Hasta la Vista, Heisenberg

Toaster of the Week

“-I just saved a lot of money on my insurance by switching to Geico!”



So I’m watching ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ the other day.

I can’t say I’m a fan just yet. I had heard of the show but wasn’t really planning on watching, since T3 essentially ruined (nay, completely screwed) the whole Terminator franchise, IMO. But what the heck, I channel-surfed in mid-episode and was curious enough to keep watching.

The premise of the show is essentially a reprise of T2 sans Ah-nold, with John Connor now whining his way through adolescence. Summer Glau (of Firefly fame) plays the “good” Terminator, sent back in time to keep the Connors from getting wacked by a T-800 not designed to emulate a giant-sized, muscled, thick-accented Austrian bodybuilder.

As stated above, the idea of microwaving the Terminator franchise back to life initially struck me as retarded, but the creators of the show do go on to say that the events of T3 occur in a separate timeline from the show; I must admit that endears me to ‘Chronicles’ somewhat.

I was intrigued by the fifteen or so minutes of the episode I did see. As one would expect, there is a lot of philosophical talk concerning the nature of extinction, morality (or lack thereof) in both humans and machines, the dangers posed by self-replicating A.I. systems, as well as the usual conundrums one encounters in time-travel stories — i.e. can history/destiny be changed or avoided? This was all covered in T2, but I’m always up for SF-driven intellectual reflections, especially when they occur between bouts of senseless violence.

The most interesting moment in the episode came when Sarah Connor debated whether or not to kill a young computer programmer destined to make a vital contribution to the advent of Skynet : she remembered Moe Berg, a catcher for the Boston Red Sox who was recruited by the American government during the Second World War and dispatched to a physics conference in Zürich circa 1943 with orders to assassinate Werner Heisenberg.

Okay, hold on a minute. A MLB player, sent by the O.S.S. to a physics conference in Zürich in 1943 with orders to shoot Heisenberg?? What. The. Hell?

So I do a little digging, and sure enough, an ex-major league baseball player named Moe Berg did in fact act as a spy and potential assassin during the war. Considered “the brainiest (and strangest) man ever to play baseball,” Berg was a magna cum laude graduate who spoke 10 languages, and reportedly “couldn’t hit in any of them.” Following a ho-hum career in the Majors, he was recruited by the Office of Inter-American affairs in early 1942, and was working for the O.S.S. by 1943. In early December of that year, after joining the top-secret project ASUZA (aimed at evaluating the current status of Germany’s nuclear weapons program) Berg went undercover to attend a lecture in Zürich given by Heisenberg. His orders were to determine if the Nazis were close to solving the theoretical problems associated with engineering a nuclear bomb, and to kill Heisenberg if that was indeed the case.

Berg wasn’t exactly assassin material to begin with, but being the only field agent with enough of a grasp of theoretical Physics to make the crucial determination, he apparently was the only choice. As it turns out (and much to Berg’s relief), the Germans did not yet possess the necessary knowledge, so Berg left the conference without taking action, and Heisenberg’s assassination never took place.

The whole incident (a minor historical footnote, really) struck me as rather surreal, perhaps because I’m trying to imagine how a similar scenario would play out today (can you imagine José Canseco being dispatched to Iran by the C.I.A.? No, I can’t either).

But the very amusing post-script to this odd (and rather long) note comes in the form of the East Bay View blog entry I came across while researching the incident :

Hitman? He couldn’t even hit a baseball

Fun fact from the recent Oppenheimer bio I’m reading: Worried the Nazis might complete the atomic bomb first, Oppie floated the possibility of kidnapping his opposite number, Heisenberg. The military began plotting Heisenberg’s assassination, and baseball’s most famous benchwarmer, Moe Berg, was dispatched to tail him. Berg ultimately didn’t proceed with the hit,as he couldn’t determine Heisenberg’s position and his speed at the same time

Man, I just about died laughing.

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