Free Custom «Political Relevance of the Manhattan Project of 1942» Essay Sample

Free Custom «Political Relevance of the Manhattan Project of 1942» Essay Sample

The 1942 Manhattan Project has often been dubbed as the project that changed the world through the creation of the atomic bomb. On the 6th of August, 1945, this atomic bomb was used, culminating in an event that changed the way the globe viewed warfare. The effects of the bomb still linger to the present day. On that eventful day, the President of the US Harry S. Truman commissioned an act of aerial warfare so vicious that there was no conceivable reason for it except an act of revenge. He released an atomic explosive device on Hiroshima, Japan (Van Dijk 567). The results of this bomb were Japan’s surrender and the end of the Second World War. The period of time during and after the Manhattan Project has seen a number of scholars debating whether this project and the 1945 Hiroshima bombing event were the only ways to end the war. Some argue that Japan had reached the point of surrender, having suffered earlier bombings from the US and the Soviet Union and this bombing was unnecessary. This paper discusses whether the Manhattan Project was necessary or not by analyzing the motives and events from a political perspective.


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The Manhattan Project was motivated by the 1939 nuclear fission discoveries of three physicists, Leo Szilard (1898-1964), Eugene Wigner (1902-1995), and Edward Teller (1908-2003) (Grieco, Ikenberry, and Mastanduno 209). The discovery of these physicists would ultimately change warfare forever. The nuclear fission process entails the creation of energy by splitting atoms of unranium-235, uranium-233, or plutonium-239 (Van Dijk 567). These rare forms of metallic elements are the only things on Earth that can cause a nuclear reaction. At the time of this discovery, Szilard theorized that a sequence reaction of atoms splitting apart could result in a tremendous discharge of energy. If this energy is harnessed, it could be used as a source of power or as a weapon (Grieco, Ikenberry, and Mastanduno208). Fearing that this information could be used, Szilard kept this discovery initially to himself. However, when other physicist started making similar discoveries, he decided it was time to disclose his findings.

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There were concerns that, if Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and his Nazi system, who were by then engulfed in a scheme to conquer the world, figured out how to make an armament using this information, they could hypothetically win the war that they had just started in Europe. That could not be allowed to happen and, as such, the Manhattan Project was launched. This project was a secret project that brought together expert scientists to build a super weapon that would take advantage of the recent fission discoveries in atomic physics and culminating in the creation of the first atomic bomb. Top-secret scientific research laboratories were established outside of the desert towns of Los Alamos, New Mexico, with the team of engineers and physicist being headed by Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) (Van Dijk 567). Other labs were established in the US, UK, and Canada under the blanket name Manhattan Project. The goal of this project was to create a nuclear weapon before the Nazis could.

The work on the Manhattan Project began in 1942 culminating in 1945 with the achievement of the intended goal. On July 16, 1945, the globe’s first nuclear weapon was tested in the New Mexico desert. The test, dubbed the Trinity test, resulted in something the world had never witnessed before, a nuclear explosion. The assembled scientists, physicists, engineers, and military personnel at the test site were amazed as they witnessed the blinding flash of the bomb. This Trinity test is important to history, because it ushered in a new era of military technology and international politics (Grieco, Ikenberry, and Mastanduno208). This new military technology was implemented in the ongoing World War II when on the 6th of August 1945, a US Air Force B-29 plane dropped a nuclear weapon called Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and detonated a second bomb called Far Man over Nagasaki three days later.

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The destructive effects of the two nuclear weapons were startling with the Hiroshima bomb killing between 70,000 to 80,000 people and injuring 70,000 others. The Nagasaki bomb, which exploded over a relatively isolated part of the city, claimed about 40,000 lives, injuring about 40,000 others (Kelly 107; Minneus 18). Japan surrendered shortly after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks, successfully ending the Second World War. Historians continue to debate the morality of these nuclear attacks and whether it was truly necessary to force the Japanese to surrender. Supporters of this historic decision by President Truman argue that the use of nuclear weapons was the most viable and least costly way to force a Japanese surrender. Japanese fought with almost fanatical resistance and signaled a determination to fight to the last man rather than surrender. This faction argues that a US invasion of Japan could have resulted in more casualties that far exceed the ones caused by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. Besides, the shocking effects of the new weapon convinced the unyielding leaders of Japan to surrender and quickly end the war (Kelly 108).

