Introduction

            The purpose of this
essay is to respond to the prompt: What drove the Manhattan Project, how was it
formed, and what were the short- and long-term effects it had on society and on
warfare? The main hypothesis defended in the essay is that the Manhattan
Project had negative short- as well as long-term effects for both society and
warfare. In terms of warfare, the existence of the Manhattan Project made the
deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians possible in the short
term and the destruction of the human race possible in the long term. In terms
of society, the Manhattan Project created a template for government
exploitation of science in the long term and contributed to the emergence of
social paranoia in the long term.  The
remainder of the essay consists of a presentation of these two critiques of the
Manhattan Project as well as discussion of the Manhattan Project’s background.

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Background

            In 1905, Albert Einstein
published five papers1
that revolutionized the science of physics, as they proved theories that were
created during the time of Newton. One of Einstein’s discoveries was that a
very small amount of matter could be converted into very large amounts of
energy. This discovery of Einstein’s would serve as the basis for the
possibility of a nuclear bomb and everything leading to the creation of a nuclear
bomb would revolve around his finding.

            In 1939, Germany, under
the rule of Adolf Hitler, began the Second World War. Germany, with its allies,
Japan and Italy, sought to establish complete dominance over all countries even
by totalitarian means. By 1939, the new physics discoveries that had begun with
Einstein’s four papers of 1905 had advanced greatly, leading many
physicists—including Einstein himself—to be aware of the potential of building
a nuclear bomb. In August, 1939, Einstein signed a letter drafted by physicists
Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, which informed and suggested to the United
States government the possibility of building a bomb based on the principles of
nuclear fission.2
This letter, which came to be known as the Einstein-Szilard letter, stated that
German scientists had made significant advantages in the field of nuclear
fission, creating the possibility that Germany might make a nuclear bomb of its
own.

            The Einstein-Szilard
letter had the effect of sparking serious action by the United States. On
October 9, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt officially gave his proposal to
what would become the Manhattan Project. This would be a large,
highly-confidential mission to build a nuclear weapon which was led by the
government. Soon afterwards, the American government created two facilities
where research and testing would take place. The first located in Los Alamos,
New Mexico, and the other in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The scientific end of the
Manhattan Project was led by American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, while
General Leslie Groves would be in charge of the military and administrative aspects
of the Manhattan Project.3

Over the years of its operations, the Manhattan Project
employed thousands of people, including prominent physicists, engineers, and
chemists as well as thousands of factory workers, administrative assistants,
and other personnel.4
It was able to successfully bring together and unite the top and most advanced
in each profession. The Manhattan Project eventually succeeded in its mission
of building a nuclear bomb. The first nuclear explosion took place at Trinity,
New Mexico on July 16, 1945, demonstrating the great potential of this new
weapon. Less than a month later, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a
nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, a second
nuclear bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. After tens of
thousands of deaths in these two nuclear attacks, Japan formally surrendered on
September 2, 1945, following Germany’s surrender in May of 1945 and officially marking
the end of the Second World War. The Manhattan Project had successfully ended
the war. All stemming from the perception that Germany would develop a nuclear
bomb, the Manhattan Project was created. The Manhattan Project was therefore
driven by a desire to destroy and beat out the possibility of a Nazi nuclear
weapon. The formation of the Manhattan Project was a direct result of a
large-scale government intervention that created and funded secret sites for
development, engineering, and testing processes related to the development of a
nuclear weapon.

Impacts
on Society

            One
of the Manhattan Project’s short-term impacts on society was governmental
control of individuals. Thousands of workers of various professions and skills
were employed at the two sites of the Manhattan Project, where conditions at
these sites were extremely strict and firm.5
Thousands of people and their families were forbidden from leaving the project
sites, with very few exceptions. This strict environment would in turn display
a small scale example of complete government control over a group of people The
Manhattan Society modeled what a completely government-run society might be
like. During this time, the Manhattan Project ruined tens of thousands of
lives. Many people associated with the Manhattan Project committed suicide
because of the great restrictions on family and social life,  restrictive, hierarchical, and frankly
authoritarian conditions that existed in both Los Alamos and Oak Ridge; there
were also many instances of cancer.6

            The Manhattan Project’s
short-term effects were not merely on the individuals working on the sites
associated with the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project resulted in the
deaths of large numbers of Japanese civilians, including tens of thousands of
infants and children.7
The Manhattan Project was not only responsible for the war crimes committed on
the populace of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also for the long-term devastation
of Japanese society. The entirety of Japanese society became aware of the true
destructive capacities of modern warfare, and this knowledge has resulted in a
lingering trauma for Japanese society.   

            The impact of the
Manhattan Project on the country of Japan can hardly be overestimated. On
August 6, and August 9, 1945, those Japanese who survived the nuclear attacks
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki became aware of a terrible new age in human affairs,
one in which the extermination of not only entire cities and countries, but
also, potentially, the entire species, was possible. More specifically,
hundreds of thousands of members of Japanese society exposed to radiation in
the aftermath of the nuclear attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki developed
leukemia8
and other dangers attributable to radiation. In the decades since the nuclear
attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese society has continued to live with
the reality, as well as the specter, of its own destruction in a mushroom
cloud. This possibility has done irreparable psychic harm to millions of
Japanese people who, but for the existence of the Manhattan project, would
never have had to contemplate the wholesale destruction of their civilization.

            In the long term, the
Manhattan Project also established a template for governmental control of
society. In the name of security, the Manhattan Project created two zones (Los
Alamos and Oak Ridge) from which basic freedoms—including freedom of speech,
freedom of movement, and freedom of assembly—were excluded.9
In doing so, the Manhattan Project demonstrated a template that future American
governments could also utilize in order to manage society , or even create an
alternative society, in response to a real or imaginary security threat.

