Act II, Section 2 of Louis Slotin Sonata:

Side note: All of the telegram dialogue I've included in the play is pieced together from quotes of actual telegram drafts found in documents provided to me by the Department of Energy during my research. (I also included the errors verbatim, since I think even picayune mistakes can make interesting history.) Similarly, all medical case study material was lifted from actual papers published in journals such as Annals of Internal Medicine; all newspaper and magazine quotes are genuine as well, making some of them all the more absurd; and finally, Philip Morrison's testimony before Congress is utterly authentic. (I can only wish I were that eloquent.)


(Special on Louis.)

SLOTIN: My name was Louis Slotin and I am becoming a hero.

(Lights shift to Major Coakley. . . .)

COAKLEY: From Major Coakley WASH HQ:

Here the revised release now cleared by General Groves with suggested lead as follows: For release in PM papers, Friday, June 28, 1946.

(Lights up on General Groves.)

GROVES: The quick-thinking heroism of Dr. Louis B. Slotin 25-year-old Canadian Nuclear Physicist--

SLOTIN: I'm 35. At least get the simple facts straight.

GROVES: Saved the lives of several of his associates.

COAKLEY: --Major General L. R. Groves, Chief of the Manhattan Project, announced today. Paragraph.

GROVES: Investigation of the accident revealed that Dr. Slotin's cool head and quick hand undoubtedly saved lives.


COAKLEY: --Said General Groves. Paragraph. Dr. N. E. Bradbury, Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, said in a statement of the accident that Dr. Slotin was--

(Lights up on Norris Bradbury.)

BRADBURY: One of the laboratory's key scientists and one of the leaders in his field.

COAKLEY: Paragraph. Known to his associates as a remarkably calm man, Dr. Slotin, at the instant of the mishap knocked the equipment apart, thus halting the intensifying radiation and averting serious consequences, possibly death, to his companions.

SLOTIN: No.... No... that's wrong. The heat caused by the prompt burst expanded the core, moving the atoms further apart from each other, halting the chain reaction automatically.

(Lights up on a Time magazine reporter.)

TIME REPORTER: Time Magazine, June 10, 1946. Perhaps Dr. Slotin was watching the warning instruments more carefully than his fellows; perhaps he saw the bluish glow. At any rate, he realized that the chain reaction had spurted to high intensity. The room was being swept with deadly radiation. He leaped forward, put his body between his colleagues and the radiation mass, scattered its materials. The chain reaction halted immediately, narrowly avoiding an explosion.

SLOTIN: You need focused simultaneous implosion to trigger an atomic explosion in plutonium. That's why it's so hard to build a bomb, you idiots!

(Lights up on a New York Times editor.)

NEW YORK TIMES EDITOR: The New York Times, August 31, 1947. The latest news from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory seems to bring us nearer to the day when the force that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be domesticated for peaceful purposes. We are a bit nearer the glorious day when half a pint of fissionable material will drive a steamship around the world. Atomic power plants in regions bare of fuel may be possible. If the atomic automobile is not yet in sight we can continue to use gasoline. Now we can begin to hope that men's toil can be lightened. Dr. Slotin, who died as a result of the experiments at Los Alamos, did not give his life in vain.

SLOTIN: That's right. And his only regret is that he had but one life to give for your atomic automobiles.

(Scene bracket.

Lights up on Louis in bed. Philip enters.)

MORRISON: Louie?... Louie?... Are you sleeping?


MORRISON: What's the matter?


MORRISON: Annamae sent for me. She said you were calling out my name.

SLOTIN: Oh, yes. Well. I'm sorry, Phil. Were you sleeping?

MORRISON: What?... No. No, I was up. I was working... on the dosage calculations.

SLOTIN: Ah. How's it looking?

MORRISON: Well, uh... it's hard to say right now.

SLOTIN: Yeah, it's all pretty hard to say right now. I was reading your testimony before the Senate special committee on Atomic Energy.

MORRISON: Louie, why--

SLOTIN: It's incredible. You're so gifted in so many ways. To be able to get up in front of those people and tell the truth like you did.

