Decision to fund the Atomic Bomb

“No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with an intensity many times greater than that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue…”( Groueff355). The words of Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell describe the onset of the atomic age, which began on July 16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This was the site of the first large-scale atomic test, which utilized the tool of destruction that would soon decimate the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than a month afterward. This test consummated the years spent developing the bomb, and was the end result of the efforts of nuclear scientists who constructed it, and those of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who made the decision to fund the so-called Manhattan Project.

In a letter dated August 2nd, 1939, Albert Einstein first informed President Roosevelt of the research that had been done by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard with unstable Uranium which could generate large amounts of power and energy (Einstein1 PSF Safe Files). Einstein also included another possible use for uranium- the construction of extremely powerful bombs, which were capable of destroying a seaport and the surrounding territory. This information may have come precisely at the right time, for in October of 1938 Roosevelt asked Congress for a $300million military appropriation, and in November instructed the Army Air Corps to plan for an annual production of twenty thousand planes. Later, in 1939, Roosevelt called for action against “aggressor nations,” and in the same year submitted to Congress a $1.3 billion defense budget (Boyer861). In an accompanying memorandum that was sent with the Einstein letter, scientist Leo Szilard explained the technical science of nuclear fission and stressed the importance of chain reactions (Walls 1 PFS Safe Files).

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Both documents, the Einstein letter and the Szilardmemorandum, were to be delivered by Alexander Sachs, an adviser to Roosevelts New Deal since 1933 who would know how to approach Roosevelt and the government(Lanouette 200). It was not until mid-October 1939 that Sachs wangled an invitation to get in to see the President over breakfast (Burns 250). Though Roosevelt found the documents interesting, he seemed hesitant about committing government funds to such speculative research. But after Sachs reminded him of Napoleons skepticism of RobertFultons idea of a steamship, Roosevelt agreed to proceed.

Regarding the steamship issue, Sachs went on to comment,”This is an example of how England was saved by the shortsightedness of an adversary,”; this insight made Roosevelt greatly consider the creation of the bomb.

President Roosevelt authorized a study, but the decision todevote full energy to the production of the bomb was not made until December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was the influence of Leo Szilard, along with that of Alexander Sachs, that swayed Roosevelt’s decision to fund and construct the bomb. To aid the presentation to PresidentRoosevelt, Szilard contacted aviator Charles Lindbergh, to discuss how “large quantities of energy would be liberated” by a “nuclear chain reaction,” and also wanted to discuss how “to make an attempt to inform the administration (of the project).” Soon after, however, they discovered that the anti-arms Lindbergh was not one to help them in their request to the President (Lanouette 208). Szilard then wenton a mission to find pure graphite for the experiment, (which would be based on Einsteins E=mc2), by exchanging dozens of letters with chemical, carbon, and metallurgical companies, and bargained with manufacturers for contractsof fresh material (Lanouette 209). During this time, Szilardwas creating a decisive difference between U.S. and German nuclear efforts. Szilard also inquired to ColonelKeith F. Adamson of the U.S. Army as to funding of the graphite and uranium needed for a large scale experiment,and Adamson estimated that it might only cost $6,000,though this sum eventually swelled to more than $2 billion dollars of funds from the U.S. government (Lanouette 211).

Although Einstein later said that he “really only acted as a mailbox” for Leo Szilard, in popular history his famous equation E=mc2 and his letter to President Roosevelt are credited with starting the American effort to build atomic weapons (Lanouette 206). Fission was discovered in 1938 by German scientists, which led to the fear of American scientists that Hitler might attempt to develop a fission bomb.

Because of German aggression throughout Europe in1938-39, Roosevelt and the scientists thought it necessary to develop the bomb before the Germans. Fortunately for the United States bomb effort, many of the worlds top scientists, from both Europe and the U.S. pooled their expertise in the Manhattan Project to create the weapon.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England at the time of the war, later expressed the concern that many were then feeling, “We knew what efforts the Germans were making produce supplies of heavy water, “a sinister, eerie, unnatural, which began to creep into our secret papers.

What if the enemy should get an atomic bomb before we did… ! I strongly urged that we should at once pool all our information, work together on equal terms, and share the results, if any, equally between us.” On the same note, President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked to AlexanderSachs, “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazisdont blow us up,…This requires action.” This action came under the fear that the Germans would be ahead in the construction of the bomb. Since the initiation of the atomic project in 1941 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, American policy makers never doubted they would use the weapon if it could be rapidly developed. Roosevelt had also decided by late 1944 not to share information about the bomb with the Soviets (LaFeber 26). Scientist Neils Bohrlikened the work of the atomic scientists to the “Alchemists of former days, groping in the dark in their vain efforts to make gold.” An advisory committee on uranium was created, with representatives of the Ordnance Department both the Army and the Navy, and with Lyman J. Briggs, Director of the National Bureau of Standards, as chairman.

