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Harry S. Truman& The Atomic Bomb
Power point created by Robert Martinez
Primary Content Source: Speaking of History: Vol. II, by Laura Belmonte
In 1939, physicist Albert Einstein warned President Franklin Roosevelt that the Nazis were capable of producing a weapon that harnessed atomic energy.
In response, the Roosevelt administration funded small studies of the military potential of fission chain reactions.
When the United States entered World War II, these efforts expanded into the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program employing more than 120,000 people.
American, British, and Canadian scientists (the Soviets excluded), collaborated in laboratories in Chicago, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Their challenges included collecting enough fissionable material to produce a nuclear explosion and devising a weapon that could be dropped from an airplane.
On July 16, 1945, scientists at Los Alamos exploded the first atomic bomb (Trinity test.)
At that time, the Allies had defeated Nazi Germany but were locked in fierce combat against Imperial Japan.
Earlier in the year, U.S. forces sustained heavy casualties in battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Although the Japanese lost over 110,000 soldiers and 80,000 civilians in these clashes, they continued to fight.
U.S. military planners predicted huge losses if American forces invaded the Japanese home islands.
News of the atomic bomb’s successful test gave President Harry S. Truman an alternative.
On July 25, while he was attending the Potsdam Conference with Soviet and British prime ministers, Truman issued secret orders to use the bomb if the Japanese failed to surrender by August 3.
The Potsdam Declaration warned Japan that it faced “prompt and utter destruction” if it did not capitulate (end hostilities.) The Japanese rejected the ultimatum.
In response, Truman ordered the military to use atomic weapons.
On August 6, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb on Hiroshima, instantly killing at least 70,000 people and leveling five square miles.
On August 9, the United States dropped a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, and 40,000 people instantly perished.
On August 14, Japan finally surrendered after receiving assurances that Emperor Hirohito could retain his throne.
The decision to use the bomb remains hotly disputed. Critics offer several motives, including the desire to save American lives, anti-Japanese racism, and intimidation of the Soviet Union.
Although we will never know the answer, nuclear weapons undoubtedly changed the course of modern history.
“Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used.”
- President Harry S. Truman