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UCR Speaker, author of a-bomb book available for interviews later this month

UCR Speaker, author of a-bomb book available for interviews later this month

(June 6, 2001)

Mary Palevsky's decision to write the book "Atomic Fragments: a Daughter's Questions," came from the 1995 debate about a proposed 50th anniversary museum exhibit on the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and regrets her parents had about having worked on the Manhattan Project, the top-secret World War II effort to develop the weapon.

Palevsky, an independent scholar and writer will be available for press interviews after June 20, when she returns from filming interviews with Manhattan Project scientists in San Diego, and Santa Fe, New Mexico for a Japanese television documentary. Those interviews, like her June 5 presentation at UCR, will be part of a broadcast for the Japanese NHK television network. The documentary is scheduled to air about Aug. 6 and 9, the anniversaries of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Palevsky's parents were mid-level scientists working on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Both expressed long-held, complex regrets about their roles shortly before their deaths in 1980s. Palevsky decided to write "Atomic Fragments," when heated debate sparked over a proposed Smithsonian Museum atomic bomb exhibit in 1995 prompted her to extend her private questions to the surviving Manhattan Project scientists. She talked with the scientists about ethical dilemmas they faced while developing the weapon, and how their thinking about the bomb has evolved since.

Some scientists like Hans Bethe expressed no regrets, Palevsky told a group of about 50 students and professors at UCR. Of the three alternative ways to end the war U.S. leaders faced, he believed dropping the bomb was preferable to blockade or invasion, Palevsky said. Both alternatives would have prolonged firebombings of Japanese cities and exposed U.S. servicemen to heavy casualties on the par with those suffered in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, she added.

Bethe believed the bomb needed to be used, but once its destructive power was demonstrated, should never be used again, Palevsky said. He became an enemy of the bomb once Japan surrendered.

At the other end of the spectrum were scientists like Joseph Rotblat, part of the British mission to the Manhattan Project, who dropped out once Germany surrendered, she said. Rotblat told Palevsky he put aside his moral scruples to work on the project because the threat from Germany was so immediate and great, she said. He never agreed that the bomb should have been used, but knew that if Germany developed it first, the Nazis would have won the war.

"My focus was on the moral and ethical questions they faced," she said. "I wanted to find out how they reasoned and reflected on their work."

Sounding a note of caution to her audience of young scholars, Palevsky told them that it's impossible to put the genie of scientific discovery back into its bottle. "Remember, your ideas cease to be your own once they are published," she said.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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