, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 138-149

American Physicists, Nuclear Weapons in World War II, and Social Responsibility

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Social responsibility in science has a centuries-long history, but it was such a minor thread that most scientists were unaware of the concept. Even toward the conclusion of the Manhattan Project, which produced the first nuclear weapons, only a handful of its participants had some reservations about use of a weapon of mass destruction. But the explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only made society more aware of the importance of science, they made scientists more aware of their responsibility to society. I describe the development of the concept of social responsibility and its appearance among American scientists both before and after the end of World War II.

Expanded version of a talk in Hiroshima, Japan,August 10, 2003.
Lawrence Badash is Professor Emeritus of History of Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.