Reckless by William Nicholson – Extract

Reckless

PRELUDE

Tea at Cliveden: September 1943

Rupert Blundell did not want to go to tea with the princess. He was unsure how to address her, and he was shy with girls at the best of times. Lord Mountbatten, his commanding officer, brushed aside his murmurs of dissent.

‘Nancy wants some young people,’ he said. ‘You’re a young person, and you’re available.’

Rupert was twenty-six, which felt to himself both young and old. Princess Elizabeth was of course much younger, but being heir to the throne she was unlikely to be short of savoir-faire.

‘And anyway,’ said Mountbatten, ‘you’ll like Cliveden. They still have a pastry cook there, and it has one of the best views in England.’

So Rupert put on his rarely worn No.2 dress uniform, which fitted poorly round the crotch, and reported to COHQ in Richmond Terrace. A car was to pick him up from here and drive him to Cliveden, Lady Astor’s country house.

‘Very smart, Rupert,’ said Joyce Wedderburn, passing through on her way back to her office.

‘I’m under orders,’ said Rupert glumly.

‘Aren’t the trousers a bit small for you?’

‘In parts.’

‘Well, I think you look very dashing.’

She gave him one of her half-smiles that he could never interpret, that suggested she meant something other than what she seemed to be saying. But Rupert liked Joyce. He could talk to her more freely than to the other girls. There was no nonsense about her, and she had a fiancé in the Navy, in minesweepers.

The car arrived: a Humber Imperial Landaulette, driven by one of Lady Astor’s chauffeurs. Its rear hood was down, and sitting in the wide back seat was an American officer of about Rupert’s own age. He introduced himself as Captain McGeorge Bundy, an aide attached to Admiral Alan R. Kirk, commander of the Allied amphibious forces.

‘Call me Mac,’ he said.

He revealed to Rupert that they were to represent the wartime allies at this tea party. There was to be a Russian too. All this in a crisp monotone, as if to impart the information in the most efficient way possible.

The Russian was news to Rupert.

‘I’ve no idea what we’re supposed to do,’ he said. ‘Have you?’ ‘I think the idea is the princess wants to meet people nearer to her own age,’ said Bundy. ‘What for?’

‘Maybe it’s a blind date.’ Bundy smiled, but with his mouth only. ‘How’d you like to marry your future queen?’

‘God preserve me,’ said Rupert.

Mac Bundy was trim and sleek, with sand-coloured hair brushed back smoothly over his high forehead. He wore wirerimmed glasses. His navy-blue uniform had every appearance of being excellently cut. Looking at him, Rupert felt as he did with so many Americans that they were the physically perfected version of the model, while he himself was a poor first draft.

He shifted on the car seat to ease the itching in his trousers.

The landaulette drove through Hyde Park, past the Serpentine. From where he was sitting he could see himself reflected in the driver’s mirror: his long face, his thick-rimmed spectacles, his protruding ears. He looked away, out of long habit.

‘So who got you into this?’ said Bundy. ‘Mountbatten. He’s a friend of Lady Astor’s.’

‘Kirk fingered me,’ said Bundy, adding in a lower tone, with a glance at the driver, ‘His actual order was, “Go and humour the old bat.”’

They exchanged details of their postings. Bundy confessed he owed his staff job to family connections.

‘I wanted a combat posting. My mother had other ideas.’

His father, Harvey Bundy, was currently a senior adviser in the US War Department under Henry Stimson.

‘So this princess,’ he said. ‘I hear she’s all there.’

‘All there?’ said Rupert.

Bundy curved one hand before his chest.

‘Oh, right,’ said Rupert. ‘I wouldn’t know.’

He had never thought of the seventeen-year-old Princess Elizabeth as a sexual being.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Bundy. ‘I’m not going to wolf-whistle.’

Rupert looked at the passing shopfronts and was silent. War-time was supposed to change things, break down the barriers. But even when the barriers were down, you had to do it yourself. No one was going to do it for you. There was no one you could talk to about these things. No one in all the world. About feeling ashamed. About wanting it so much.

The car emerged onto the Bayswater Road.

‘I asked round for tips on meeting royalty,’ said Bundy. ‘Apparently you call her ma’am, and you don’t sit until she sits.’

‘Ma’am? The poor girl’s only seventeen.’ ‘So what are you going to call her? Liz?’ ‘In the family she’s called Lilibet.’ ‘How’d you know that?’

‘Mountbatten told me.’

‘Okay. Lilibet it is. Have another slice of pie, Lilibet. Want to take a walk in the shrubbery, Lilibet?’

