A Terrifying Legacy | A Powder Keg in Europe | Alliances Lead to World War
The Conflict Widens | The Great War | New Opportunities in Black America
A Separate Peace | America Enters the Great War | The Doughboys
Allied Victory | Social Darwinism | The Rise of Hitler | The Holocaust
Germany Attempts to Dominate Europe | The Empire of the Rising Sun
America Responds | Global Conflict | Japanese Internment Camps
The Manhattan Project | Hiroshima and Nagasaki | Postwar
The Manhattan Project
In 1934, German scientists discovered nuclear fission, the
splitting of an atom of uranium into two elements. If fission became a
chain reaction, the energy of the nucleus of the uranium atom might be
released. A very large number of atoms split very quickly might result
in a massive explosion.
American military leaders decided they needed to build a laboratory to create a nuclear weapon. They searched for a location at least 200 miles from a coastline or international border. The site needed to be sparsely populated because an accident might cause horrendous damage. They settled on a secluded school for boys in the desert land of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Robert Oppenheimer led a group of almost 6000 scientists in what became known as the top secret Manhattan Project.
The scientists recruited to work on the Manhattan Project, and their families, had to work in complete secrecy. Their drivers’ licenses listed only numbers, not names. Even relatives could not know where the scientists were working. All of their mail was screened to ensure they said nothing to give away their location. Photographs could not include anything that might identify the landscape of New Mexico. The American government had to ensure that the Axis Powers had no idea what was happening at the isolated site in New Mexico.
Many of the scientists working at Los Alamos were Jewish refugees from Germany. Edward Teller left Germany for America in 1933. Otto Frisch and Felix Bloch were also German Jews who were instrumental in creating the bomb. Enrico Fermi was married to a Jewish woman. He left Italy at about the same time to escape anti-Semitism. Ant-Semitism is the hatred or persecution of Jews. If Jewish scientists had been allowed to stay in Germany, Hitler might have gotten the bomb before America.
Nobody was certain what would happen once the nuclear chain reaction began. One scientist believed the entire state of New Mexico would be incinerated. The governor of New Mexico was alerted that an evacuation of the state might be necessary.
The scientists were ready to test their work at sunrise
on a summer morning in 1945. The awakening sky filled with light brighter
than anything seen before on earth. Early risers more than 150 miles away
heard the unimaginable roar of the bomb. Oppenheimer later remarked, “We
knew the world would never be the same.”
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