The Manhattan Project

By Ojas Joshi

“This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable–though much less certain–that extremely powerful bombs of this type may thus be constructed,” implored Albert Einstein in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in August of 1939, concerning the global development of atomic bombs. Distressed by Nazi Germany’s increasing interest in atomic bomb development, Einstein urged President Roosevelt to begin atomic bomb construction immediately. President Roosevelt proceeded cautiously, allocating minimal funds and manpower to the newly named “Manhattan Project.” Slowly, the project picked up speed, with breakthroughs coming in laboratories from around the country. In 1943, the U.S. installed facilities in Los Alamos, New Mexico to develop, test, and analyze atomic bombs. Two years later, under the scorching New Mexican summer sun, the U.S. tested the world’s first atomic bomb. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” famously quoted Robert Oppenheimer (the head of the Manhattan Project) from the Bhagavad Gita, after observing the world’s first detonation of an atomic bomb. One month later, under the executive orders of President Truman, the U.S. air force dropped “Little Boy” over the Japanese manufacturing center of Hiroshima. While Japan was still reeling from the first attack, “Fat Man,” a second and even more potent atomic bomb, was dropped on Nagasaki.

Death, destruction, and devastation—the effects of the atomic bombs can still be observed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just from the initial detonation of the two bombs, an estimated 120,000 people perished. Many more would fall victim to the destructive radioactive decay of the bomb’s materials.

Still, while the bombs may have caused unparalleled destruction, they also served their purpose. President Truman, in his defining act as a president, ultimately ignored the ethical advice of his advisors, and many of the scientists on the Manhattan Project, to deploy the atomic bombs. In hopes of ending the war, and avoiding further American casualties, Truman sought a quick surrender from Japan. Rather than risking a land invasion on the home turf of the indefatigable Japanese, Truman used the bombs to shock and scare the Japanese into surrender.

Moreover, no atomic bombs have been used as a weapon of war since Truman deployed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” After observing the incomprehensible destruction and aftermath of the bombs, countries have pursued other avenues in warfare. Truman’s hurried usage of the bomb may have prevented future bombings.

The ethics of The Manhattan Project can be debated ceaselessly. Created to prevent a Nazi Germany mass destruction monopoly, the bomb originally stood proudly on high moral and ethical ground. After being utilized, however, the nature of the bomb opened to debate; unethical yet necessary, necessary yet unethical. Since then, the bomb has lurched in the shadows of society.