Germany never quite mastered the riddle…

This phrase, which has extremely interesting implications, was probably the first use of a propaganda theme which persists to this day. The need for this theme arose out of the inevitable collision of the war-time theme that America was in a race with Hitler Germany to develop the bomb with the reality that the latter was not even close to developing such a weapon. This collision was aggravated to the level of a crisis when the US actually used the new terror weapon, not against Germany, but against Japan when there was no military need for its use. To summarize, the propaganda problem exists on two levels:
  1. The US developed the bomb, Germany did not.
  2. The US used the bomb when there was no military necessity for it.

The propaganda responses to the second level are well known:

They are widely accepted by Americans. What seems less widely appreciated is the implication that the killing of a child or other non-combatant in a state which is an enemy of the United States is acceptable if it enhances the chances of survival of an American soldier. The danger that the reversal of this implication poses for ordinary Americans is even less appreciated.

Werner Heisenberg
The propaganda response to the first level is less important than the second, but certainly no less interesting. It pits American physicists against German physicists.

What elevated this to a major issue was that around 1947, Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976, Nobel prize: 1932), the leader of German wartime nuclear research, said that his group made a conscious decision, on moral grounds, not to develop the bomb. This introduction of morality into the issue of the bomb after it had been painstakingly papered over, and by a physicist from former Hitler Germany no less, immediately ignited massive counterattacks against Heisenberg in essays, books, and even a broadway play (Copenhagen by Michael Frayn).

Since this is a matter of state interest, one might expect that some of these attacks against Heisenberg are officially inspired.

The conclusion of Thomas Powers, the leading expert on Heisenberg's wartime activies (Heisenberg's War), is that Heisenberg's assertion is correct.