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Theatre - video archive

Nuclear threat

 Copyright © 1998- 2005 Nuclear  Age Peace Foundation

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s

The  1940s

It was not until  July 13, 1942, in the midst of World War II, that the United States  undertook the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. By December  2, a Manhattan  Project team headed by Enrico  Fermi produced  the first artificial fission reaction at the University of Chicago.  Three years after its inception, the Manhattan Project achieved  its goal of developing an atomic weapon.

World War II  ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, less than a month after the death  of President Franklin Roosevelt,  but plans for the development and use of atomic weapons continued.

At at 5:29 a.m.  on July 16, 1945, the United States conducted the world's first  nuclear test explosion at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The Nuclear  Age was born, a product of the fear, violence, and suffering of  World War II. J. Robert  Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos Laboratory,  recalled the following passage from the Bhagavad Gita upon  witnessing the explosion: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds"

Within a month,  nuclear weapons were used to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When he received word of the bombing of Hiroshima,  President Truman exclaimed, "This is the greatest day in history!"

On August 8,  1945, two days after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima,  representatives of the U.S., United Kingdom, U.S.S.R., and France  created an International  Military Tribunal at Nuremberg to try Axix leaders for war  crimes. Japan signed a surrender agreement on September 2, ending  the war in the Pacific.

On October 24,  1945, the United Nations Charter entered into force and the  new international organization was founded. Yet the good intentions  of this new peacekeeping organization were threatened by the onset  of the Cold War. At the first meeting of the Atomic Energy Commission,  the U.S. delegate proposed a plan to internationalize control  of atomic energy. The plan was rejected by the Soviet Union,  which tested its first nuclear weapons in 1949, ending the U.S.  monopoly.

By 1947 the  Cold War was playing a major role in U.S. foreign policy. The  National Security Act created the Central Intelligence Agency  (CIA), and the Truman Dctrine proclaimed that the U.S.  would assist any country threatened by Communist aggression.

The Cold War  intensified in February 1948 when the Communists took over Czechoslovakia  and the U.S.S.R. initiated the Berlin Blockade. That same  year UN General Assembly adopted a Convention on the Prevention  and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Universal  Declaration of Human Rights

By 1949 Chinese  Communist insurgents led by Mao Tse-tung took power. The  North Atlantic Treaty was signed, creating NATO,  and the Berlin Blockade came to an end. In August, 1949,  the USSR detonated its first atomic bomb.

The 1940s was  the most violent decade of the century, ending with some 54,000,000  persons killed in warfare. Sixty percent were civilians.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


The  University of California begins building a giant cyclotron under  the direction of Ernest  O. Lawrence.Edwin McMillan bombards  uranium with neutrons and produces the first "transuranic" element,  neptunium (Atomic Number 93)
20 February
The German physicist Werner Heisenberg sends a secret report to the Army Weapons Bureau "On the Possibility of Technical Energy Production from Uranium Splitting. II.")

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


February  23
Glenn Seaborg and colleagues at the  University of California at Berkeley find that neptunium emits beta  rays (electrons), thereby forming another new element (Atomic Number  94) which they call plutonium. In 1951 Seaborg and Edwin  McMillan receive a Nobel  prize for their work.
June 28
Office of Scientific Research and Development is established under the direction of Vannevar Bush, to develop atomic energy.
Enrico Fermi suggests to Edward  Teller that an atomic bomb might heat deuterium sufficiently to create a full-scale thermonuclear reaction.
October 9
President Roosevelt decides to proceed with development of an atomic weapon after a meeting in which he is informed of its feasibility.
December 6
The day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorizes the Manhattan Engineering District. The secret U.S. project to build an atomic bomb, later to be called the Manhattan  Project, is put under the direction of the Office of Scientific Research and Development..

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


September  23
Colonel Leslie  Groves is promoted to Brigadier-General  and put in charge of the Manhattan Project. He recruits J.  Robert Oppenheimer as Scientific Director.
November  16
Groves and Oppenheimer select the site of the boys' school Los Alamos in New Mexico for  the project. Oppenheimer tours the United States recruiting top scientists and persuading  them to move to New Mexico. Edward  Teller is among the first group of 100  to accept.
December  2
Enrico  Fermi and his team at the University  of Chicago produce the world's first controlled and sustained nuclear  fission reaction. Leo Szilard and Fermi originate the method of arranging graphite and uranium which makes  the reaction possible.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


