Date of Award

1994

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Fran Coulter

Second Advisor

Dr. Joe Jeffers

Third Advisor

Dr. Douglas Reed

Abstract

Without doubt, the years since World War II have seen a new player on the international scene. Not a person, yet to many, it personifies man's inhumanity to man. Neither is it a nation, yet it wields more power than the most powerful empire or state. Nor is it good or evil in and of itself, but like all fruit of knowledge, it defers to man in its use. The new player is the atom by virtue of its awesome explosive power.

The atom did not burst onto the scene in our context until 1939. That year saw the discovery of fission, which lends itself to the production of great amounts of energy. There were those who lost no time in realizing the applications of such knowledge for power production, and for weapons.

What ensued was the original arms race, not the one between the superpowers teetering on the brink of annihilation, but the race between the conventionally armed Allied and Axis powers. The outcome of the American Manhattan Project is clear--the disappearance of a pair of enemy cities, an unconditional surrender, a brief Pax Americana, and another arms race. Yet, what of the other attempts to harness the atom during the war?

To be sure, to discuss the myriad complex factors contributing to the outcome of WWII is beyond the scope of this work. Within our scope is an examination of the two main competitors in this context to control the atom--one destined for success and one fated to fail. The world rejoice in the latter. The jury is still out on the former.

The story of these projects is one of paradoxes. A free and democratic nation produced and used the bomb. A brutal and totalitarian regime did not. The great minds of a people marked for destruction contributed invaluably to a weapon of ultimate destruction. Some saw the bomb as a hope for the future that could move mankind beyond the possibility of war. Our challenge is to cast aside our screen of 'perfect' hindsight and examine this topic in context: fear, war, nationalism, darkness, hope.

Any such examination presents stark contrasts between the sometimes similar German and American nuclear research projects of this time. The same discoveries awaited both sides. Each player pursued the same prize in a different manner. This difference in motivation and organization became what we call history and gave control of atomic power first to the United States.

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