Fritz Haber and the Double-edged Sword of Synthetic Nitrogen II

Lead: In the early 20th century German chemist Fritz Haber developed the process leading to the creation of synthetic nitrogen. His brilliant innovation, however, is very much a double-edged sword.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: After his initial breakthrough for which he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918, Haber was made the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin. With the outbreak of World War I, he led in the development of poison gas. His motives appear to be mixed, partly emerging out of intense German patriotism, but also in hopes that the use of gas would hasten the end of the bloodletting. He returned home greatly disappointed in the war’s result, but also conflicted over his own role in the use of chemical weapons. Haber’s wife committed suicide shortly thereafter, it is said partly in revulsion over her husband’s complicity in the wartime carnage. After the Nazi takeover in 1933, as an ethnic Jew, he saw that even his long-time loyal service to Germany would not protect him against the coming barbarity and accepted a post in Cambridge, England. He died in obscurity in 1934.

 

Fritz Haber and the Double-Edged Sword of Synthetic Nitrogen I

Lead: By 1900 world population was beginning to outstrip agricultural capacity. Farmers could not grow enough to feed the people. Then Fritz Haber solved the nitrogen problem.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The three main nutrients required for successfully growing plants are potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Good top soil contains them in sufficient amounts to grow crops, but after long use, soil becomes depleted of these ingredients and must be renewed. Potassium and phosphorus are economically available in sufficient quantities to be put back easily, but nitrogen is not. Nitrogen is in the air. It is a gas that is a large part of the atmosphere. Getting it into the soil for plant synthesis is very difficult. Traditional farmers added plant clippings and animal waste, rotated crops or planted legumes such as beans or lintels, so-called green manure, to restore the soil and increase yields. Traditional agriculture could not keep up with an exploding world population. Farmers were losing the battle.

 

USS Vincennes to the Rescue

Lead: In the spring of 1940 the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes, was sent to Europe on a most unusual rescue mission.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The nations of western Europe were collapsing before the Nazi onslaught and French armies were falling back on Paris, when, on May 28th, the navy sent an urgent message to the Vincennes riding at anchor at Hampton Roads, Virginia. In less than four hours the crew, most of which was scattered from Norfolk to Cape Hatteras on leave or liberty, had been rounded up and the ship was on its way into the Atlantic. Vigorous discussion among the crew as to their mission enlivened the hours of passage. The ship arrived off the coast of San Miguel Island in the Azores on the 3rd of June and awaited orders. 

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Homer Plessy and Separate but Equal

Lead: On June 8, 1892 a New Orleans shoemaker tried to roll back the onrushing tide of resurgent white supremacy and he lost.

Intro.: This is "A Moment in Time."

Content: Homer A. Plessy was born a month before the Union Navy took New Orleans out of the Civil War in 1862. His parents were free, French-speaking, Roman Catholic blacks part of a racial and social mix that lent that port city such a rich cosmopolitan flavor. In few places in the pre-war deep South were people of color offered the chances for advancement they had in New Orleans and in the two decades after the South's defeat these opportunities continued to grow. In the years following the end of reconstruction, the white majority began to take back the rank and privilege denied them by a victorious north. Gone were the Federal troops which protected and registered black voters. Vanished were the Black Republican majorities in the state legislatures. Disappearing also at this time was the consensus in the North that had help forge the Union victory. Weary of war and the expense of Reconstruction, northerners were losing interest in the civil rights of blacks. One Illinois paper put it, "The Negro is now a voter and a citizen. Let him hereafter take his chances in the battle of life."

America’s Revolution: French and Indian War V

Lead: In the 1700s the United States broke from England. No colony in history had done that before. This series examines America’s Revolution.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts

Content: The first three years of the French and Indian War, 1755-1757, witnessed an almost complete series of French victories. French commander Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm was clearly superior to his British counterparts, with a tactical boldness without equal. Incompetent British leadership and effective coordination between the French and their Native-American allies delivered devastating raids all along the western frontier and a powerful series of blows against British garrisons in New York, culminating in the 1757 collapse of British resistance at Fort William Henry on Lake George.

America’s Revolution: French and Indian War IV

 

Lead: In the 1700s the United States broke from England. No colony in history had done that before. This series examines America’s Revolution.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts

Content: One of the primary catalysts of the American Revolution was the French and Indian War. The London government of the Duke of Newcastle sent General Edward Braddock to America to begin cleaning the French out of the Ohio Valley. Even before Braddock left England, word reached Paris, and the French dispatched troops to counteract the British thrust. Attempts by British naval units to interdict the French were measures that led to an official declaration of war between the antagonists in 1755. When Braddock arrived in North America he conferred with colonial governors and they planned a four-pronged attack on the French in the west. Nearly all of these efforts failed. In fact, nearly everything the British tried from 1755 to 1757 in America came to grief. Only the capture of Fort Beauséjour on the border between French Acadia and British Nova Scotia was an unrestrained success.

America’s Revolution: The French and Indian War III

Lead: In the 1700s the United States broke from England. No colony in history had done that before. This series examines America’s Revolution.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts

Content: Unable by negotiation to convince the French to withdraw from the Ohio Valley or to dislodge them by direct confrontation in a military expedition led by George Washington in 1754, the British government, led by the Duke of Newcastle, decided to ramp up its engagement and take the valley by force. It dispatched a large expedition under Major General Edward Braddock to confront the French and seize Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers at present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This action provoked the beginning in 1755 of the French and Indian War, the North American theater of a much wider conflict, the Seven Years’ War, history’s first truly world war.

America’s Revolution: French and Indian War II

Lead: In the 1700s the United States broke from England. No colony in history had done that before. This series examines America’s Revolution.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts

Content: The French and Indian War was the North American theater of a much larger international conflict known to European historians as the Seven Years’ War. The land and naval forces of Great Britain and its allies secured a major victory over France and its allies in the years between 1755 and 1763. It was an enormously expensive enterprise and by prevailing in it Britain laid the foundation for its second empire while at the same time it sowed the seeds of destruction for its first empire.