3. Nuclear Weapons
When the United States detonated the first and only nuclear weapons used in warfare over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 200,000 people, most of whom were civilians, died. The newly formed United Nations immediately set about regulating the dangerous technology through the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. But as the Cold War heated up, the Soviet Union and United States entered a nuclear arms race, each nation eager to outstrip the other in demonstrations of nuclear prowess. Today, some eight countries, including China and North Korea, have acknowledged possessing such weaponry, though more are suspected of developing a nuclear arsenal. As of 2012, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that there were more than 17,000 nuclear warheads in the world, though only 4,300 of them were considered operational at the time.
Jewish American theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer is often called the “father of the atomic bomb” because of his role in the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapons. After the first atomic bomb was detonated in a test on July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer remarked that the blast recalled a quote from the “Bhagavad Gita,” “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” After WWII, Oppenheimer became the chief advisor to the newly minted United States Atomic Energy Commission, and lobbied against nuclear proliferation and the arms race with the Soviet Union.
Oppenheimer’s colleague, Edward Teller is also known by a colloquial title: “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” The Hungarian-born Jewish scientist was also an early member of the Manhattan project, where he pushed for the development of the first fusion-based weapons. This work was ultimately put off until the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb in 1949, at which time President Harry Truman announced his intention to beat the Russians to a hydrogen bomb and Teller returned to Los Alamos to join the program.