Atomic Weapons Development• “History is often not what actually happened but what is recorded as such.” – Henry L. Stimson (Secretary of War during WWII), 1948• Originally a “wild idea” developed by research scientists, the Manhattan Project originated within the National Defense Research Committee. • “I wish that the physicist who fished uranium in the first place had waited a few years before he sprung this particular thing on an unstable world. However, we have the matter in our laps and we have to do the best we can.” –Vannevar Bush • “Recent developments indicate, briefly, that the subject is more important than I believed when I last spoke to you about it. The stuff will apparently be more powerful than we then thought... The way to full accomplishment is still exceedingly difficult” – letter from Vannevar Bush to FDR, March 9 1942• Funded by the government, most of the early atomic research continued to happen at universities. The first controlled atomic chain reaction was achieved at the University of Chicago in 1942, on the grounds of their football field. • “An atomic chain reaction may be compared to the burning of a rubbish pile from spontaneous combustion. In such a fire, minute parts of the pile start to burn and in turn ignite other tiny fragments. When sufficient numbers of these fractional parts are heated to the kindling points, the entire heap bursts into flames.” –Enrico Fermi, “Fermi’s Own Story”
The Manhattan Project• In 1942, atomic research was officially transferred to Allied (American) military control, and the scale of the operation increased dramatically. • “After August 13, 1942, the whole plan became known under the code name of either the DSM (development of substitute materials) or the ‘Manhattan Project.’ From then on the atomic experts were simply designated ‘scientific personnel’ and obliged to submit to the strict rules of military secrecy. ...They accepted as obvious the rule that they were to publish no more of their discoveries until after the war. ... But the military authorities went much further than this prohibition. They erected invisible walls round every branch of research, so that no department ever knew what any other was doing.”• “To everyone who is given the opportunity to see for himself the refined laboratory equipment and the gigantic production machinery, it is an unforgettable experience... Today physicists and engineers are, on the basis of firmly established knowledge, controlling and directing violent reactions by which new materials far more precious than gold are built up, atom by atom. ... The whole undertaking constitutes, indeed, a far deeper interference with the natural course of events than anything ever before attempted., and it must be realized that the success of the endeavours has created a quite new situation as regards human resources. The revolution in industrial development which may result in the coming years cannot at present be surveyed, but the fact of immediate preponderance is, that a weapon of devastating power far beyond any previous possibilities and imagination will soon become available.” –letter from scientist Niels Bohr to British prime minister Winston Churchill, May 22 1944
Ghost Cities• Nearly 150,000 people worked on the Manhattan Project. Only a handful knew the work’s true purpose. The vast majority of them did not know what they were working on until the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. • “The three principal Manhattan Project sites were ‘secret cities’ where 125,000 people worked and lived and were not on any maps during World War II. ... Secrecy was paramount and the sites were referred to only by their code names, ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ and ‘Z.’ Employees were issued badges and driver’s licenses had numbers without any names. The five thousand residents at Los Alamos shared the same address: P.O. Box 1663 in Santa Fe, making Sears and Roebuck sales clerks extremely curious when they received orders for more than a dozen baby bassinets to be delivered to the same address.” • “The notion of disappearing into the New Mexico desert for an indeterminate period and under quasimilitary auspices disturbed a good many scientists, and the families of many more. But there was another side to it. Almost everyone realized that this was a great undertaking. ... Almost everyone knew that it was an unparalleled opportunity to bring to bear the basic knowledge and art of science for the benefit of his country. Almost everyone knew that this job, if it were achieved, would be part of history.” –J. Robert Oppenheimer (scientist in charge at the Los Alamos site)
Life at Los Alamos• “I was one of the women thus bound for an unknown and secret place. ‘I can tell you nothing about it,’ my husband said. ‘We’re going away, that’s all.’ ...It is never easy to say goodbye to beloved and familiar patterns of living. It is particularly difficult when you do not know what substitute for them will be offered you. Where was I going and why was I going there? I plied my husband with questions which he steadfastly refused to answer. ... I felt akin to the pioneer women accompanying their husbands across uncharted plains westward, alert to danger, resigned to the fact that they journeyed, for weal or for woe, into the Unknown. ... The world I had known of friends and family would no longer be real to me. Why, my parents were not even allowed to come to Santa Fe on a pleasure trip! The only bridge between us would be a shadowy one of censored letters. By a rapid transmutation, my husband and I had become different people. He could not even admit that he was a physicist; his profession was ‘engineer.’”• “The fence penning Los Alamos was erected and guarded to keep out the treasonable, the malicious, and the curious. This fence has a real effect on the psychology of the people behind it. It was a tangible barrier, a symbol of our isolated lives. Within it lay the most secret part of the atomic bomb project. Los Alamos was a world unto itself, an island in the sky.” –Ruth Marshak, wife of physicist Robert Marshak
The Trinity Test• On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The Trinity test, as it was known, spread radioactive fallout over 1000 miles—or as far away as Indiana.
