Hiroshima: The World's Bomb

By Andrew J. Rotter | Go to book overview

FIVE
The United States II: Using
the Bomb

In the months and years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945, those in some way involved in the decision offered a variety of reasons for their actions. Let us begin this pivotal chapter with statements from four such people. We can start with Robert R. Wilson, the young Princeton physicist who came to Los Alamos in 1943 imagining himself as Hans Castorp arriving at Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Why test, then drop the bomb? Wilson’s reminiscence here came nearly a quarter century after the Pacific War had ended:

Perhaps events were moving just too incredibly fast. We were all at the climax
of the project—just on the verge of exploding the test bomb in the desert.
Every faculty, every thought, every effort was directed toward making that
a success. I think that to have asked us to pull back at that moment would
have been as unrealistic and unfair as it would be to ask a pugilist to sense
intellectually the exact moment his opponent has weakened to the point
where eventually he will lose, and then to have the responsibility of stopping
the fight just at that point.

There was momentum behind the scientists’ decision to build the bomb. The momentum carried through construction of the test gadget, the test itself, and the decision to use the bomb against an opponent—or such is the implication of Wilson’s analogy. Once under way, the Manhattan Project became a means that required an end, a force of logic that could be satisfied only by resolution in the cause of battle—that is, against people.1

The second statement comes from a more familiar source: Harry S. Truman, who became President of the United States following Franklin Roosevelt’s death on 12 April 1945 and was in office when the bombs were dropped and the war against Japan ended. More than anyone, Truman

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Hiroshima: The World's Bomb
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Making of the Modern World ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Praise for Hiroshima vi
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • Plates xi
  • Introduction - The World’s Bomb 1
  • One - The World’s Atom 7
  • Two - Great Britain- Refugees, Air Power, and the Possibility of the Bomb 31
  • Three - Japan and Germany- Paths Not Taken 59
  • Four - The United States I- Imagining and Building the Bomb 88
  • Five - The United States II- Using the Bomb 127
  • Six - Japan- The Atomic Bombs and War’s End 177
  • Seven - The Soviet Union- The Bomb and the Cold War 228
  • Eight - The World’s Bomb 270
  • Epilogue - Nightmares and Hopes 304
  • Notes 310
  • Bibliographical Essay 340
  • Credits 356
  • Index 357
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