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[00:00:00]

This is the BBC. This podcast is supported by advertising outside the UK. Nobody is answering the phones in Los Alamos. It's July 1945, the war in Europe is over, but in the Pacific, the war rages on. In most cases, an unanswered phone would not be a particular cause for concern, but Delio salade the silence is ominous. He suspects what no one is willing to confirm, that the Manhattan Project is getting ready for the first atomic bomb test.

[00:00:52]

Robert Oppenheimer is the scientist in charge of overseeing Los Alamos. He's responsible for designing a bomb and making sure it works. Some of the most brilliant minds in the world have been working on this bomb, they've achieved some of the quickest scientific advances in history. In theory, the bomb should work perfectly. But until now, the preliminary tests of the individual components have failed. Like a Russian doll, the bomb is built in layers, the most highly combustible substance is at the core.

[00:01:29]

It's at the core that those first neutrons are fired that cause fission and a nuclear chain reaction. This is the process that Leo Szilard first envisioned on a London street corner over a decade ago. Atoms break apart, more neutrons are released, smashing more atoms, releasing energy and more neutrons and more energy. The goal is to make that nuclear chain reaction as big and as destructive as possible. On July 16th, 1945, deep in the New Mexican desert, the bomb will be tested for the first time.

[00:02:13]

Five twenty five a.m., the closest viewing stations are all at least five miles from the test itself. Some of the scientists have even taken bets, half joking on whether they will ignite the atmosphere. So there's the possibility it won't work and the possibility it will work too well. Unsure what to expect. The waiting scientists and soldiers hunker down. There is one thing, reality another. They have no idea what they're about to witness. Five twenty nine a.m. and forty five seconds.

[00:03:02]

A distant blast, nobody has ever seen anything like it before, a mushroom cloud rising into the dawn. Thirty seconds later, the shockwave hits the watchers. A new era. Robert Oppenheimer's project is a success. But there's a dark side of that success, he turns to a colleague and quotes from a sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita now I am become Death the destroyer of Worlds.

[00:03:51]

My name is Emily Strasser from the BBC World Service. This is the bomb. Episode six, the first atomic bomb.

[00:04:09]

Two months before the explosion in the desert, Leo Szilard makes a trip to the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense.

[00:04:20]

He's here to see Robert Oppenheimer. Remember, this is the man who runs Los Alamos with the world's first atomic bomb is being assembled. The bomb is now real. There's no escaping that. But Salade wants to urge Oppenheimer to stage a demonstration instead of using it on civilians. Here's William Lynn Howett.

[00:04:42]

Leo Szilard is thinking about the future, and he's worried now not just about beating the Germans to the bomb, but about whether it will be used against Japan and the effect it will have on world peace.

[00:04:58]

At the end of the war, Sellards influence has all but evaporated. His hopes of reaching the president with a letter cosigned by Einstein are gone. The president, he has contacts to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has died. A new president, Harry Truman, now sits in the Oval Office. Leo Szilard has been left on the sidelines in Chicago. While the most important scientists and technicians of the Manhattan Project are in the sights in Washington state, Tennessee and New Mexico, coming to Oppenheimer is the act of a desperate man.

[00:05:35]

He just keeps up the pressure. He's worried about this and he talks to anybody he can as often as he can.

[00:05:44]

The meeting with Oppenheimer does not go well. The two men almost immediately disagree about everything in that meeting. That's Jeanette Koenen. Oppenheimer is absolutely in favor of immediate use of the bomb when they are ready on Japanese cities. Oppenheimer listens to what the Zijlaard has to say. Sellards worried about them using the bomb, and he can also see a nuclear arms race on the horizon. Within a few years, the governments of the world could have enough firepower to kill every person on the planet it doesn't bear thinking about.

[00:06:20]

He promises to raise some of Zijlaard concerns at the next meeting of the interim committee, May 31st.

[00:06:27]

Something called the interim committee had been established by President Roosevelt before he died. It was a committee to help determine how to use the bomb if it was ever ready, if it would ever work. Influencing this committee might give Zijlaard a chance, perhaps his last chance to save the world from the bomb. He will have to hope that Oppenheimer is true to his word and that he will come around to Sellards views sooner rather than later.

