Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Start of a New Age – the Atomic Age

Photo from: Trinity

August 2nd, 1939 a letter written by a prominent scientist and sent to the U.S. President would trigger events that would change the world as we knew it at the time. It would end 6 years later in the now more or less famous expression "Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds" uttered by J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was the civilian administrator of the "Manhattan Project", he was the chief scientist and conducted the activity of several hundred scientists situated in more than a dozen sites around the country. Major General Leslie R. Groves actually ran the project coordinating the construction of many dozens of sites of extreme complexity, he coordinated security with his own force of MP's and coordinated the activity of what would become the 509th Bomb Squadron which would carry the first two atomic bombs into action some 6 years later.

But on this day, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on behalf of his good friend and fellow scientist and refugee Leo Szilard who had developed on his own the idea of the "Chain Reaction". Believing that the Germans were working on a chain reaction explosive device, Szilard pressured his friend Einstein to write the letter of introduction. From this letter Einstein described "A single bomb of this type carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory."

The President would heed the warning from Einstein and establish the "Uranium Committee" that would be the start of the eventual "Manhattan Project."

Significant to these events but lost on most is the fact that this letter and several others written later by Einstein and also by Szilard are their only activity with the building of the Atomic Bomb here in the United States. Most people think of Einstein as the father of the Atomic Age however in my opinion this is not true. J. Robert Oppenheimer or Enrico Fermi or even Edward Teller are more properly the "father" of this whole new age in humanity. The funny part of Einstein's participation, again lost to most is the fact that his letter triggered the development and later he would write to the new President Truman urging him not to use the devastating new weapon.

How the worm turns, it seems the Germans were many years behind in their development of their bomb, conducting only "heavy Water" experiments when the war ended. The Japanese were even further behind. The Russians however were right on our heels owing mostly to the numerous spies who were infiltrated into the Project from merry ole England, a place that before the great War was friendly to communists. They in turn were sent to the U.S. to help with the "Manhattan Project" and leaked what they learned to what would become the Soviet Union.

But today, that letter of introduction written by Einstein started humanity on a road that we cannot depart. For good or bad.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

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