Examining History

It is imporatant to carefully examine history in order to learn from
previous mistakes, and also to ensure that the same mistakes are not
repeated. The Manhattan project is an excellent example. This program
allowed the United States to unleash the power of the atom, thus,
introducing a new and devastating element into warfare. Although they
managed to come in first in the race with Germany, the U.S. bears the
responsibility of having introduced the atomic bomb, and have the blood on
their hands from the use of it. It is obvious that the U.S. reaped the
benefits by introducing the bomb, because no one else had the chance to use
it on them. However, it is imperative to realize that when they dropped the
bomb they became hypocrates. They did not want it used on them, but were
eager to use it on another country. Actually, the U.S. had trouble deciding
who to use it on. However, when a target was selected, the results were
devastating. There were 170,000 people killed in Hiroshima alone and in
Nagasaki, estimates say, nearly 70,000 died. After the bomb was dropped, the
resulting radiation killed nearly 70,000 people. The Manhattan Project and
the use of the atomic bomb were unfortunate products of a scientific
breakthrough and a frantic race; which resulted in a revolution in warfare.


The Manhattan Project originated from the Army Corps of Engineers, this
division was originally named the Manhattan District. The later name, The
Manhattan Project, encompassed the district, the scientific, the
governmental and the strategic aspects (4:9). In 1941 President
Roosevelt and several American scientists began work on the project (1:1).
The bomb was never reffered to as the “atomic bomb” it was referred to as
“a new weapon of unusual destructive force” (13:74).The main hub of
acivity for this project was in New Mexico, the program lasted from 1942 to
1946. The total cost was nearly 2 billion dollars (1:3).
Another important aspect to this program was the secrecy invovlved.
It was said that “loose lips sink ships” (13:37). According to Roosevelt
the only people who knew about the program at it’s conception were Vice
President Wallace, the Speaker of the House, the Democratic Leader of the
Senate Mr. Barkley, and the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee for
the House and Senate (11:27). As time went on it was still kept very quiet,
most cabinet members and even more congressmen did not know about it (1:3).
In fact, the money had to be smuggled into the War Department budget (1:3).
Roosevelt eventually told Stalin about the project, he said, ” I casually
mentioned it to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive
force. The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was
that he was glad to hear it and he hoped we would make good use of it
against the Japanese (13:75).” All of this secrecy contributed to the
success of the program and the bombing of Japan.

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The most challenging part of this project was not smuggling the
money into the budget or maintaining secrecy, it was devising a way to
obtain enough Uranium and Plutonium to create the bombs (11:27). Roosevelt
established a committee in October of 1939 in an attempt to locate sources
of the elements. Alfred Nier began to study isotopes of Uranium, he was also
the first to discover the U-235 content in natural Uranium. The next step
in this process was to determine whether it was the U-235 or the U-238
isotope of Uranium that would enable them to create the bomb (4:190).
Uranium contained only 1% U-235, while the other 90% of Uranium ore was
composed of U-238. As luck would have it, they discovered that it was only
the U-235 that could be used to create the bomb.
Once these isotopes had been discovered, it was time to begin
separation. There were several ways to go about this. The first was to use
magnetic separation. This was made possible by Ernest O. Lawerence who
invented the Cyclotron. The process occurs “when a Uranium Tetrachloride
mixture is electrically charged”. “It is then passed through a magnet on
180 degree arc (4:10).” The lighter U-235 passes through and collects. The
heavier U-238 would simply pass through. Yet, due to delays and flaws this
process was phased out. The next method was created by General Leslie
Groves. He constructed a Uranium separation plant in Tennessee. This plant
used gaseous diffusion. It separated the two istopes from each other. The
process requires that uranium ore be sprayed with fluorine; which in turn
forms Uranium Hexafluoride gas. It is then injected through filters with
fine matrices, which allowed the lighter U-235 to pass through faster. This
was determined to be an excellent and very effective method of U-235
collection. The final method was quickly abandoned. It was to use a
centrigue, a high speed spinning device, to separate the U-235 isotope from
the U-238 isotope. Unfortunately, the race with Germany would not allow
further testing of this process, so it was thrown out(4:10).
Another breakthrough occured when in 1941, Glen Seaborg discovered
Plutonium. He observed that the isotope P-238 was amazingly more unstable
than the isotope he had discovered. He soon realized that this isotope
would be perfect for the fission reaction that was necessary to create the
bomb (4:10). Enrico Fermi joined the effort and he created a reactor to aid
in succesfully manufacturing a controllable chain reaction. This model
quickly became prototype for five reactors that would be built. Thus, it
paved the way for the creation of the “Fat Man” (4:10).
The next vital part of creating an atomic bomb is fission. Fission is
defined as the splitting of an atom. In further detail, it is a nuclear
reaction which causes the atom to split into pieces of near equal mass. The
approximate energy yeild is 100 million units. This is what causes the
blast. (4:199) The physicists who fled Europe due to Hitler joined the
United States’ cause. They were the first to successfully split a Uranium
atom. This occured in 1938 at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin
(4:9-10).
From all of these experiments two types of bombs were created. “Fat
Man” was an implosion bomb composed of plutonium (13:13). The second bomb
created, “Little Boy”, was a “guntype” Uranium bomb (11:63). Both bombs
were ready in mid July (11:174,254). Yet still more tests remained.
According to Oppenheimer’s report, “…bomb material itself leathal enough
for a billion deadly doses…the weapon would give off raioactivity…bomb
was set to explode in the air…would deposit a large fraction of either
initial radioactive material or the radioactive products in the immediate
vicinity of the target; but the radiation…will of course, have an effect
on exposed personnel in the target area(1:5).” He went on to state that it
was unpredictable as to what would happen to the radioactive material. His
assumptions were: “It could stay for hours in a cloud above the place of
detonation. If the bomb explodded during rain or high humidity and thus
caused rain most of the active material will be brought down in the vicinity
of the target area (1:5).”
To confirm or disprove these assumptions, they decided to test a
bomb. Trinity Test Site was chosen. The time selected was four in the
morning, on July 16. However, it began to rain and had to be postponed
until 5:30. At around 4:45 the weather began clearing and final orders for
detonation at 5:30 were given (11:194-195). When the countdown began,
machines took over at minus 45 seconds (11:196). There was no turning back
now, the moment of truth was soon arriving.


