Building On the Past: The Atom Bomb
On July 16th, 1945, the United States became the first nation to successfully test an atom bomb, done at the Trinity Site located at Alamogordo, New Mexico. This test demonstrated the full destructive potential of such a device, essentially changing the nature of warfare forever.
The Manhattan Project was a US-led effort to produce an atomic weapon during the course of World War II. The project was founded after US intelligence reported to President Franklin Roosevelt that the Germans were working on their own atomic weapon. Headed by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project produced a functional device using research on nuclear fission largely done at Columbia University.
The atom bomb played a major role in ending World War II. Faced with the invasion of the Japanese home islands, the United States military estimated that casualties would run into the millions. President Harry Truman decided that the atom bomb would be used to force the Japanese to surrender. In August 1945, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated by two bombs, killing tens of thousands of Japanese civilians and ending World War II. This controversial decision by Truman is still debated today.
After 1945, the age of conquerors and massive armies sweeping over vast tracts of land was over. Wars that raged would be largely ideological, often contained to a struggle between the tenets of communism and democracy. The Cold War had begun.
For the first time in history, humanity held the means for its own destruction. Author William Shirer laments these new weapons in the foreword of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, leaving the reader with stark words of caution:
“In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by suicidal little madmen pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet.”