Rupert glanced nervously at the back of the chauffeur’s head, but he showed no signs that he was listening.

‘Is that what you do with girls?’ said Rupert. ‘Take them into the shrubbery?’

‘I’ll be honest with you,’ said Bundy. ‘I’m no expert.’ He leaned closer and spoke low. ‘When I was twelve years old we went to Paris, and my mother took me to the Folies-Bergère. The way she tells it, I got bored by the naked girls and went outside to read a book.’

‘And did you?’

‘That’s her story.’

The car was now turning into Kensington Palace Gardens. There on the pavement outside the Soviet embassy was a young Russian officer, standing stiffly, almost at attention.

‘Our noble ally,’ said Bundy.

The Russian had a square, serious face and heavy eyebrows. He gazed inscrutably on the open-backed car as it pulled up beside him.

‘You are the party for Lady Astor?’

He sounded exactly like an American.

‘That’s us,’ said Bundy. ‘Jump in.’

He squeezed onto the seat beside them, and the car set off down Notting Hill Gate to Holland Park. His name was Oleg Troyanovsky. His father had been the Soviet Ambassador in Washington before the war, and he had been sent to school at Sidwell Friends. Within minutes he and Bundy had discovered mutual acquaintances.

‘Of course I know the Hayes boys,’ said the Russian. ‘I was on the tennis team with Oliver Hayes.’

‘So what are you doing in London?’

‘Joint committee on psych warfare.’ The wrinkles between his eyebrows deepened as he spoke. ‘My father arranged it, to keep me away from the eastern front.’

‘Check,’ said Bundy. ‘Privilege knows no boundaries.’

‘And here we are, going to tea with a princess.’

They grinned at each other, bound together by a shared awareness of the absurdity of their situation. The car picked up speed coming out of Hammersmith and onto the Great West Road. The wind blew away their words, and conversation languished. They looked out at the endless line of suburban villas rolling by, and thought their own thoughts.

The war had gone on too long. It was no longer a crisis, with the excitement that crisis brings with it, and the promise of change. It had become an intermission. The phrase most often heard was ‘for the duration’. Shops were closed ‘for the duration’. Trains ran a restricted service ‘for the duration’. Life had paused, for the duration.

Meanwhile, thought Rupert, my youth is slipping away. Last month Mountbatten had accepted a new appointment, as Commander-in-Chief, South East Asia.

‘You’ll come with me, won’t you, Rupert? I must have my old team round me.’

Rupert was more than willing to go. A brighter sun, a bluer sky. Maybe even a new dawn.

The landaulette turned off the main road at last and made its way up a wooded hill, through the pretty red-brick village of Taplow, and so to the great gates of Cliveden. A long drive wound through a wilderness of untended woodland, until quite suddenly there appeared before them a fountain, in which winged and naked figures sported round a giant shell. No water flowed, and the angels, or goddesses, wore an embarrassed air, as if sensing that their nakedness was no longer appropriate. The car made a sharp left turn. Ahead lay a broad beech-lined avenue, at the end of which stood a cream-coloured palace.

‘Ah!’ sighed Troyanovsky. ‘What it is to be rich!’

‘Not rich,’ said Bundy. ‘Very rich. They don’t come richer than the Astors.’

The house grew as they approached it, revealing on either side of the central block two curving wings, reaching out as if to embrace the awed visitor. To the right there rose an ornate water tower, faced with a clock that had perhaps once been gold, but was now a tarnished brown. The grass of the flanking lawns grew long round ancient mulberry trees.

The chauffeur drew the car to a stop before the porte cochère, and a butler emerged from the house to greet them.

‘Her ladyship and her Royal Highness will join you shortly, gentlemen.’

They followed the butler into an immense oak-panelled hall, hung with faded tapestries. At one end, before a carved stone fireplace, tea had been laid out on two small tables. To the left of the fireplace hung a full-size portrait of a young woman in a gauzy pale-blue dress, her hands clasped behind her back, her head turned coquettishly to the viewer.

‘That is Nancy Astor,’ said Bundy with crisp authority.

‘But she’s beautiful!’ exclaimed Troyanovsky. He stood back to appreciate her, evidently as a woman rather than as a work of art.

‘She was younger then, of course.’

Rupert was puzzled by the painting. The pose was unusual: a slight forward tilt from the waist, as if she was on the point of running away.

Bundy examined the waiting tea. There was fruitcake topped with marzipan. A silver dish with a lid stood warming on a spirit lamp. He lifted the lid to discover a nest of small scones.

