World War II: Atom Bomb and Hiroshima Part 3

About the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima in World War II, the first use of a nuclear weapon in war, a description of the aftermath.


WHEN: 1945

The theory behind the possibility turned from probability into likelihood. After the establishment of the super-secret Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, N. Mex., in 1943, where a team of foreign and American scientists worked with breathtaking speed and cooperation, the implications of the future began to rise like unwelcome specters. Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize winner and one of the brightest luminaries working at Los Alamos, worried as early as February, 1944, about the political implications of the bomb and the tensions it would create between the superpowers, Russia and America. "A weapon of unparalleled power is being created. Unless, indeed, some international agreement about the control of the use of the new active materials (uranium, plutonium, etc.) can be obtained, any temporary advantage, however great, may be outweighed by a perpetual menace to human society," he wrote to both Churchill, who said, "I do not agree," and to Roosevelt, who answered, "The suggestion is not accepted."

Meanwhile, Klaus Fuchs, another German refugee at Los Alamos, convinced that no one country, however benevolent, should be the sole possessor of the means of destroying the entire earth, passed the bomb's secrets to the Russians. In April, 1945, Einstein himself had 2nd thoughts about what he had started. Again he wrote to Roosevelt, asking for extreme caution in the use of the bomb, but Roosevelt died and the letter lay on his desk. By June, 1945, the German James Franck, the Hungarian Leo Szilard, and 57 other top-ranking scientists petitioned from New Mexico that "if the U.S. releases this means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she will sacrifice public support throughout the world and precipitate the race for armaments." Robert Oppenheimer, in charge of the Manhattan Project's scientists, said, "When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it." His co-worker Arthur Compton, on the other hand, wanted a nonmilitary demonstration to "warn" and "impress" the Japanese before actually using the bomb.

The Government in Washington argued back and forth. Secretary of War Stimson and some of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted that it would save 100,000 American lives and that dropping it by surprise on a "combined military and residential target would produce maximum psychological shock." (These were the same reasons Hitler had given for the attack on Rotterdam.) General Marshall wanted the Soviets to join the war against Japan and to save the bomb for use at some possible future date against the Soviets. General Eisenhower felt that the Japanese were already beaten, that acceptable warfare could finish off the job and bring about surrender. He said, in short, that the bomb was completely unnecessary and would rouse world condemnation.

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