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Decision to fund the Atomic Bomb

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Word Count: 1836″No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power hadever occurred before. The lighting effects beggareddescription. The whole country was lighted by a searing lightwith the intensity many times greater than that of the middaysun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue…”( Groueff355). The words of Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrelldescribe the onset of the atomic age, which began on July16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This was the site ofthe first large-scale atomic test, which utilized the tool ofdestruction that would soon decimate the populations ofHiroshima and Nagasaki less than a month afterwards.

Thistest consummated the years spent developing the bomb, andwas the end result of the efforts of nuclear scientists whoconstructed it, and those of President Franklin DelanoRoosevelt, who made the decision to fund the so-calledManhattan Project.

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In a letter dated August 2nd, 1939, Albert Einstein firstinformed President Roosevelt of the research that had beendone by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard with unstableUranium which could generate large amounts of power andenergy (Einstein1 PSF Safe Files).

Einstein also includedanother possible use for the uranium- the construction ofextremely powerful bombs, which were capable ofdestroying a seaport and the surrounding territory. Thisinformation may have come precisely at the right time, for inOctober of 1938 Roosevelt asked Congress for a $300million military appropriation, and in November instructedthe Army Air Corps to plan for an annual production oftwenty thousand planes. Later, in 1939, Roosevelt called foractions against “aggressor nations,” and in the same yearsubmitted to Congress a $1.3 billion defense budget (Boyer861). In an accompanying memorandum that was sent withthe Einstein letter, scientist Leo Szilard explained thetechnical science of nuclear fission and stressing theimportance of chain reactions (Walls 1 PFS Safe Files).

Both documents, the Einstein letter and the Szilardmemorandum, were to be delivered by Alexander Sachs, anadviser to Roosevelts New Deal since 1933 who wouldknow how to approach Roosevelt and the government(Lanouette 200). It was not until mid-October 1939 thatSachs wangled an invitation to get in to see the Presidentover breakfast (Burns 250). Though Roosevelt found thedocuments interesting, he seemed hesitant about committinggovernment funds to such speculative research. But afterSachs 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 theshortsightedness of an adversary,”; this insight madeRoosevelt 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 notmade until December 6, 1941, the day before the Japaneseattack on Pearl Harbor.

It was the influence of Leo Szilard, along with that ofAlexander Sachs, that swayed Roosevelts decision to fundand construct the bomb. To aid the presentation to PresidentRoosevelt, Szilard contacted aviator Charles Lindbergh, todiscuss how “large quantities of energy would be liberated”by a “nuclear chain reaction,” and also wanted to discusshow “to make an attempt to inform the administration (of theproject).” Soon after, however, they discovered that theanti-arms Lindbergh was not one to help them in theirrequest to the President (Lanouette 208). Szilard then wenton a mission to find pure graphite for the experiment, (whichwould be based on Einsteins E=mc2), by exchangingdozens of letters with chemical, carbon, and metallurgicalcompanies, and bargained with manufacturers for contractsof fresh material (Lanouette 209). During this time, Szilardwas creating a decisive difference between U.S. andGerman nuclear efforts. Szilard also inquired to ColonelKeith F. Adamson of the U.S. Army as to funding of thegraphite 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 billiondollars of funds from the U.S. government (Lanouette 211).

Although Einstein later said that he “really only acted as amailbox” for Leo Szilard, in popular history his famousequation E=mc2 and his letter to President Roosevelt arecredited with starting the American effort to build atomicweapons (Lanouette 206). Fission was discovered in 1938 by German scientists, whichled to the fear of American scientists that Hitler mightattempt to develop a fission bomb.


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

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England at the timeof the war, later expressed the concern that many were thenfeeling, “We knew what efforts the Germans were making toproduce 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 wedid… ! I strongly urged that we should at once pool all ourinformation, work together on equal terms, and share theresults, 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 beahead in the construction of the bomb. Since the initiation ofthe atomic project in 1941 by Franklin D. Roosevelt,American policy makers never doubted they would use theweapon if it could be rapidly developed. Roosevelt had alsodecided by late 1944 not to share information about thebomb with the Soviets (LaFeber 26). Scientist Neils Bohrlikened the work of the atomic scientists to the “Alchemistsof former days, groping in the dark in their vain efforts tomake gold.” An advisory committee on uranium wascreated, with representatives of the Ordnance Department ofboth 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 departmentsso that no one service would dominate the initial researchand evaluation (Burns 250). Once it was proved toRoosevelt that the scientific techniques were available toconstruct a bomb, he approved tens of millions of dollars forpilot 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 thismeeting came the creation of a new division within the ArmyCorps of Engineers to direct to direct the construction ofmassive research plants and secret atomic cities. Hence, theManhattan Engineering District was launched in August1942.

