The Dawn Of The Nuclear Age

On this day in 1942, underneath the bleachers of the unused Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, Enrico Fermi produced the first man-made nuclear chain reaction. The crucial hurdle to making use of the potential of nuclear power had been leapt.

Fermi had received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938. Though Mussolini’s fascist government had forbidden Fermi to leave the country, he was granted a special exit visa so that he could attend the prize ceremony in Stockholm for the glory of Italy.

Fermi took advantage of the trip to defect to the United States. He was not merely opposed to the fascist ideology, he had a more pressing, personal concern: his wife was Jewish, and Hitler’s Germany had been pressing Italy to address its “Jewish Problem.”

The institutionalized intolerance and oppressive actions of the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany cost both countries many of their best and brightest scientists. The flight of these scientists to the freedom of America permitted the United States to develop the first nuclear weapons. And though such awful weapons be loathesome, surely it would have been a ghastly world in which Hitler developed nuclear weapons first.

Dogmatic oppression weakens even powerful, militaristic regimes; Freedom truly is strength.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Taking A Stand

Can one individual make a difference? In our vast and complicated world, can the actions of one person make any impact at all? Of course the answer is a resounding yes!

It was fifty-six years ago this very day, on 1 December 1955, that the late Rosa Parks took her stand by keeping her seat, and thereby changed America.

In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, city ordinance and state law required that black citizens must take seats at the back of public busses. Adding further insult to this burden, blacks were also required to yield their seats in the restricted section of the bus if a white person wished to sit down.

Coming home from work on the evening of 1 December 1955, 42 year old Rosa Parks was tired. She had taken a seat in the first row of the restricted section of a Montgomery city bus. When the front section filled up, a white man – no “Southern Gentleman,” he – demanded that Parks give up her seat.

Over the years, the precise reason for Rosa Parks refusal to do so has been told and retold in varying versions, but it seems certain that she was basically tired; she was tired from a long day at her job, and more: she was tired of the blatant injustice and unfairness of the Montgomery ordinances and Alabama laws.

Parks’ decision to keep her seat was made on the spur of the moment, it seems, but she had already become involved in the nascent Civil Rights movement and challenging the bus rules had been discussed at meetings which Parks attended. Nevertheless, she was completely alone that chilly December evening in 1955 when she defied the system. She was arrested and jailed.

Almost immediately leaders of the Civil Rights movement called for a boycott of Montgomery city busses. This boycott had a seriously negative impact on the city bus service, for black citizens had accounted for almost three-fourths of the ridership! The boycott lasted for more than a year, ending after a Supreme Court ruling in the wake of which Montgomery finally declared that city busses were no longer to be segregated. The boycott had another impact as well: in coordinating the boycott and rallying Alabama’s black citizens to the cause of Civil Rights, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to the forefront of the movement, and became a national and international leader and spokesman for Civil Rights.

Rosa Parks did not achieve her victory alone, of course. Millions of people were involved. But her act of defiance, her refusal to bend to an absurd, unfair, and hugely unjust law, and her personal courage did change the world. That change is still on-going, and Rosa Parks was not the only individual whose courage had an impact. But Rosa Parks, as one solitary individual, did make a difference.

Think of Rosa Parks today. She always said that she did not consider herself to be a titan, just a plain, ordinary person who simply took a stand; but what a profound chain of events was sparked by her spontaneous courage! Yes, others deserve our respect and honor as well, but Rosa Parks made a difference and in her own small way helped o make an immense change in the world ever after. Toast her courage and her achievements. And, perhaps, think of how you will change the world!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas