On August 2nd 1939, just before the beginning of World War II, Albert Einstein wrote to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Einstein and several other scientists told Roosevelt of efforts in Nazi Germany to utilize a rare element, U-235, which might in turn be used to build a weapon. This weapon would be capable of power totally beyond the scope of mans vision. Ironically and sadly, it was shortly thereafter that the United States Government began the serious undertaking known only then as The Manhattan Project. Through the harness and development of the atoms power, the Manhattan Project stands as a marker for mans passage into an exciting and also terrifying age of nuclear power.
Simply put, the Manhattan Project was committed to quick research and production that would yield a workable atomic bomb. Over the course of six years, ranging from 1939 to 1945, more than two billion dollars were spent on the Manhattan Project. An additional seventy-six million dollars were spent by the Army Air Forces on Project SILVERPLATE. Project SILVERPLATE covered the modification of 46 B-29 bombers in support of the Manhattan Project, trained the personnel of the 509th composite bombing group, and provided logistical support for units based at Tinian Island, launching point for the attacks on Japan. (www.infoseek.com, 2001) The formulas for refining Uranium and putting together a working bomb were created and seen to their ends by some of the greatest minds of our time. Among these people to unleashed the power of the atomic bomb was J. Robert Oppenheimer.
J. Robert Oppenheimer was born in New York City on April 22, 1904. After graduating from Harvard and studying under Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge University, Oppenheimer received his Ph.D. in Germany in 1925. In 1929, he returned to the United States to teach at the University of California Berkeley and at Cal Tech. (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 1998) In June 1942, Oppenheimer was appointed scientific director of the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer was the major force behind the Manhattan Project. He literally ran the show and saw to it that all of the great minds working on this project made their brainstorms work. He oversaw the entire project from its conception to its completion. Finally the day came when all at Los Alamos would find out whether or not The Gadget was either going to be the colossal dud of the century or perhaps change mankind forever.
It all came down to a fateful midsummer morning, 1945. Human existence would be forever changed as we released the power of the atom. For the first time, U-235 atoms released energy from their nucleuses in massive quantity. At 5:29:45 (Mountain War Time) on July 16th, 1945, in a white blaze stretched from the basin of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico to the still-dark skies. (Fisher, Sidney G, 1982) The Gadget had ushered in the Atomic Age. The brilliant light from the detonation pierced the early morning skies with such intensity that residents from even faraway neighboring communities would swear that the sun came up twice that day.
Upon witnessing the explosion, reactions among the people who created it were clear. J. Robert Oppenheimer, though ecstatic about the success of the project he worked so hard and diligently on, quoted as saying “I am become Death,” “the destroyer of worlds.” Ken Bainbridge, the test director, told Oppenheimer, “Now we’re all sons of bitches.” The destructive capability of this weapon was so sheer that use of it against others seemed inhuman. Several participants, shortly after viewing the results, signed petitions against unleashing the monster they had created, but their protests fell on deaf ears. At the time this project had consumed a vast quantity of money, time, effort, man-hours, and labor. (Cochran, Thomas C, 1966) The question to ask at that point was not if America would use the bomb in combat but when. Sadly, as it later turned out, the Jornada del Muerto of New Mexico was not the last site on planet Earth to experience an atomic explosion.
As many know, atomic bombs have been used only twice in warfare. The first and foremost blast site of the atomic bomb is Hiroshima. A Uranium bomb (which weighed in at over four & one-half tons) nicknamed “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima August 6th, 1945. The Aioi Bridge, one of 81 bridges connecting the seven-branched delta of the Ota River, was the aiming point of the bomb. Ground Zero was set at 1,980 feet. At 0815 hours, the bomb was dropped from the Enola Gay. It missed by only 800 feet. At 0816 hours, in the flash of an instant, 66,000 people were killed and 69,000 people were injured by a 10 kiloton atomic explosion. Total destruction ranged at one mile in diameter. Severe blast damage carried as far as two miles in diameter. At two and a half miles, everything flammable in the area burned. The remaining area of the blast zone was riddled with serious blazes that stretched out to the final edge at a little over three miles in diameter.
On August 9th 1945, Nagasaki fell to the same treatment as Hiroshima. Only this time, a Plutonium bomb nicknamed “Fat Man” was dropped on the city. Even though the “Fat Man” missed by over a mile and a half, it still leveled nearly half the city. Nagasaki’s population dropped in one split-second from 422,000 to 383,000. 39,000 were killed, over 25,000 were injured. That blast had the power of 10 kilotons as well.
At one time, during the early days of The Atomic Age, it was a popular notion that one day atomic bombs would one day be used in mining operations and perhaps aid in the construction of another Panama Canal. (Gray, Elizabeth Janet, 1978) There was a glimmer of hope for the power that had been created. It stimulated Ideas for mans advancement from powering space ships, to driving cars, to heating homes.
Needless to say, it never came about. Instead, the military applications of atomic destruction increased. Atomic tests off of the Bikini Atoll and several other sites were common up until the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was introduced. It is discouraging that after 55 years on information, technology, and development we have, in majority, only used nuclear power to create weapons of mass destruction. Mankinds entry into the atomic age is a terrifying one indeed.