FicInt: Anticipating Tomorrow’s Conflict

The face of the adventurer at the steering-wheel, darkly visible ever and again by the oval greenish flow of the compass face, had something of that firm beauty which all concentrated purpose gives, and something of the happiness of an idiot child that has at last got hold of the matches. His companion, a less imaginative type, sat with his legs spread wide over the long, coffin-shaped box which contained in its compartments the three atomic bombs, the new bombs that would continue to explode indefinitely and which no one so far had ever seen in action. 

The passage above is from The World Set Free by H. G. Wells. It describes two men, sitting in an airplane, preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Berlin. It details the fission-driven chain reaction that gives the atomic bomb its power by describing it as a bomb “that would continue to explode indefinitely.” In 1965, when describing his memories of successfully creating the most destructive weapon the world had ever seen, Robert Oppenheimer, a key member of the Manhattan Project, uttered a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Surprisingly, Wells wrote his novel in 1913, 25 years before fission was discovered and 32 years before the successful test of the atomic bomb in the New Mexican desert that inspired Oppenheimer’s haunting declaration from the Bhagavad Gita.

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