His Greatest Mistake was Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s Nightmare.
Everyone has done it. Written a letter we wish we could take back. A letter written in anger or sorrow. Albert Einstein wrote a letter just like that in 1939.
Einstein Writes A Letter
That impulsively penned letter began a chain reaction that helped to usher in a nuclear age, killed thousands, and changed the world forever. Einstein had written that letter at the urging of his research partner the Hungarian scientist Dr. Leo Szilard, who would later work on the Manhattan Project and who had patented a refrigerator with him in pleasanter times.
Concerned about reports of German scientists who had been successful in efforts to split the atom, Albert Einstein penned a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting that America try its own hand at atomic research. He stated in the letter that he felt that it would be possible to build “extremely powerful bombs of a new type.”
The Atomic Bomb is Born.
Einstein advised speeding up the research, hoping to achieve success, before the Germans harnessed the power of the atom themselves. He recommended that the United State secure an ample supply of uranium.
The letter led to the formation of the Manhattan Project, and gigantic endeavor which hoped to create the first atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project ultimately involved thousands of people, of whom only a select few knew the true goals the program was trying to accomplish.
The result of The Manhattan Project was a bomb that was ten feet long with a payload yield equivalent to twenty thousand tons of high explosives.
The project cost a hefty two billion, in pre-inflation 1940’s dollars, and by 1945, the first bomb was ready for testing. The bomb, which was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, was deemed a success.
Harry Truman and Winston Churchill Issue an Ultimatum.
Even before the test detonation, many scientist and military communities were already expressing moral misgivings about the creation of a device with that kind of destructive potential. Einstein wrote another letter asking President Roosevelt to meet with the scientist who opposed its use. His successor Harry Truman ignored the advice of scientist to share the knowledge to prevent its use. Truman, along Winston Churchill and China’s Chiang Kai-shek, issued the “Potsdam Declaration” which warned Japan to make a complete and unconditional surrender or risk “prompt and utter destruction.” The bomb itself was never mentioned directly and this vague caveat was all the Japanese received in way of a warning.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki Pay the Price.
The devastating effects, not just on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the whole world was far reaching and still present over sixty years later. Einstein later said it writing the first letter was “the single greatest mistake” of his life.