[00:07:02]

Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the allied forces on Tuesday, May eight, 1945, the war in Europe was over. It was almost a year since allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. They paid a heavy price but slowly worked their way across Europe, breaking the Nazi hold on the continent. It's a victory and Europe is so huge. People are out on the streets celebrating, partying into the night. After six years of war, peace in Europe. Japanese supported the war despite the sufferings.

[00:07:43]

Kyoshi Hasegawa is a professor emeritus at the Department of History, University of California.

[00:07:48]

This is life or death. They wish that the end of the war would end. But, you know, when I when I read of diaries, they are really gung ho about the Japanese. We are going to defeat the Americans. By the spring of 1945, the Japanese Navy and Air Force were crippled, cities were bombed to ruins and civilians were starving. But the Japanese could not accept surrender in battling for the control of the islands across the Pacific.

[00:08:28]

The Japanese launched hopeless suicide charges, harakiri bombings and killed their own wounded rather than let them fall into enemy hands. Japan was effectively a nation beaten in war. Their troops were dying. Their machinery was destroyed. Tokyo was ravaged by fire bombing, but they would not accept defeat. This experience convinced the allies the Japanese would fight even more ferociously to defend their homeland.

[00:08:58]

There are some military who says without one more decisive battle, we are going to give them damage to the Americans and therefore they can break the will of Americans, fight and therefore terminate the war in the most favorable conditions. But there was one thing they both agreed we have to preserve. One thing that is the emperor was they treated American demand for unconditional surrender. This is a shorthand to destroy the emperor system. To the war in the Pacific trudges on and the American military become increasingly convinced, there's only one way to defeat Japan.

[00:09:46]

Solana has worried about a nuclear arms race since the start of the chain reaction if the goal is to get Japan to surrender and the nation is already on the brink of defeat.

[00:09:59]

Surely it isn't necessary to drop the bomb on Japanese cities, causing untold civilian casualties. Surely it would be better to demonstrate the bomb instead. It can't be emphasized enough the extent to which a purely technical demonstration was investigated, analyzed and debated. I mean, they agonized over this decision and they did not take it lightly. There were a lot of reasons why the possibility was eventually discarded, as Oppenheimer put it, was that they would have to have something sufficiently spectacular to convince the Japanese that further resistance was pointless.

[00:10:44]

And he stressed that he felt that the military use of the bomb had to be a surprise. They needed the full shock and power of the bomb to convince the Japanese that that they should end the war and sue for peace.

[00:11:10]

Back in Chicago, Sellards, concerned, have reached a fever pitch and he's winding up his fellow scientists to Compton, was trying to pacify the very upset, angry scientists that Zijlaard has really succeeded in whipping up into a frenzy.

[00:11:31]

So Arthur Compton, who runs the meth lab, throws the scientists a bone. They will be given the opportunity to submit their thoughts and recommendations to the official panel trying to figure out how to use the bomb.

[00:11:43]

The interim committee, Arthur Compton and the director of the meth lab, was part of the scientific panel of the interim committee that Cynthia Kelly, president and founder of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, Arthur Compton, invited the scientists in Chicago to contribute to this effort.

[00:12:06]

And he says that he's been assured that the interim committee will be receptive to their concerns and that they should convey their ideas to them before the next meeting in Los Alamos and to make so that met labs.

[00:12:22]

Scientists really seize the opportunity to voice their objections. This is at the moment, salade needs to have his case heard to convince the U.S. military and government that they have a higher responsibility to explain exactly why using this bomb is wrong. The scientists at Chicago's Met lab get together, and a scientist called James Frank is charged with writing a report on the moral implications of dropping an atomic bomb on civilians. Ms Gillard becomes the most outspoken member of the MIT lab, and he really is a catalyst for the conversations that they're having and really the conscience of the group in a sense.

[00:13:08]

And he argues that the Chicago scientists should oppose the use of the bomb on moral grounds. And he strongly pushes for a public demonstration before killing a multitude of Japanese civilians. Really? He has spent months now on the outside of the project trying to compel his colleagues to political action. And this has become really the last crucial moment. He has to try to exert his influence. And he tells them that they will be held accountable for their actions. Having unleashed this terrible new weapon on the world and the very fact that the military has taken it out of the scientists hands means that they have got to plead for careful consideration, that they owe this responsibility to society.