Thirty scientists  assemble at Los Alamos, New Mexico for an introductory series  of lectures on the theory and practicalities of designing and  building an atomic bomb using uranium-235 or plutonium-239.
May  5
The Military  Policy Committee of Manhattan Project developes the idea  to use the atomic bomb on Japan rather than on Germany. The  committee is chaired by General Leslie  Groves

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


A second uranium  reactor is built at Clinton, Tennessee for manufacturing plutonium  for an atomic bomb. [Note: First reactor is Fermi's  in 1942.]
March 13
Barely sixteen months after the feasibility of achieving a self-sustaining  nuclear chain reaction was established by Enrico Fermi  in Chicago -- a tightly held secret  known only to a very limited number of individuals in the U.S.,  UK and Canada - Homi Jehangir Bhabha initiates efforts  to start nuclear research programms in India.
December  8
Joseph Rotblat,  Polish refugee and physicist, resigns from the Manhattan Project  since he believed that Nazi Germany would not succeed in developing  an atomic weapon. He later explains, "I felt there was no need to  make a bomb. The only reason I started in 1939 was to stop Hitler using it against us." Rotblat was thereafter barred from entering the United States for 20 years.  In 1957 he helped start the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World  Affairs, of which he was the first president. In 1995 Rotblat and Pugwash jointly were awarded The Nobel Peace Prize for their  work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s

1945  - The Decision to Drop the Bomb

The  decision to drop the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and  Nagasaki is one of the most controversial issues of the 20th century.  Many modern historians have criticized the commonly held perceptions  that the bomb shortened the war, saved American lives and prevented  USSR's sharing in the post-war administration of Japan (see, for  example, Hiroshima's Shadow edited by Kai Bird & Lawrence  Lifschultz ). In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the bombing, an  exhibit designed to commemorate the event resulted in unprecedented  controversy for the Smithsonian Institution. The American  Legion and other veteran's organizations successfully lobbied against  the inclusion of quotes  from a number of notables including Dwight D. Eisenhower  that questioned the necessity of the bomb's use.

The debate has  not subsided. This timeline seeks to chronicle the events in 1945  leading up to and following the bombings. In 1945 the Manhattan  Project, the ambitious and expensive US effort to create the atomic  bomb, succeeded in its mission. The first atomic device was tested  at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Three weeks later the  atomic bomb was used on the city of Hiroshima, killing to 70,000  to 90,000 people-- overwhelmingly civilians-- immediately. Three  days later the atomic bomb was used again on the city of Nagasaki,  followed shortly by the end of World War II.

The decision  to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan will remain relevant to our  joint human experience forever. Important questions remain: Did  it have to happen? Will it happen again in an even more catastrophic  way? What do the first human experiences with nuclear power say  about humanity's ability to control its most dangerous creation?