Hiroshima• The first atomic bomb used in wartime, “Little Boy,” was dropped on Hiroshima by the airplane Enola Gay on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 AM local time. 140,000 people were immediately killed, and 79,000 injured. Over 50,000 buildings were completely destroyed. • “With President Truman’s warm support I struck off the list of suggested targets the city of Kyoto. Although it was a target of considerable military importance, it had been the ancient capital of Japan and was a shrine of Japanese art and culture. We determined that it should be spared.” –Henry L. Stimson, then Secretary of War • “It took forty-three seconds from the time the bomb left the airplane to the time it exploded. Everyone was counting to forty-three. ‘One-thousand one, one-thousand two...’ I was fortunate, I had a watch. But I think we had all concluded that it was a dud. We were nervous, counting fast or something because all of a sudden we saw the bright flash inside the airplane and knew that the bomb had exploded.” –Theodore Van Kirk, navigator on the Enola Gay • “The first to hear the news that distant Monday were those who happened to be near a radio at midday—housewives, children, the elderly, war workers enjoying a vacation day at home. ... the news spread by word of mouth.” Many immediately “perceived the nightmarish possibilities... The carefully orchestrated government press releases, illustrated with a set of officially approved photographs, only partially allayed the gathering fear and uncertainty.” – Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light• “The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us as well as the battles of the air, land, and sea, and we have now won the battle of the laboratories as we have won the other battles.” –President Truman, August 6 1945
Bombs and Consequences• The second atomic bomb used in wartime, “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki by the airplane Bockscar on August 9, 1945, at 11:02 AM local time. 73,000 people were immediately killed, and 74,000 injured. Over 12,000 buildings were completely destroyed.• Initially, the decision to drop the bombs was approved by 85% of Americans. This number waned in the years following the war, as the consequences of the bombings (radiation sickness, birth defects, etcetera) emerged. • Disease X: “...it is possible that the atomic bomb’s rare rays may cause deaths in the first class, as with delayed X-ray burns. But the second class has [Dr. Nakashima] totally baffled. These patients begin with slight burns which make normal progress for two weeks. They differ from simple burns, however, in that the patient has a high fever. ...where fever is present after two weeks, the healing of burns suddenly halts and they get worse. The burns come to resemble septic ulcers. .... Four to five days from this turn to the worse, they die. Their bloodstream has not thinned as in the first class, and their organs after death are found in a normal condition of health. But they are dead—dead of the atomic bomb—and nobody knows why.” –George Weller, First Into Nagasaki, September 1945
“The Most Important Piece of Journalism of theTwentieth Century”• In May 1946, reporter John Hersey traveled to Japan to research an article for the New Yorker. The resulting text, Hiroshima, told the story of the bombing from the point of view of six survivors. It took up the entirety of the August 31, 1946 issue of the magazine, became a bestseller when published in book form, and was later judged the most important piece of journalism of the twentieth century. • “When I was 12, I was so excited after hearing my friend’s dad tell heroic stories about his WWII adventures in Europe, I ran home to ask my dad what he did in the war. He simply replied, ‘I was on the Manhattan Project.’ I wanted a heroic story so I prodded further: ‘But what did you actually do?’ He quietly took John Hersey’s Hiroshima from the bookshelf and handed it to me. ‘Read this.’ The story has haunted me ever since, and my dad has always refused to talk about the work he did as a young chemist on the Manhattan Project.” –John Martin Taylor, son of Thomas S. Taylor
Postwar Nuclear Concerns• The Germans never mastered nuclear fission during the war, but by 1949, the Soviets had atomic bombs of their own. One of the most pressing concerns of the emergent United Nations during the immediate postwar period was the regulation of nuclear materials. • “The situation calls for the most unprejudiced attitude towards all questions of international relations. Indeed, proper appreciation of the duties and responsibilities implied in world citizenship is in our time more necessary than ever before. On the one hand, the progress of science and technology has tied the fate of all nations inseparably together, on the other hand, it is on a most different cultural background that vigorous endeavors for national self- assertion and social development are being made in the various parts of our globe. –Niels Bohr, letter to the United Nations, June 9 1950• After WWII, the United States continued to develop and test atomic weaponry. In 1963, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned the testing of nuclear devices on land, at sea, or in space.
Victory PostersSome of the most interestingartifacts of WWII are items ofvisual propaganda. Designedto instruct, inspire, and evencause fear in the domesticU.S. population, they drewupon several decades ofadvertising science and agrowing understanding ofhuman psychology. Wartimeposters also took advantageof technologicaldevelopments in colorprinting and mass printing, aswell as in the growth ofnationwide networks ofdistribution. They helpedunify the United Statesduring WWII and sent anumber of distinct messagesto all who viewed them.
Weapons and Posters: The Make-Up Assignment • Look at the “Produce for Victory” online poster exhibition at http://americanhistory.si.edu/victo ry/index.htm • Leave a comment on this blog post examining one quote about The Manhattan Project with one or more posters from the exhibition. • What attitudes do the posters exhibit, and how? • How do those morals, values, attitudes, or concerns, compare or contrast to those seen in the quotes about our development of atomic weapons?