C.P. Snow: Hope it’s never possible to develop superbomb
From The New Men (1954)
“As a matter of fact, some of these scientists believe they can present us with a great big bang. Like thousands of tons of T.N.T. That would be a futurist war, if you like. That old boy the other day said we ought to be ready to put some money on it.”
It sounded like the gossip I had heard in Cambridge, and I said so.
“Ought you have heard?” said Bevill, who thought of science in nothing but military terms. “These chaps will talk. Whatever you do, you can’t stop them talking. But they’re pushing on with it. I’ve collected three appreciations already. Forget all I tell you until you have to remember – that’s what I do. But the stuff to watch is what they call a uranium isotope.”
He said the words slowly as though separating the syllables for children to spell. “U. 235,” he added, as though domesticating a foreign name. To each of the three of us, the words and symbols may as well have been in Hittite, though Rose and I would have been regarded as highly educated men.
The Minister went on to say that, though the scientists ‘as usual’ were disagreeing among themselves, some of them believed that making a ‘superbomb’ was not only a matter of a series of techniques. They also believed that whichever side got the weapon first would win the war.
“These people always think that it’s easier to win wars than I do,” he added imperturbably.
It still did not seem significant. That winter, one or two of us who were in the secret discussed it, but, although we looked around the room before we spoke, it did not catch hold of us as something real.
Once Francis Getliffe, whom I had known longer than the other scientists, said to be:
“I hope it’s never possible.”