The twentieth century was perhaps the most dynamic and significant century in the history of human civilization. It saw the exponential rise in technology and dependency on it. The world population exploded to over 6 billion people. The greatest and most horrific wars were also fought during this time which forever changed the way that the world works today and the way we live. Two entrepreneurs played crucial roles in changing the landscape of civilization as we know it. These two men were Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller and they contributed to the infamous creations of the atomic bomb and soon after the hydrogen bomb.
Robert Oppenheimer was born in
in 1904. He received his Ph.D. in New York City in 1925. In 1929, he returned to the Germany to teach at the United States and at Cal Tech. In 1939 he heard about the discovery of fission and immediately grasped the idea of an atomic bomb. In 1941 he was chosen as the scientific director of the group working on the atomic bomb which would later be called the Manhattan Project. The first goal of the group was to determine the critical mass of U-235 to allow for a chain reaction. The initial group of 30 scientists ballooned into 5,000 as more resources were poured into the project in an attempt to build the bomb before the Germans could. The work was so intense that only upon witnessing the successful bomb explode in a fiery mushroom cloud did he grasp the enormity of what he accomplished. After watching the demonstration he said, “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.” He set up a research station in University of California Berkeley for the Project. Following World War II, Oppenheimer chaired the US Atomic Energy Commission. He lost it in 1953 however during the height of the anticommunist chaos because of crazy accusations and his lack of support for the development of the hydrogen bomb. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award of the Atomic Energy Commission. Oppenheimer retired from New Mexico Princeton in 1966 and died of throat cancer the following year.
Oppenheimer’s impact on his time was enormous with the key role he played in the development of the atomic bomb. His genius and hard work ushered in the atomic age and gave
the technology before America . This success changed the outcome of World War II allowing the Germany to quickly and effectively demolish Japanese forces and morale in two quick bombings. The two attacks that I am talking about are United States and Hiroshima of course. These two attacks killed and injured an incredible 135,000 people at Hiroshima and over 64,000 killed or injured at Nagasaki. Another 60,000 died by the end of 1945. These attacks crippled the Japanese population with the huge immediate losses as well as just as many large cases of radiation poisoning. An already exhausted Japan finally surrendered to the United States unconditionally. Dropping the bomb may not have been necessary with many people arguing that Japan had been trying to surrender for two months prior. Others claim that Japan would have continued its total war and fought to the very last man following the Samurai tradition. Dropping the bomb took away all doubt of further resistance and ended World War II. Dropping the bomb also gave the United States justification for the 2 billion dollars it spent on the project. The world witnessed that America showed no mercy and were not to be crossed or a similar fate might come to them. Nagasaki
Another major impact of Oppenheimer and the bomb he helped drop was that it ushered in the atomic age. The whole world witnessed the incredible destruction America demonstrated with the atomic bomb. After those bombs were dropped and the war was over America was the primary world superpower. Part of the reason that America dropped the bomb was also to prove to the other superpower Russia, at the time the USSR, that they meant business. A few years after the greatest war of all time, another vastly different war was brewing. The Cold War had begun and the participants were the capitalistic United States versus the communist Soviet Union. The atom bomb and the development of the atomic bomb was a major variable in this more psychological warfare. The USSR soon developed their own nuclear weapons and soon both sides feared one day for the other side to press the button and launch nukes onto each other’s soil. Kids were taught drills to dive under their desks in the event of a bombing, as if that would prevent the enormous blast or inevitable radiation poisoning. It seemed as if the world couldn’t get any more dangerous. Soon however, an even more dangerous weapon would be inspired by the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb.
Edward Teller was born in Hungary in 1908. He completed his Ph.D. in physics in 1930 in Germany and moved to the United States in 1935. Like Oppenheimer, Teller also worked on Project Manhattan starting in 1942 and helped lead to the development of the atomic bombs that were tested in New Mexico and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He worked on the first nuclear reactor, theoretical calculations of the effects of a fission explosion, and research on a potential fusion reaction. After these “successes” however, there was pressure and drive to create even more powerful bombs. Instead of beating Germany to the atomic bomb, the United States now had to beat the Soviet Union to the creation of the “Super-Bomb”. After years of troubled tests and publicly known successful Russian atomic bomb testing, Teller contributed greatly to the creation of the first Hydrogen Bomb in 1952. “Mike” was its name and it successfully went off at Eniwetok in the Pacific. From 1954 to 1958 he served as the Associate Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and from 1956 to 1958 he also served as a member of the General Advisory Committee of the US Atomic Energy Commission. He was the Director of the Laboratory from 1958 to 1960. In the 1980’s he was also very influential in convincing President Ronald Reagan to move forward with the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”).
