On the morning of August 6, 1945, the first Atomic Bomb in history was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Soon after, on August 14, 1945, the Japanese abruptly surrendered, abandoning their ancient customs regarding honor in war. The fact that only two bombs were able to bring an entire country to its knees is a true testament to the awesome power they held. There is nothing in modern warfare that can compete with the devastating effects of nuclear weapons.
At the beginning of World War II, the Japanese were a major threat to the Asian World. On December 7, 1941, when they decided to attack Pearl Harbor (a US naval base in Hawaii), it was evident that their intentions were not limited to Asia. The United States entered World War II as a result of this attack. The war continued for six long years, and involved most of the major World Powers. During this time, there were many battles between the United States and Japan, including one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which took place at Okinawa. If allowed to expand, Japan posed a serious threat to the allies.
During the war, one of the most brilliant scientists in history, Albert Einstein, hypothesized that if the true power of the atom were released in a weapon, the results would be devastating. This was soon confirmed by a large portion of the scientific community. Whoever possessed such a weapon would be in complete power. Many government officials felt that such a weapon could put an end to the war. For this reason, in 1942, the United States decided to pursue the atomic bomb. Later that year, Franklin D. Roosevelt began the Manhattan Project.
The Manhattan Project was a massive engineering enterprise aimed at the ultimate goal of creating an atomic bomb. At one time it employed over 129,000 workers. The United States was the only nation in the world with the capacity to work on such a high level. Though it cost approximately $2 billion dollars, many officials who knew about the Top Secret project felt it was well worth it- if the Atomic Bomb proved useful. Another major expense of the United States government was the development of the B-29, a bomber plane specifically designed for dropping Atomic Bombs. The estimated cost of this project is $3 billion dollars, bringing the total cost of the new atomic weapon to $5 billion dollars (approx. $50 billion 1998 dollars). If the Atomic Bomb failed, not only would many people lose their jobs, but the outcome of the war might have changed. For this reason, the Manhattan Project employed many of the top scientific minds of the world.
Unbeknownst to the Allies, the Germans decided not to pursue an atomic weapon. They felt it was more important to spend the money on troops and machinery, and thought that they would have won the war before they were able to obtain an atomic weapon. They were also unaware of the top-secret Manhattan Project. The Japanese conducted small research on the possibility of building a bomb, but never fully pursued it.
If the Germans had decided to build a bomb, and obtained it before the United States, they most certainly would have used it against the Allies. This is why it was so crucial for the U.S. to complete the Manhattan Project as quickly as possible. A German victory would have resulted in a history that is completely different from that which took place. If the Axis Powers had developed the Atomic Bomb, they would have been unstoppable.
A nuclear weapon harnesses the power of the atom with a process known as an Uncontrollable Fission Reaction. In this process, a neutron (a subatomic particle found in the nucleus of atoms) is bombarded with the nucleus of a radioactive atom, such as Uranium or Plutonium. This causes the nucleus of the radioactive atom to become unstable, and split into two new atoms. To stabilize the new atoms, more neutrons are released, which move on to bombard with another radioactive nucleus. The energy released comes from the binding energy (the energy required to keep the nucleus together) in the nucleus of the radioactive atom. The bombardment of one nucleus sets off a chain reaction that lasts until all radioactive atoms have been split. Albert Einstein was able to calculate the amount of energy in a sample with his famous equation E=mc^2. Using this equation, the amount of energy in 1 gram of a substance can be found:
1 g = 0.001 kg
c = speed of light = 3 x 10^8 m/s
E= (0.001 kg) x (3 x 10^8 m/s)^2
= 300,000 Joules
In one gram of a substance, there is the potential for 300,000 Joules of energy to be released. Most nuclear weapons, however, use much more than one gram of fuel. This is why they are so devastatingly powerful.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt unexpectedly died in office, Harry Truman became the new president of the United States. He was soon faced with the decision of whether or not to use the bomb. He decided to use it because he felt that it would save the lives of thousands of American soldiers by putting an end to the war. He knew that once the Japanese saw the awesome power of the Atomic Bomb, they would have no choice but to surrender.
The first Atomic Bomb (called Big Boy) was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, by the B-29 bomber Enola Gay. It completely destroyed everything within a three mile radius. Japanese civilians within that radius were instantly vaporized. Others were burned so badly that they ran for lakes, rivers, or any body of water they could find (many of the bodies of the dead were found there). Those who were not killed suffered severe radiation burns and poisoning. Radiation sickness spread for miles with a cloud of radioactive fallout. Many people died from radiation sickness, but those who did not suffered from cancer, birth defects, blindness, and other severe symptoms. It is believed that the effects of the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima are still being felt in the area. Despite the destruction and carnage, Japan still refused to surrender.
Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the second bomb (called Fat Man) was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Although the second bomb was more powerful than the first, it was not as destructive due to the geographic location of the city. Its effects were still devastating. The United States dropped the second bomb to show the Japanese that it possessed more than one, and that it was willing to use them.
Unconditional surrender, which is what the Allies were demanding, was not easy for the Japanese because of their ancient customs forbade them from doing so. It was shamefully dishonorable for the Japanese to surrender. It was also dishonorable to lose. If a Japanese Soldier was taken as a prisoner of war, he could not hold his head up in his hometown ever again. Even if a soldier was out of ammunition and had no hope, he would kill himself before accepting defeat. If Japan surrendered, it would risk losing control over its citizens. Many Japanese officials were determined to fight until the end. Avoiding further bloodshed, the Emperor of Japan requested that the government surrender. Since he was seen as a God to the Japanese, the Emperors wish was granted, and the Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945.
Since World War II, technology has advanced so much that modern-day Nuclear Weapons are up to one thousand times more powerful than those used against Japan. Such weapons could destroy entire states, and send the world into nuclear holocaust. There are also other ways to deploy them, for example, a small nuclear device inside a suitcase could destroy a city. Nuclear Warheads can be positioned on the ends of long-range rockets, expanding the range of the weapon. Radioactive materials essential to the construction of a Nuclear Weapon are now more readily available to small countries and terrorists. This poses the threat of Nuclear Warfare, which could ultimately end in the extinction of humanity.
Nuclear Weapons cannot be uninvented, so therefore we must learn to live with the possible threat of Nuclear War. The first Atomic Bombs were used to end a war, however that was in the days when the only nation in possession of them was the United States. Today, if a Nuclear War broke out, the defensive nation would most likely return fire, which could result in a global incident. It is unlikely that all of the worlds Nuclear Weapons will ever be destroyed, since the possession of them provides protection from a Nuclear Strike by another country. They are a mediating factor in times of war. Due to human nature, all we can do is hope that they are never used, and that the destruction and bloodshed brought about by the first Atomic Bomb taught us a lesson. It is even possible that this kind of power was never intended for mankind to discover.