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Manhattan Project 2 Essay, Research Paper
In the early morning hours of July 16, 1945, the first ever nuclear explosion took place in
Alamogordo, New Mexico. The explosion was the first test of the most destructive weapon ever
known to man, and was the result of almost six years of research and development by some of
the world’s top scientists. This endeavor was known as the Manhattan Project. Less than a month
after the test, which was known as Trinity, the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on
Japan, three days apart, which forced the Japanese to surrender. The story of the Manhattan
Project is an abysmal subject, as is the effect of the Manhattan Project on international politics,
and both will be covered in this paper. Indeed, the Manhattan Project and the creation of the
atomic bomb were good things, because it actually decreased the likelihood of nuclear war in the
post- World War II era.
The Manhattan Project was preceded by a variety of scientific discoveries in the 1920’s and the
1930’s. During this time of scientific discovery, Hitler had been steadily rising to power in
Germany, and before long, physicist Leo Szilard and fellow Hungarian Jews Eugene Wigner and
Edward Teller became worried. They decided that the President of the United States must be
informed about the new fission technology that had been discovered, which they believed was
capable of making bombs. The three physicists enlisted the help of Albert Einstein, the foremost
scientist in that period, and together they drafted a letter addressed to President Roosevelt
describing their beliefs that nuclear fission “Would lead to the construction of bombs, and it is
conceivable that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed.”
At first, not much money or interest was spent on the atomic bomb program. However, the
combination of France’s fall to Germany in 1940, the belief that Germany was ahead in the
race for the atomic bomb, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor soon convinced Roosevelt that
something more had to be done on this atomic research. Roosevelt quickly assigned his top
security advisors to form committees on this project, and to determine what should be done and
how. By the end of 1942, bomb research had become bomb production, and the Manhattan
Project was now run by the military, with Colonel (soon to be General) Leslie R. Groves as the
officer in charge. Bomb production was carried out in three locations; Oak Ridge, Tennessee
handled the production of the bomb fuel U-235, Hanford , Washington handled the production of
plutonium fuel, and Los Alamos, New Mexico handled bomb production and assembly. These
three locations became huge cities due to the size of and manpower required for this project.
“About half of [the American Physical Society's 4000 members] joined the Manhattan Project,
which at its height employed roughly 10,000 scientists with advanced degrees.”
Eventually, fuel production began meeting the needs of Los Alamos, and by 1945, the bombs
themselves were in production. On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died, and Harry Truman
took over. Secretary of War Henry Stimson took the primary role of filling in President Truman
on the details of the Manhattan Project, which Truman had known nothing about. In July of
1945, President Truman met with Winston Churchill of Britain and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet
Union at the Potsdam conference, at which time the “Big Three” drafted the Potsdam
Declaration, which offered the Japanese the opportunity to unconditionally surrender, or “Risk
the alternative of ‘prompt and utter destruction.’” Japan declined the Potsdam Declaration, and
President Truman was left to consider his options.
President Truman made the decision to use this nuclear capability, and on August 6, 1945, Lt.
Col. Paul W. Tibbets flew the B-29 bomber Enola Gay over Hiroshima, Japan and dropped the
first atomic bomb, named “Little Boy.” Due to the lack of Japanese surrender, three days later
Maj. Charles W. Sweeney flew Bock’s Car toward Kokura, Japan, but was detoured by bad
weather. Sweeney then flew over the alternate target of Nagasaki and dropped the second atomic
bomb, “Fat Man.” A few days after the second bombing, Japan accepted the terms of the
Potsdam Declaration and surrendered. World War II was over.
The effects of the Manhattan project were enormous on all levels- individual, domestic, and
international. On the individual level, the lives of the thousands of people involved in the
Manhattan Project were forever changed. Robert Oppenheimer, the civilian director of the
Manhattan Project and the one whom many credit with the Manhattan Project’s success, was
stripped of his security clearance during the McCarthy era because of suspected communist ties.
Although Oppenheimer was never charged with anything and McCarthy was soon discredited,
Oppenheimer’s clearance was never returned. Albert Einstein was later reported as regretful of
the letter he signed to President Roosevelt that initiated what eventually became the Manhattan
Project. President Roosevelt would later be criticized for not making sure that his Vice-President
was informed about what was going on in the war and about the Manhattan Project. President
Truman’s legacy is rarely discussed without someone questioning his decision to drop the bomb,
and many feel he is personally responsible for thousands of unnecessary Japanese civilian deaths.
For all others who were involved, the Manhattan Project would forever be imbedded in their
memories, a point well-demonstrated by an eyewitness testimony of the Trinity test which stated
that of the people present, “Some people cried. A few laughed. Most were shocked into quiet.”
