BRENTWOOD/LOS ANGELES—On Sunday, December 5, the inventor of the controversial and much debated neutron bomb passed away in his Brentwood residence. Cohen was known for his aggressive public advocacy of the neutron bomb, due to its perceived humanitarian qualities when compared with more destructive nuclear weapons.
Samuel Theodore Cohen was born January 25, 1921, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Cohen’s parents were Austrian Jews who immigrated to the United States at the outset of the Nazi ascendancy in Germany.
After receiving his Bachelor’s in physics from UCLA, Cohen joined the Army, whereupon he was posted at MIT for advanced studies in Physics and Math. Cohen was assigned to the Manhattan Project, the covert program aimed at designing the first atomic weapon. While a participant, Cohen calculated the neutron densities on Fat Man, the atomic bomb that was eventually dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
Cohen would go on to design the neutron bomb, reportedly using pencil, paper and a slide ruler given to him by his father for his 15th birthday.
The late President Ronald Reagan would commission the deployment of 700 neutron bombs at the request of Cohen, to counter Soviet militarization of Eastern Europe.
Supporters of the neutron bomb cite the minimal human casualties and the ability to preserve public infrastructure, a major concern in full-scale nuclear war. Opponents retort that full-scale nuclear war would be the result of any major military exchange and that, therefore, the alleged benefits of the neutron bomb are canceled out.
The neutron bomb acted by breaking down the nuclei of living cells, killing enemy combatants swiftly. Because the radiation caused by the neutron bomb was contained and geographically limited, unlike the fallout from regular nuclear weapons, the potential damage to civilian locales was lessened. “It’s the most sane and moral weapon ever devised,” Cohen said in an interview with the New York Times shortly before his death. “It’s the only nuclear weapon in history that makes sense in waging war. When the war is over, the world is still intact.”
Cohen had a wife, Margaret Munnemann, who is still living. They were married for 50 years. Cohen also had two sons, Paul and Thomas of Los Angeles; a daughter, Carla Nagler of Santa Fe, N.M.; and three grandchildren.