January 1945
U.S. scientists and physicians begin secret experiments on plutonium  toxicity by injecting plutonium into patients and prisoners, without  their knowledge or consent. A civilian consultant to Department  of War, Jack Madigan, summarizes his findings on the efficacy  of the Manhattan Project: "If the project succeeds there won't  be any investigation. If it doesn't, they won't investigate anything  else."
January 27
Soviet Army liberates Auschwitz
February  4-11
Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin hold Conference at Yalta. They agree upon occupation  zones for postwar Germany, a plan set up a new government for Poland,  and " a general international organization to maintain peace  and security."
February  13
Massive Allied bombing of Dresden creates firestorm for the second  time in history. American author Kurt Vonnegut was present  in Dresden and writes about it in Slaughterhouse Five.
March 3
Head of the War Mobilization Board and future Secretary of State James Byrnes sends a memo to Franklin Roosevelt warning that if there is no "product" before the end  of the war "there would be serious consequences for the Democratic  Party."
He also states,  “I understand that the expenditures for the Manhattan Project  are approaching two billion dollars with no definite assurance yet  of production. We have succeeded to date in obtaining the co-operation  of congressional committees in secret hearings. Perhaps we can continue  to do so while the war lasts."
March 25
At the urging of Leo Szilard, Albert Einstein signs a letter  of introduction of Szilard to President Roosevelt.  Szilard wishes to warn Roosevelt of the post-war dangers of a nuclear  arms race if the atomic bomb is used against Japan. The letter states:  "The terms of secrecy under which Dr. Szilard is working at  present do not permit him to give me information about his work;  however, I understand that he now is greatly concerned about the  lack of adequate contact between scientists who are doing this work  and those members of your Cabinet who are responsible for formulating  policy." In the memorandum accompanying the letter, Szilard  wrote: "our 'demonstration' of atomic bombs will precipitate  a race in the production of these devices between the United States  and Russia and that if we continue to pursue the present course,  our initial advantage may be lost very quickly in such a race."
Anne Frank (1929-1945) dies at a Nazi concentration camp  in Bergan-Belsen. Her diary states,"It's really a wonder that  I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and  impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything  I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Eleanor Roosevelt,  who received a copy of Szilard's  letter to President Roosevelt,  replies to Szilard proposing a meeting in her Manhattan apartment  on May 8. The president, however, died on April 12.
April 12
Franklin Roosevelt dies,  and Harry Truman becomes the 33rd President of the United States. In his last prepared  speech he writes, "We are faced with the preeminent fact that  if civilization is to survive we must cultivate the science of human  relationship-- the ability of peoples of all kinds to live together  and work together in the same world, at peace. We have learned and  paid an awful price to learn, that living and working together can  be done in only one way only -- under law. There is now truer and  simpler idea in the world today. Unless it prevails, and unless  by common struggle we are capable of new ways of thinking, mankind  is doomed."
April 25
Secretary of War Stimson and General Groves  brief President Truman  on the bomb. In this briefing, Groves insists that Japan had always  been the target of the bomb's use.
Joint Chief  Planners advise Joint Chiefs of Staff that "unless a definition  of unconditional surrender can be given which is acceptable to the  Japanese, there is no alternative to annihilation and no prospect  that the threat of absolute defeat will bring about capitulation."
April 26
Soviet and U.S. troops meet at Torqau on the Elbe.
April 27
The Target Committee meets for the first time to decide which Japanese  cities to target with the atomic bomb. By the end of May the following  cities are selected: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kokura and Niigata. [See  minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee in Related  Sites.] Eventually Kyoto is replaced by Nagasaki and the listed  cities are spared further conventional bombing by the American Army  Air Force.
April 29
In a report entitled Unconditional Surrender, the Joint Intelligence  Committee informs the Joint Chiefs of Staff that "numbers of informed  Japanese, both military and civilian, already realize the inevitability  of absolute defeat."
May 3, 1945
Jimmy Byrnes is chosen  as President Truman’s personal representative on the Interim  Committee. (See May 9, 1945)
May 8
War in Europe ends.
May 9
The Interim Committee  meets for the first time. Its purpose is "to study and report on  the whole problem of temporary war controls and later publicity,  and to survey and make recommendations on post war research, development  and controls, as well as legislation necessary to effectuate them."  Members of the Interim Committee are: Jimmy  Byrnes, the Presidential’s personal representative; Ralph  Bard, an undersecretary of the Navy; William Clayton,  an assistant secretary at the State Department; Vannevar Bush, Director of the US Office of Scientific  Research and Development and a former Dean of Engineering at MIT; James Conant, president  of Harvard University and a distinguished chemist; and Karl  Compton, president of MIT and a noted physicist.
May 12
William Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic  Services, reports to President Truman that Japan's minister to Switzerland,  Shunichi Kase, wished "to help arrange for a cessation of hostilities."
May 25
Leo Szilard visits  White House with letter of introduction from Albert  Einstein to warn President Truman  of the dangers atomic weapons pose for the post-War world and to  urge him not to authorize use of atomic weapons against Japan. Szilard  is referred Matthew J. Connelly, Truman's appointments secretary,  to James Byrnes in  Spartanburg, South Carolina.
May 28
Assistant Secretary of War John  J. McCloy argues to Secretary of War Stimson that the term "unconditional surrender" should be dropped: "Unconditional  surrender is a phrase which means loss of face and I wonder whether  we cannot accomplish everything we want to accomplish in regard  to Japan without the use of that term."
Leo  Szilard, along with Walter Bartky and Harold Urey,  meet with Jimmy Byrnes at his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Szilard attempts to  persuade Byrnes to demonstrate the bomb’s power rather than  using it on Japan. Byrnes asks Szilard, ”How would you get  Congress to appropriate money for atomic energy research if you  do not show results for the money which has been spent already?”  Reflecting on this meeting later, Szilard writes, ”I thought  to myself how much better off the world might be had I been born  in America and become influential in American politics, and had  Byrnes been born in Hungary and studied physics. In all probability  there would then have been no atomic bomb and no danger of an arms  race between America and Russia.”
In a State Department  Memorandum of Conversation, Acting Secretary of State Joseph  Grew describes a meeting with President Truman that day. Grew writes: "The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender  by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction  or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the Throne.  If some indication can now be given the Japanese that they themselves,  when once thoroughly defeated and rendered impotent to wage war  in the future will be permitted to determine their own future political  structure, they will be afforded a method of saving face without  which surrender will be highly unlikely."
May 30
Wanting to influence the Interim Committee, Szilard arranges a meeting with Oppenheimer in Groves' office. Oppenheimer tells Szilard, "this  is a weapon with no military significance. It will make a big bang  - a very big bang - but it is not a weapon which is useful in war."
May 31
The Interim Committee agrees that "the most desirable target would  be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely  surrounded by workers' houses." Among those agreeing is James  Conant, the president of Harvard University.
The Office of  Strategic Services (OSS) reports on receiving a Japanese peace feeler  through a Japanese diplomat stationed in Portugal. The Japanese  diplomat says that the actual terms are unimportant so long as the  term "unconditional surrender" is not used.
June 1
Interim Committee  makes formal decision decides not to warn the civilian populations  of the targeted cities. The minutes for the Interim Committee meeting  state: “Mr. Byrnes recommended and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War  should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection  of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view  of the Committee was that the bomb be used against Japan as soon  as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’  homes; and that it be used without prior warning.”
