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The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: Background
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The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: Background
 
Los Alamos Test Bomb
Los Alamos test bomb (3 views)
Oppenheimer and Groves
Oppenheimer and Groves
In 1939 President Roosevelt and congress authorized a secret project to expand research on nuclear fission and use uranium and plutonium to generate nuclear chain reactions as atomic weapons. This project, known as the Manhattan Project, was under the military authority was General Leslie Groves, and was headed by chief civilian scientist Robert Oppenheimer. Work continued at a variety of locations around the United States throughout the war, and by July 1945 had resulted in three bombs. By this time President Roosevelt had died (April 12), and Germany had surrendered (May 8), but the war in the Pacific continued. On July 16 scientists at Los Alamos, New Mexico, successfully field-tested the first bomb.
The news of the test was cabled to President Truman, who was attending an important meeting in Potsdam, Germany, where he met with Britain’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Joseph Stalin for the first time. With this new weapon in hand, Truman issued one final warning to Japan, referred to as the Potsdam Declaration. Japan ignored the warning. On August 6 the city of Hiroshima was destroyed with an atomic bomb. Three days later, August 9, Nagasaki was hit. On the 10th, Japan requested a halting of the war, and they surrendered shortly thereafter.
Truman at Potsdam
Truman at Potsdam
Atomic bomb explosion, Nagasaki
Atomic bomb explosion, Nagasaki
The United States remains the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons, and has never again resorted to them, despite subsequent wars. Atomic bombs are classified as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), a special category of weaponry considered by much of the civilized world to be especially cruel and inhumane, because of the sheer number of deaths they can cause, because they kill soldiers and civilians indiscriminately, and because of the horrific way in which their victims die. Since it was a secret project, the American population didn’t know about the bomb until it was used. Subsequently, information about Hiroshima and Nagasaki was repressed by the American government. Americans remained ignorant about the bomb and why it was used. Debate only began a year after the war ended, when the entire issue of the New Yorker magazine was devoted to a graphic and personal account of the bombing through the eyes of six Japanese survivors. The article, written by John Hersey and titled “Hiroshima,” was reprinted in book form and became a best-seller. Hiroshima prompted the public to start asking questions about how the decision was
made. It was the beginning of a public debate about whether or not President Truman made the right decision to use the atomic bomb, a debate which remains ongoing.

Go to The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb to learn more about that debate.
Hiroshima bomb victim
Hiroshima bomb victim
The New Yorker, 8/46 Hiroshima, by John Hersey
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