William Laurence on Tinian Island before the Nagasaki bombing
❝The most recent episode of MANHATTAN features the arrival of a character based on one of my favorite real-life Manhattan Project participants: William L. Laurence, the “embedded” newspaperman on the project. The character on the show, “Lorentzen,” appears in a somewhat different way than the real-life Laurence does, showing up on the doorstep of Los Alamos having ferreted out something of the work that was taking place. That isn’t how Laurence came to the project, but it is only a mild extrapolation from the case of Jack Raper, a Cleveland journalist who did “discover” that there was a secret laboratory in the desert in 1943, and was responsible for one of the worst leaks of the atomic bomb effort.
William Laurence, however, was solicited. And he was the only journalist so solicited, invited in to serve as something of a cross between a journalist, public relations expert, and propagandist. (When a character on the show hisses to Lorentzen that they “don’t give Pulitzers for propaganda,” she is, as the show’s writers all know, incorrect — the real-life Laurence did receive a Pulitzer for his reporting on the Nagasaki bombing, and it was a form of propaganda, to be sure.)
❝William Leonard Laurence was born Leib Wolf Siew, in Russian Lithuania. In 1956 he gave an interview to the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University, and, well, I’m just going to let him tell his own “origin story,” because there’s no way I could capture his “flavor” any better than his own words do:
❝I was born in Lithuania, in a very small village. You know Lithuania was one of the strange never-never-lands, you might say, in a certain culture, because it was there that the Jewish intellectual, the Hebraic scholarly centers, were gradually concentrated.. …
The Lithuanian villages were out of space and time, because you know, a life there, in the ghetto, you might say — because that was the only place where the Russianized government permitted Jews to live — they lived there in the 19th century when I was born and the early part of the 20th century in a way that might have been the 15th century, the 16th century. It made no difference. They wore the same type of clothing. They lived the same kind of life, because it was the same culture, you know.
RTFA for another piece of important history you’re not likely to bump into elsewhere. I only posted the bare bones beginning above.
Some of it makes me chuckle. The last couple of firms I worked for before retirement had me up on the hill – so to speak – every once in a while. There are a couple of folks in today’s Los Alamos community I respect for their personal honesty and scientific acumen. Per capita, it is the wealthiest little town in America. Death and destruction pays very well in the Free World.
I met Dr. Oppenheimer a couple times in NYC. Both times, at public forums dedicated to nuclear disarmament and the struggle for peace in the Cold War. Though he was just trying to be part of the audience, he received a standing ovation when spotted.
The TV series is entertaining, BTW. The line between historic record and fiction is pretty well blurred. The flavor, the conflicts between the US military and folks who actually believed in constitutional freedoms as much as scientific freedom of inquiry is well represented. Then – as it is today.