MORRISON: Trust me, it wasn't--

SLOTIN: Listen to what you said about Nagasaki and Hiroshima: "Many literally crawled out of the wrecks of their homes relatively uninjured. But they died anyway. They died from radiation that affects the blood-forming tissues in the bone marrow. The blood does not coagulate, but oozes in many spots through the unbroken skin, and internally seeps into the cavities of the body. The white corpuscles which fight infection disappear. Infection prospers and the patient dies, usually two or three weeks after the exposure.

MORRISON: Why are you doing this, Louie? Why can't you--

SLOTIN: Just die? I don't want to just die.

And listen to this in your conclusion: "It goes without saying that, like most of the scientists of the project, I am completely convinced that another war cannot be allowed. We have a chance to build a working peace on the novelty and terror of the atomic bomb."... Novelty and terror. Brilliant.

But what happens when-- and maybe this is what I'm getting at-- what happens when the novelty of the terror wears off and people get cavalier... sloppy? Like me?


SLOTIN: Jesus christ, Phil. I don't wanna be a metaphor.

MORRISON: You're not a metaphor, Louie. You're a human being.

SLOTIN: Yeah, but for how long? Maybe the best I can hope for is to be a metaphor. I certainly don't want to be a damned hero or martyr. I wish... no one would remember me at all. I hope one day not a soul will remember my name. Maybe if Teller gets his Superbomb you'll all be forgetting a lot sooner than later.

MORRISON: Louie...

SLOTIN: No, I'm serious. Jesus christ, Phil, think of it. Of all the things a man might be remembered for, I'll be remembered for my arrogance and my stupidity. Was I really that bad, Phil, that I should deserve such a fate?



SLOTIN: Rhetorical question, ya dope.

MORRISON: Oh, sorry.

SLOTIN: Oh, Phil, look at you. Even after Hempelmann and me and nearly everyone have accepted the inevitable, you're still trying to save me with blackboard chalk and a slide rule.

MORRISON: Cut it out, Louie.

SLOTIN: Face filled with angst and worry when there's really no point. I don't want that.

How old are you, Phil? Twenty-eight, right?

MORRISON: I'm thirty, Louie.

SLOTIN: Oh, thirty. Right, of course, sorry. You know, they say by the time we're fifty we all have the face we deserve. You're gonna have a wonderful face, Phil... just wonderful.

(Cross-fade to Dr. Hempelmann reading from a clipboard. Next to him, in a wheel chair and hospital gown, sits Alvin Graves.)

HEMPELMANN: As for Case 3--

GRAVES: Alvin Graves.

HEMPELMANN: For several days after exposure the patient appeared prostrated but was otherwise asymptomatic.

GRAVES: I felt very weak and tired. I couldn't eat and I was constipated.

HEMPELMANN: Treatment of the illness consisted of complete bed- rest for 10 days and penicillin. On the 15th day the patient was discharged. Except for residual weakness and fatigability and some minor subjective complaints, he felt well.

GRAVES: I was exhausted after even the mildest exertion and spent 16 hours a day in bed.

HEMPELMANN: On the 17th day after exposure the patient noted a localized area of tenderness of skin of the left temple.

GRAVES: After two days it hurt just to touch the hairs on this part of my head. And then the hair began to fall out when I combed it.

HEMPELMANN: Over the next two days, epilation--

GRAVES: Hair-loss--

HEMPELMANN: --Increased.

GRAVES: Until it was coming out in clumps in my hand.

HEMPELMANN: These changes progressed to almost complete loss of the hair of the left temporal region and cessation of beard growth on the left side of the face and throat (see figure 15). Regrowth of hair, however, was complete--

GRAVES: After five months.

HEMPELMANN: Repeated seminal fluid and two testicular biopsies during the 28-month period following the accident indicated transient radiation sterility without change in libido.

GRAVES: I was shooting blanks.

HEMPELMANN: During the second year after the exposure, the patient believed that the testes were smaller and were placed higher in the scrotum.

GRAVES: They were.

HEMPELMANN: Subsequent seminal examinations indicated a rising sperm count... and 58 months after exposure, Case 3--

GRAVES: Alvin Graves--

HEMPELMANN: Became the father of a healthy boy.


GRAVES: Thanks.

(Lights fade on Graves as Hempelmann crosses to Slotin's bed.)

HEMPELMANN: Case 2 complained of pain in his testes, but an objective finding was impossible short of autopsy

(Fade to black.

Lights rise as Slotin, disguised as Mengele, enters.)