Monday, December 04, 2006

Oppenheimer and the falling cost of havoc

I've blogged tediously about the falling cost of havoc. I didn't know, though I might have guessed, that Oppenheimer was far ahead of me (genius does that)...
How to Get a Nuclear Bomb (The Atlantic, December 2006)

... In 1946 Robert Oppenheimer sketched the problem clearly. In an essay titled “The New Weapon,” he wrote: “Atomic explosives vastly increase the power of destruction per dollar spent, per man-hour invested; they profoundly upset the precarious balance between the effort necessary to destroy and the extent of the destruction.” Elaborating, he wrote,
None of these uncertainties can becloud the fact that it will cost enormously less to destroy a square mile with atomic weapons than with any weapons hitherto known to warfare. My own estimate is that the advent of such weapons will reduce the cost, certainly by more than a factor of ten, more probably by a factor of a hundred. In this respect only biological warfare would seem to offer competition for the evil that a dollar can do.
I suspct Oppenheimer would have been surprised by our continued survival. I think of that when I contemplate how much the cost of havoc has fallen since his day. Whether by angels, aliens, or some emergent property of humankind, we seem to have cheated the odds. I hope the angels aren't tiring ...

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