The History Of The Atomic Bomb Essay

, Research Paper

Daniel SimonsHistory 12 The year is 1945 and World War II has been going on for 6 years. The Germans led by Adolf Hitler, are starting to see one defeat after another. They lost the Eastern Front to the Russians and the Western front was slowly but surely being taken back by the allied forces, mainly the British and the Americans. The Americans had only entered the war 4 years before, but their impact on the war was so great . The Americans declared war on Japan on December 7,1941, after the unprovoked attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour. In what historians describe as a foolish move on Hitler s part, he also declared war on America, which brought the US into the war that was taking place on European soil. In mid 1945, as the war in Europe was gradually drawing to a close, the world began focusing their attention on the Pacific Theatre. In the Pacific the Americans were actively pursuing the Japanese forces. The US Navy saw the Pacific as an arena in which it could perform more effectively than in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean. General Douglas MacArthur, who had commanded in the Philippines and been evacuated to Australia, was the United States best-known military figure and as such too valuable to be left with an inconsequential mission. The Battle of Midway had stopped the Japanese in the central Pacific, but they continued to advance in the Southwest Pacific along the Solomons chain and overland on New Guinea. On July 2, 1942, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the naval and ground forces in the south and Southwest Pacific to halt the Japanese, drive them out of the Solomons and north-eastern New Guinea, and eliminate the great base the Japanese had established at Rabaul, on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago. While all these battles were occuring a permanent solution to the problem of the Japanese was being worked on, it was called the atomic bomb. In June l942, President Roosevelt transferred the atomic bomb project to the War Department’s Army Corps of Engineers. To disguise this super-secret project, the Corps created a Manhattan Engineer District, with a headquarters initially based in New York City. Three months later, Brig.Gen.Leslie Groves was appointed to head the “Manhattan Project “. Grove’s major task was to build the huge industrial facilities needed to separate the small amounts of uranium and plutonium needed for a bomb. Although the Manhattan Project is best remembered for its brilliant scientific leadership, it was, above all, a massive engineering enterprise. At the height of construction in mid-1944, the project employed nearly 129,000 people. No other nation in the world had the massive industrial capacity to make this possible. The few decision-makers who knew about the Manhattan Project always assumed that the atomic bomb would be used against either Germany or Japan. Some, like Major General Groves, thought that it could be decisive in ending the war. That alone could justify the United States’ huge investment in the bomb $ 2 billion, or roughly $ 20 billion in l997 dollars but the project’s great expense also motivated him to have it ready as soon as possible. In the spring of l945, Groves accelerated the production of fissionable materials. On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died unexpectedly in Warm Springs, Georgia. Vice President Harry S. Truman, in office for less than three months, was sworn in the same day. President Truman entered office with no knowledge of the atomic bomb, because Roosevelt had never told him about it. Stimson and Groves gave Truman an extensive briefing on the atomic bomb shortly after his swearing in as President. Truman was quickly confronted with the need to approve the use of the atomic bomb, which was expected to be ready by August. Truman confronted a complicated situation in Europe and the Far East. Japan, although weakened, was not willing to surrender. The atomic bomb offered a way to change that. A bloody invasion loomed if atomic bombs did not force the Japanese to surrender. Truman had inherited a project that had always aimed at making a practical weapon. He saw the atomic bomb principally as a means to end the war quickly and save American lives. Leo Szilard and other Manhattan Project scientists felt that the bomb project had been a response to a threat from Germany. Attacking Japan without first providing a warning and an opportunity to surrender, they felt, would weaken the United States moral position in the eyes of the world. They were equally concerned that using the bomb without telling the Soviets first would increase the chances of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race after the war. Estimates of the number of American casualties dead, wounded, and missing that the planned invasion of Japan would have cost varied greatly. In a June 18, 1945, meeting, General Marshall told President Truman that the first 30 days of the invasion of Kyushu could result in 31,000 casualties. But Admiral Leahy pointed out that the huge invasion force could sustain losses proportional to those on Okinawa, making the operation much more costly. Had the Kyushu invasion failed to force Japan to surrender, the United States planned to invade the main island of Honshu, with the goal of capturing Tokyo. Losses would have escalated.

