Competing Interests: Scientists vs. Military

Competing Interests: Scientists vs. Military

Subject: 
Difficulty: 
Grade Level: 
Manhattan Project insignia. By Aaron Sauers, Argonne National Laboratory

 

Students explore the unique role that scientists and the military played during the Manhattan Project.

 

Materials: 

Selected readings from The Manhattan Project by Cynthia Kelly:

  • Excerpt from the Franck report, “Advising Against the Bomb”
  • Excerpt from the Science Panel’s Report to the Interim Committee, “No Acceptable Alternative”
  • Gar Alperovitz, “Why Does This Decision Continue to Haunt Us?”
  • J. Samuel Walker, “Hiroshima in History”
  • Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, “Anticipating the End of War”
  • Leo Szilard, “Scientists Petition the President”
  • Patrick M.S. Blacket, “A Question of Motives”
  • Paul Fussell, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb”
  • President Harry S. Truman, “The battle of the laboratories”
  • Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, “The Bomb in National Memories”
  • William Lanouette, “Scientists will be held responsible”

 

Assignment: 

Divide students into two groups. One will represent the military. The other will represent scientists who signed the petition for President Truman for a demonstration of the bomb. Provide each group with primary source material from The Manhattan Project anthology. Students can also use the Truman Library as a resource. Students discuss within their groups whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. They will compose a one- or two-page outline of their recommendations and prepare a presentation to make in person to Truman in which they are prepared to justify their recommendations.

Students should take into consideration factors including the length of the war, the possibility of a land invasion, the possibility of Soviet entrance into the war, the deterrent effect of demonstrating the weapon, the "war-ending" nature of the weapon, and the U.S. role in the postwar period. Groups present their presidential briefings to the class. Classmates may step in at any point to question the recommendation the group is making, although the exercise should not become a debate. After each group makes the presentation, the entire class votes on whether or not the atomic bomb should have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.