On March 5, 1961, Douglas MacArthur told the Philippine Congress, ‘The triumph of scientific annihilation has destroyed the possibility of war as a practical method of resolving differences. The enormous destruction on both sides of a conflict makes it impossible for the winner to avoid anything other than his disaster. Global war is a Frankenstein monster that destroys both sides. This “monster” began on July 16, 1945, the precise beginning of “the atomic age” in which none of the contenders could have a confrontation in fear of their annihilation. Deterrence, according to Dr. Strangelove, became conflict “the art of producing fear in the enemy to attack,” as Kubrick and Southern wrote in the film.
Throughout the 1930s, after the formulation of the famous E = mc2, ballistic technology and nuclear fission will advance in a parallel but uneven way. John Cornwell describes in “Hitler’s Scientists” how there was a technological war between Axis Germany and the Allied powers because of a type of military use of new scientific formulations. The progress of Werner Heisenberg, a leading nuclear physicist with the Nazis, raised the alarm in the Allied authorities. And so happened the famous letter from Einstein to Roosevelt, August 2, 1939.
Over the past four months, it has become probable – through the work of Loot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in the United States – that it might be possible to start a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium. , through which huge amounts of power and large amounts of new uranium-like elements would be generated. Now it seems almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. This new phenomenon could be used for the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable – I think inevitable – that extremely powerful bombs of a new type can be built. The end of the letter, where he mentions that Germany “has stopped the sale of uranium from the mines of Czechoslovakia”, is the starting signal for the US nuclear project. Cornwell asserts that the “higher potential resources” available to the US made it possible to obtain the nuclear bomb more quickly than Germany since it had more plants and a larger workforce. Starting in 1942, the Manhattan project established its base in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Under the tutelage of J. Robert Oppenheimer and with the total collaboration of the country’s universities, they were able to produce the quantities of uranium and plutonium to develop the weapon. Leslie R. Groves, Jr., the Brigadier General in charge of this project, chose the Alamo for two reasons, according to Ferenc Szasz, for the need to centralize the investigation and also for security reasons. The nuclear materials were obtained at the Hanford plant in Washington State, where all the necessary material was produced. There were problems with the control of plutonium and its fission possibilities, which necessitated a greater number of neutron bombardments to avoid any mass error. The solution was to create an implosive-type weapon, which, after John von Neumann’s suggestion, cushioned the fission core with two explosives. This would allow, first, to control the explosion and second that the exact moment of the fission could be measured. The complexity of the process will take until no less than 1944. Finally, the definitive test was lacking: a real test in a place that would verify that the pump could work.
The great mushroom
In February 1944 Norman Ramsey, physicist director of the laboratory, proposed in a letter a test in a nearby place, always looking for a limited impact. Oppenheimer objected, considering that the effects might not be as useful as a “big bang.” By mid-year Grove accepted Oppenheimer’s suggestion to start “the trinity project.” The name came from the English poet John Donne of Elizabethan times and his verse, “Strike my heart, three persons in God. Throughout this year the different scientists and universities succeeded each other to find places to detonate the bomb. Some claimed the southern Caribbean, Texas, or some remote island in California; in the end, they decided on New Mexico itself and specifically what would become known as the White Sands Missile Range (between Carrizozo and San Antonio). It was a place far enough away so as not to be harmful to its inhabitants. There was only one ranch where its owners had been evacuated throughout 1942 and there was no longer any agricultural or grazing activity.
At the end of 1944, the military forces prepared the test site, marking security stops and sending horse patrols. With the arrival of the new year, the staff was better acclimatized through barracks and the connection with the railway networks of the place. This 1945 saw the construction of what would be known as the “Gadget”, the nuclear device, and two bunkers that would be necessary for scientific and military authorities to observe the experiment. Previous predictions veered between full-blown and failure. A previous test, in May, calibrated the devices and then proceeded to the preparation of the “Gadget” with a steel tower that exceeded 20 meters. The results were not known and the scientists considered that they could not afford to lose the plutonium, and a kind of tray was devised to collect this in the case of failure. However, at 5:29 a.m. the device exploded with a force of 19 kilotons. It exceeded the best expectations and turned into this famous quote from Oppenheimer to NBC in the 60s.
We knew that the world would not be the same. A few laughed, others cried, and most remained silent. I remembered the line from a Hindu holy text, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he must perform his duty and, to impress him, he takes his multi-armed form and affirms. Now I have become Death, the destroyer of the worlds. The world, in short, became another. According to Blades and Siracusa in “A History of U.S Nuclear Power”. The greatest war in human history both in cost and consequences ended with the use of atomic weapons. These represented a revolution in technology and firepower. It was, according to John Lewis Gaddis in his canonical work on the Cold War, the return of fear.