Nuclear Weapons; History and Religion

Nuclear Weapons; History and Religion
In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no
overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin;
and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (AJ Software and Multimedia. History of Atomic Bomb).

The most destructive weapons every created in the world that in seconds kill up to 200,000 people and destroy a area two mile wide was created not by generals but scientists. It forced people to look at religion for answers on the use of these weapons and how to deal with living in the nuclear age.
The science behind the nuclear weapon was in full force by July 4, 1934 when Leo Szilard was rewarded the patent for the nuclear weapon. Szilard explains in general critical mass and a system to start the reaction. He did this not for personal gain but because he realized the damage this could do and wanted to control it. He ended up giving it away to the British Admiralty in February 1936. This is the earliest of nuclear arms control.
The science of the fission started when the neutron was discovered by James Chadwick in Feb. 1932. This led to hundreds of new radioactive isotopes being discovered. The biggest problem discovered was the “Uranium Problem” in May 1934. During the Neutron bombardment of uranium a couple radioactive products are detected but could not identification or could it be explained.

This was first addressed by German, Ida Noddack, and she said the anomalous radioactivity produced was uranium splitting. This led to Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner solving the problem. They found that one of the radioactivities is a previously known isotope of barium. They then developed a theoretical interpretation of this demonstrated fact. They were able to show conclusive evidence of fission production of radioactive barium from neutron irradiated uranium. On January 13, 1939 Otto Frisch observed fission directly in ionization tube and coined the term “fission”. On January 29, 1939 Robert Oppenheimer realizes excess neutrons must be emitted and a bomb could be possible if they could create a self-sustaining reaction. On February 5, 1939 Niels Bohr has an important insight into fission. He discovers that U-235 and U-238 have different fission properties. U-238 fissioned by the fast neutrons and not the slow neutrons. U-235 accounted for observed slow fission in uranium. You could not have a self-sustaining chain reaction with natural uranium. (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The Manhattan Project)
At this time there were some key uncertainties to take this knowing information to make a weapon. The first is the number of neutrons emitted per fission to see if substance reaction could occur and the unknown cross sections for fission and absorption at different energies for the uranium isotopes. You need both sufficient excess of neutrons produced and the ratio between fission to absorption averaged needed to be large. There needed to be a better understanding of the differences of U-235 and U-238. The U-235 that was going to be needed to continue a reaction is only .71% of natural uranium. You would need some system to harvest just the U-235 out of the natural uranium. This would be called “enriched uranium”. On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland starting WW2 and the arms race was started to create a working bomb.
The Manhattan Project was the project that will successfully created the atomic bomb but why create it. The reason for the starting of the Manhattan Project was the armed expansion of military dominated Japan. Japan invaded the Manchuria in September 1931 and then in July 1937 Japan invaded China. Also was the rise and expansion of |Nazi Germany. Hitler gains full power in March 1933 and he enacts the Nuremburg Laws that begins the severe persecution of Jews. On top of this November 1937 The Axis Alliance is created by Germany, Japan, and Italy signing a treaty. All this happens because of the progress in fission a bomb was possible and Szilard was worried of an atomic bomb. Szilard and Albert Einstein write letter to FDR and warned of this possible problem on Oct 11, 1939. Ten days later first meeting of Advisory Committee on Uranium held is Washington DC.
Getting closer to a working bomb Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls in February 1940 create theoretical analysis of possible fast fission of U-235. They find a rough estimate of critical mass”a pound or two” and have a practical scheme for bomb design. This is followed by in July 1941 of plutonium being found to be most fissile material. By September 3, 1941 PM Winston Churchill helps starts British attempts of atomic bomb. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USA starts, on December 18, 1941, investigates into atomic weapon. The code name is the S-1 project. Later, the Army Corps of Engineers District to take over development of the weapon and called it “Manhattan Engineer District”. It is later know as the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project is truly started when on September 17, 1942 Col. Leslie Richard Groves takes over project. He has just finished over seeing building of Pentagon and is a no-nonsense leader that will push the scientist for results. Dr. Oppenheimer is to head Project Y. Project Y is built at Los Alamos, NM. Oppenheimer could lead scientist and worked well with Groves because they both say the importance of the work. There is a development of enriched uranium and plutonium through 1943. In the fall 1943 Project Alberta started. It is a project to start a weapon deliver, aircraft modification to carry, train flight crews to deliver the weapon. On July 4, 1944 Oppenheimer revealed spontaneous fission measurements to the staff. This was a turning point and progressing is fast. Groves can project a bomb will be ready by mid-spring in Aug 1944.

The Air Force starts modify B-29’s to carry weapon. At the end of the year of 1944 Y-plant is producing enriched uranium and plutonium production begins. Starting of 1945 project “turned corner”. Uranium bombs seemed sure in months and a plutonium bomb possible by August 1st 1945. Then during on April 12 Pres. Roosevelt dies. Pres. Truman learns of project and on April 27, 1945 the first meeting of Target Committee takes place. All targets are in Japan. By mid-May Little Boy bomb is ready except U-235 core. The U-235 should be ready by August 1st. By May 30, Hiroshima and Niigata are the only cities on target list because of the success of the war on Japan. Trinity is the first test of the first Atomic bomb and is successful on July 16 1945, 5:29:45 A.M.

“In that brief instant in the remote New Mexico desert the tremendous effort of the brains and brawn of all these people came suddenly and startlingly to the fullest fruition. Dr. Oppenheimer, on who has rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarcely breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and then when the announcer shouted “Now!” and there came a tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter by the deep growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief. Several of the observers standing back of the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast.

