Eyewitness Reports in History Los Alamos and the Atomic Bomb Part 3

An eyewitness account of Los Alamos and the atomic bomb during World War II.

Los Alamos and the Atomic Bomb

There was little noticeable reaction at Los Alamos when word trickled down from the War Dept. that at least one of the three bombs nearly completed would be used on a Japanese city. Teller and Oppenheimer discussed whether they should voice objections but decided against it. The role of nuclear weaponry and atomic research in general was soon to become a major issue, one which found Teller and Oppenheimer bitterly opposed. As chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission's general advisory committee from 1947 to 1952, Oppenheimer voted against embarking upon a crash program to develop the hydrogen fusion bomb. Teller-adamantly determined to defend "our science, our culture, our American freedom, and our civilization"-believed that such a program was essential. When Klaus Fuchs finally confessed that he had kept the Soviet Union informed of all U.S. atomic research developments since 1942, the question was resolved. With President Truman's blessing, Teller pressed full steam ahead with his work at Los Alamos. Teller was to become an unwavering proponent of atomic power, even recommending the use of nuclear explosives to tap supplies of oil and gas and to create harbors and canals.

In the wake of the "Red scare" of the 1950s, Oppenheimer's conservative position toward development of atomic weaponry aroused suspicion, and in 1953 a special military investigative committee accused him of Communist associations and disloyalty to the U.S. Testifying before the special committee in 1954. Teller stated, "I would feel personally more secure if public matters would rest in other hands." Although Oppenheimer was cleared of charges of treason, he was denied access to any top secret information and dismissed from his advisory position for the AEC. Oppenheimer's advocacy of extreme caution in the development of nuclear power as opposed to Teller's view of atomic energy as a universal panacea underscores the conflict, which continues to this day. Eyewitness Report: At 5:25 A.M. on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was exploded at a test site in the Alamogordo Desert, about 200 mi. south of Los Alamos. Charles Thomas, adviser to General Groves, described the spectacle:

"The light-it was many times brighter than the sun. The mountains in back of us showed as clear as in daylight. We were stationed 10 mi. away from the explosion. At the 5-mi. station, two men were knocked over by the blast. The immense ball of flame rapidly going up into the sky was followed by a cloud of dust. The 100-ft. steel tower on which the bomb was placed was completely evaporated. The surface around it for 1,000 ft. was melted into glass."

Immediately after the blast, J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted Vishnu from Bhagavad Gita: "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

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