One of Hiroshima’s Objectives: To Prove the Manhattan Project Wasn’t a Money Pit

First John Dower’s formidable book Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (W.W. Norton), published last year, was reviewed by Greg Chaffin for Foreign Policy in Focus. Then I extracted excerpts to examine for two Focal Points posts: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Sabotaged Prospects for a True Post-War Peace and Beneath Shortening the War and Shocking the Soviet Union Lay Another Reason for Hiroshima.

The third reason to which I allude in the latter post mentioned above was a desire on the part of the United States to keep the Soviet Union from entering the war — even though that’s credited by many as critical to Japan’s surrender — in order to prevent it from gaining a foothold in the Far East. Now we come to yet another reason beyond that, as mentioned in the title to this post. Here Dower writes about the Franck Report, generated by seven scientists associated with the Chicago branch of the Manhattan Project, which

. . . referred almost matter-of-factly to [a] political consideration. “Another argument which could be quoted in favor of using atomic bombs as soon as they are available,” the report observed critically, “is that so much taxpayers’ money had been invested in the Projects that the Congress and the American public will demand a return for their money.” This, indeed, had been one of the several discouraging conclusions that [physicist Leo] Szilard and his [Chicago] colleagues came away with after their miserably unsuccessful attempt to persuade [Truman's Secretary of State James] Byrnes that hasty use of the bomb would be internationally disastrous. As Szilard recalled it, Byrnes essentially told the scientists what he had confidentially told Roosevelt a few months earlier: that “we had spent two billion dollars on developing the bomb, and Congress would want to know what we had got for the money spent.” Szilard also quoted the cagey former senator as relating this consideration to future appropriations for nuclear research, which the scientists were eager to ensure. “How would you get Congress to appropriate money for atomic energy research,” he recalled Byrnes saying, “if you don’t show results for the money which has been spent already?”

[British physicist and 1948 Nobel laureate P.M.S.] Blackett, writing a few years later, found it appalling that such partisan considerations might have influenced the decision to use the bomb. . . . “If the United States Government had been influenced in the summer of 1945 by this view, then perhaps at some future date, when another two billion dollars had been spent, it might feel impelled to stage another Roman holiday with some other country’s citizens, rather than 120,000 victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the chosen victim. The wit of man could hardly devise a theory of the dropping of the bomb, both more insulting to the American people, or more likely to lead to an energetically pursued Soviet defense policy.

When asked about the step-up in tempo at Los Alamos after Germany was out of the war, Oppenheimer acknowledged that “we were still more frantic to have the job done and wanted to have it done so that if needed, it would be available. . . . I don’t think there was any time where we worked harder at the speedup than in the period after the German surrender and the actual combat use of the bomb.” This captures, with unusual and perhaps unintended sharpness, the double-edge nature of the enterprise; that the bomb was desirable to end the war, but also that there was an almost frantic effort to have the bomb and use it before the war ended. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, we needed the bomb to shorten the war, but even more important we didn’t want the war shortened until we could use the bomb. Taking yet one more step beyond, U.S. insistence on unconditional surrender, which the Japanese refused because they feared it would entail removal of the emperor, may have been another means of keeping the war going until the bomb was ready. If true, that may be the most deadly case ever of the dog wagging the tail.