The impact of Edward Teller’s development of the hydrogen bomb was just as enormous as that of the development of the atomic bomb if not more so. The atomic bomb was powerful and deadly, but the hydrogen bomb is 10,000 times more powerful. These are weapons capable of nearly ending life on earth as we know it or causing a “nuclear winter” where everything is killed off from radiation poisoning. These discoveries by the United States and Soviet Union obviously came into play in the Cold War. In the 1950’s paranoia ruled the world and both sides desperately worked to perfect the most powerful hydrogen bomb as well as stock up on nukes. Several times President Truman was given plans to attack Russia or its communist allies with nuclear weapons but each time he refused. “No rational man would partake in nuclear warfare,” he solemnly stated. Even so, the possibility of nuclear war was always in the back of everyone’s mind as the Cold War heated up and the United States pitted itself against all the communist nations. The Korean War ended up as a failure for us as well as the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of United States soldiers and millions of Koreans and Vietnamese died in this non-nuclear warfare of capitalism vs. communism. The Cuban missile crisis came within a hair of ending in complete nuclear disaster as CIA officials were unaware of the small nuclear arms that Cuba possessed alongside the main tactical nuclear weapons. In 1961 the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed prohibiting above ground testing. Nuclear weapons production in the world is supposed to be ceased. The threat of nuclear weapons production and attacks has been so great that the United Nations and pretty much every international body has banned the use and deemed it a crime against humanity. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed on July 1, 1968 and entered into force on March 5, 1970. Its initial duration was 25 years and in 1995 it was extended indefinitely.
A variety of different weaponry has been inspired by Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb and Teller’s hydrogen bomb. Improvements have continued to be made to both of these bombs and now they are more powerful than ever. Nuclear subs have been around for decades as a powerful new addition to the navy of a superpower. Suitcase bombs and dirty bombs have been used by terrorists such as members of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah to allow for extremely large-scale destruction from a small sized bomb. Dirty bombs can cause lethal poisons that wreak havoc on humanity and the environment. The neutron bomb for instance is called by some a “doomsday device” because it is capable of wiping out all life on earth.
The terrible impact of these bombs is still being seen today. The death of generations of Japanese from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a tragedy. One that is just as worse is the fact that the radiation poisoning that many of the survivors had are transferred to their offspring. Leukemia is a terrible disease that is very often passed on to the next generation therefore damaging entire family lines. America is still viewed with scorn for their use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II, the only nuclear weapons attack in history. The arms race that lasted until the fall of the USSR was so great that there are thousands of nuclear weapons all around the world and only one is needed to cause mass destruction.
The impact of this atomic age is that there are only five nations in the world that have the capability to produce and keep an inventory of nuclear weapons are the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain, and China. Several other nations including India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Africa have tested or built nuclear weapons but they have all dismantled or relinquished them. Many countries such as India want nuclear weapons as a symbol of power and to be able to defend themselves against oncoming assaults. Other nations such as North Korea claim to have nuclear capabilities and threaten the world with them. While we do not know if this is true or not, even the potential for the use of another atomic weapon on another nation is cause for alarm and must be taken seriously. Politics has been greatly influenced by the creations of these super-weapons as many nations have adopted a policy of acting tough and swiftly against attacking nations. This can be seen in our present Bush Administration with our pre-emptive strike on Iraq to get revenge for September 11th and to make sure there are no weapons of mass destruction in the area. These bombs developed by Oppenheimer and Teller and the weapons they inspired are not just possible arms of war anymore, they are reasons for going to war. On the other hand, nuclear weapons are very good reasons not to go to war for fear of causing or receiving ultimate destruction.
The terrible impacts of Oppenheimer’s development of the atomic bomb and Teller’s development of the hydrogen bomb have changed the world forever. A world that already dangerous is a million times more. Now wars do not need to be fought with men, or even guns. All a person has to do is push a button and unleash carnage that could end life as we know it. In my opinion there are few entrepreneurs or inventors that have caused such an impact on history and the world as Oppenheimer or Teller did.
Encarta 2004 Standard Edition
Folsing, Albrecchi. “Robert Oppenheimer: A Biography”.
. Viking Publishing 1997. New York, NY
Herken, Greg. “Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller”.
: Henry Holt and Co., 2002. New York
“Hydrogen Bomb”. <www.answers.com/topic/hydrogen-bomb>
“Making the Hydrogen Bomb”. <www.encyclopedia.com/html/h1/hydrogen-bm.asp>
“Race for the Super Bomb”. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/timeline/index.html>
Rhodes, Richard. “Dark Sun: The making of the hydrogen bomb”.
: Simon and Schuster, 1995. New York
Tamao, Juan O. “A Nuclear Secret in ’62 Cuba Crises” <http://www.fiu.edu/~fcf/cuba62secrets.html>