HomeEntertainmentWhat is the Manhattan Project? Remembering The Hiroshima & Nagasaki Atomic Bombing

What is the Manhattan Project? Remembering The Hiroshima & Nagasaki Atomic Bombing

In August 1945, the United States detonated two atomic bombs over Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9), the effects of which are experienced to date. However, the roots of the decision that killed 210,000 people (children, women and men), can be traced back to 1942 in the form of the Manhattan Project, a U.S. government research project that produced the first atomic bomb. Let us explore the minutest details of this project.

The Birth Of Manhattan Project…

It all started in 1938 when three chemists in Berlin made a discovery that altered the court of history, well, they split the uranium atom. . The energy released when this splitting, or fission, occurs is tremendous–enough to power a bomb. But before such a weapon could be built, numerous technical problems required to be overcome.

At the same time, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt with his concerns that the Germans are capable of overcoming these problems.  In his letter, Einstein warned the president that Nazi Germany was likely already at work on developing a nuclear weapon. Einstein’s letter formed the fundamental stone for the Manhattan Project, a research and development undertaking during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons. By August 1942, the Manhattan Project was underway.

The Manhattan Project was led by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom and Canada. From 1942 to 1946, this project remained under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President

The mastermind behind the atomic bomb was Nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who served as the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory that designed the actual bombs. By 1944, six thousand scientists and engineers from leading universities and industrial research labs collaborated on the development of the world’s first-ever nuclear weapon.

Enrico Fermi (left) and Leo Szilard (right).

Code-named Manhattan, the project began in 1939 but grew to employ more than 130,000 people and cost nearly US $2 billion (which stands at more than $23 billion presently). Most of the cost was incurred in building factories and producing fissile material. Research and production took place at more than 30 sites across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Ousting Einstein For Security Reasons…

In July 1940, Albert Einstein was denied the security clearance to work on the Manhattan Project by the U.S. Army Intelligence office. Not only this but hundreds of scientists working on the project were forbidden from consulting with him because the left-leaning political activist was considered a potential security risk.

Although Albert Einstein wasn’t directly involved in the atomic bomb, many people incorrectly associate him with the advent of nuclear weapons. Now, to eliminate the confusion, his equation E=mc2 only explains the energy released in an atomic bomb but doesn’t explain how to build one.

In his interviews, he repeatedly reminded people, “I do not consider myself the father of the release of atomic energy. My part in it was quite indirect.” Nevertheless, Einstein was frequently asked to explain his role—as he was when a Japanese magazine editor asked him, “Why did you cooperate in the production of atomic bombs, knowing full well their… destructive power?”

However, Albert Einstein replied that his only act had been to write to President Roosevelt mentioning that the United States researched atomic weapons before the Germans could succeed in harnessing this deadly weapon. Nevertheless, he confessed that he regretted every step. In an interview, he said: “had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing.”

What Was Operation Alsos?

The Manhattan Project was also charged with gathering intelligence on the German nuclear weapon project, which gave rise to Operation Alsos. The personnel associated with this project served in Europe, sometimes behind enemy lines, and gathered nuclear materials and documents, and even rounded up German scientists. Despite tight security, Soviet atomic spies successfully penetrated the program.

The First Nuclear Testing…

The Manhattan Project produced the first atomic bomb. Several lines of research were pursued simultaneously. The methods of separating fissionable uranium 235 from uranium 238 were explored at Oak Ridge in Tennessee. The production of plutonium-239, first achieved at the University of Chicago, was further pursued at the Hanford Engineer Works in Washington.

It was in New Mexico that the scientists achieved a way to bring the fissionable material to supercritical mass (and thus explosion) and to control the timing. They finally devised a weapon to house it. However, the first test was conducted at the Alamogordo air force base in New Mexico and produced a massive explosion. The intense brightness of the explosion’s flash created a mushroom cloud from the desert floor.