June 9
Chief of Staff General George Marshall, in a memo to Secretary  of War Stimson, writes, "We should cease talking about unconditional  surrender of Japan and begin to define our true objective in terms  of defeat and disarmament."
June 11
The Franck Committee on the social and political implications of  the atomic bomb, headed by Nobel Laureate James Franck, issues a report advising against a surprise atomic  bombing of Japan. The report states, "If we consider international  agreement on total prevention of nuclear warfare as the paramount  objective... this kind of introduction of atomic weapons to the  world may easily destroy all our chances of success." The report  correctly predicts that dropping an atomic bomb "will mean a flying  start toward an unlimited armaments race."
June 14
The Franck  Committee Report - with its recommendation that bomb be  demonstrated to Japan before being used on civilians - is taken  by Compton to Los Alamos, and copies were given to Fermi, Lawrence and Oppenheimer.
June 15,  1945
Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC), an advisory committee to the Joint  Chiefs of Staff, concludes that about 40,000 Americans would die  in the planned two stage assault on Japan. 
June 16
Compton, Fermi, Lawrence and Oppenheimer conclude: "We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring  an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military  use."
June 17
McCloy tells Stimson that "there were no more cities to bomb, no more carriers to sink  or battleships to shell; we had difficulty finding targets."
June 18
President Truman  convenes a meeting of his chief advisors to discuss the military's  contingency plans for the invasion of Japan. The invasion was to  begin no earlier than November 1, 1945 and, according to Admiral William Leahy, "The invasion itself was never authorized." McCloy is asked to  prepare language for what is to become Article 12 of the draft Potsdam  Declaration. It specifies that the post-war Japanese government  "may include a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty."
Admiral Leahy makes diary entry noting, "It is my opinion at the present time  that a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be  accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision  for America's defense against future trans-Pacific aggression."  He also notes that General Marshall believes that an invasion  of Kyushu, the southern-most Japanese island, "will not cost us  in casualties more than 63,000 of the 190,000 combatant troops estimated  as necessary for the operation." This may be compared to later estimates,  after the atomic bombings, of 500,000 to 1,000,000 American lives  saved.
June 19
James Forrestal's  diary describes top-secret "State-War-Navy Meeting" in which surrender  terms are discussed. He writes, "Grew's proposal, in which Stimson most vigorously agrees, that something be done in the very near  future to indicate to the Japanese what kind of surrender terms  would be imposed upon them and particularly to indicate to them  that they would be allowed to retain their own form of government  and religious institutions while at the same time making it clear  that we propose to eradicate completely all traces of Japanese militarism."
June 20
A meeting of the Supreme War Direction Council before Emperor Hirohito is held on the subject of ending the war. According to the U.S.  Strategic Bombing Survey, "the Emperor, supported by the premier,  foreign minister and Navy minister, declared for peace; the army  minister and the two chiefs of staff did not concur."
June 26
United Nations Charter signed by delegates from fifty nations in San Francisco.
Stimson, Forrestal and Grew agree that a clarification of surrender terms should be issued well  before an invasion and with "ample time to permit a national  reaction to set in." The three agreed that "Japan is susceptible  to reason." 
June 27
Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph Bard sends a memo to Secretary  of War Stimson recommending that “fair play” demanded that the US give  the Japanese prior warning of an atomic attack. He recommends that  the US give the Japanese ”information regarding the proposed  use of atomic power.”
July 1
Szilard begins circulating  a petition to President Truman calling expressing opposition on moral grounds  to using the atomic bomb against Japan.
July 2
Secretary of War Henry  Stimson advises Truman to offer a definition of unconditional surrender, and states, "I  think the Japanese nation has the mental intelligence and versatile  capacity in such a crisis to recognize the folly of a fight to the  finish and to accept the proffer of what will amount to an unconditional  surrender."
July 3
James Byrnes becomes U.S. Secretary of State.
New York Times  reports, "Senator [William] White of Maine, the minority  [Republican] leader, declared that the Pacific war might end quickly  if President Truman would state, specifically, in the upper chamber just what unconditional  surrender means for the Japanese."
July 4
Szilard writes to  a colleague regarding the petition to president: "I personally feel  it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists  who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record  as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs  in the present phase of the war."
July 7
Truman leaves for  Potsdam on the Augusta accompanied by Secretary of State Byrnes.  They are one day at sea, when Byrnes receives telegram from Acting  Secretary of State Joseph Grew describing a peace overture from the Japanese military  attach in Stockholm. The attach offered a negotiated  settlement of the war if the US would guarantee the reign of the  Emperor.
July 10
At a meeting of the Supreme War Direction Council, Emperor Hirohito urges haste in moves to mediate the peace through Russia.
July 13
Washington intercepts and decodes a cable from Japanese Foreign  Minister Shigenori Togo to his Ambassador in Moscow that  states, "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace."
Secretary of  Navy Forrestal writes  in his secret diary: "The first real evidence of a Japanese desire  to get out of the war came today through intercepted messages from  Togo, Foreign Minister, to Sato, Jap Ambassador in Moscow, instructing  the latter to see Molotov if possible before his departure for the  Big Three meeting and if not then immediately afterward to lay before  him the Emperor's strong desire to secure a a termination of the  war."
Farrington  Daniels, Director of the Met Lab at the University of Chicago,  reported to James Compton that 72 percent of the scientists  favored a military demonstration of the bomb in Japan or in the  U.S. with Japanese representatives present before using the weapon  on civilians.
July 15
President Truman lands at Antwerp on his way to Potsdam meeting. Byrnes has convinced  him to drop Article 12 of the Potsdam Declaration, which had provided  assurance that the Emperor would be allowed to retain his throne  as a constitutional monarch.
July 16
Trinity test,  a plutonium implosion device, takes place at 5:29:45 a.m. mountain  war time at Alamogordo, New Mexico. It is the world's first atomic  detonation. The device has a yield of 19 kilotons, which is equivalent  to 19,000 tons of TNT. J. Robert Oppenheimer recalls a quote from the Bhagavad  Gita, a Hindu text: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."  Brigadier General T.F. Farrell, General Groves'  deputy commander, describes the explosion in this way: "The  effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful,  stupendous, and terrifying. The lighting effects beggared description.  The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity  many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet,  gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the  nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described  but must be seen to be imagined..."
July 17
President Truman at Potsdam writes in his diary, "Just spend [sic] a couple of hours  with Stalin. He'll be in the Jap War on August 15th.  Fini Japs when that comes about."
Secretary of  War Stimson records  in his diary: ”Byrnes was opposed to a prompt and early warning to Japan which I first  suggested. He outlined a timetable on the subject [of] warning which  apparently had been agreed to by the president, so I pressed it  no further.”
Leo  Szilard, unaware of Trinity test, prepares final draft of Petition  to the President of the United States, calling on the President  to "exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United  States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless  the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public  in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender;  second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use  atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the considerations  presented in this petition as well as all other moral responsibilities  which are involved." The petition was signed by 155 Manhattan Project  scientists.
July 18
