The atomic bomb ended a war of massive death and destruction, but began what is now known as the Atomic Age. At the time of the disasters in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb appeared as a promise of peace to the entire world. It had ended a costly and gruesome war, beginning a time of peace. Compared to the technology of 1945, the atomic bomb looked too powerful and unethical ever to be used again. It was seen as the weapon that would put an end to war. In Keith Eubank’s “The Bomb,” he shows the development of power and the increasing threat to the United States from other nations that might be building a weapon of mass destruction; moreover, he shows the responsibility of dropping such a bomb.
The development of the atomic bomb, although slow at first, quickly sped up as more research proved it a significant weapon. At the beginning, the U.S. didn’t think developing a weapon could contribute to defense. Consequently, after quick research from scientists and the realization that the war would be a technical one in which the U.S. was unprepared, Americans came to the conclusion that “better relations had to be created between science, technology and the American government” (p. 8). The government soon realized that the bomb was likely to have a decisive result in the war. Roosevelt immediately gave orders to determine if a bomb was possible. When he found out the news, the national defense demanded urgent development and more research. The United States undertook the development of the atomic bomb not only because it may prove useful, but also because it thought other scientists were doing the same.
After testing the bomb, the U.S. realized the significant role the weapon would play in the war. In addition, President Truman learned that “the bomb might well put (the U.S.) in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war” (p. 49). Truman, to the opposition of some, decided that the Japanese would receive no warning about the bomb. Many would argue Japan was largely responsible for their own destruction. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war in the Pacific was fully underway. An aggressive expansion policy forced the United States invasion. However, this invasion would mean severe casualties of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers alone. After American casualties reached into the thousands in Japan, the U.S. could not afford to lose more lives. It seemed as if the only solution to save American lives and stop further Japanese expansion was to drop an atomic bomb. After the Big Three conference at Potsdam on July 16, 1945, a warning was issued to Japan in the form of the Potsdam Declaration: to surrender unconditionally or face prompt and utter destruction. An unconditional surrender, to Japan, meant humiliation to the ancient warrior tradition and the Emperor. Therefore, on July 29, 1945, the Japanese rejected the Potsdam Declaration and every man, woman, and child prepared to fight to death – if that is what it would take – and it did. They saw the declaration as propaganda, which would play on the public opinion of Americans. They soon learned that action would be taken. They wanted to wait until the Soviet Union mediated in the conflict, so Japan told its people to ignore the declaration. However, when the Soviet Union joined the Allies, Japan knew it was in trouble. Only a change in the weather could save the lives of Japanese now. On August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and a few days later one was dropped on Nagasaki. “Nevertheless, the time has come when we must bear the unbearable” (p. 87): A quote that sums up not only Japan’s feelings but Americans’ feelings as well. It was the only way the United States knew how to end a war that had killed many of its own men.
Indeed, Eubanks exemplifies that Germany had already begun research on atomic energy. The Manhattan Project, which built plants for production of the atomic bomb, helped to set up a centralized lab to get everyone working on the bomb together. This step was vital for the U.S. in constructing this weapon. German scientists had begun research on nuclear physics around the same time as Americans. German scientists, unlike Americans however, lacked leadership, drive, listening skills and trust. In fact, Hitler thought of nuclear research as “Jewish physics.” Furthermore, Hitler didn’t want to use funds on something that he had not had to use. Conventional weapons had worked just fine for the German army up to this point. But when Germans learned of the importance of uranium and “heavy water,” they started massive production of the water and had it delivered to them. When British intelligence found out about the production of the heavy water, they destroyed the plant. This loss of heavy water played a major role in wrecking Germans’ hopes for the atomic bomb. Officers of Alsos (the allied effort to find out about German atomic bomb developments) found out later that German research activities had not gotten much beyond the research and development stage. “Given the necessary time and resources, however, the Germans would’ve probably succeeded” (p. 45).
Nevertheless, Eubanks illustrates that the Soviet Union got much further than the research and development of Germany. Like Germany, Russians didn’t want to spare the funds at the beginning for massive development and research of atomic energy. The Soviet Union development of the atomic bomb was small in comparison with the United States, but after learning of tests and the dropping of the bombs on Japan, the Russians changed their policy. They could not stand back and let the U.S. “take over” the world as they saw it. Joseph Stalin knew of the atomic bomb through secret operations, but he didn’t realize the importance of the weapon until it was used. By dropping the bombs, the U.S. demonstrated not only the possession of atomic weapons, but also the willingness to use them. Moreover, the weapon “shocked Soviet leaders because it reduced the value of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany” (p. 110). Therefore, Stalin ordered a crash program to develop the weapon as quickly as possible to show that the United States was not superior to the world. Stalin realized that the atomic bomb had become the symbol of technological strength as a superpower. In fact, between 1949 and 1953, the Soviet Union had tested four atomic weapons, launching and intensifying what was known as the Cold War.
As the atomic bomb ended war, it began a new age, creating new philosophies on human existence, technology and society. Socially, the grief from the destruction of the atomic bomb was immeasurable- it expanded outside the borders of Japan to the hearts of the entire world. Not only did grief exist, but the atomic bomb also laid guilt on some citizens of the United States for the destruction of so many lives. At the time of the war, Americans’ hatred of the Japanese was so strong that they wanted to see the bomb dropped. In fact, they would’ve liked to see more bombs dropped to prove that the United States would not give up. In retrospect, the bombs today are criticized by some as being an unfair loss of life to the Japanese.The atomic bomb, however, would’ve eventually been used by another country if they had the technology. Overall, the United States had the money, power and weaponry to undertake such a project. Regardless, the atomic bomb may have killed thousands, but it saved millions. Today, we face similar problems with the situation in Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s lack of cooperation with arms inspectors. If he’s holding nuclear or thermonuclear weapons, it can only be hoped that we are ready for another war.The atomic bomb forever changed the rules of war. It is a weapon so powerful it can annihilate the enemy, a weapon that can destroy humanity itself. The people who built this weapon hoped that they had invented a weapon that would put an end to war. They hoped this new weapon was so awful, so terrifying and so destructive that it would never be used again. We may soon see if that is true.
Dick Geary. Hitler and Nazism. London: Routledge, 1993.