After the war, Truman often said that the invasion of Japan could have cost half a million or a million American casualties. The origin of these figures is uncertain, but Truman knew that Japan had some two million troops defending the home islands. He believed, along with the many Americans who would have had to invade Japan, that such a campaign might have become, in his words, “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.” The Allies and Asian countries occupied by Japan would also have lost many additional lives. For Truman, even the lowest of the causalty estimates were unacceptable. To prevent an invasion and to save as many lives as possible, he chose to use the atomic bomb. August 6, 1945, 2:00 a.m., Tinian Island, the Central Pacific. Bathed in floodlights, the B-29 Enola Gay awaits the start of its historic mission: to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan. Gen.Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, had warned the Enola Gay’s commander, Col.Paul Tibbets, to expect some publicity, but Tibbets and his crew were surprised by the scene on the tarmac. Movie cameramen and photographers surrounded the crew. Groves was determined that this moment in history will not go unrecorded. At 2:45 a.m., the aircraft took off. The beginning of the Enola Gay’s mission was the culmination of over a year’s work. The U.S.Army Air Forces had modified its most advanced bomber, the B 29, and had created a new, special military unit for delivering atomic bombs. This unit’s mission was so secret that, with few exceptions, the nature of its weapons was concealed even from its members. The night before the mission, pilot Col.Paul Tibbets named the aircraft after his mother. It was armed only with tail guns and incorporated the latest technology: the newest version of aircraft engines, reversible propellers, and pneumatic bomb-bay doors. While Tibbets maintained the plane’s altitude and airspeed, Bombardier Ferebee began to track the T-shaped Aioi bridge in the centre of Hiroshima with the Norden bombsight, an instrument used for targeting. In co-ordination with navigator Van Kirk, Ferebee monitored wind, temperature, altitude, and airspeed and adjusted the bombsight accordingly. His adjustments directed the aircraft along the desired approach path and programmed the sight to automatically release the bomb. At 8:15 a.m., Hiroshima time, the bombsight’s crosshairs aligned perfectly over the target. Ferebee, who was counting down the seconds to the drop, never got to one before the bomb was away. As the lightened plane lurched upward, Tibbets took the controls and executed the escape turn. Forty-three seconds later, a flash of light filled the cockpit, and soon thereafter the first of two shock waves hit the plane. Tibbets announced, “Fellows, you have just dropped the first atomic bomb in history.” However the Americans were not finished yet, another bomb was still to come. Having been forced to abandon their primary target, Kokura, because of haze and smoke, the B-29s Bockscar and The Great Artiste were running low on fuel as they approached Nagasaki. The bombardier of the Bockscar made a radar approach and released the “Fat Man” bomb at 11:02 a.m. The weapon exploded 1,540 feet above the Urakami River valley, 1.6 miles from the intended target in the centre of the city. The chaotic conditions in both cities following the bombing made it difficult to assess the human dimension of the destruction. The radiation effects complicated casualty estimates, because they continued to cause deaths and injuries weeks, months, or years afterward. Several studies based solely on the disposal of bodies set the initial toll for Hiroshima at between 42,000 and 93,000. A more detailed survey, combining body counts, unresolved missing person reports, and interviews, were conducted by neighbourhood associations during the year following the bombing. It suggests that as many as 130,000 people lost their lives as a direct result of the bomb up to the beginning of November 1945. A similar survey set the final death toll for Nagasaki at about 74,000. The exact numbers will never be known. The introduction of atomic bombs, and their first use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, left a powerful legacy. For the Allies and Japan, a horrendous war was brought to an abrupt end. For the world, the new weapon was double-edged sword. It offered both the hope of preventing another global war and the danger that a failure of deterrence could destroy civilisation. During the post-war arms race between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union, about 70,000 nuclear weapons were added to the world’s arsenals some of them a thousand times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the wake of the Cold War, these massive arsenals are being drastically reduced. But other nations still possess nuclear weapons, and some non-nuclear states as well as terrorist group will be tempted to acquire them. The atomic bomb cannot be uninvented. But the atomic bombing that ended World War II provide grim evidence of the devastating potential of these weapons and perhaps the most compelling reason why they have not been used since.



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