President Truman  writes in his diary, "P.M. [Churchill] & I ate alone. Discussed  Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about  it. Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for  peace. Stalin also read his answer to me. It was satisfactory. Believe  the Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will  when Manhattan [reference to Manhattan Project] appears over their  homeland. I shall inform about it at an opportune time.”
July 21
President Truman approves order for atomic bombs to be used.
July 23
UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill remarks, "[I]t is quite clear that the United States do not  at the present time desire Russian participation in the war against  Japan."
July 23 and  24
McCloy writes in  diary in Potsdam, "Throughout it all the 'big bomb' is playing its  part - it has stiffened both the Prime Minister and the President.  After getting Groves' report they went to the next meeting like  little boys with a big red apple secreted on their persons."
July 24
Walter Brown, special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes,  writes in his journal that Byrnes was now "hoping for time, believing  after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in  so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press claims  against China."
Secretary of  War Henry Stimson passes on orders for atomic attack.
July 25
President Truman writes in his diary: "We have discovered the most terrible bomb  in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied  in the Euphrates Valley era, after Noah and his fabulous ark. Anyway  we think we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the  atom. An experiment in the New Mexican desert was startling - to  put it mildly”. This weapon is to be used against Japan between  now and August 10. I have told the secretary of war, Mr. Stimson,  to use it so that military objectives and soldiers are the target  and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless,  merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common  welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the  new. He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military  one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender  and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have  given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world  that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this  atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered,  but it can be made the most useful."
General Carl  Spatz, commander of the United States Army Strategic Air Forces,  receives the only written order on the use of atomic weapons from  acting Chief of Staff, General Thomas Handy.
July 26
Potsdam  Declaration calls upon Japanese government "to proclaim  now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces." The  alternative, the Declaration states, is "prompt and utter destruction."
Forrestal secret diary states, "In the past days Sato in Moscow has been sending  the strongest language to the Foreign Office at Tokyo his urgent  advice for Japan to surrender unconditionally. Each time the Foreign  Minister, Togo, responds by saying that they want Sato to arrange for the Russians to receive Prince Konoye as a  special representative of the Emperor to Moscow. Sato's persistent  reply to these messages was that this is a futile hope, that there  is no possibility of splitting the concert of action now existing  between Great Britain, the United States and Russia."
July 28
U.S. Senate approves the U.N. Charter by a vote of 98 to two.
Japan rejects Potsdam Declaration.
August 3
President Truman aboard Augusta receives new report that Japan is seeking peace. Walter Brown, special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes,  writes in his diary, "Aboard Augusta - President, Leahy,  JFB agreed Japs looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from  Pacific.) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia  instead of some country like Sweden."
August 6
The world's second atomic bomb, Little Boy, a gun-type uranium bomb,  is detonated 1,900 feet above Hiroshima, Japan. It has a yield of  approximately 15 kilotons TNT. Some 90,000 to 100,000 persons are  killed immediately; about 145,000 persons will perish from the bombing  by the end of 1945.
Upon hearing  the news of the atomic bombing of Japan on his way home from Potsdam,  President Truman remarked that this was "the greatest thing in history."
Leo  Szilard, the atomic scientist who had worked so hard to  prevent the use of the bomb, writes to a friend, "Using atomic bombs  against Japan is one of the greatest blunders of history."
August 7
Decision is made to drop warning pamphlets on Japanese cities.
August 8
Soviet Union informs Japan that it is entering the war.
Decision is  made to set up International Tribunal at Nuremberg.
August 9
At 9:44 a.m. Bockscar, a B-29 carrying Fat Man, the world's third  atomic bomb, arrives at its primary target, Kokura. The city is  covered in haze and smoke from an American bombing raid on a nearby  city. Bockscar turns to its secondary target Nagasaki. At 11:02  a.m. the world's third atomic bomb explosion devastates Nagasaki,  the intense heat and blast indiscriminately slaughters its inhabitants.
President Truman speaks to the American people via radio broadcast. He states, "The world will note that the first  atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was  because we wished in the first instance to avoid, in so far as possible,  the killing of civilians." [The official Bombing Survey Report stated:  "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their  concentration of activities and population." More than 95 percent  of those killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians.]
Atomic bomb  dropped on Nagasaki.
Soviet Union  begins its offensive against Japan in Manchuria.
August 10
U.S. drops warning leaflets on Nagasaki on the day after the bombing.
August 12
Manhattan Project releases report, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes,  written by physicist Henry DeWolf Smyth. The report, known  as the "Smyth Report," discusses the workings of the Manhattan  Project, the basics of nuclear physics and some of the technologies  used in producing plutonium and enriching uranium.
August 13-14
Japanese physicists investigating the epicenter of the Hiroshima  bomb burst start noticing high levels of radioactivity.
August 14
Japan surrenders.
August 15
Emperor Hirohito of Japan, in a radio broadcast to his nation  announces that Japan has lost the war. The Emperor's announcement  is hard to understand because he speaks in archaic court Japanese,  but one fact is understood: "Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ  a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to damage is indeed  incalcuable, taking the toll of many innocent lives."
New York Times  reports, "Russia's entry into the Japanese war was the decisive  factor in speeding its end and would have been so, even if no atomic  bombs had been dropped, is the opinion of Major-General Claire  Chennault..."
August 24
Soviet Union announces that the Japanese Manchurian Army has surrendered.
September  2
Japan formally signs documents of surrender.
September  9
The Trintiy test site is  opened to the press for the first time. General Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer dispel rumors of lingering high radiation levels there.
September  20
The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff embrace "first strike" atomic warfare  policy.
Robert Oppenheimer  refuses to participate in a full fledged effort to build a hydrogen  bomb when approached by Edward Teller.
October 18
Top-secret documents from the Los Alamos National Laboratory reach  the desk of Lavrenty Beria, head of the Soviet secret police  and in charge of the Soviet nuclear program.
Albert Einstein makes a plea for world government. He states, "Since I do not  foresee that atomic energy is to be a great boon for a long time,  I have to say that for the present, it is a menace."
November  15
President Harry Truman and Prime Ministers Clement Attlee of Great Britain and Mackenzie  King of Canada call for a UN Atomic Energy Commission. Declaration | Joint Statement
November  21
Judge Robert H. Jackson makes the opening statement on behalf  of the United States at the International Military Tribunal of Nazi  war criminals at Nuremberg.  Jackson states: "We must never forget that the record on which  we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will  judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice  is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment  and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend  itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspiration to do justice."
November  23
In a secret agreement between the USSR and the CSSR the Soviet Union  secures exclusive rights to all uranium mined within Czechoslovakia.
December  10
Eugene Rabinowitch and Hyman Goldsmith publish first  issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.
December  19
Nuclear research begins in India with establishment of Tata Institute  of Fundamental Research (TIFR) with Homi Jehangir Bhabha as its first director.
December  24
U.S. Embassy in Moscow warns of an all-out Soviet effort to build  atomic bomb.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