‘What do we have to do to deserve this?’

‘We could link arms and perform a dance,’ said Troyanovsky gravely. It took the others a moment to realise he was making fun. ‘Or perhaps we could sing together, to represent the harmony of the Alliance.’

They grinned at that.

‘And youth,’ said Rupert. ‘We’re here to represent youth.’ ‘I’m not young,’ said Bundy. ‘Who wants to be young? I want to be a grown man, in charge of my own destiny.’

‘Only an American could say that,’ said Troyanovsky. ‘We who come from older civilisations know that we will never be in charge of our own destinies.’

He looked to Rupert as he spoke, his heavy brow wrinkling. Rupert nodded to be friendly, unsure whether or not he agreed. ‘But you know what?’ said Bundy. ‘I’m all for this idea of us singing together.’

He started to croon the current hit by the Andrews Sisters, making small hand movements before him in the air.

‘There were three little sisters
Three little sisters
And each one only in her teens—’

A door opened, and he fell silent. In swept a small tornado of a woman, followed a few paces behind by a young girl.

‘Oh my God! They’re here already! Make yourselves at home, boys! Which one of you is Bundy?’

Mac Bundy presented himself.

‘I knew your father, I knew your mother, I warned them not to marry, and if they had to marry, not to produce any children. Bound to be morons. Are you a moron?’

‘No, Lady Astor,’ said Bundy, smoothly unperturbed. ‘I don’t believe I am.’

‘Humph. We’ll see about that.’

She was in her mid-sixties, her face now bony, but her bright blue eyes as brilliant as in the portrait. She held her head high, and moved in hops and starts, as if unable to contain the energy within her. Her voice was thin and crackly, half American, half English.

‘This is just an informal get-together. No need to stand on ceremony.’

The three young officers were introduced to the young girl, who turned out to be Princess Elizabeth. She was even smaller than Lady Astor, and had wavy dark-brown hair, and very white skin. Her modest knee-length white dress, patterned with pink flowers, could not disguise the fact that she was, as Bundy had put it, ‘all there’.

‘Come along, Lilibet,’ said Lady Astor. ‘You sit here. You know no one can sit down until you’ve sat down. God, what a country! How I’ve stood it all these years I’ll never know.’

They sat down. Their hostess poured out tea, talking as she did so.

‘I’ve told Lilibet that family of hers keeps her far too shut away, she never meets anyone at all, so I promised her some young men, and here you are. You must help yourselves to the scones. It was Lilibet’s idea to invite our allies, and a very good idea if I may say so. You three’ – teapot in mid-air, piercing blue eyes fixed on the young men – ‘you are the future of the world. You must make a better job of it than we have.’

‘With Her Royal Highness’s help,’ said Bundy, leaning his upper body forward as if attempting a bow while sitting down. ‘Oh, the royals can’t do a thing,’ said Lady Astor. ‘No one pays the slightest attention to a word they say. Of course, everyone loves them, but only in the way you love a family pet.’ She reached out one hand to pat the shy young princess. ‘Do you mind me going on like this, darling? Are you shocked?’

‘Not at all,’ said the princess in a small clear voice. ‘But I’d like to hear what the gentlemen have to say.’

So she wasn’t such a little girl after all.

‘That’s telling me,’ said Lady Astor. ‘What have you got to say, boys?’

There followed a brief silence.

‘Well, ma’am,’ said Bundy. ‘I think we all agree that this war will be over sometime next year.’

‘Oh, I do hope so,’ said the princess. ‘That’s what the officers at Windsor tell me too.’

Rupert was looking at the princess’s hands. Her hands were so delicate, the nails varnished a very pale pink. She was interlacing her fingers in her lap, nervously squeezing them.

‘I’m so bored by the war,’ said Lady Astor. ‘Can’t we talk about something else?’

‘I’m not sure I would say I was bored exactly,’ said the princess.

Her enunciation was so clear that everything she said sounded carefully considered. Her earnest gaze fell on Rupert, as if inviting him to complete her thought.

‘It’s a hard feeling to describe,’ said Rupert. ‘One feels bored and frightened at the same time. And then beneath it all there’s this feeling that one’s real life is waiting to begin.’

The princess looked at him in surprise.

‘Yes,’ she said.

Then she smiled. Rupert realised for the first time that she was pretty.

‘It’s all right for you young people,’ said Lady Astor with a grunt. ‘Some of us are waiting for our life to end.’