[00:14:04]

The interim committee is scheduled to meet in late June 1945, Sellards, Boston, Chicago, Arthur Compton brings the Frank Report. The Frank Committee report strongly endorsed Sobieraj recommendation that the bomb be demonstrated to Japan before its use against its civilians. Compton passed out the Frank report to the other members of the scientific panel at Los Alamos. There are only four men on the scientific panel, and Salade has professional relationships with three of them. Oppenheimer, who he visited in Washington, Enrico Fermi, who worked with him on the Chicago Pile one, and his boss, Arthur Compton.

[00:14:49]

These are men he should have been able to convince. They, however, were not persuaded, the panel concluded. We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war. We see no acceptable alternative to direct military use. So that's it, the official scientific panel says drop the bomb. Anything less than dropping it on Japan would be ineffective. The concerns of the scientists, it's a large level, are dismissed by the people at the top.

[00:15:30]

Salada and his colleagues are sidelined for the last time. This is Gameover Salade was increasingly anxious.

[00:15:40]

He remembered when he became a citizen that American citizens have the right to petition the president, even though it will probably make very little difference to the outcome.

[00:15:51]

It's terribly important to him that the scientist, as he put it, go clearly and unmistakably on the record that they are against the use of the bomb in Japanese cities. The petition asks that the president not release the bombs on Japan until the terms of surrender were made public and the Japanese people had a chance to surrender. The petition was signed by 70 other members of the metallurgical laboratory.

[00:16:19]

There was less success at some of the other Manhattan Project sites. Colleagues salade circulated the petition at Oakridge, although security concerns placed some limitations on how widely it could be shared.

[00:16:32]

But at Los Alamos, Oppenheimer didn't want the petition to be widely circulated.

[00:16:37]

Salade forges ahead and eventually he has the final document. In the end, the petition attracted a total of one hundred and fifty five signatures.

[00:16:50]

I'm looking at a list of one hundred fifty five names, scientists across the Manhattan Project who made it known to history that they do not support the bombing of a Japanese city.

[00:17:01]

My grandfather's name is not among them. I'll never know whether he ever saw Leo Sellards petition or if he heard about it before circulation was halted by military police.

[00:17:13]

I don't know if he would have signed it if he'd had the chance, but if I'm being honest, I'm not surprised. His name is not there. George Strasser was not Leo Szilard, he was not extraordinary. He followed orders, he did his job, and while he condemned the work, the more I learn, the more I understand him as a man flawed, constrained by a culture of secrecy and denial, hurting himself while hurting others. I can't prove that this work contributed to his complete emotional unraveling, but I believe it must have.

[00:17:49]

I've also come to believe through his history and localised story that secrecy perpetuates violence. Unless we can confront our really hard, painful histories, we will never break the cycle of complicity and injustice to come face to face with my family's truth. I knew I had to visit Hiroshima. I honestly didn't want to go. I was scared to fully face the suffering and devastation caused by the weapons my grandfather had helped to build.

[00:18:17]

I didn't want to go, but I knew deep in my gut that I had to. So I packed a photograph of my grandfather and boarded a plane to Japan. Policy makers quite accurately predicted that the next invasion invasion was to think this is going to come to Kyushu Kuchu, the main island of Japan, the homeland Japanese troops have vowed to lay down their lives, for they do not believe the war is lost. They were reinforcing in preparation for the decisive battle they are bringing to enforcement and fortifying that area, saying that we're going to use the civilians as a shield and we're going to fight without even without weapons.

[00:19:10]

So it's a desperate suicide mission that was planned against the invading American forces.

[00:19:18]

The Purple Heart is an American medal awarded to servicemen wounded or killed in battle. As the United States prepared for an invasion of the Japanese homeland, they had almost 500000 Purple Hearts made so many that these medals are still being handed out today. They knew what to expect from the Japanese forces.