January 10
United Nations General Assembly holds its opening session in Central  Hall, Westminster in the UK.
January 24
The UN General Assembly adopts its first resolution, which establishes  an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and calls for the "elimination  from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons  adaptable to mass destruction."
Febuary 9
Joseph Stalin delivers a speech at the Bolshoi Theater which  marks a deterioration in Soviet-American relations.
February  16
Faculty of Columbia University, including physicist Isidor Rabi,  urges President Truman to stop production of atomic bombs.
February  22
George F. Kennan, Chargé d'affaires in Moscow, sends  historic long telegram to the U.S. State Department. It analyzes Soviet  foreign policy in alarming terms.
March 5
Winston Churchill delivers  historic Iron Curtain Speech at Fulton, Missouri.
March 28
Acheson-Lilienthal Report on the International Control of Atomic  Energy is released stating, "Only if the dangerous aspects of atomic  energy are taken out of national there any reasonable  prospect of devising safeguards against the use of atomic energy  for atomic bombs."
Soviet scientist Lulii Khariton chooses a remote and scenic  location near the village of Arzamas (now Sarov), about 400 miles  east of Moscow, as secret location for Soviet weapons lab. Khariton will serve as scientific director of Arzamas-16 from 1946 until  1992.
April 18
During a top-secret, three-day conference at Los Alamos, New Mexico  scientists examine feasibility of developing the hydrogen bomb.
June 14
At the first meeting of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission,  U.S. delegate Bernard Baruch presents a modified Acheson-Lilienthal  Proposal to internationalize control of atomic energy. He announces,  "We are here to make a choice between the quick and the dead. That  is our business. Behind the black portent of the new atomic age  lies a hope, which seized upon in faith, can work our salvation.  If we fail, then we have damned every man to be the slave of Fear.  Let us not deceive ourselves. We must elect World Peace or World  Destruction."
June 19
Andrei Gromyko, Soviet delegate to the UN Atomic Energy Commission  insists that any agreement on the international control of atomic  weapons must be preceded by a worldwide moratorium on their production  and use.
July 1
The United States begins nuclear weapons testing at Bikini  Atoll in the Pacific by initiating Operation Crossroads.
August 1
The United States Congress establishes its own Atomic Energy  Commission (AEC) to control U.S. nuclear energy development.
August 31
"Hiroshima" by John Hersey is published in the  New Yorker magazine, revealing the horrors of atomic war to the  American public.
November  10
Team of Soviet scientists, headed by Igor Kurchatov,  begins assembly of first full-scale nuclear reactor.
December  25
The Soviet Union achieves its first nuclear chain reaction in  Moscow, using an experimental graphite-moderated natural uranium  pile.
December  30
The UN Atomic Energy Commission approves the Baruch plan calling for the creation of an international atomic  development authority. In doing so, it rejects the Soviet plan which  called for nuclear disarmament before any international agency is  created.
December  31
Soviet scientists review "classical super," Edward Teller's design for the hydrogen bomb.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