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However, the critics of the use of atomic weapons and the Manhattan Project argue that the US had other viable alternatives to nuclear attacks on the cities filled with Japanese civilians. It is held that by August of 1945, Japan was on the verge of surrender as a result of the destruction by conventional bombing of more than fifty of its cities. It was also experiencing a blockade of its territory by the US Navy. It was also experiencing attacks from the Soviet Union who had now joined the war against it. Under these circumstances, the threat of a final invasion should have been credible and sufficient enough to prompt surrender. Perhaps, if the US leaders thought the shock consequence of the nuclear-powered device was in truth needed to prompt Japanese capitulation, they could have ignited the weapon over Tokyo Harbor or a correspondingly noticeable location. This could have been done in order to prompt the intended political response while reducing non-combatant fatalities. The Truman decision was guided by the US leaders’ interest in containing the Soviet Union’s ambitions in the Pacific or by the desire to vindicate the enormous costs connected with developing the atomic weapon (109). The expensive atomic bomb approach was pursued rather than finding the least costly way to end the war.

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Many of the scientists who were involved in the Manhattan Project started questioning the wisdom of developing atomic weapons as their work approached fruition. Initially motivated by fear of a Nazi super-weapon, scientists who pushed for the project believed that they had the responsibility to ensure that the technology would be used for the benefit of humanity rather than for its destruction. These scientists did not trust the military with control over fissionable weapons or the continuing development of nuclear technology. As such, the “scientist movement” entered the political scene through advocating for international controls over nuclear weapons. Their argument was that if several nations reserved possession, no other nation-state could ever feel secure, resulting predictably in a nuclear-powered weaponries race and continuing conflict.

According to Kelly, despite the efforts by the Manhattan Project scientists the American political leaders were a bit reluctant to relinquish a nuclear domination that could be used to their nation’s tactical advantage (110). However, a civilian controlled nuclear weapons production system was established with the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 that placed control over the Manhattan Project activities and facilities as well as control over the nuclear weapons themselves in a new civilian agency ‑ the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) (Minneus 18). There is one major impact on the Cold War that the Manhattan Project established even before the Second World War ended. The first impact is rooted in the development of nuclear weapons the very existence of which sparked the nuclear arms race that shaped the contours of the Cold War politically and militarily. It is worth recalling that after the end of the Second World War, the democratic United States and the communistic Soviet Union emerged as the two dominant world powers.

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However, rivalry emerged between United States and the Soviet Union as each feared that the other was spreading its ideology all over the globe, thus sparkling the Cold War. By 1948, this war was in full swing. According to Van Dijk, the Cold War stayed cold because all the parties in the war on all sides understood that if a war occurred where the nuclear options were effected by both sides, then life on the globe would be terminated (568). Minneus observes that this war got its name from the memories of the Manhattan Project and its product in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings where the US and Soviet Union never directly engaged in combat with each other (17). Instead of fighting, each one of them began amassing large stockpiles of weapons including nuclear weapons in case armed conflict should arise.

In conclusion, the Manhattan Project established some major impacts in the political scene of the globe that range from bringing a quick end to the Second World War to restoring peace and paving way for the establishment of national peace treaties and the United Nations. It also gave way to unveiling the era of atomic weapons, energy, and their controlled use. Moreover, through linking government funding, military planning, and academic expertise in dynamic political, economic, and technological relationships, the Manhattan Project has pioneered the development of new and sophisticated systems of production and warfare that have a major enduring impact on technology and politics. Some critics reasonably think that this project, though it had benefits, was unnecessary in its implementation in Japan. As such, the only remaining hopes from the Manhattan Project is that the nightmarish images of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings would continue to discourage governments from utilizing these atrocious artilleries ever again.

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