
This last alternative could have been a reasonably suitable idea, though always provided nothing went wrong. Because what if the Allies’ puppet leaders and their criminal minders were escalating the conflict to a point of no return, cocksure of themselves and impervious to the risk it exemplified for innumerable innocent bystanders? What if the Führer was forced to use the terrible weapon, simply because he saw no other way out?
A highly possible scenario, because the so-called minders employed, as perfectly known among the initiated, their gigantic wealth to exert all the political influence necessary to further their illicit aims. Minders who in losing Germany lost a territory from which they exerted power and therefore were determined to re-conquer it at all cost (see Louis Marschalko, The Real War Criminals). Minders who had declared war on Germany already as early as 1933. Minders, in short, who could not care less about millions of dead Christian soldiers and civilians if that got them what they wanted to get.
These considerations apart, there simmered of course the agonizing question of whether a man could be entrusted with the bomb whose essential ethical outlook was diametrically opposed to Christ’s message of Love and Compassion. Because might he not decide to drop it on the Russians, a people he saw for inexplicable reasons as racially inferior and whose lands he coveted for the sake of a Greater Germany?
Someone might come forward and state convincingly that he, Werner Heisenberg, could never be held in any way responsible for the decision to utilize the terrible weapon. An empty consolation though, because in the final analysis it would be always he, and he alone, who had facilitated the means to make its use possible.
Divested of all colourful decorum, and seen in the cold and inscrutable light of objective Truth, he could not but acknowledge that it depended solely on his own decision if he were to perpetrate the greatest sin ever committed in the history of man.
As it is, he would not…
But he made a last attempt to turn the tide. Profoundly depressed, and after more consultations with his closest collaborators, he decided to visit Nils Bohr in Copenhagen. This happened at a time when the precise understanding of how to utilize Otto Hahn’s discovery for a nuclear chain reaction was still limited to a known group of about twelve scientists worldwide. Heisenberg attempted therefore to convince Bohr of the urgent necessity of establishing a consensus among the twelve men that would, for humanitarian reasons and an indefinite span of time, ban all further research on the terrible weapon.
An utterly naïve and pointless endeavour, as he conceded on his return. Because the two men had drifted too far apart. So far in fact that not a shred of their former strong bond was left. Bohr, whose mother was Jewish, had no patience with Heisenberg’s more subtle approach where present-day Germany was concerned. All he could see was a country that had fallen into the hands of an evil and racist despot who must be eradicated all cost. Long since informed about developments in the USA, he left not long after Heisenberg’s departure and involved himself vigorously in the Manhattan nuclear project at Los Alamos.
Back home Heisenberg and his friends continued to fool the authorities, so much so that their work, and the ridiculously small funds they asked for its continuation, made them an increasingly insignificant side-show of the ever escalating war.
Germany, thank God, succumbed before the bomb came into play, and it was the privilege of Nagasaki’s civilians to be the first who witnessed its destructive power. As for Heisenberg’s lovely old Würzburg, its fate was only marginally less horrible.
The bomb as such has spawned three siblings, each more hideous and devastating than the next. Euphemistically called the Neutron Bomb, Hydrogen Bomb and Cobalt Bomb, although the latter was never tested. This because there hunkers a reasonable suspicion that it might ignite a chain reaction which will only end once the entire planet’s surface has been transformed into a smouldering wasteland. Though it is rumoured the Likudniks keep one under the bed, just in case.
As to the ugly toys’ midwives, they were Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Samuel T. Cohen and Leo Slizard.
And perhaps it needed a class of men unencumbered by the ethical restrictions of a Christian faith to pull the whole thing through and bring it to a practical conclusion
As for Werner Heisenberg, it can be only imagined how he must have suffered in silence for the rest of his life.