April  17
US Atomic Energy Commission issues a memo on "Medical Experiments  on Humans." It reads in part, "It is desired that no  document be released which refers to experiments with humans and  might have adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal  suits. Documents covering such work field should be classified  'secret'."
June 5
U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall announces European  Recovery Program, a.k.a. Marshall Plan.
George F. Kennan, U.S. Chargé d'affaires in Moscow, outlines  policy of political containment of Soviet Union.
The United Kingdom's first atomic reactor at Harwell comes into  operation.
September  28
British physicist Klaus Fuchs meets with his agent Alexander Feklisov in London and describes certain structural characteristics of the  hydrogen bomb.
Nuclear war plans of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff considers 150  "Nagasaki type" sufficient to defeat the USSR. Nuclear weapons stockpile  is still small (20-50) but growing.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


The Military  and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy by P. M. S. Blackett argues that the United Kingdom cannot achieve an independent nuclear  deterrent. As a result, the government blacklists Blackett for over a decade.
 January 7
U.S. and Great Britain revoke wartime pact on nuclear cooperation.
February 25
Soviet forces occupy Prague, capital city of Czechoslovakia.
March 13
British physicist Klaus Fuchs delivers "classical super"  design for the construction of the hydrogen bomb to his agent, Alexander  Feklisov.
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission begins Operation Sandstone at Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific to test the improved designs of fission  bombs.
May 5
Joint Chiefs of Staff brief President Truman on "Halfmoon," their nuclear war plan. The plan calls for dropping  50 atomic bombs on 20 Russian cities. Truman disapproves.
Soviet physicist Igor Tamm enlists his graduate student Andrei Sakharov to study fusion problem.
June 7
Reactor A at the Mayak complex near Chelyabinsk reaches full  criticality, enabling the USSR to produce plutonium.
June 19
First Soviet plutonium production reactor becomes operational at  Kyshtym in the Ural Mountains.
June 24
USSR blocks rail and road connections to West Berlin.
Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov begins development of  "Layer Cake" concept for hydrogen bomb.
October 19
General Curtis LeMay assumes command of the U.S. Strategic Air Command.

