Race for Nuclear Arms and Power
Harry Truman (1884-1972) was the most influential person in the race for the super bomb. As President Roosevelt’s Vice President, he knew nothing about the development of the atomic bomb. But within months of assuming the office of President of the United States on April 12, 1945, he became the first and only American leader to authorize the use of atomic weapons against an enemy target. Truman’s era only marked the beginning of the race for nuclear weapons. The development of nuclear weapons is still an issue today, decades after Truman left office.
Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) succeeded in splitting the uranium atom and the Nobel Committee later awarded him the 1938 prize for physics. At Columbia University in New York, Fermi realized that if neutrons are emitted in the fissioning of uranium then the emitted neutrons might proceed to split other uranium atoms, setting in motion a chain reaction that would release enormous amounts of energy.(1) Fermi had succeeded in taking one of the first steps to making an atomic bomb.
A decade later on July 16, 1945, the U.S. detonated the first Atomic Bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was called the "Trinity" test and exploded with a force equivalent to 18,000 tons of TNT.(2) Truman then made the controversial decision to drop the bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The "Little Boy" Atomic Bomb exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima with a force equivalent to 12,500 tons of TNT.(3) Bomb related deaths totaled over 140,000. Then three days later on August 9, 1945, the "Fat Man" Atomic Bomb exploded 1,650 feet over Nagasaki with a yield equivalent to 22,000 tons of TNT.(4) A little over 70,000 died in Nagasaki by the end of 1945 from the effects of the bomb. After these events occurred, the world was shocked by the devastation of nuclear weapons and unsure of the future use of them. In his final state of the union address, President Truman declared nuclear war impossible for "rational men."(5)
In a "Foreign Policy" article U.S. physicist Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) called for greater openness in atomic policy debate. In 1941 Oppenheimer was brought into the atomic bomb project and his first task was to calculate the amount of uranium needed to sustain a chain reaction. Oppenheimer became the scientific director of the program and authorized the first Atomic Bomb test code-named "Trinity." After the experiment he said, "A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent."(6) After the war Oppenheimer achieved nation-wide recognition as the "father of the Atomic Bomb." On November 7, 1953, lawyer William L. Borden sent a letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover accusing Oppenheimer of being a soviet spy. A month later President Eisenhower ordered a "blank wall" be placed between Oppenheimer and atomic secrets.(7) Later that month, the Atomic Energy Commission sent a letter with charges against Oppenheimer. The AEC was an agency that consisted of five...