[00:19:37]

Oh, I think that would that would be a tremendous bloodbath. I think that the American military was really concerned about that. The possibility. Back in Los Alamos, a young scientist was about to get the assignment of his life. July 15th, 1945, the day before the first atomic bomb was tested, the bomb was hoisted onto a tower in the middle of the desert in the middle of a storm. The test is due at dawn, but General Leslie Groves doesn't want to leave the bomb alone.

[00:20:17]

Overnight, Groves was very worried about sabotage. So you needed someone trustworthy to guard it. Enter Don Hornick. He was chosen because he was the youngest. They decided that he would be the one who sat at the top and a little cabin that housed the bomb itself. To calm his nerves, Corning decided to bring a racy novel with him and distract his mind. And so he sat up there and read while the storm raged and he sat next to the world's first atomic weapon, nicknamed the gadget for hours.

[00:21:03]

After that long night, he was relieved from his post, he joined the others at the viewing station and in the hours just before dawn. The day after the United States detonates the world's first nuclear bomb, the Potsdam Conference begins. President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Stimson are in Potsdam meeting with their allied counterparts to agree upon the end of the war settlement.

[00:21:46]

They're also there to offer the Japanese terms of surrender as a leading nation in the allied victory in Europe and in possession of the world's greatest weapon. President Harry Truman knows he has a strong hand.

[00:21:59]

President Truman and his secretary of state were insisting on unconditional surrender.

[00:22:06]

They demand nothing short of unconditional surrender.

[00:22:10]

The Japanese consider the unconditional surrender to be the destruction of the emperor system. So there's only one big power that is still remain neutral that the Soviet Union decided that the best way to terminate the war is to seek Moscow's mediation.

[00:22:34]

And whatever Sellards petition, it was doomed never to reach the president, many of the signers of the petition agreed only if Zijlaard would send this through official channels. I guess they knew that Salade was good at taking shortcuts to the White House.

[00:22:54]

He's careful not to send the petition via groves, but as it winds its way through the official channels, it eventually ends up on General Graves's desk, where Groves make sure it will wait.

[00:23:13]

The springtime of 1945 was bad and we hardly had any schoolwork in the classrooms.

[00:23:25]

This is Setsuko Thurlow. We were mobilized to work to help the farmers with rice planting and harvest. I was sent to the army headquarters to help decode the top secret information.

[00:23:46]

I did go to in front of a Hiroshima station where I met my girls. I was the leader of the small group of girl students. About 30 of us met in front of the station. And then I led them to the nearby military headquarters and we went to the second floor of the wooden building, which was one mile away from the hypocenter at eight o'clock. We started having the morning assembly and Major Yanai, who was in charge of the students, was giving us a pep talk and you girls got a good training.

[00:24:44]

Now, this is the very first day to start proving your loyalty to the emperor. We say, yes, we will do our best. And at that moment, I saw the bluish white flash in the window.

[00:25:11]

And then next thing I felt was flying, just floating up in the air, and that's the end of my memory. The bomb from the BBC World Service is hashtag the bomb on social media, the show is presented by me.

[00:25:36]

Emily Strasser, the producer is Glenn Tansley. Our writers, A.C Smith and our scripts are edited by James Robinson. Title music is composed especially for us by Trevor Gorecki's. Our sound design is by Richard Gould at Skywalker Sound. The program has been mixed by Mike Frost, the production team is William Richards, Amelia Parker, Alice McKee and Amy Will. Our series editor is Martin Smith and our commissioning editor at the BBC World Service is Simon Pitts'. We'd really appreciate it if you would leave us a rating or a view wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe so that you can get new episodes on your device as soon as they become available.

[00:26:23]

An unidentified body in a remote Norwegian Valley meeting with. Who was she and what was she doing there now I'm reading it off and I'm Neil McCarthy and Indefiniteness Valley, we tried to find answers to a mystery that has remained unsolved for 48 years. There are somebody living who knows more about this case, tracking down eyewitnesses and using new forensic technology and cutting the teeth, telling a story set deep in the Cold War with strong hints of espionage. If you take the bizarre, I will shoot.

[00:27:02]

But it left us with a lingering feeling that someone didn't want the truth to be known. All this secrecy. It was like covering. Death in Ice Valley from the BBC World Service, and and I can't just search for death in Ice Valley wherever you get your podcasts, I think we'll bring this case right now.