Six years ago, in the late summer of 1997, a selfless paragon of virtue, Mother Theresa, died as she had lived, serving others, in the squalor of Calcutta, India. But news of her death was almost totally eclipsed by the violent, late-night demise, in a mangled car in a Paris tunnel, of Britain’s Princess Diana.
Last week, there was a similar eclipse, as the death of two entertainers almost completely overshadowed the passing of one of the towering intellects of the 20th Century. As the premature death of actor John Ritter and the long-expected death of country singer Johnny Cash captured the attention of the media, a 95-year-old giant quietly slipped away at the end of a truly remarkable life.
Teller was a brilliant nuclear physicist whose contemporaries included
J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein. Though he was known as “the
Father of the H-Bomb,” Teller always said he would have preferred to
be a concert pianist. If he was to be known as the “father” of anything,
he once said, he really wanted to be known simply as the father of his
children. As for his work, he wrote that he wanted to be remembered
as “a founding member of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
in California, which
Budapest in 1908, Teller was educated in Germany. He came to the United
States in 1935 during the rise of Nazi-sponsored anti-Semitism in Europe.
In the 1950s, he co-founded the Livermore Laboratory and served as its director. He remained a director emeritus there until his death last week.
A life-long believer in peace through strength, Teller was in his seventies when he headed up President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the project many believe broke the back of the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War.
Two years ago, at 93, Edward Teller was awarded the Corvin Medal, bestowed by the Hungarian government for exceptional achievement in the arts and sciences. At the ceremony, it was explained that the Hungarian Prime Minister had revived the Corvin Medal, which was last awarded in 1930, specifically to honor Dr. Teller.
“I am standing face to face with history,” said one of the Hungarian delegates. “The name of Edward Teller is more than just a person, it is a symbol for Hungary. Edward Teller is the most distinguished Hungarian living in the world today.”
Another delegate said that the prime minister considered Teller’s contributions toward ending the Cold War to be “the primary force behind the fact that Hungary is again a free nation.”
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Teller on two different occasions when he came to Omaha in 1994 to campaign for a young, conservative congressional candidate for whom I was working at the time. The first time Dr. Teller came to town, I remember putting him on a local radio talk show and listening to him explain for ten minutes the difference between fusion and fission technology. None of us understood any of it, but it was fascinating to listen to this man hold forth on the mysteries of atom.
During the second trip, I arranged a press conference for Dr. Teller and our congressional candidate at the SAC Museum, which at that time was still located at Offutt Air Force Base.
Afterward, we walked around the museum, looking at the displays. As we rounded a corner, I suddenly realized that we were looking at a display of the H-Bomb – the very weapon Dr. Teller had invented – and I understood the feeling described by that Hungarian delegate. I was standing next to a legend, a giant, a man who had developed the most terrible weapon ever devised by man, and who had spent the rest of his life making sure it never had to be used. I was in the presence of a truly beautiful mind.
Few men can ever say they saved the lives of millions. Dr. Edward Teller is gone now, but his legacy lives on through the generations whose security was assured by his work.
Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political
speechwriter and public policy advisor at the federal, state and local
levels. His weekly columns can be read in newspapers across the country,
and on www.GOPUSA.com, where he
serves as the Nebraska Editor.