- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

Nobles: Hans A. Bethe, who died Sunday at 98, for a lifetime of illumination.

In many ways, Mr. Bethe’s career began working with — not under — the giants in his field on the most closely held secret of the U.S. government. As head of the theoretical physics division of the Manhattan Project while still in his 30s, he worked alongside Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and Edward Teller on the weapon that would win World War II. Mr. Bethe’s job was to “theorize” that the chain reaction that the atomic bomb unleashed would not destroy the world. Although he guessed correctly, he said later that the weapon’s destruction was “worse than we expected.” Indeed. After World War II, Mr. Bethe joined many of his former colleagues in opposing nuclear weaponization.

In physics circles, however, Mr. Bethe was well known before then. In 1938, just six weeks after being assigned the problem, the 32-year-old came up with his “carbon cycle” theory that explains, in layman’s terms, why the stars burn bright. It was a monumental breakthrough that would win Mr. Bethe the Nobel Prize in physics in 1967. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946, the Max Planck Medal in 1955, the Enrico Fermi Award in 1961 and the Einstein Peace Prize in 1993.

His decision to work on the atomic bomb stemmed from his hatred of Hitler’s Germany, his native country. The son of a Jewish mother, Mr. Bethe, like so many talented German physicists, emigrated to the United States in the 1930s. He started at Cornell University in 1937 and remained there for the rest of his career. One colleague summed up Mr. Bethe’s lifelong love of physics this way: “Some people might get quite worked up about discovering how the stars burn, but to Hans Bethe, it was mainly a lot of fun.”

For preserving mankind and helping it progress, Professor Bethe is the Noble of the week.

Knaves: Walter Cronkite, for kicking a colleague while he’s down.

Dan Rather’s career as anchorman for the CBS Evening News ended on a note more sour than forged documents. His predecessor Walter Cronkite, once the most well-known face in journalism, decided to get his digs in just for good measure.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer earlier this week, Mr. Cronkite sounded off on his successor’s talents: “I think that there was a general feeling among quite a lot of us among the CBS shop … that Dan gave the impression of playing a role, more than simply trying to deliver the news to the audience,” he said. Later, he added, “It surprised quite a few people at CBS … that, without being able to pull up the rating beyond third in a three-man field, that [CBS] tolerated his being there for so long.” Nice, huh?

For belatedly calling it as he apparently always saw it, Mr. Cronkite is the Knave of the week.

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