Impacts
on Warfare

            The Manhattan Project
led to the creation of the world’s first nuclear weapons. Two of these weapons
were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, leading to tens of
thousands of civilian deaths. The stated purpose of the dropping of
nuclear  weapons on Japan was to compel
the surrender of the Empire of Japan and the end of the Second World War.
However, there is also evidence that Japan was planning its surrender before
the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some scholars have argued that
the decision to drop the nuclear weapons on Japan was made hastily after it
became known that the Japanese planned to surrender.10
According to these scholars, key political and military interests within the
government of the United States wishes to test nuclear weapons in a live
format. Had the American government waited longer to drop nuclear weapons on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese intention to surrender might have become
widely known, in which case the dropping of nuclear weapons on these cities
would have constituted an obvious war crime. The introduction of nuclear
weapons has sometimes been argued to have inaugurated an age of peace based on
deterrence. However, the emergence of nuclear weapons led, for the first time
in human history, to the possibility that the entire human species could be
destroyed in a war. Therefore, even though nuclear weapons have not been used
after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their very existence upholds the possibility that
the next world war will surely mean the end of humanity as a species.

Therefore, there are two military critiques that can be
mounted against the Manhattan Project. The first critique is that the Manhattan
Project does not appear to have been a necessary expedient for putting an end
to the Second World War, as there is some evidence11
that the Empire of Japan was planning to surrender well before the dropping of
nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This critique
represents a short-term critique. The second critique is that the Manhattan
Project resulted in the creation of weapons that had, and continue to have, the
potential to destroy all of humanity, a potential that has never before existed
in the history of warfare. This critique represents a long-term critique.

Conclusion

The purpose of this essay was to respond to the prompt:
What drove the Manhattan Project, how was it formed, and what were the short-
and long-term effects it had on society and on warfare? The main hypothesis defended
in the essay was that the Manhattan Project had negative short- as well as
long-term effects for both society and warfare. In the social domain, the
Manhattan Project was critiqued for its creation of a template for governmental
control of society as well as for the massacre of a large portion of Japanese
society, coupled with a traumatization of subsequent generations of Japanese
society. In the domain of warfare, the Manhattan Project was critiqued for
generating a weapon with the capacity to destroy the entire human race. For
these combined reasons, the Manhattan Project should not be viewed as a triumph
of human ingenuity, but, rather, as a failure. It is entirely likely that, if
the Manhattan Project has never existed, humanity would be better off today.   

 

Bibliography

Bernstein,
Barton J. “Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender:
Missed Opportunities, Little-Known near Disasters, and Modern Memory.” Diplomatic History 19, no. 2 (1995):
227-73.

Gerstner,
Herbert. “Reaction to Short-Term Radiation in Man.” Annual Review of Medicine 11, no. 1
(1960): 289-302.

Hughes,
Jeff. “Deconstructing the Bomb: Recent Perspectives on Nuclear
History.” The British Journal for
the History of Science 37, no. 4 (2004): 455-64.

———.
The Manhattan Project: Big Science and
the Atom Bomb.  New York: Columbia
University Press, 2002.

Iijima,
S. “Pathology of Atomic Bomb Casualties.” Acta Pathologica Japonica 32 (1982): 237-70.

Lanouette,
William. “The Odd Couple and the Bomb.” Scientific American 283, no. 5 (2000): 104-09.

Lenfle,
Sylvain. “The Strategy of Parallel Approaches in Projects with
Unforeseeable Uncertainty: The Manhattan Case in Retrospect.” International Journal of Project Management 29,
no. 4 (2011): 359-73.

Rynasiewicz,
Robert, and Jürgen Renn. “The Turning Point for Einstein’s Annus
Mirabilis.” Studies in History and
Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern
Physics 37, no. 1 (2006): 5-35.

Voelz,
George L, JN Lawrence, and Emily R Johnson. “Fifty Years of Plutonium
Exposure to the Manhattan Project Plutonium Workers: An Update.” Health Physics 73, no. 4 (1997): 611-19.

1 Robert Rynasiewicz and Jürgen Renn, “The Turning Point for Einstein’s
Annus Mirabilis,” Studies in History
and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern
Physics 37, no. 1 (2006): 5-6.

2 William Lanouette, “The Odd Couple and the Bomb,” Scientific American 283, no. 5 (2000):
104.

3 Sylvain Lenfle, “The Strategy of Parallel Approaches in Projects with
Unforeseeable Uncertainty: The Manhattan Case in Retrospect,” International Journal of Project Management
29, no. 4 (2011): 362.

4 Jeff Hughes, The Manhattan Project:
Big Science and the Atom Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002),
17.

5 “Deconstructing the Bomb: Recent Perspectives on Nuclear
History,” The British Journal for
the History of Science 37, no. 4 (2004): 457.

6 George L Voelz, JN Lawrence, and Emily R Johnson, “Fifty Years of
Plutonium Exposure to the Manhattan Project Plutonium Workers: An Update,”
Health physics 73, no. 4 (1997):
611-12.

7 S Iijima, “Pathology of Atomic Bomb Casualties,” Acta Pathologica Japonica 32 (1982):
240.

8 Herbert Gerstner, “Reaction to Short-Term Radiation in Man,” Annual review of medicine 11, no. 1
(1960): 290.

9 Hughes, “Deconstructing the Bomb: Recent Perspectives on Nuclear
History,” 457.

10 Barton J Bernstein, “Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese
Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Known near Disasters, and Modern
Memory,” Diplomatic History 19,
no. 2 (1995): 230.

11 Ibid.

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