Previously in this space I discussed a book that 1Mom gave me for Christmas on the after-effects of war. She gave me two such books, and I’ve now finished (re)reading the second, The Ash Garden, by Dennis Bock. I was intrigued by a review of Bock’s book when it first came out in 2001. I got it sometime later and read it, but it has since disappeared from my library, which means that during one of my last two moves I decided not to keep my copy. Now I have another copy, and I’m glad I re-read the book. It certainly sustains re-reading, and, though I remembered the basic premise of the book was based in the after-effects of the Americans going nuclear on Hiroshima, I’d forgotten most of the details.
The book is all about German guilt, and is connected to the war in Europe as much as the war in the Pacific. The two areas of war and their worlds are connected through the main character, a German scientist who left Germany and worked for the Americans, not because he thought the Nazis were wrong, but because his boss wouldn’t let him follow the path to nuclear fission that he thought was correct. The idea of the a-ethical scientist is something I often discussed with students when I taught High School physics. It is also part of the reason I didn’t follow a career path using my first degree. I don’t think the work of science is outside of ethics, thus scientists must be concerned with the ethical implications of both their methods and results. Also, consumers of science must be concerned with the ethical implications of the science they use. Books like The Ash Garden explore these ideas and allow for thinking and discussion of them. If I were still teaching high school physics, guess which novel would be assigned in the nuclear physics unit?