Video and Narration: Alan Cox
If you could put a split atom back together
By undertaking a brief trip backwards in time,
You might find that you wanted to do so.
There’s a large blackboard in an Oxford Museum
Which was once used by Albert Einstein in 1931.
It’s still covered by rows of his chalk hieroglyphs.
The marks made in his lecture have been carefully preserved:
Letters, and figures denoting energy, mass, time and speed
And how Einstein thought that they all might be interacting.
In his equation E=MC2 Einstein predicted that vast forces
Could be released if matter could be converted into energy –
“To be explored,” he suggested, “by studying radioactive elements.”
But when you learn where some of his calculations would take the world
The sudden whim arises of wiping off every trace of his spidery formulae
With an old rag while airily whispering, ‘Bye bye blackboard’.
For the slender scribbles made by this ‘pure scientist’,
So ritually known as the ‘cleverest man in the world’,
Would lead directly to man’s first atomic explosion.
Albert Einstein had proposed “extremely powerful bombs of a new type”
To President Roosevelt whom he’d urge in his letter to acquire uranium.
His letter would instigate the Manhattan Project and atomic weapons.
It would lead from the deadly shrouds of radioactive clouds mutating man’s chromosomes
To the cosmocratic delusions of madmen dying to blow the world to pieces
And to that unmentionable elephant in humanity’s front room – the nuclear holocaust.
“There ain’t half been some clever bastards,” sang Ian Dury,
Guying Einstein for his atomic tampering with a line about,
‘Splitting the littlest and then frightening everybody shitless.’
But that was it. In a nutshell, that was what Albert Einstein did.
Einstein would later regret his letter, and try to advise world leaders
With impotent desperation, against the development of the bomb he’d spawned:
To warn against their harnessing huge, uncontrollable forces;
Against their sparking off fission’s furious chain reaction and releasing radioactive whirlwinds.
But too late. For making threats are the politician’s stock-in-trade;
Their being perpetually charged with finding ever more aggressive toys.
Thus, through Einstein’s mushroom cloud, the world lost its potential Buddha-hood
Ironically, it being a poisoned mushroom that killed the Buddha.
Staring at the Oxford blackboard invokes the unsettling sound
Of Einstein’s fingers scraping a white chalk across its surface
And prompting the sly fancy to silence history with a nifty wipe.
Though some might think it pointless vandalism, others wouldn’t care
If, through wiping the slate clean, the ‘end of the world’ might be restored
To merely being some religious fable rather than a real scenario.
But clocks can’t be turned back, things can’t be un-invented, so rational scientists insist,
Whilst overlooking those particles which can go backwards in time, such as muons and tachyons,
And which could, for all anyone can ever measure, be even cleverer than Einstein –
Whose own brain, just like his encroached upon atoms, would itself end up being split –
Reduced to laboratory scraps for students to gawp at in quasi-religious awe –
While oblivious to their own brains harbouring disturbing traces of nuclear detonation.
Fatefully, Einstein’s brain, an object of adulation while he lived,
Would be ignominiously pilfered at his death by a pathologist,
Thomas Stoltz Harvey, who’d keep it in his garage in Lawrence, Kansas.
Harvey sliced up the brain into two hundred and seventy pieces.
One section would serve as a Christmas present for a mortuary colleague:
Dead tissue in a bottle of formaldehyde; gift-wrapped. Some slices were even sold.
Likewise, in 1955, Einstein’s eyeballs were also taken by someone seeing their potential:
A Dr Henry Abrams, his opthamologist, removed them during Einstein’s autopsy
And some years later Dr Abrams was reported by Reuters to be looking for a buyer.
After keeping Einstein’s eyes hidden in a bank vault in Loveladies, New Jersey,
Abrams would bring them into the light of day with a high-powered sales-pitch,
“When you look into Einstein’s eyes,” he’d gush, “you’re looking into the beauties and mysteries of the world.”
By contrast, the bomb’s maker, J Robert Oppenheimer, facing the ferocious eye of their atomic firestorm,
And, seeing this seething, ugly enormity whose properties were no mystery,
Commented on what they’d created with a stark quote, ‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’
The chain reaction stemming from Einstein’s chalk marks would be felt by a blind girl some 120 miles away;
Ken Bainbridge, the atomic test director, would tell the Los Alamos team, “Now we’re all sons of bitches.”
And later Oppenheimer would decry the workings of his mentor’s mind as largely “cuckoo”.
Oppenheimer’s son would live in deranged isolation next to the Los Alamos test site
While Oppenheimer’s daughter would kill herself, imploding his nuclear family
And Einstein’s carcass would be destined to be teased apart by body-snatchers.
The world’s reason was destabilised by Einstein’s bomb yet the world’s archetypes would stay the same:
Prometheus steals fire from the gods, only for an angry Zeus to chain him to a rock, and to plunge him
Into a state of endless fear that predatory eagles might tear out his organs with their vengeful talons.