Today our pride cannot be but saddened by the deep concern. If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of the nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima.
Robert Oppenheimer, after receiving the Army-Navy "Excellence" Award, 1946
In the beginning of 1939 scientists Frederic Joliot Curie and Leo Szilard almost simultaneously predicted the possibility of chain nuclear reaction. That discovery coincided with the intense preparation for the world war.
Physicists who emigrated to the USA were preoccupied with the fact that many scientists closely involved in the development of nuclear physics remained in Germany.
Leo Szilard (on the right) and Edward Teller persuading Albert Einstein (on the left) to sign a letter to President Roosevelt.
In 1939 a scientist of Hungarian origin, Leo Szilard, who in his time was the initiator of an agreement between nuclear scientists on suspension of publications on matters of nuclear, persuaded Albert Einstein to sign a letter of warning to President Roosevelt which expressed anxiety regarding the possible calamity to ensue if the Nazis managed to make an atomic bomb. On those grounds, the scientists asked the American government for considerable financial support in order to hasten atomic research.
The letter was written on August 2, 1939. Banker Alexander Sax, an American of Russian origin with connections to the White House, undertook to pass it to the President. It was not until October 11 that Sax managed to deliver the letter, and the President was not very impressed. Strangely enough, Sax eventually managed to convince Roosevelt of the matter’s seriousness by recounting how Napoleon had dismissed Fulton’s steamer project and thus deprived himself of a potentially valuable vessel with which to invade England.
After that conversation, Roosevelt called for General Watson, his military aide. Soon thereafter the powerful military and administrative operation which would eventually result in the creation of the atomic bomb got under way.
However, two years would pass before the U.S. Government committed itself wholeheartedly to nuclear weapons development in December 1941 (one may assume, as a result of Japan’s attack on the USA).
On June 18, 1942, Colonel James Marshall was ordered to set up a production base for the joint efforts of scientists and engineers in the development of nuclear weapons. The new organization was founded and called the “Manhattan Engineer District,” later simply “The Manhattan Project.”
On September 17, 1942, Colonel Leslie Richard Groves was appointed chief of the project. In fact, that day marked the beginning of the active stage of the work, which was to continue over the next three years.
Newly-appointed General Groves takes up the atomic project.
Groves himself had no professional connection with nuclear physics. He was a typical representative of a cohort of military supervisors to whom the US government entrusted with emergency powers and appointed to direct different parts of the Manhattan Project. Atomic scientists, plants, and scientific laboratories fell under their supervision. This arrangement was instituted to ensure that the scientists always coordinated their steps with the policy of the ruling classes. General Groves himself was a stickler for such methods of supervision. He even insisted on being ranked a general before he was officially appointed Chief of Manhattan Project. “I have often witnessed that symbols of power and ranks affect scientists more than servicemen”, he observed.
After the war he boasted to journalists that he managed to make “an amazing machine” (atomic bomb) with the help of “a great collection of broken pots.” For him, the “broken pots” were accomplished scientists, including a number of celebrities and Nobel Prize winners.
With the enormous power that he wielded, Groves made something like a state within a state of the project.
Robert Oppenheimer – scientific adviser to the Manhattan Project.
Groves wanted to appoint Lorenz to head the bomb development, but Lorenz would not abandon his work on uranium isotope division, so Groves looked to Oppenheimer instead. In October 1942 Groves offered the post to Oppenheimer who accepted it.
Oppenheimer had not been on the initial list of scientists to be recruited for the project . E. Lorenz, director of the radiation laboratory at the University of California, was wary of Oppenheimer’s Communist sympathies. But Oppenheimer assured Lorenz that his membership in left-wing parties would not be a problem and backed up his words by resigning from them. In Berkley he gathered a team of talented scientists, including immigrants from Germany Edward Teller and Hans Bise. Still, Oppenheimer was not fully exonerated for his Communists sympathies. Later he was compelled to vouch for his “loyalty” during hearings in 1954.
K-25 object – uranium enrichment factory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
In 1942 the world’s largest research laboratory was established in Los Alamos. The population of the new scientific center soon reached 9000 inhabitants. With respect to the calibre of scientists, the scale of scientific experiments, and the number of recruited specialists and workers, the laboratory at Los Alamos was unrivalled in world history. The Manhattan Project had its own policy, secret service, communication system, storehouses, settlements, plants, laboratories, and a colossal budget.
All the large-scale atomic forces of the USA and hundreds of thousands of technicians and workers were united under the supervision of General Groves. Among them were highly accomplished scientists like Lawrence, Bethe, Seaborg, Nier, Yury, Szilard, Wigner, and Teller. One also should not forget such immigrants as Fermi, Segre, and G. Frank. Later the project was also served by Frisch and, on occasion, Niels Bohr, who in 1943 had narrowly escaped Gestapo prosecution.
The Manhattan Project was guarded by a genuine army of military police – one of the military police detachments at Los Alamos in photo.
The atomic program cost the USA $2 billion in all and culminated in the development of a weapon of fundamentally new power. It became both symbol and sword of Damocles for the new epoch in mankind’s history which commenced with the end of World War II. Its first and, to date only, use was sufficient to immediately alter the military strategy and policies of states throughout the world and to set mankind a number of fundamentally new and still unsolved questions regarding the future of civilization.
Under Roosevelt, the US government did not discuss political and other aspects of atomic weapons production; the decision to include atomic weapons in the planning of the war was made in April 1945, when it became obvious that the work had entered its final stage. From May 1945 the higher command of the United States included the atomic bomb as a possible weapon in the military plans for the end of the war in the Pacific Ocean.