House windows more than fifty miles away were shattered. As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of Hindu scripture ran through his mind of Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The Destruction Of Hiroshima & Nagasaki… 

In May 1945, the Allies may have defeated Germany, but the war with Japan continued. In August 1945, it seemed that an invasion of Japan would be necessary to force the Japanese to surrender. Military adviser to President Harry S. Truman wanted that such a ground for war would result in hundreds or thousands of casualties in the US Armed Forces as well as Japanese military personnel and civilians.

After receiving no reply to his threat that “prompt and utter destruction” would follow if the Japanese did not surrender unconditionally, Truman authorized the use of the bomb on Japan. On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber named “Enola Gay” dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The device exploded over the city with a force of 12,500 tons of TNT and around 140,000 people were killed instantly or died due to injury or radiation poisoning within months. 

Despite this attack, the Japanese government refused to surrender. August 9 marks another unfateful day when another bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. A total of 210,000 civilians died in the two atomic blasts. Six days later, after the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, the Japanese government signed an unconditional surrender. World War II was over.

The Horrific After-effects of “Little Boy” and “Fat Boy”

Shortly after the atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein made this statement:The time has come now, when a man must give up war. It is no longer rational to solve international problems by resorting to war.” 
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acute disorders caused by heat rays, fire, blast, and radiation appeared immediately after the bombing. These effects faded in four to five months. Even after the acute disorders were healed, the effects of the A-bomb continued. The aftereffects included keloids (excessive growth of scar tissue over a burn) and leukemia.
The number of survivors contracting leukemia increased noticeably five to six years after the bombing. Ten years after the bombing, the survivors began contracting thyroid, breast, lung and other cancers at higher than normal rates.
Many babies died inside their mothers’ wombs at the time of the bombing, before they were born. Of those born alive, some had a syndrome called microcephaly. These were just some of the effects Japan continued to face.

Was Bombing Hiroshima & Nagasaki Necessary?

Truman believed that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would shorten the war and save the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people on both sides. Instead, it caused more destruction than one could have ever imagined. Following the atomic bombing, there were both proponents and detractors shared their views on the question of whether or not the bombing was necessary.

Many questions remain about the necessity of using the bomb and its moral implications: Would the United States have acted so quickly to use nuclear weapons against Europeans? Was racism against the Japanese an element in the decision? Might the United States have exploded a nuclear bomb on an uninhabited island to demonstrate the bomb’s terrible power instead of destroying two cities? Might the United States have been able to gain Japan’s unconditional surrender by other means?

Professor Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology who studies the history of nuclear weapons, stated that President Truman was the one who was most affected by the use of the nuclear weapon.

“On August 10 after Nagasaki, Truman tells the military that they are not allowed to use nuclear weapons without his explicit permission, he tells his cabinet this because he couldn’t imagine killing another 100,000 people”, stated Professor Wellerstein.

However, Wellerstein cleared that it was China, the single major allied Asian power fighting against the Japanese, did not express at that time any regret about the atomic bombings whatsoever, the Chinese felt that it was something that bought the war to an end much more quickly than otherwise might have happened.”

While the answers to the aforementioned questions remain complex.  I think there were other alternates. The bombings of Japan remain the only wartime use of nuclear weapons since 1945, the threat still lingers in our heads.

I won’t relitigate the decision to drop atomic weapons on two civilian populations. Even some of the scientists who were responsible for the successful creation and testing of such weapons pleaded with decision-makers not to use them in combat. In the United States, we’re still engaging in a false narrative that attempts to justify the unjustifiable.

It’s critical that we recognize the human cost of the atomic bombings. As Hiroshima bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow has said, “Each person had a name. Each person was loved by someone. Let us ensure that their deaths were not in vain.”

The current nuclear weapons are over 50 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, the question, of will a nuclear weapon be fired again, remains unanswered to date. What do you think?

I am Mallika Singh, a lawyer and writer by profession. Writing gives me a sense of freedom and independence. I am a keen observer and an ardent reader. When not at work, you can find me at the stable. Horse riding is another passion that keeps me going.


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