‘Not for many years yet, I hope,’ said Bundy.

‘Look at that!’ She pointed at the portrait hanging by the fireplace. ‘I have that staring at me every day, reminding me how old I am.’

‘But it’s a wonderful portrait,’ said Troyanovsky. ‘I have been admiring it.’

‘Don’t you think I’m standing in an odd way? It’s because

Sargent had this idea of painting me with my little boy on my back.’ She stood up and assumed the same pose as in the painting, hands clasped behind her back. ‘But Bill was only one year old at the time, and he just wouldn’t keep still, so Sargent painted him out.’

‘It is a very fine portrait,’ said the princess, gazing at it.

‘I can’t look at it any more,’ said Lady Astor. ‘Don’t grow old, my dear. It’s too tiresome.’

‘I would like to be a little older,’ said the princess.

As she spoke she glanced at Rupert. This gave him an odd feeling. It was as if some secret understanding had sprung up between the two of them.

The princess turned to Troyanovsky.

‘Tell me about Russia,’ she said. ‘I know so little about your country.’

‘Well, ma’am,’ said Troyanovsky, ‘if I’m to tell you about my country I must speak about the war. We have been fighting a life and death battle.’

‘Yes, I know,’ said the princess. ‘We all so admire Mr Stalin.’ ‘Humph!’ said Lady Astor. ‘I met Joe Stalin.’

‘Did you?’ said Troyanovsky, much surprised. ‘When was that?’ ‘1931. I went to Russia with George Bernard Shaw. We were both introduced to Uncle Joe. Shaw was all over him, of course.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Mr Stalin, why have you slaughtered so many of your own people?”’

The Russian’s teacup froze halfway to his lips.

‘What did he reply?’

‘Some nonsense about defending the revolution. What could he say? The man’s a mass murderer.’

Troyanovsky was silent. The groove deepened between his eyebrows.

‘The Russians are fighting like lions,’ said Bundy. ‘We owe them a great debt.’

‘The revolution is still young,’ Troyanovsky said.

‘I hope,’ said the princess, speaking earnestly, ‘that after the war we can all go on being friends.’

‘I believe our nations can and must be friends, ma’am,’ said Bundy. ‘I think we’ve all had our fill of hatred. We may not always see things the same way, but I believe we can agree to disagree.’

‘I expect you’ll think I’m very naive,’ said the princess, ‘but I do so much want this to be the last war we ever have to fight.’

‘There will always be war,’ declared Troyanovsky. ‘But why?’

‘Human nature, ma’am.’

‘I disagree,’ said Bundy. ‘I believe we have the power to control our impulses.’ Quite suddenly he became vehement. ‘There’s evil in all of us, no doubt about that, but we must grow up, and accept it, and manage it. We have to live with our imperfections. You people’ – this was to the Russian – ‘you’re perfectionists. You believe you’re creating the perfect society. I think that’s dangerous. It permits your leaders to take extreme measures.’

‘War is an extreme measure, I think.’ The Russian nodded his big head, frowning. ‘In the West, you are pragmatists. We are idealists. But you know, in spite of this, we want much the same as you. To eat. To sleep safe in our beds. To go dancing. To talk late into the night about the wrongs of the world.’

‘So after the war,’ said the princess, ‘when we who are young now are old enough to influence the affairs of the world, let’s agree that we’ll have no more wars.’

‘Hear, hear!’ said the young officers, raising their teacups. Rupert was touched by the young princess’s gentle diplomacy. He sensed that it was more than good manners, that she was genuinely distressed by conflict. What a curious mixture she was, he thought. Scrupulous in the performance of her duty; her face so serious, but still lit by the lingering innocence of childhood.

Lady Astor now rose. This was the cue for the gentlemen to rise.

‘I must show our guests the view from the terrace,’ she said. The princess rose, smoothing her dress down as she did so.

Lady Astor led the way across the adjoining library and out through French windows.

Rupert found the princess was by his side.

‘So you feel your real life is waiting to begin,’ she said to him, speaking softly.

‘I do, ma’am,’ he said.

‘And what will it be, this real life?’

‘I wish I could tell you it’ll be a life of honourable service to my country,’ said Rupert. ‘But I’m afraid all I mean is love.’

‘Ah, love.’

They came out onto the terrace.

‘There it is,’ said Lady Astor with a sweep of one arm. ‘England. The land we’re fighting for.’

