August 6, 1945, is not a day to be forgotten. It marks the worlds first use of an atomic bomb, which was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the U.S. Military. Three days later, the United States dropped a second atom bomb on the city of Nagasaki bringing World War II to an end. In total, more than 140,000 people were estimated to be killed. Although the most memorable effects of the atomic bomb were the mass amounts of death, the development of the atomic bomb has greatly influenced American society and the world. The scientific development surrounding the A-bomb has been a pivotal point in the worlds history, launching us into the Atomic Age.
The discovery of the nuclear atom dates back to 1911, but its potential power was not realized until the late 1930s. The study of atoms as a weapon originated in Germany. In August of 1939 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to president Roosevelt to inform him of the potential power of an atomic weapon. It was only then that the United States Government began the serious undertaking known as the “Manhattan Project.” The project was designed to research and create a usable atomic bomb. By 1945, the project had nearly 40 laboratories and factories which employed 200,000 people. That was more than the American Automotive Industry employed at the time.
On July 16, 1945, a brilliant flash changed the world. The first atomic bomb, Fat Boy, was tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This was the very first time the world witnessed a nuclear explosion.
Even before the bomb was tested, President Harry Truman had already made the decision to use it on Japan. Although the war was almost over, Truman still decided to use a weapon of such large devastation. There were three main reasons for this.
The United States occupied many of the islands of the Pacific, and all that remained was an invasion of Japan. But, the United States realized that the Japanese wouldnt surrender easily. They would fight to the very end. The loss of American lives would be too great not to use the bomb. Also, the development of the atomic bomb cost two billion dollars. This was too large of a financial investment to justify not using the bomb. Many Americans also held bitter resentment against the Japanese for Pearl Harbor and the treatment of American prisoners. They wanted revenge.
On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped a 9,000 pound nuclear device, little boy, on Hiroshima, Japan. The explosion of this atomic bomb resulted in a huge number of deaths, estimated between 90 and 140 thousand. Three days later, a 10,000 pound bomb, Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, resulting in 60 to 80 thousand deaths. These were the only two times in history where an atomic bombs devastation has been unleashed on mankind. World War II finally ended.
The atomic bombs initial explosion may have been devastating, but it also had many after effects. Those who didnt die suffered severe burns. Acute radiation poisoning, which occurred directly after the explosion, caused nausea, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, hair loss, and even death in thousands of people for months. After effects of radiation such as keloids, leukemia, cancer, and birth defects still appear even today. Black Rain containing large amounts of nuclear fallout fell as much as 30 km from the original blast site. Some particles of fallout are still floating around in the atmosphere from the explosion that happened more than 50 years ago, possibly affecting countries all over the world. Some other after effects are just being realized now.
The bombing didnt only affect Japanese. It also affected the United States. The Manhattan Project that developed the bomb cost two billion dollars. That roughly equals 26 billion dollars today, which is almost as much as the combined cost of all mines, grenades, and bombs used in WWII.
In the summer 1949, during the cold war, the Soviets detonated their first nuclear device. Ever since then, mankind has been faced with the possibility of a nuclear war that could conceivably destroy civilization. During the Cold War, many Americans lived in fear of a nuclear attack.
Two years later, the United States replied by developing the Hydrogen Bomb, the predecessor to the atom bomb, which was 1,000 times more powerful. Since then, many other countries have produced nuclear weapons, including: France, China, and the United Kingdom. Several other, smaller, countries may have also produced nuclear weapons. If any one of these weapons is fired, a chain reaction of retaliations could trigger the end of mankind. Because of this threat, many nations have signed treaties restricting nuclear weapons. Testing is now mostly conducted underground to prevent fallout, and there is less of a threat of nuclear attack, due to fear of consequences known as “Mutually Assured Destruction.”
The struggle for atomic power has left the world scarred. Recently the United States has taken steps to prevent further nuclear contamination, but the environment has already suffered greatly. The US Department of Energy continues to clean up contamination from the last 50 years of the atomic age. This contamination is the price we pay today for maintaining a strong national defense.
The atom bomb has left a permanent mark on the world, but its not all bad. A lot of good has come from its research. One of its biggest benefits was that it lead to the discovery of how to harness nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are much more efficient than conventional power plants, and they have become a large supplier of power for the United States and the rest of the world.
But the Nuclear Power Plants have come with a price. On April 26, 1986, a power plant in Chernobyl, Soviet Union, had a nuclear meltdown. Fallout from the explosion has contaminated part of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Many people are still being affected by the radioactive fallout. Since then, precautions have been taken to assure there is never another meltdown.
Technology discovered in the creation of the A-bomb is also being used for medical purposes. Doctors have gained the use of CAT scans and radiation to treat some patients. Atomic energy is still being heavily researched today, and we can look forward to many more advanced uses of atomic energy in the coming years.
The development of the atomic bomb, also, heavily influenced artists of the fifties. The idea that we are not solid, and, instead, made of millions of powerful particles, heavily influenced artists such as Jackson Pollock. Pollocks style of art, which focused on capturing an imprint of the human psyche at a moment in time, lead to the creation of abstract expressionism. Many other artist copied his style of portraying atomic energy.
In the 50 years since historys first atomic explosion, the promises and perils of nuclear science have touched nearly every aspect of our culture and politics. The scientific development surrounding the A-Bomb has been a pivotal point in the worlds history, launching us into the Atomic Age. We came close to nuclear inhalation during the cold war, but its benefits have been much greater. We have turned nuclear power into a reliable source of energy, and it has provided us with many technological advances. In the future we can look forward to using the technology discovered during the Manhattan Project to create even better sources of energy. We are only at the beginning of the Atomic Age, and there are endless possibilities for the future.