[26 Nov 1999] Everybody Knows
[24 Nov 1999] Worlds Enough, and Time
[22 Nov 1999] Future Shocks
[19 Nov 1999] Translator's Note
[12 Nov 1999] Psalm 23
[11 Nov 1999] The Mechanical Demon
[10 Nov 1999] Prisoner's Dilemma
[9 Nov 1999] Conviction of E. German Chief Upheld
[8 Nov 1999] Four Gates to the City
[5 Nov 1999] Worst Crimes of the Millennium
[4 Nov 1999] When the Killing Stopped

From "Heisenberg, Goudsmit and the German Atomic Bomb," Physics Today (January 1990).

The German Atomic Bomb


... [Samuel] Goudsmit decided to take his case to a broader audience and so wrote the popular book Alsos in 1947. In order that Alsos not go unnoticed, Goudsmit arranged for it to be previewed in Life magazine on 20 October 1947.

Alsos posed and purported to answer a question that was of keen interest to Goudsmit and of great topical importance at a time when the organization of big science was at issue in the United States: Why did German science fail where the Americans and British succeeded? Goudsmit's answer was that science under fascism was not, and probably could never be, the equal of science in a democracy. In Goudsmit's opinion, the "totalitarian climate" of Nazi Germany led to complacency, politics in science and hero worship, all of which adversely affected the German research.

Goudsmit's account of the Alsos Mission and the German nuclear fission research program was basically the same as that set out in his earlier articles. Heisenberg was portrayed as a tragic figure, an extreme nationalist led astray by the Nazis and made to appear foolish by the revelations of Hiroshima. But Goudsmit was concerned with issues larger than the German nuclear energy and weapons project. Using Gestapo records that he himself considered suspect, Goudsmit unfairly dismissed Schumann and other National Socialist science policy administrators as incompetent Nazis and drew an arbitrary line of demarcation between the "good scientists" -- good in both the professional and moral senses -- and the "Nazi scientists." Thus Goudsmit did exactly what Heisenberg had done, although his motives were quite different.

Goudsmit's concluding chapter sharply criticized what he saw as American complacency about its scientific and military superiority over the Soviet Union, and he attacked those who wanted to continue wartime restrictions on nuclear science in the United States. He used the example of Heisenberg to argue that isolation, secrecy and governmental control ruin science.