…All seemed to feel that they had been present at the birth of a new age — The Age of Atomic Energy — and felt their profound responsibility to help in guiding into the right channels the tremendous forces which had been unlocked for the first time in history.” Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell, describing his impressions at S-10,000 a bunker 10,000 yards south of Trinity; quoted in The Day the Sun Rose Twice by Ferenc M. Szasz, pg. 88.( Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The Manhattan Project)
During the same time Fat Man and Little Boy bombs are moved to Tinian Island to be used on Japan. Little Boy will use enriched uranium U-235 gun- assembly and will be drop on Hiroshima. The Fat-Man will use plutonium implosion assembly used on Nagasaki (1st target Kokura not used due to weather).

The decision to drop was made. Truman maintains it was to save thousands of America lives from a ground attack into mainland Japan. He said because Japan would not surrender this is debated from other people in power. Albert Einstein states,
“The use of the atomic bombs was precipitated by a desire to end the war in the Pacific by any means before Russia’s participation. I’m sure if President Roosevelt had still been there, none of that would have been possible.” (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The Manhattan Project)
What every is the truth is the bomb was dropped and there was no going back. The drop of Little Boy on Hiroshima is on August, 6 1945 at 8:15 AM with a force of 15 kilotons. The damage of Little Boy is Gamma ray and neutrons caused radiation, it destroyed 1.5 mile radius buildings and people, and 140,000 died by the end and 200,000 total died from the blast. The drop of Fat Man on Nagasaki happens on August, 9 at 11:02 AM with a force of 22 kilotons. The damage was 70,000 people die. The inscription at Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Park reads “Let all souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat this evil”
Knowing that this is done and we can create the power of the sun to destroy each other how did religion react to this? War has always been a controversial part of religion. Is it every justified? Most people are not that enamored of war. They see it as bad, but also as a possible means to something good. And so they distinguish between wars that are just and those that are unjust. The religions of the West and Middle East–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–approve of violence and war under certain circumstances. The Catholic Church has a specific doctrine of “just” and “unjust” war, worked out in some detail. Political philosophers today argue about which wars, or which actions in wars, may be considered just or unjust.
The Quaker has very interesting take on the dropping of the bomb. Even though we “won the peace” it cost us our soul when we dropped the bomb. Gilbert H. Kilpack states,
Our bread of peace is bitter because we told ourselves that democracy is superior to dictatorship. And that was right. But we did not see and have not yet seen how neutral, how negative our beloved democracy is. We did not ponder the fact that a negative Christian democracy may overthrow a continent, but cannot conquer a positive barbaric force. While we were busy conquering our enemy’s body, our enemy was busy conquering our soul, and this was revealed to us out of our own actions, out of a horrible flash of light which spread from Hiroshima over the world, entering even the seclusion of our quiet democratic homes. The atomic bomb has fallen with the power of a revelation from God, but unexperienced as we are with the revelations of God, the atomic rays of Hiroshima are just commencing to penetrate our souls (The City of God and The City of Man).

I search for a Presbyterian response and found an amazing article on it. They see great problems with a Christian nation using such a weapon. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1946 (the Assembly immediately following the war) stated,
“The great new factor during this generation is the use of the atomic bomb. Its potentialities for destruction were tragically illustrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whatever may be the extenuating circumstances, the inescapable fact is that we, a professedly Christian nation, must bear the moral responsibility for the first use of the atomic bomb. Christians know that war is evil. The use of the atomic bomb means that war reaches a degree of destruction which multiplies this evil beyond human concept.”
It is very interesting the way American Christians took the future of a world ending nuclear threat of war. The Christian fundamentalists almost feed off the threat of a nuclear war. Nuclear war was a just judgment of God on a wicked people and would lead to the Armageddon and the “end of days” that they believed are predicted in Revelations in the Bible. They used it to almost scare people into follow there beliefs. They would able to use it to gain wealth and political power in the United States especially in the Republican Party. They predicted that Armageddon would destroy the world but the faithful, of course, would escape unscathed. “If you are saved,” Falwell assured his listeners, “you will never go through one hour, not one moment of the Tribulation”. Indeed, the righteous could now sit back and enjoy things. As the fundamentalist preacher Carl McIntire put it: “Thank God, I will get a view of the Battle of Armageddon from the grandstand seats of the heavens”. Robertson organized the Christian Coalition, which became a leading force in the Republican Party (Falwell, Jerry. This Is the End of Times).

I went to my own church web-site,, to find any information about the atomic age from my church believes. I found some mention of atomic weapons but nothing that related directly to the attack on Japan. I found a quote from the prophet Harold B. Lee states,
Where else can you go for guidance? Where is there safety in the world today? Safety can’t be won by tanks and guns and the airplanes and atomic bombs. There is only one place of safety and that is within the realm of the power of Almighty God that he gives to those who keep his commandments and listen to his voice, as he speaks through the channels that he has ordained for that purpose. (“Closing Remarks,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, 125)
This is a direct reaction to living in the nuclear age. Once atomic bombs were a reality and then used on humans it really scared people. They were looking for some place that they could turn for answers and safety. This really drove people, especially Americans to look at religion for that safety and assurance that what they did was justified.
The Nuclear age is here and there is no going back. It is still a current topic on who can make the weapons and continues to drive people to religion for answer to why and assurance that if a nuclear attack or Armageddon ever happens they will be on the right side.
Works Cited
AJ Software and Multimedia. History of Atomic Bomb. 15 Mar. 1998. 15 Dec 2004
Falwell, Jerry. This Is the End of Times. 16 Dec. 2004 .

Kilpack, Gilbert H. The City of God and The City on Man. 17 Dec 2004 .

Lee, Harold B. Closing Remarks. , Ensign, Jan. 1974.
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The Manhattan Project. 30 Jan. 1998. 15 Dec. 2004 .

Presbyterian, First. The God of Peace. 8 Jun. 2000 17 Dec. 2004 .


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