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Remembering the Atomic Bomb, 70 Years Later

In 2012, Hiroshima University gave Princeton University seven roof tiles that were damaged during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The details of the gift can be found here. Three years later, the tiles have been brought out into our lobby display case to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The roof tiles serve as a physical reminder of the devastation that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The roof tiles serve as a physical reminder of the devastation that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The scorched roof tiles are not the only items in the Mudd Manuscript Library that tell the story of the atomic bomb. Both the University Archives and the Public Policy Papers contain documents that detail the creation of the bomb and the attempts to reconcile the implications of its use.

Beginning in 1942, thousands of scientists, including faculty, graduate students, and alumni of Princeton’s physics and chemistry departments, began work on the then-very secret Manhattan Project, a crash program to build a nuclear weapon.  The Princeton Analytical Project’s report, featured below, highlights the group’s role investigating trace amounts of contaminants in uranium concentrates.

Chemistry Department Report
“A Method for the Determination of Chromium in the Metal or Metal Oxide”, Department of Chemistry Records (AC358), Department of Chemistry U.S. Manhattan Project Records, 1943-1952, Box 2.

Their efforts resulted in the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

On August 10,  Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal met with President Truman, the Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to discuss the situation with Japan. Earlier in the day an encrypted message sent from Tokyo to Japanese Ministers at Stockholm and Berne had been decoded. The message detailed Japan’s plan to surrender. They all agreed to wait for a formal receipt of the surrender offer.  It was in this meeting that the Stimson suggested ceasing bomber missions over Japan. Stimson cited “the growing feeling of apprehension and misgiving as to the effect of the atomic bomb even in our country.” Forrestal supported Stimson’s view and noted that the United States would have to “bear the focus of the hatred by the Japanese.”

Forrestal Diary entry for August 10, 1945
Diary entry for August 10, 1945, James V. Forrestal Papers (MC051), Box 149, Folder 9.

The gravity of the situation was felt outside of the White House. Shocked by the bomb’s devastating powers, many expressed apprehension of a nuclear future and advocated for the regulation of atomic energy.

John Foster Dulles, chairman of the Federal Council of Churches’ Commission on a Just and Durable Peace, issued dozens of statements to newspapers across the country in the days following the bombing. In a joint statement with Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, Dulles urged the suspension of the air attack program on Japan to allow the Japanese people to consider surrender.  Dulles and Oxnam’s statement lauded the bomb as a scientific miracle.  However, they had this warning:

“We have shown that men can find in a matter incalculable new energy which can work for a fuller, better life for all, but which also might make this planet uninhabitable. The only defense against the latter fate is the self-restraint and sense of responsibility of those who control the new knowledge.”

Forrestal, Dulles, and Oxnam were not the only ones to consider the implications of the atomic bomb. The Social Science Foundation held a conference at the University of Denver to discuss the use of atomic energy in December 1945. Economist Jacob Viner’s papers contain the findings and recommendations that emerged from the conference. The Social Science Foundation agreed on the following two points:

B-1. There is no secret concerning the fundamentals of the development of nuclear energy. Eventually other nations will develop the necessary facilities and techniques for the development of atomic weapons.

B-2. The atomic bomb is a weapon, which differs in degree, rather than kind, from all other weapons. If wars are permitted to occur, the bomb will be used. Lacking a world organization, it cannot be outlawed or controlled by national legislation.

The writings found within the papers of Forrestal, Dulles, and Viner contain the same warnings, apprehension, and uncertainty regarding nuclear energy that continues to be echoed around the world. The ripple effects from the creation and use of the atomic bomb have not subsided.

The small exhibit case in our lobby currently features the items above and more to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Related Sources

Atomic-bombed Roof Tiles from Hiroshima University (AC408).

Department of Chemistry Records, Department of Chemistry U.S. Manhattan Project Records, 1943-1952 (AC358).

James V. Forrestal Papers (MC051).

John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016).

“New Accession: Atomic-Bombed Roof Tiles from Hiroshima University”

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