It is through eye witness accounts that these stories are told. Mr.
Kistiakowsky stated that, ” All of a sudden the entire desert for miles and
miles, and the mountains, about ten miles away, were lighted with an
intensity the like of which one had never seen before. I was partially
blinded.” He continues, ” When my sight returned, the whole atmosphere was
showered with a violet light. …At that time we didn’t know what was
happening…and then a long time afterward, about ten minutes or so, the
blast wave traveled six or seven miles and hit me…throwing me to the
ground (11:196).” Mr. Hornig tells his account in a more emotional way,
” The fire ball was already beginning to turn in the sky…I was completely
entranced by the spectacle. Aside from being tremendous it was the most
aesthetically beautiful thing I have ever seen. Tremendous billows and
colors would unfold from the interior of the cloud. It would darken in
places and open in a new burst of luminous gas that came to the surface…I
just stood there completely captured (11:197).” The final account comes
from Mr. Oppenheimer, it is rather sentimental, ” We waited until the last
had passed, walked out of the shelter and then it was extremely solemn. We
knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people
cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu
scripture. The Baga Gita: Vinshu is trying to persuade the Prince that he
should do his duty an to impress him he takes his multi-armed form and
says,’Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds..’ I suppose we all
thought that one way or another. There was a great deal of solemn talk that
this was the end of the great wars of the century (11:197).” Perhaps it is
better to invision it this way, through someone’s eyes, the devastaion and
power suddenly becomes real.


The final step in this process is to use the bomb. Selecting a target
was not an easy ordeal. As is common, a committee was formed. It was
composed of Groves, Army and Air Force men, Gen. Lauris Norstad, and
scientists such as John Von Neumann. The new outlook on war was to kill as
many civilians as possible. They decided that they would choose large urban
areas that were not less than three miles in diameter. On April 27, four
cities were named: Hiroshima, Yawata, Yokohama and Tokyo (1:4). There were
seventeen other possible cities, among them were, Kawasaki, Tokyo Bay,
Kyoto, and Nagasaki (1:5). Although, the original target had been Germany,
but Roosevelt and Churchill had decided it would be more effective if used
on Japan (1:2). During the third meeting, itwas decided that the three
targets should be Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Nugata(1:5). However, upon further
consideration, Kyoto was spared due to the relics that are held in that city
(1:9). At the last meeting the final cities were chosen. THey were
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Neither city was “purely military” and were bombed
mainly due to population and projected effect.


Truman never doubted whether the bomb would be used or not (1:3). There
was so much bureaucratic force driving this operation that it was never
questioned. The first bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945 by the Enola Gay.
Hiroshima was the unfortunate recipient (7:71), the death toll totaled
around 200,000. The second bombing, which from nearly all evidence seems to
be unjustified, occured August 9, 1945 at 11:00 a.m. Nagasaki was the
target this time (3:1). The bomb missed the target though, only 70,000 were
killed this time. The cable that Truman received from Stimson read,
“Operated this morning. Diagnosis not yet complete, but results seem
satisfactory (13:73).”
There were many alternatives that could have been used, but weren’t
and the result was thousands dead. It was a brutal, almost unjustifiable
occurance. The blood is on American hands and cannot be washed off. Not
only were nearly 300,000 civialians murdered, a lasting impact was made on
the world and our reputaion. America began the atomic age and is still
paying the price for it today, everyday. New advances in technology have
made weapons of mass destruction easily obtainable, and by the wrong people.
If America had refused to allow the bomb to be developed, the world would be
a much different place, and a much better place. It was a frantic race with
Germany, and “American lives had to be saved”. The rest of the world was an
afterthought. War continues, and so does the struggle. The blood and
burden is on American hands forever.
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