The view was indeed spectacular. Below the terrace stretched a long formal lawn, laid out in two parterres. To the east rose a wooded hill. The river flowed round the foot of this hill, concealed by trees, here and there glinting into view. Beyond the river the land stretched for miles to the south, to Maidenhead and beyond. Above it all rose a peaceful late-afternoon sky.

‘Did you know,’ said Lady Astor, ‘that the first ever performance of “Rule Britannia” took place right here? Two hundred years ago, at a big party down there, given by the Prince of Wales.’

She pointed at the long lawn below them.

‘So beautiful, so untouched by war,’ said Troyanovsky. ‘Hitler could have marched his armies up this valley. Instead he turned them on my homeland.’

They strolled slowly down the length of the terrace. Once again Rupert found himself by the princess’s side.

‘So you’re not married, Captain Blundell?’

‘No, ma’am.’

‘That is a happiness still to come.’

A conventional enough remark, but there was a wistfulness to her tone.

‘I hope so, ma’am.’

She then turned to make conversation with Bundy, and Rupert was left with his thoughts.

‘There’s someone for everyone, Rupert,’ his mother used to tell him. But all you had to do was look around you to know this was not true. Add together the solitary young, the unmarried, the divorced, the widowed and the solitary old, and it was hard not to conclude that loneliness was the natural condition of humanity.

It was now time for the princess to return to Windsor Castle. Her detective appeared as if by magic.

‘I’m ready, Mr Giles,’ she said.

She shook hands with each of the young officers. ‘Remember,’ she said. ‘No more wars.’

Lady Astor accompanied the princess to her car. Left alone, the young men relaxed. They stood looking out over the great view, reluctant to leave.

‘So where do you go next, Rupert?’ said Bundy. ‘India. Mountbatten’s taking command out there.’

‘Me, I’m in London until the second front.’

‘Pray it may come soon,’ said the Russian.

‘My dad says one more year,’ said Bundy, ‘and it’ll all be over.’

Troyanovsky took out a pack of cigarettes and offered them to the others. They both declined. He lit up, and inhaled deeply.

‘Your princess,’ he said to Rupert, ‘she is charming.’

‘I agree,’ said Rupert. ‘I thought she was lovely.’

‘No life for a girl, though,’ said Bundy. ‘She should be out every night dancing, not fretting over the future of the world.’

‘Leave that to Lady Astor,’ said Rupert.

They laughed at that. Then the Russian shook his head.

‘What she said to Stalin, that I find it hard to believe.’

‘But she’s right,’ said Bundy.

Troyanovsky puffed on his cigarette, frowning.

‘The day will come,’ he said slowly, ‘when you will ask yourself not what is right, but what is possible.’

‘Who’s the pragmatist now?’ said Bundy.

‘I think I can claim that honour,’ said Rupert, peacemaking. ‘We British have a long history of calling a spade a spade, and then getting some other fellow to do the digging.’

Bundy smiled his smile at that.

‘But your princess,’ said Troyanovsky, ‘what she said to us, that was good. No more wars.’

‘We’re all with you there,’ said Bundy.

‘So we must make it be so,’ said the Russian. ‘We three.’

He put out one large hand. Rupert understood his meaning, and clasped it. After a moment Bundy put his hand on top of theirs.

A solitary plane appeared in the far distance and buzzed slowly across the sky. The sun dropped below the clouds and threw shafts of golden light over the landscape. Rupert felt a sudden rush of fellow feeling for the other two. Partly it was this odd triple hand-clasp that they seemed unable to break, and partly the conviction that such a moment would never come again. There really was a symbolic power to their presence, joined together on the long terrace, looking out over England.

‘No more wars,’ said Rupert. ‘Wouldn’t that just be something?’

part  one

Warning

1945 – 1950

1

It was the colours they all talked about, the ones who witnessed the Trinity test. A brilliant yellow-white light, a searing light many times brighter than the midday sun. Then a ball of fire, an orange-red glow. Then a cloud of coloured smoke pouring upwards, red and yellow, like clouds at sunset, turning golden, purple, violet, grey, blue. Observers ten miles away saw a blue colour surrounding the smoke cloud, then a bright yellow ring near the ground, spreading out towards them. This was the shock wave. When it arrived there was a rumbling sound, as of thunder.

Brilliant white, fire-red, orange, gold, purple, violet, grey, blue. Sunset skies and thunder at dawn in Alamagordo, New Mexico.

President Harry S. Truman was not in the country. He had sailed for Europe a week earlier on the USS Augusta. It was an uneventful crossing, with an orchestra to play during dinner, and a different movie shown each evening. A Song to Remember, To Have and Have Not, The Princess and the Pirate, Something for the Boys. The president was on his way to the final meeting of the wartime Allies at Potsdam, just outside Berlin. He was dreading it.

