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The Atomic Bomb

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The atomic bomb killed many innocent people, but it was necessary to end World War II. After World War II began in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced the neutrality of the United States. Many people in the United States thought that they should stay out of the war. The people of the United States wanted the Allied Forces to get credit for the victory in Europe. President Roosevelt also wanted an Allied victory because an Axis victory might endanger democracies throughout the world. The United States equipped nations fighting the Axis with ships, tanks, aircraft, and other supplies for war. The Axis did not agree with the indirect involvement of the United States. Japan wanted the United States to stop sending supplies to China, however the United States refused to stop. The United States opposed the expansion of Japan in Asia, so they cut off important exports to Japan.

A surprise attack was ordered by Japan on December 7, 1941. The target was the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japanese planes bombed the naval base killing about 3,000 people and destroying many warships, aircraft carriers, and submarines. This was a catalyst that brought the United States into World War II.

Albert Einstein predicted that mass could be converted into energy early in the century. In 1939, physicists discovered that neutrons striking the element uranium caused the atoms to split apart. Physicists also found out that among the pieces of a split atom were newly produced neutrons. These might come into contact with other uranium nuclei, caused them to split, and start a chain reaction. If the chain reaction were limited to a moderate pace, a new source of energy could be the result. The chain reaction could release energy rapidly and with explosive force.

A few Hungarian-born physicists were frightened by the possibility that Germany might produce an atomic bomb. They insisted that Albert Einstein inform President Roosevelt about the possibility of the Germans making an atomic bomb. In late 1939 President Roosevelt ordered an American effort to make an atomic bomb before the Germans. This project to produce the atomic bomb was named the Manhattan Project. Research efforts occurred at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Manhattan Project was led by Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer directed the design and construction of the bomb. Many scientists worked on this project from 1943 to 1945. Oppenheimer was known as the father of the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb was successfully detonated on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Vice President Harry S. Truman became President of the United States because of the death of Roosevelt. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered. Truman proclaimed May 8 as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). In July, President Truman went to Germany to discuss war issues with Prime Minister Churchill of Great Britain and Premier Stalin of the Soviet Union. During his time in Germany, the President received secret word that the atomic bomb had been successfully tested. On his way back to the United States, President Truman ordered American fliers to drop an atomic bomb on Japan.

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 named Enola Gay left the Pacific islands to bomb the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The atomic bomb was named "Little Boy." The Enola Gay carried the "Little Boy" making it very heavy. No one was sure if the Enola Gay could be able to lift of the ground, so the final assembly of the bomb was done in the air. The bomb was dropped from an altitude over 31,000 feet and detonated at over1,500 feet above the center of the city. The copilot of the Enola Gay recalled:

"I don't believe anyone ever expected to look at a sight quite like that. Where we had seen a clear city two minutes before, we could now no longer see the city. We could see smoke and fires creeping up the sides of the mountain."

The atomic bomb wiped out 4.1 square miles of Hiroshima. That is over half of the city. The atomic bomb crashed with the explosive power of 20,000 tons of TNT. The explosion from the bomb was very loud. There was a tremendous fireball of white light. This fireball was a hundred times brighter than the sun and was enormous. The fireball sucked up millions of tons of dust and debris and formed a mushroom cloud that rained radioactive material on the city. The smoke cloud was visible over 150 miles away and hung over the city for hours. Nearly all of the buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed and the rest were severely damaged. All means of communication were obliterated. The city burned for three days. No one knows exactly how many people were killed in the initial blast, because thousands disappeared without any trace. The official estimates vary between seventy thousand and eighty thousand. Many more were injured. Thousands died after days, months, and years later from radiation effects. In Germany, the allies had issued an ultimatum that called for unconditional surrender. The ultimatum was apparently ignored by the Japanese leaders. The BBC quoted President Truman as saying:

"If they do not know except our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth."

August 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, when the Japanese government did not surrender, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. This atom bomb was called "Fat Man." It was more powerful than the one dropped in Hiroshima. The residents of Nagasaki were very surprised because the Japanese government tried to cover up the extent of damage to Hiroshima. The Japanese government told the people of Japan that it was a "special-type bomb." The Nagasaki bomb killed nearly a hundred thousand people. Twelve hours later fires in Nagasaki were burning so brightly that pilots two hundred miles away could see the blaze.

Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on August 14, 1945. In his announcement of intention to surrender, the Emperor of Japan included this statement:

"...I cannot endure the thought of letting my people suffer any longer. A continuation of the war would bring death to tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of persons. The whole nation would be reduced to ashes."

President Truman justified his decision to drop atomic bombs on television in February 1965. He said:

"It was a question of saving hundreds of thousands of American lives. I don't mind telling you that you don't feel normal when you have to plan hundreds of complete, final deaths of American boys who are alive and joking and having fun while you are doing your planning. You break your heart and your head trying to figure out a way to save one life.

The name given to our invasion plan was "Olympia,"

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