1938: In December, Fritz Strassmann & Ottoman Hahn, two German physicists succeeded in splitting the uranium atom.
1939: Leo Szilard solicited the help of Albert Einstein
1942 September: Manhattan project was turned over to the military. Project’s military commander: Brigadier General Leslie Groves. Robert Oppenheimer, a leftist and communist chosen by Groves as Manhattan Project Coordinator. He created and coordinated the most destructive weapon. Assembled were:
First nuclear chain reaction achieved in an atomic pile.
1945 March 9: LeMay’s masterpiece, 300 planes sent over Tokyo. Incendiary and napalm used to kill 100,000 and 1,000,000 homeless. Stench caused vomiting in planes. American military bombed 100 cities, some with no military value taking more than an estimated 1/2 million lives; the atomic bomb can be viewed as a chilling and logical next step.
Leo Szilard and others understood that this bomb they were building was a primitive prototype of what was to follow:
- Harold Urey (Nobel prize winner, chemistry)
- Astronomer Walter Bartky
attempted to see Truman to caution him against the use of the bomb, but were re-routed to South Carolina to speak with Brynes, whose response appalled Szilard. Mr. Brynes knew at the time as the rest of the government, Japan was essentially defeated. He was much concerned about the spreading of Russian influence in Europe and that possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more amend to. Leslie Groves also admitted that in his mind Russia was always the enemy and the project was conducted on that basis. A petition was signed by 155 project scientists for Truman, but Oppenheimer barred it and alerted Groves. Groves had recommended Szilard to be interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war, in May 1945 General Marshall supported Oppenheimer suggestion to share information with Soviet scientists but Brynes vetoed the idea.
1945 May: the Japanese war council decided to feel out the Soviets for peace terms to keep the USSR out of their war and to seek better surrender terms from the Americans. This was a delicate negotiation; the US intelligence had been intercepting Japanese cables since the start of the war. On July 18, a cable sent from Tokyo to Japanese ambassador in Moscow seeking surrender terms said: unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. Truman unambiguously categorized this: “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”
- Forestall noted an evident desire of the Japanese to get out of the war
- Stimson describes this as Japanese manoeuvrings foe peace.
- Brynes pointed to Japanese peace feelers
- They all knew that the end was near, the Japanese were finished. Several of Truman’s close advisers urged him to modify the unconditional surrender to signal that Japan could keep its emperor and speed the end.
MacArthur: the hanging of the emperor would be like the crucifixion of Christ to us. Jimmy Brynes told Truman that he would be crucified politically if the imperial system was retained. Once again, his advice prevailed. Truman and Byrnes believed that they had a way to speed the Japanese surrender on American terms without Soviet help, thereby denying the USSR the territorial and economic concessions promised by Roosevelt. MacArthur: considered the bomb completely unnecessary from the military point of view. He later said that the Japanese would have surrendered in May if the US had told them that they could keep the emperor.
Opposition was sufficiently known that Groves posted a requirement that US commanders in the field . . . clear all statements on the bomb with the War Department. “After three years of the highest tension we did ‘t want MacArthur and others saying the war could’ve been won without the bomb.”
1945 July 16, 0529 and 45 seconds: Alamogordo, New Mexico, the bomb turned the refuge of the founding fathers into a militarized state. War in Europe ended May 8. First atomic bomb dropped on Japan on August 6.
- Iwo Jima: 7000 US Marines and sailors were killed, 18,000 wounded.
- Okinawa: 12,000 Americans killed or missing and 36,000 wounded. 100,000 Japanese and 100,000 Okinawans were killed. Many of them committed suicide.
- 1900 kamikaze attacks which sank 30 and damaged 360 naval vessels
- Marshall told Truman that he expected no more than 31,000 casualties.
- Estimated 1/2 million German, Italian and French civilians were killed because of British and US bombing.
- 79,000 US and equal number of British aircrew members were killed
1945 July Potsdam: Big three discussing the post war world. Truman had said that his primary reason for going to Potsdam was to ensure Soviet entry into the war, an assurance that Stalin was ready to give again. Truman in his diary: He will be in the Jap war on August 15.
Allied intelligence concurred: an entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese of the inevitability of complete defeat. Yet it was clear to most that the Japs were already finished. By the end of 1944, the Japanese navy had been decimated, the air force was badly weakened, railroad system was in tatters, food supply shrunk, public morale plummeting.
Truman had delayed the start of Potsdam for two weeks giving the scientists the time to ready the bomb test. It worked. Stimson gave him the news. The conference began the very next day. He later read the full report. The test was terrifying, almost beyond comprehension. Truman’s demeanor changed immediately, Churchill was stunned by the transformation.
1945 July 24: Truman informs Stalin that the US possesses a new weapon of unusual destructive force.
Klaus E.J. Fuchs a man of ideological conviction, part of the British scientific mission at Alamogordo had delivered technical information relating to the bomb to his Soviet handlers. Stalin already knew that the test had succeeded. On return, Stalin remarked to Gromyko on return to his villa that the Americans would use the atomic monopoly now to dictate terms in Europe. But that he wouldn’t give in to that blackmail. Stalin concluded from Truman’s behaviour at Potsdam that the US wanted to end the war quickly and renege on its promised concessions in the Pacific.