The 1940s1940 - 41 -42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49             - The 1950s


The  Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel actively supports nuclear  research.
Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov starts working at  the secret Arzamas-16 nuclear weapons laboratory.
February  27
Plutonium separation begins at the Mayak complex near Chelyabinsk  begins, dumping highly radioactive waste into the Techa river. Radioactivity  from the Techa river is discovered in the Arctic as early as 1951.
General Curtis LeMay's  first nuclear war plan for the Strategic Air Command envisions attacks  on 70 Soviet cities with 133 bombs.
April 4
The North Atlantic Treaty establishes NATO, a military alliance aimed at  protecting Western nations from the Soviet bloc.
May 15
Communists win elections in Hungary.
Physicist Edward Teller rejoins the staff at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
July 29
UN Atomic Energy Commission suspends its meetings because of  irreconcilable differences between the U.S. and USSR. [see December  30, 1946]
August 29
Soviet Union detonates its first atomic bomb, Joe 1 (10-20  kilotons) at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.  Top  Secret Policy Planning Staff Memo
September  3
U.S. weather plane flying off the coast of Siberia picks up  evidence of radioactivity. Report  by Chief of Staff
September  23
President Truman announces explosion of first Soviet atomic bomb.- Text
U.S. government expands production of uranium and plutonium.
October 29
General Advisory Committee to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission  argues against a crash program to develop the hydrogen bomb. - Minutes  | Report
November  25
In a letter Atomic Energy Commissioner Lewis Strauss urges President Truman to give highest priority to development of hydrogen bomb.
December  2 and 3
Hanford Nuclear Plant releases three tons of irradiated uranium  fuel in an experiment called Green Run aimed at duplicating pollution  from a Soviet reactor. The experiment places more than 7,800 curies  of radioactive iodine-131, known to cause thyroid cancer in humans,  into the environment. This classified atomic intelligence experiment  was not disclosed for almost four decades.

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