Little progress within the project had been made until afterthe fall of France, when considerable government funds werecommitted to atomic research. Although British scientistswere also experimenting with atomic weaponry, Churchillfound it wiser for the United States to take control of theproject, 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 comprised of many differentdevelopment sites throughout the country. The premierdevelopment area for the project was in Oak Ridge,Tennessee, near the tiny town of Clinton in easternTennessee. The site, selected by Colonel James Marshalland Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Nichols, met all of theneeds for the ensuing project: it was an isolated area withadequate electrical power, an abundant water supply, lowpopulation, a mild climate, and convenient access by meansof railway or roadway (Groueff 16). A huge gas diffusionplant was built to produce weapon-grade uranium. Anextremely corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas was pumpedthrough barriers that was permeated with millions of holes.

The lighter molecules containing the needed uranium235 werediffused faster than the heavier uranium238 molecules. Afterthe 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 beingthe Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago. The taskat this lab was to prepare plutonium239 for atomic bombs,but first to prove that the nuclear chain reaction needed toproduce that plutonium could actually work, which at thattime, many felt, was not necessary to effect the outcome ofthe war. The third was located on the Hanford Reservation, a desertplateau in western Washington adjacent to the ColumbiaRiver near the town of Richmond, which was selected formany of the same reasons as Oak Ridge was selected. AtHanford, there was a large water supply, electricity, a 12 by16 mile area, a low population, and an absence of any mainroads or highways. It was here that the uranium 238 wasbombarded with neutrons to create plutonium239, enough ofwhich was made by July 1945 to make three bombs amonth. One of the bombs was created for the first test inNew Mexico that month, another intended for Nagasaki,and the third conceived for Kokura, a Japanese weaponsplant, on August 20. The fourth site, perhaps the most important, was a mesanear Santa Fe called Los Alamos, which would collectinformation from the previous three sites to construct theworlds first atomic bombs (Lanouette 231). At the LosAlamos site, theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimerwas chosen to direct the isolated weapons laboratory. Theadvantage of the site was that the bombs could be tested inthe surrounding canyons of the area. After all of the researchhad been conducted, a supply of uranium235 was sent to theLos Alamos weapons laboratory, where it was fashionedinto a gun-type weapon in which a piece of uranium wasfired into another, creating an explosion. At the same time,another bomb type was constructed using plutonium, whichin Los Alamos, was surrounded by explosives to compress itinto a dense mass. This plutonium bomb proved to be moreeffective than the uranium bomb, and was the first to explodesuccessfully in New Mexico in 1945. Later in the year,Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by two Americanatomic bombs, dubbed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” droppedfrom the Enola Gay.

Finally the day came when all at Los Alamos would find outwhether or not The Gadget(code-named as such during itsdevelopment) was either going to be the colossal dud of thecentury or perhaps end the war. It all came down to a fatefulmorning of midsummer, 1945.

At 5:29:45 on July 16th, 1945, in a white blaze thatstretched from the basin of the Jemez Mountains in northernNew Mexico to the still-dark skies, The Gadget ushered inthe Atomic Age. The light of the explosion then turnedorange as the atomic fireball began shooting upwards at 360feet per seconds, reddening and pulsing as it cooled. Thecharacteristic mushroom cloud of radioactive vapormaterialized at 30,000 feet. Beneath the cloud, all thatremained of the soil at the blast site were fragments of jadegreen radioactive glass. All of this caused by the heat of thereaction.

The brilliant light from the detonation lit up the early morningskies with such intensity that even residents from a farneighboring community swore that the sun came up twicethat day. Upon seeing the massive explosion, the reactions ofthe people who created the bomb were mixed. PhysicistIsidor Rabi, a member of the Manhattan Project, felt that theequilibrium in nature had been upset, as if humankind hadbecome a threat to the world it inhabited. Oppenheimer,though pleased with the success of the project, quoted aremembered fragment from The Bhagavad Gita, the mostwidely-read, ethical text of ancient India, “I am becomeDeath,” he said, “the destroyer of worlds.” Ken Bainbridge,the test director, told Oppenheimer, “Now were all sons ofbitches.” Several participants, shortly after viewing the explosionsigned petitions against ever utilizing the bomb, but theirprotests were in vain. As history unfolded, the Trinity site ofNew Mexico was not the last site to experience an atomicexplosion (http://terabyte.virtual-pc.com/vik/vik/nuke/).

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Decision to fund the Atomic Bomb. (2019, Apr 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/decision-to-fund-the-atomic-bomb/

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