Truman had never wanted to be Roosevelt’s vice president. ‘Tell him to go to hell,’ he replied to the offer. ‘I’m for Jimmy Byrnes.’ But Roosevelt wanted the plain-speaking man from Missouri, and he got his way. During Truman’s brief three months in the vice presidency, Roosevelt neither informed him nor consulted him. When Roosevelt died and he found himself president, Truman told reporters, ‘Boys, I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you . . .’

After a further brief three months as the leader of the free world, with the war in the Far East still raging, Truman now faced the task of standing up to Stalin. The Potsdam Conference would decide the shape and future of the postwar world.

The Augusta sailed up the Scheldt estuary cheered by Belgian and Dutch crowds, and docked at Antwerp on Sunday, July 15 1945. A C-54 plane called the Sacred Cow flew the president and his party to Berlin that same day. The Potsdam Conference was due to begin on Tuesday, July 17. Harry Truman felt seriously out of his depth.

The presidential entourage took up residence at No. 2 Kaiserstrasse, in the movie colony of Babelsberg. The grand but ugly yellow-painted villa had been built in the 1890s by a wealthy publisher, and most recently was occupied by the head of the Nazi film industry. It stood in tree-studded grounds on the banks of Lake Gribnitz. Truman said the building put him in mind of the Kansas City Union Station.

That evening, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson received a coded telegram from General Groves, who led the Manhattan Project, the top secret mission to build the atomic bomb.

Operated on this morning, diagnosis not yet complete but results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations.

Stimson at once took the message to Truman. Truman was pleased but cautious. He would wait for the full report.

Stimson ate privately that evening with his assistant, Harvey Bundy. Stimson was now in his late seventies, and in poor health. He had his suspicions that he was being cut out of the key decisions on the war. Bundy, brought in by him as his Special Assistant on Atomic Matters, was an old friend, and like himself a Yale man, a Skull and Bones member, and a lawyer.

‘You think we’re going to have to do this, Harvey?’

‘Have to, no,’ said Bundy. ‘Going to, yes.’

‘You think the Japs’ll surrender anyway?’

‘You’ve read the Purple intercepts,’ said Bundy. ‘We all know they’re desperate for a way out.’

‘It may take an invasion.’

‘Please God, no,’ said Harvey Bundy. ‘My boy Mac’s joined the Ninety-Seventh; he’s determined to get in some real fighting. His division’s slated for the push into mainland Japan. Kay’s half crazy with worry.’

‘If this gadget’s half what they say it is,’ said Stimson, ‘there’s no way your boy’s going to see action. You tell Kay to relax.’

The next day Truman had his first informal meeting with Stalin, at what was now called the Little White House. They discussed how to handle the continuing war with Japan. Intercepted cables revealed that the Japanese were pleading with the Soviets to broker a peace deal short of unconditional surrender, that would leave the emperor in place. The Allies wanted the Soviets to enter the war against Japan, late though it was. Stalin readily agreed. The declaration would be made by August 15, he said.

Fini Japs when that comes about, wrote Truman in his diary.

That evening a courier arrived carrying General Groves’ full report on the Trinity test. Truman read it at once, and gave it to his secretary of state, Jimmy Byrnes, and to Henry Stimson. Stimson showed it to Harvey Bundy. It was electrifying.

‘For the first time in history,’ Groves wrote, ‘there was a nuclear explosion. And what an explosion!’ He estimated its power at the equivalent of twenty thousand tons of TNT. He described the blast effects with memorable details. A steel tower evaporated. A window was broken over a hundred miles away. The light of the explosion was visible from El Paso, almost two hundred miles away. A blind woman saw the light. Groves called it ‘the birth of a new age, a great new force to be used for good or evil. No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power has ever occurred before.’

Later, alone with Harvey Bundy, Stimson pondered the mighty issue before them.

‘Are we unleashing a monster here, Harvey?’

‘You want my opinion,’ said Bundy, ‘I’d say we can’t come this far and spend this much money and not use it. And that’s not even an opinion. Once it can be used, it’s going to be used.’

‘But why?’

‘You ever get given a new toy for Christmas? You ever got told you can have the shiny new toy, but you can’t play with it?’


Excerpted from Reckless by William Nicholson. Copyright © 2014 by William Nicholson.
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Quercus Editions Ltd., 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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