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THE DECISION TO DROP THE BOMBThat was not any decision you had to worry about." President Harry S. Truman"While Americans and Japanese alike expected the war to end only after a bloody invasion of Japan, the U. S. government was readying a secret weapon that would dramatically affect the war's outcome-. the atomic bomb. In the spring and summer of 1945, American leaders had to decide whether to use this new weapon against Japanese cities. According to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, however, "the decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb ... was never even an issue." Upon becoming President in April 1945, Harry Truman inherited an expensive bomb project that had always aimed at producing a military weapon. Truman saw the bomb as a way to end the war and save lives by avoiding a costly invasion of Japan. He wanted, he said, to prevent casualties on the scale of "an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other."DECIDING TO BUILD THE BOMBThe atomic bomb was ultimately used against Japan, but it was built as a response to a German threat. In late 1938, German scientists discovered how to split ("fission") the uranium atom, releasing nuclear energy. When physicists in the United States learned of this discovery, many feared that Hitler might acquire a frightening new weapon: an atomic bomb. Refugees from the Nazis, most notably the Hungarian physicists Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, feared this possibility so much that they began the search for a way to warn Western governments.THE EINSTEIN LETTER Searching for a way to warn the U.S. government, Szilard and Wigner sought the help of the famous physicist Albert Einstein, himself a refugee from Nazi Germany. In August 1939, Einstein signed a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt regarding the possibility of creating an atomic bomb. It was conveyed to Roosevelt in October. The letter helped initiate the American atomic bomb project, but the United States did not immediately begin a crash program to build nuclear weapons. Until 194 1, efforts proceeded quite slowly. Leo Szilard (1895-1964).- In 1933 the Hungarian refugee physicist first conceived of a nuclear chain reaction as a means of liberating atomic energy and creating an atomic bomb. He had only recently left Germany 1
because of Hitler's rise to power. During World War II, Szilard worked for the Manhattan Project's Chicago laboratory. Throughout his life he believed that scientists needed to take a leading political role in society. After the war, he devoted much of his energy to warning the world of the dangers of the nuclear arms race.Albert EinsteinOld Grove Rd.Nassau PointPeconic, Long IslandAugust 2nd 1939F.D. RooseveltPresident of the United StatesWhite HouseWashington, D.C.