Compton: The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.
Conant: How were the natives?
Compton: Very friendly.
December 2nd 1942 was the day the world changed forever.
The title of this story is the coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on that day. On that afternoon, the Atomic Age began inside an enormous tent on a squash court beneath the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field. Italian scientist Enrico Fermi led a team of scientists that facilitated the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction.
The outcome of their efforts was sustainable nuclear energy. The creation of this ability led to the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants. Arguably, both inventions were two of the twentieth century’s most powerful achievements. The significance then and now still fills our daily lives and offers both hope and fear to the generations to come.
The creation of the program that led up to this event was cloaked in secrecy at the time.
While it is well known among historians in this day and age, things like the Manhattan Project were completely kept in the dark during the lead up to the nuclear age. Fermi’s story of discovery has to talk about his life before he became an American.
In 1938, Fermi received the Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 37 for his "demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons". After Fermi received the Nobel Prize in Stockholm, he, his wife Laura, and their children did not return home to Italy, but rather continued to New York City, where they applied for permanent residency. The decision to move to America and become American citizens was primarily a result of the Manifesto of Race promulgated by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in order to bring Italian Fascism ideologically closer to German Nazism. The new laws threatened Laura, who was Jewish. Also, the new laws put most of Fermi’s research assistants out of work.
Soon after his arrival in New York City (January 2, 1939), Fermi began working at Columbia University, where he had already given summer lectures in 1936 While at Columbia from 1939–42, until they moved to Chicago, Fermi and his wife resided in Leonia, New Jersey.
Other scientists from around Europe also joined the movement away from fascism.
In August 1939 Leó Szilárd had prepared and Albert Einstein signed the famous letter warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the probability that the Nazis were planning to build an atomic bomb. Because of Adolf Hitler’s September 1 invasion of Poland, it was October before they could arrange for the letter to be personally delivered. Roosevelt was concerned enough that the Uranium Committee was assembled, and awarded Columbia University the first nuclear power funding of US$6,000. However, due to bureaucratic fears of foreigners doing secret research, the money was not actually issued until Szilárd implored Einstein to send a second letter to the president in the spring of 1940.
The work done at Columbia was later folded into the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb became a reality.
Keeping in mind how pivotal December of 1942 was, the timing could not have been more critical.
The United States had just been engaged in the invasion of North Africa to open up a front that would lead to liberation in Europe. In the Pacific, the armed forces had been slogging it out on Guadalcanal to stem the flow of the Japanese juggernaut. The fleet had still been operating at a reduced number as America’s shipyards slowly came to life with their replacements. Every win the American’s had was costly and a huge gamble.
In Germany, the race to capture the elusive nuclear genie was handicapped by the loss of their critical physicists. But the fear that they would achieve similar discoveries had to have haunted the Chief’s of Staff. Imagine how different the world would look if the forces of evil had reached the goal first.
The use of the two nuclear devices on Japan in late 1945 unarguably ended the second world war
MY father and many other people’s family members were gathering in the Pacific throughout early 1945 for an invasion of the Japanese homeland. Based on the experiences in the various island conquests of Japanese outposts from 1942 to 1945, it was obvious that landing on the homelands would exact a horrible cost on all sides. The existence of this new power changed all of that.
The nuclear club grew quickly from 1945 on. Weapons, then reactors for power, then submarines and ships found this new form of power a game changer. The ability of the Nautilus to sail underwater for so long made submarine warfare an entirely new form of art and science. Combining those submarines with an enhanced missile capability made warfare capabilities leap beyond the imagination of even the most fatalistic fiction writers of the day.
The future is still being influenced by the event that took place in the workshop beneath the sports field in Chicago
One thing is certain… the genie can never be put back into the bottle and it is childish and blindly altruistic to assume that the better nature of man will never produce another Hitler or Stalin. Whoever controls the evolution of nuclear power will control the world’s future. Thinking that normal political or ideological influence will change that is criminal if done on a national level and falls into the category of “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors” … all of which are impeachable offences.