President Roosevelt chose people from various departments so that no one service would dominate the initial research and evaluation (Burns 250). Once it was proved to Roosevelt that scientific techniques were available to construct a bomb, he approved tens of millions of dollars for pilot plants. In June of 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill met atHyde Park to discuss their progress with “Tube Alloys,”which was the English code name for the project. From this meeting came the creation of a new division within the ArmyCorps of Engineers to direct the construction of massive research plants and secret atomic cities. Hence, the manhattan Engineering District was launched in August 1942.

Little progress within the project had been made until after the fall of France, when considerable government funds were committed to atomic research. Although British scientists were also experimenting with atomic weaponry, Churchill found it wiser for the United States to take control of the project, since Britain was under severe bombing at the time.

The Project, directed by army engineer General LeslieGroves, employed more than 120,000 people. The Manhattan Project is comprised of many different development sites throughout the country. The premier development area for the project was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near the tiny town of Clinton in eastern Tennessee. The site, selected by Colonel James Marshall and Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Nichols, met all of the needs for the ensuing project: it was an isolated area with adequate electrical power, an abundant water supply, low population, a mild climate, and convenient access by means of railway or roadway (Groueff 16). A huge gas diffusion plant was built to produce weapons-grade uranium. An extremely corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas was pumped through barriers that was permeated with millions of holes.

The lighter molecules containing the needed uranium 235 were diffused faster than the heavier uranium238 molecules. After gas had been cycled through thousands of barriers it was”enriched” to a high concentration, 90 percent, of pureuranium235. There were three other secret development sites, one being the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago. The task of this lab was to prepare plutonium239 for atomic bombs, but first to prove that the nuclear chain reaction needed to produce that plutonium could actually work, which at that time, many felt, was not necessary to affect the outcome of the war. The third was located on the Hanford Reservation, a desert plateau in western Washington adjacent to the Columbia river near the town of Richmond, which was selected for many of the same reasons as Oak Ridge was selected. Hanford, there was a large water supply, electricity, a 12 by16 mile area, a low population, and an absence of any main roads or highways. It was here that the uranium 238 was bombarded with neutrons to create plutonium239, enough of which was made by July 1945 to make three bombs a month.

One of the bombs was created for the first test in New Mexico that month, another intended for Nagasaki, and the third was conceived for Kokura, a Japanese weapons plant, on August 20. The fourth site, perhaps the most important, was a mesa near Santa Fe called Los Alamos, which would collect information from the previous three sites to construct the world’s first atomic bombs (Lanouette 231). At the LosAlamos site, theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was chosen to direct the isolated weapons laboratory. The advantage of the site was that the bombs could be tested in the surrounding canyons of the area. After all of the research had been conducted, a supply of uranium235 was sent to the Los Alamos weapons laboratory, where it was fashioned into a gun-type weapon in which a piece of uranium was fired into another, creating an explosion. At the same time, another bomb type was constructed using plutonium, which Los Alamos, was surrounded by explosives to compress it into a dense mass. This plutonium bomb proved to be more effective than the uranium bomb, and was the first to explore successfully in New Mexico in 1945. Later in the year, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by two American atomic bombs, dubbed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” dropped from the Enola Gay.

Finally, the day came when all at Los Alamos would find out whether or not The Gadget(code-named as such during its development) was either going to be the colossal dud of the century or perhaps end the war. It all came down to a fateful morning of midsummer, 1945.

At 5:29:45 on July 16th, 1945, in a white blaze that stretched from the basin of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico to the still-dark skies, The Gadget ushered in the Atomic Age. The light of the explosion then turned orange as the atomic fireball began shooting upwards at 360feet per seconds, reddening and pulsing as it cooled. The characteristic mushroom cloud of radioactive vapor materialized at 30,000 feet. Beneath the cloud, all that remained of the soil at the blast site were fragments of jade green radioactive glass. All of this caused by the heat of the reaction.

The brilliant light from the detonation lit up the early morning skies with such intensity that even residents from a farm neighboring community swore that the sun came up twice that day. Upon seeing the massive explosion, the reactions of the people who created the bomb were mixed. PhysicistIsidor Rabi, a member of the Manhattan Project, felt that the equilibrium in nature had been upset, as if humankind had become a threat to the world it inhabited. Oppenheimer,though pleased with the success of the project, quoted a remembered fragment from The Bhagavad Gita, the most widely-read, ethical text of ancient India, “I am become Death,” he said, “the destroyer of worlds.” Ken Bainbridge,the test director, told Oppenheimer, “Now were all sons of bitches.” Several participants, shortly after viewing the explosion signed petitions against ever utilizing the bomb, but their protests were in vain. As history unfolded, the Trinity site ofNew Mexico was not the last site to experience an atomic explosion (

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