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Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Africa (10)


The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki PHOTO: Wikipedia

The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki PHOTO: Wikipedia

BUT as Don Surber notes, on his blog, Wilkins was not the only African American scientist or technician to help develop the atomic bomb. He cites the Philadelphia chemist, Lloyd Quarterman, who assisted some of the scientists that were investigating techniques for the isolation of U-235.

Quarterman’s official title was “junior chemist”—since he held only a Bachelor’s degree. Yet according to Black Past. Org, Quarterman worked with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago’s Met Lab and Albert Einstein at Columbia University.

In fact, Wisdom Institute University has compiled a power-point presentation (based on Black Past. Org’s documentation), featuring 15 black MED scientists and technicians. Their role is important, because much of the pioneering research was done at Columbia and Met Lab.

“The Met Lab,” explained Shane Landrum, in Black Atomic Scientists, Education and Citizenship, “worked in tandem with… scientists at Columbia… Leading chemist I. I. Rabi led the Columbia group, which also included the [black] brothers William and Lawrence Knox…”

William Knox earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in 1935—and holds the distinction of being the only Black supervising scientist on the Manhattan Project. His brother, Lawrence, completed a doctorate in organic Chemistry at Harvard University.

Oddly enough, Lawrence focused his research on a quinine-based chemical, which, Black Past.Org reports, “was meant to be used in the Manhattan project for field research on the effects of atomic bomb explosions”.

A few black scientists were attached to MED units, besides Columbia and Chicago. Samuel Proctor Massie, for example, did classified research at Iowa State University, while Robert Johnson Omohundro was sent to a secret facility in Arizona. One, Moddie Taylor, earned a Certificate of Merit.

As I close out this very long serial, a depressing thought comes to mind. It is ironic indeed, that the African, who provided the uranium for the first atomic bomb, and made intellectual input as well, is, 70 years after Hiroshima, in the very same position as Japan was: That being unarmed and vulnerable.

Japan paid the price of vulnerability, with the lives of its women and children. “Whether one thinks the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified or not,” asserted Alex Wellerstein (The Nuclear Secrecy Blog), “it must be remembered that…they were massacres of civilians. It was not an incidental or accidental side-effect: it was what they were planned to be”.

An encouraging sign, is that President Buhari has announced plans to manufacture weapons. That’s a very good start. But Nigeria, as the closest thing to a world-class state that Black Africa has, ought to be thinking beyond conventional weapons—beyond Pelindaba and Nuclear-Non-Proliferation.

Japan manufactured aircraft, cannons and ships. But the monstrosity that rested atop the tower at Las Alamos would render these conventional armaments obsolete. After the Trinity test, the definition of “freedom” and “independence” changed forever—as did the balance of power on the planet.

Now, only states with nuclear weapons can exercise independence; and only individuals within those states, or who have genetic ties to them, can ever be truly “free”. This is the message of Trinity, which the U.S. subsequently hammered home, with the holocaust it inflicted on an already humbled Japan.

Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War in 1945, stated the case even more cogently. Writing in Atlantic Monthly, Paul Ham attributed this observation to him:

“We do not regard it as a new weapon merely,” Stimson reportedly declared, during the meeting to select Hiroshima as the target “but as a revolutionary change in the relations of man to the universe.”

J.K. Obatala

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