When we had assembled and prepared the first operational unit of the hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll and were ready to fire, we went aboard ship and stood away off. Only a small firing party was left behind, safely dug in, across the atoll. The sky was clear. The explosion came at dawn. It was truly awesome and, at first from a distance, silent. Deep shades of colored gases boiled and churned in a massive sky-filling fire storm. The colors brightened and passed on to pastels. The cloud reached the sunlight and burned hell-red in the dawn. Moments later the sky darkened to a brown overcast creating a sepia world.
Lifting puffs of spray, the shock came to us over the sea at the speed of sound; it encompassed us with the ear-rending jar as of a .357 magnum. Then silence again. No one spoke.
We watched and waited. Later, we were sent below decks to escape the intense fallout of the next 24 hours. Water was pumped from the deeper sea to form a continuous clean spray above the ship. All ventilators were off.
We were to learn weeks later that the crew of the Japanese fishing boat "Lucky Dragon" had not been so lucky in the fallout. Our small task group had planned a big celebration back on Eniwetok. It was neither big, nor was it much of a celebration. We quietly sipped at champagne bottles on the beach.
We were all convinced that lasting peace had come to the earth and that no one could possibly use such a weapon as the hydrogen bomb in the trivia of man's little wars. As might be expected, years later, discussing the generalities of nuclear war with my science colleagues from the Soviet Union, I found a reflection of my own attitude. No one expected our leaders to behave in a truly sane manner, but at least we anticipated they would not be entirely insane. For years these were my comforting thoughts -- nuclear stalemate!
Three young men assembled the key nuclear components of the first operational hydrogen bomb in late 1953. They were Ben Maestas, Ed Kemp and myself. We were at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. Ed and Ben stayed in Los Alamos to assemble the first stockpile weapon while I accompanied the prototype weapon to Eniwetok for testing.
By truck, military aircraft and naval auxiliary, by blacked-out convoy on a circuitous route through the tropics, we travelled constantly under the guns of an armed guard. It was quite an ego boost for a young man turning 30 that January in 1954 before the blast. Briefing congressmen, high government officials and military heads -- I was in it, highly involved with the most devastating weapon in the history of the world.
Why do I recite this record? It is said that there is great guilt and soreness of conscience among the weapons scientists. I doubt it. I have observed that the amount of assumed guilt over weapons work seems to increase the further the "guilty" party is removed from hands-on responsibility. Such guilt is also closely related to whatever current attitudes are fashionable and the amount of sympathy that can be evoked from one's fellows.
Now, I ask, how is the fate of mankind being determined today? These are not only questions for leadership, but questions for our own hearts. Are we worth saving from nuclear holocaust? I am no longer sure. My Koran tells me that there will never be peace in the Holy Land. The Bible appears to predict the end of the world. The principles of noble government set down by Plato and Confucius have long been aborted.
I recall my sojourn in academia. My military historian colleagues warned me that no weapon in the history of mankind has ever been controlled. How do I now consider my participation in the construction of that great weapon? As the political issues loom larger, my participation seems of lesser consequence.
Rather than linger in the past, I decided to beat my sword into a plowshare. My knowledge of nuclear energy increased, and I entered the academic world and, later, the field of nuclear-electric power production. But bewildering political forces carrying greater sway than science, engineering, and safety now appear to prevail.
Today, in professional retirement, I contemplate my own counsel and none but my own. Am I now just a pessimistic old man who thinks he sees too many evils? Or am I a prophet of uncommon experience? I see nuclear destruction as a probable and, sadly, not a wholly lamentable fate given the worldwide degeneration of the human race.
Those of youthful intelligence, however, are working to accommodate or correct the social and technological changes that threaten our world. But will they bring our world safely into the new millennium? Or are they and ourselves deep in the new Plato's Cave, the comfortable living room? Are we chained to watch the false shadows of life on the "cave wall" -- now an electronic screen -- our backs turned to the true light?
Where are the new Masons? Indeed, where are many of the older Brethren who, having been enlightened, simply disappeared? Masonry is lauded for preserving ancient truths in ritual and symbol. But where are the workers to use Masonry's trowels, squares, and compasses today? Where are those who would adapt modern change to the light of reason? Ours is the challenge, along with the young men and women of today. Will we foster the Light or yield to the darkness?