From Berkeley to Berlin:
How the Rad Lab Helped Avert Nuclear War
by Tom Ramos
This is a story that starts with a man who rallies the nation to protect itself from a threat born in a chemistry laboratory in the capital of Nazi Germany. After World War II, he establishes a laboratory in a dusty California cow town called Livermore, and he inspires an elite group of young Americans, we’ll call them upstarts, to accept a challenge to protect our nation from a Communist thug who threatens our well-being, indeed our existence. The upstarts prove themselves when they provide America with the means to defend itself against a Communist ultimatum to abandon two and a half million Germans living in the city of Berlin, or else face a nuclear attack. Six months after the height of that crisis, Kennedy thought about how close the country had come to destruction, and he flew out to Berkeley to meet and thank the upstarts for helping the country avert a nuclear war. What had they done? This book tells their story.
There has been a longstanding philosophy among intellectuals in our country that nuclear weapons are evil and endanger our society. Surely, among these elites, any story having nuclear weapons designers as heroes should be considered dead on arrival. That is a wrong idea, as this story should show any unbiased reader. Can anyone doubt that a thermonuclear armed Stalin or Khrushchev would have used a nuclear weapon against an America not prepared to defend itself?
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This narrative was written for history buffs and general readers interested in a heroic tale. The subject matter necessarily includes technological events, but I have made an effort to make sure the reader does not have to be a math and science major to enjoy the story. The emphasis here is on the individuals who were participants, not on the gadgets they invented. Of course, it pays to understand what it is that the story’s heroes accomplished and why those accomplishments are important, and so descriptions of those accomplishments are made in a language that can be understood by a reader who is not technically oriented.
After the First Gulf War, there was a great victory parade held in Washington, DC. The troops marched across the Washington Mall to the cheers of thousands of grateful Americans. There was no victory parade for the physicists who orchestrated the victory won in Berlin in 1961. No one knew what they had done. One of the upstarts of this history, Mike May, told me Kennedy stepped up to him inside the entrance to the Rad Lab on a sunny day in Berkeley, in March 1962. The President grasped his hand and warmly thanked him for all he had done for the country. May said that memory is forever etched in his mind—he’ll never forget the warmth he felt from the young President, who like May, was a veteran of the Second World War.
Some of the characters in this history, like Mike May and Johnny Foster, are my friends. They are the physicists who worked directly for Lawrence at his Rad Lab in Berkeley. I don’t believe American society is aware of how much it owes to those pioneering upstarts. I am passionate to tell their story and have their contributions recognized by the society they have served so well, while they are still living. I hope you enjoy this tale of how these Americans made such a difference to our world.
(The book is published by Naval Institute Press and can be ordered through Amazon.com or through the NIP website.)