1945 July 25: Truman approves directive signed by Marshall and Stimson ordering the use of the atomic bomb against Japan after August 3 asap weather permitting. He expected the Japanese government to reject the Potsdam declaration which failed to give any assurances about the emperor. The US even vetoed Stalin’s wish to sign the declaration adding that Stalin’s signature would have signaled Soviet entry in the Pacific war. It was an incredibly underhanded behaviour by the US both toward the Japanese and USSR.
Truman accepted responsibility for the decision, it was Groves who drafted the final order to drop the bomb. He contended Truman didn’t really decide: “As far as I was concerned his decision was one of non-interference. Basically, a decision not to upset existing plans. Truman did not so much say ‘yes’ as not say ‘no.‘ He described Truman scornfully as ‘a little boy on a toboggan.‘
Six of America’s seven five-star officers who received their final star in WWII declared the bomb morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary, or both.
- General Douglas MacArthur
- General Dwight Eisenhower
- General Henry Arnold
- Admiral William Leahy
- Admiral Earnest King
- Admiral Chester Nimitz
Eisenhower: the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.
After the war was over, General Curtis LeMay said, “Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks. The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.
1945 August 6, 0245, 3 B-29s took off from the island of Tinian for Japan. Six and a half hours later the Enola Gay cane into sight of its target. 300,00 civilians, 45,000 Korean slave labourers. From 31,000 feet at 330 mph. The bomb (uranium) fell5 miles to two thousand feet and then detonated. An estimated 140,000 were dead by the end of the year, 200,000 by 1950. Officially the US reported 3243 Japanese troops killed. Japanese did not surrender
1945 August 9: Stalin honouring his pledge to Churchill now moved I 1/2 million men to the eastern front and attacked Japan on three fronts in Manchuria. 700,000 Japanese killed, wounded or captured. Also attacked in Korea, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island. Later that morning on August 9 before Japan had time to react to the Soviet invasion, the US dropped a second atomic bomb (Plutonium) on Nagasaki. 40,000 died immediately.
- General Masakazu Kawabe: in comparison, the Soviet entry into the war was a great shock. Because we had been in constant fear of it with a vivid imagination that the vast Red Army forces in Europe were now being turned against us.
- Suzuki: Japan must surrender immediately. “There was little mention in the Japanese cabinet of the use of the atomic bomb by the US.”
- The dropping of the bomb was the pretext seized upon . . . As a reason for ending the war. But it is almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”
On August 14, five days after the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki and with desperate fighting still raging against the Soviets, Emperor Hirohito exerted his personal power. Hirohito speaking to the Japanese people directly ordered surrender over the radio.
Truman’s estimate of the anticipated American casualties kept climbing as the years went by. In 1991 President George H. Bush praised Truman’s tough calculating decision which spared millions of American lives.
Attributing victory to the bomb insults the memory of the many men and women who gave their lives to defeat the Japanese year by year.
1945 October: Truman met Oppenheimer to inquire when the Soviets would have the bomb. Oppenheimer replied he didn’t know. Truman responded that he knew the answer, never, giving Oppenheimer an insight into his ignorance. He told Dean Acheson, “I don’t want that SOB in this office ever again”. Later Oppenheimer was attacked by right wing conservatives as an agent of the Soviet Union and subjected to numerous by the FBI. Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked in 1954. His crime was opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb which he considered a weapon of genocide. The dropping of the atomic bombs did not make the Soviet forces any pliable. They occupied the Northern portion of Korea Peninsula face to face with US forces in the south.
- The Japanese could keep the emperor for stability of Japan.
- Condoleezza Rice named Truman her man of the century to Time Magazine.
- It was a warning to the Soviet Union.
Henry Wallace: “it is obvious that the attitude of Truman, Brynes and both the war and navy department will make for war eventually.”
Robert Oppenheimer met Henry Wallace shortly after the war: he proposed international control of atomic technology to assuage Soviet fears over US intentions. In September, Stimson sent a memo to Truman saying that the Soviets should be treated as allies, saying that they should be trusted. He proposed that America should dismantle its bomb if the Soviets accepted a ban on atomic research and thus submit to an international system of control.
Wallace allied himself to Stimson indicating the absurdity of trying to keep an atomic monopoly. ” I then went in some length into the scientific background describing how foreign Jewish scientists had in the first place sold the President in the fall of 1939. I indicated the degree to which the whole approach had originated in Europe and that it was impossible to bottle the thing up no matter how much we tried.”
Navy Secretary Forestall argued that the Soviets could not be trusted, the Russians like the Japanese are essentially oriental in their thinking. Truman vacillated and ultimately yielded to the Byrnes/ Forestall hardline faction.
“Some have spoken of the American century, I say that the century on which we are entering, century which will come out of this war can be and must be the century of the common man. If we really believe we are fighting for a people peace, all the rest becomes easy. “–Henry Wallace
In 1946 ran for president. Accused of being a Soviet sympathiser, he compromised himself during the pressures of the Korean War and the McCarthy period loudly condemning the Soviets but decried support for Vietnam. He died in 1965. He remains the unsung hero of the second world war showing the world a kinder vision of America. Though his vision was opposed at every step it did not die.
Roosevelt: No man was more of the American soil than Wallace. In July 1944 Roosevelt acceding to the party bosses’ choice of Harry Truman committed his greatest blunder. He could have resisted and had Wallace at his back as his VP, but he was tired of defending his vision for world peace, near death. His sad moment points most clearly to the fallibility of all human history. To fail is not tragic, to be human is. What might this country be if Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945 instead of Truman.