Atomic Bombing: America's Only Choice It was discovered at the University of Chicago that neutrons striking the element uranium caused the atoms to split apart. The discovery, based on Einstein's E = mc 2 theory that mass has the potential to unleash great amounts of raw energy, showed that among the pieces of a split atom were newly produced neutrons. These might encounter other uranium nuclei, cause 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. Albert Einstein informed 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. Industrial and research activities took place at such sites as Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington. J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the bomb, led the Manhattan Project: he directed the design and building of the bomb from 1943 to 1945. The first atomic bomb was successfully exploded on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
There was a debate over whether dropping the remaining two bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man) could be avoided. Many people offered alternatives they saw as more morally justifiable. One alternative was an invasion of the Japan mainland, but most Americans wanted to avoid this option at all costs, since it involved the loss of a predicted one million American lives, as well as huge numbers of Japanese. It has also been argued that a demonstration could have been held for Japanese officials on an uninhabited island. This, if it had worked, would have spared Hiroshima and Nagasaki devastation while still revealing the atom bomb's fantast i power to the Japanese.
Assuming that the Japanese would have even agreed to this, there was no guarantee that the fickle atomic bomb would detonate properly. Assuming that the bomb detonated correctly, it would still pose several large problems for America. First and most obvious was that one of the three bombs that were left, which were difficult to produce and very expensive, would be wasted if the demonstration did not have the right effect on the Japanese. Secondly, the Japanese might have taken this to mean that the United States lacked the resolve to use such a weapon, and seen them as cowards not as serious about destroying the Japanese as the Japanese were about destroying America's forces. Thirdly, air defense in cities such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been put on high alert, diminishing the chances of a successful nuclear raid. If the bomb failed to detonate, this would spell political disaster for America.
Besides looking very foolish, America would have caused even greater anti-American sentiments among the Japanese. Looking back, it can now be argued that dropping the bombs was not morally justified because of the long-term effects of nuclear radiation, and the damage and pain it caused to innocent humanity in those two cities. When Truman was briefed on the capabilities of the bomb, however, he was told what was believed at the time: the atomic bomb was just an enormously powerful bomb, like the ones already in existence but exponentially more powerful. Since the effects of radiation were not known at the time, this should not be considered as a reason for moral justification to argue that dropping the bombs was wrong.
At the time, the decision to drop the bombs seemed like the lesser of two evils. With the options available to Truman, the atomic bombings proved to have the potential for the least casualties for both sides while ending the war quickly. Thus, dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified.