Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Pax Upon Him…Perhaps

May 19th, 2010 · 3 Comments

If the whole Richard Blumenthal saga has taught us anything, it’s that the brazen mendacity of public figures is relatively easy to detect, provided that someone is willing to put a little elbow grease into the search. Of course, that search requires resources, specifically time and money. Microkhan is short on both, alas, so we can’t quite drop the investigatory bomb like the big boys of dead-tree journalism. But we’d still like to take a stab at debunking a claim put forth by a major historical figure: Sam Cohen, the man behind the neutron bomb.

Those already familiar with the history of nuclear weaponry will know that Cohen is quite a card—we very much doubt that his famous contemporaries would have had the gall to title their memoirs F*** You Mr. President! He also seems to harbor a deep sense of resentment against the military establishment for ignoring the neutron bomb’s tactical potential; as he made clear in this 2004 interview, Cohen believes that the weapon could have saved thousands of lives had it been used in Vietnam. He also insisted that the Vatican understood what the Pentagon could not:

I believe that the neutron bomb is a moral weapon: very discriminative and in accordance with the Christian just-war principle. And this was appreciated and recognised by the Vatican: in 1978, Paul VI gave me the Peace Medal.

Cohen repeats the claim in his memoirs, albeit a bit more colorfully:

Some weeks later I received a medal from his Holiness, Pope Paul VI. I doubt if I got it for stopping beating my wife.

While we don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that Cohen was so honored, a couple of things make us skeptical. First of all, try as we might, we’ve been unable to identify a “Medal of Peace” or “Peace Medal” among the Vatican’s long list of decorations. Furthermore, though The Tubes do not seem to offer a quick-and-easy compendium of living recipients of Vatican medals, news stores suggest that these honors are not handed out like lollipops—and certainly not without some degree of pomp. The fact that Cohen is Jewish should have certainly made waves at the time, since non-Catholic recipients of papal honors are a rare breed, indeed. Oh, and doesn’t it seem a wee bit unlikely that the Vatican would choose to honor a weapons creator?

It’s also worth noting that unofficial Vatican “medals” can be purchased at souvenir shops for a pittance. Perhaps Cohen picked up one of these $35 specials on his way back from Rome?

An addendum to Cohen’s memoir claims that a photograph of his Medal of Peace exists. If anyone knows how we could dig that up, we’d be much in your debt. And if it turns out that Cohen’s honor is legit, we owe him a pint of airag.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    How is the neutron bomb a discriminatory weapon? It’s not like neutrons can tell the difference between civilians and soldiers. Less fallout is certainly a plus, but ultimately if you’re anywhere near the blast, you’re still going to get killed.

    And yeah, the Peace Medal business sounds like a crock. Popes have done some pretty weird stuff, but handing out medals to weapons engineers is a bit above and beyond. The “Red Mercury” claims also don’t help his credibility.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: I believe his argument hinges on less fallout plus the preservation of infrastructure, so that a defeated nation can quickly get back to normal. In the interview, he basically sets up his war philosophy as the opposite of Teller’s (though I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his portrait of his colleague).

    The memoirs are worth perusing. He was/is quite a character.

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