One of the early chapters provides a few details of the Manhattan Project with which I was either previously unfamiliar or poorly acquainted, and because it's 0427, I'll
- Among the leading physicists in the German atomic weapons program was Werner Heisenberg, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics and original exponent of the "uncertainty principle." BG Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, allegedly dispatched former major league catcher and OSS operative Moe Berg to investigate killing Heisenberg if he perceived that Germany was close to the production of a bomb. (It wasn't.) (p. 24)
- When the war with Germany ended prior to the successful fielding of the atom bomb, President Truman set up what was called the "Interim Committee" to advise him on whether or not the weapon should be used against Japan. The members of the committee (among them the presidents of Harvard and MIT) unanimously recommended on 01 June 1945 "that the bomb should 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." (p. 25) I'll be honest: I'm more than a little surprised that there was unanimous consent on the stipulation "without prior warning," but Oppenheimer and his colleagues were apparently concerned that a failed detonation after announcement of the bomb's existence would set back the war effort dramatically.
- The committee that drew up a possible target list for the bomb expressly avoided those cities that had been previously subjected to American firebombing, as the effects of prior raids would make it difficult to evaluate the destructive impact of the atom bomb. (p. 25)
- The second bomb was initially intended not for Nagasaki but for a city called Kokura. Flak and cloud cover forced the aircrew to divert to a secondary target. Similarly poor weather over Nagasaki meant that the bomb landed off-target, which accounts in part for the more powerful second weapon's comparatively smaller casualty count (40,000 killed and 40,000 injured in Nagasaki versus 70,000 and 50,000 at Hiroshima). (p. 27)
- Manhattan Project officials had little reason for confidence that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs would be even this effective, as the successful prior test detonation had taken place under controlled conditions and with a stationary warhead. The risk of failure was highlighted in the first post-war test at Bikini Island in 1946: only five ships were sunk when an air-dropped bomb missed its target -- a 90-vessel floating boneyard -- by half a mile.
- While Secretary of War Stimson speculated an invasion that could cost 1 million American lives would be required to assure Japanese surrender without use of the bomb, other senior U.S. leaders thought continued firebombing and blockade could be effective. This latter viewpoint was supported by the results of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, conducted in 1946, in which "sixty-four percent of the [Japanese] population stated that they had reached a point prior to surrender where they felt personally unable to go on with the war." The Survey's Summary Report asserted that "certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated." The emphasis here is mine. (p. 28)
- Between 1953 and 1955, the U.S. doubled its weapon count from just under 900 to almost 1800, increasing the overall yield of those weapons from around 5,000 Hiroshimas to almost 200,000. By the middle of the decade, the nuclear production complex consumed a staggering SIX POINT TWO PERCENT of total U.S. electrical power. (p. 42)
- As of 2007, nuclear warheads cost the U.S. only about a quarter of a million dollars each. The vast majority of spending on strategic arms goes to delivery systems and the massive security apparatus that protects the nuclear weapons program. (p. 42)