How would you feel if you were responsible for building the infamous bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? If you were interviewed years later, what would be your reaction?
J. Robert Oppenheimer was the lead physicist of the Manhattan Project and called by many the father of the atomic bomb. In 1965, he gave his and the other physicists reaction in the moments after the bombing:
Today, discussions of the morality of the bombings are frequently mentioned whenever the topic arises. But at this time, what were the alternatives? Using conventional bombs, Tokyo was already being leveled to the ground and was so devastated that it was taken off the US’ list of primary targets. In a raid, just months before the dropping of the atomic bomb in March 1945, known as the Firebombing of Tokyo, it is estimated that 100,000 people were killed and miles of the city were vaporized miles. This is a great tragedy to be sure.
But again, what were the alternatives? What if the US had the capability to end the war, but instead did not drop the bombs? Would Hitler be able to build a nuclear option before their surrender? Would the US be forced to mount an offensive on the mainland of Japan? How many more deaths would there be on more sides?
Imagine being the mother or father of a young Marine, soldier, sailor, or airmen whose child had lost their life. Now imagine, that you find out that Truman had a weapon that would have ended the war, but he chose not to use it. What would be the political blowback? How would the country react?
This is a summary of the first 30 minutes of Dan Carlin’s latest episode of Hardcore History, The Destroyer of Worlds. It is a fascinating look at the early years of the Nuclear Age and humankind’s efforts to avoid self-destruction at the hands of its own creation. I can’t recommend it enough.