Domestically, the Manhattan Project was significant in many ways. The money spent on the
Manhattan Project would play a large role in dictating the extent of defense spending in the
budget for the next several decades. Naturally, the results of the Manhattan Project made the
United States the world’s strongest military power, a title that most believe still holds today. In
addition, the new nuclear technology created a deep fear in the people of communist infiltration,
a fear that Senator Joseph McCarthy turned into a nation-wide “witch-hunt”, and effectively
destroyed the lives of countless people who were accused of having communism sympathies.
This period came to be known as McCarthyism, and remains one of the largest black marks in
this country’s history.
The most important effects of the Manhattan Project are undoubtedly international. World
politics has forever been changed by the results of the Manhattan Project. The first and most
apparent of these is the Cold War. Shortly after the bombings of Japan, the Soviet Union began
taking great strides to try and become the world’s next nuclear power. With the information
provided by Manhattan Project scientist and Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs, as well as information
confiscated from the Germans, the Soviets were well on their way to building their own nuclear
arsenal. This created a security dilemma between the United States and the Soviet Union, and for
decades after World War II, both countries directed incredible amounts of money and resources
towards increasing the size of their arsenals. As a result, both countries became much deeper in
debt than they should have been.
Even during the period of the Cold War, a flurry of treaties were made by the United States and
the Soviet Union attempting to curb the growing accumulation of nuclear weapons. As early as
1955, agreements were in the making, such as President Eisenhower’s “Open Skies” plan, which
was designed to protect nations against military buildup and surprise attack. Beginning in 1969,
the Unites States and the Soviet Union held Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which led
to the creation of SALT I and SALT II over the next decade. A few years after the signing of the
SALT treaties, the United States and the Soviet Union began holding Strategic Arms Reduction
Talks, or START. Two treaties, START I and START II, were signed over the next decade. In
1991, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the nuclear weapons problem worsened when some of the
newly independent states had nuclear weapons on their territory. Over the following years
however, most of the newly independent countries complied with the wishes of the United States
and Russia, and either turned over their nuclear arsenal or entered treaties regulating the usage of
the weapons.
Very recently, there has been a rising conflict that can be traced to the Manhattan Project. Bitter
enemies India and Pakistan have been conducting their own nuclear tests, much to the dismay of
the rest of the world community. No country has used its nuclear capabilities since America’s
bombing of Japan in 1945, and no one is interested in seeing it happen again. This security
dilemma in India and Pakistan is reminiscent of the Cold War between the United States and the
Soviet Union, and equally demonstrates a concept known as MAD, short for mutually assured
destruction. The theory behind MAD is that if one country launches nuclear weapons against
another nuclear capable country, the second country will have the ability to launch their own
nuclear weapons before being struck by the first country’s nuclear weapons. This “new version”
of the Cold War is obviously very dangerous for the entire world, particularly the regions near
India and Pakistan.
Although it may be hard to tell from the seemingly destructive consequences of a MAD
ideology, many believe that it is this very method of thinking that has in fact lessened the danger
of nuclear war. “Now that the Cold War is over, some historians and political scientists are
claiming that nuclear weapons were responsible for the absence of a major war between the two
key geopolitical alliances during this period.” This makes sense upon closer analysis “because
there is no incentive or temptation for either side to strike first or even launch a surprise attack.”
Countries know that if a MAD condition exists, they will only be doing themselves harm by
launching nuclear weapons, thus they are inclined not to. Those who believe this is true must
accept that there was actually some good that came out of the Cold War.
The lasting effects of the Manhattan Project are indeed positive. The first result of the Manhattan
Project, the bombings of Japan, saved thousands of American and Japanese lives that would have
been taken in a land invasion, which was President Truman’s first alternative to the bombs. The
long-term result of the Manhattan Project was the Cold War, which, while financially and
emotionally devastating for the two countries involved, led to the MAD condition. This
condition of mutually assured destruction actually gives countries reason not to use their nuclear
capabilities, since they will only be recipients of the same devastation that they cause. Over five
years were dedicated by the top scientific, political, and military minds in the world to the
creation of a horrible weapon, but in the end, they managed to create something that many
believe will help alleviate the threat of war. This is arguably the greatest gift that the Manhattan
Project gave the world. Upon witnessing the Trinity test, Kenneth Bainbridge said to
Oppenheimer, “Now we’re all sons of bitches.” Little did he know that he was actually part of
something more beneficial than harmful in the long run.
Beyer, Don E. The Manhattan Project. New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.
Clark, Ronald W. The Greatest Power on Earth. New York: Harper & Row, 1980
Larsen, Rebecca. Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988.
Purkitt, Helen E., ed. World Politics 98/99. Guilford, Connecticut: Dushkin/ McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986.
Spiegel, Steven L. and Fred L. Wehling. World Politics in a New Era. Fort Worth: Harcourt
Brace, 1999.