That makes sense, especially seeing the arsenal and industry grow as it did in the wake of the war.
The thing that leaves me curious is that despite the massive spending on the space program, we never see the same assembly line, or perhaps transit system, emerge from the spending.
With the space program, it would seem that all of the effort and financing really did get consumed by each moonshot, with no investment to back it up, and formulate repeatable process and the ready facility to continiously grow the number of people in orbit, and cycle rockets through their trajectories.
The nuclear energy/weapons complex and the space program seem to be comparable endeavors, but one paved the way for sustainable operations while the other produced a series of events and little else. It doesn’t seem plausible to just wave one’s hands and say that rockets are that expensive, so what gives?
This is why SpaceX, with their single factory, are something like an order of magnitude cheaper.
That's a pretty bad excuse: leaving the same money with the taxpayers would have funded jobs that actually did something people wanted enough to pay with their own money.
There is plenty of waste, but it’s significantly smaller than the direct costs suggest. Especially when such programs reduce unemployment as the economy is not out useful labor, and taxes collect a significant portion of the outlay back.
Assume Bob could do something and get paid 50k per year, government pays Bob 50k/year to stay at home. Bob makes 50k either way.
But, if Bob does not work for a year then the economy loses 50k/year worth of labor, that’s true if bob makes 40k staying at home or 200k staying at home. It’s also true if the government pays Bob to do something that creates zero value.
Manhattan project: 30 billion (2012 dollars)
Apollo program: 83 billion (2005 dollars)
Shuttle program: 196 billion (2011 dollars)
2008 bailouts: 700 billion (2008 dollars)
Iraq war: over 1 trillion dollars
That's right, both the Iraq war and the 2008 bailouts each dwarf the entire space program. Yet which thing attracts more hand wringing about costs? Which things require years of tiresome political wrangling, and which happened at the snap of a finger?
It really puts into perspective how many things commonly held to be incredibly difficult, or expensive, are in fact simply not a priority. Almost any pie-in-the-sky technological project or public works project you can think of utterly pales next to the money that is casually spent on dubious causes like propping up broken financial systems and destabilizing foreign countries.
Maybe we should stop using "Manhattan Project" or "moonshot" to refer to huge, ambitious practically unfundable government works, when they're so cheap in the scheme of things. Maybe we should speak of "bailouts" instead.
As long as it worked, who cares?
It doesn’t examine the manner of resource usage, and the returned benefits for each cost.
In one case, they built a car and a garage to fix many cars in.
In the other case, they built a car off some value and drove it off a cliff. For the price, could we not have also obtained a matching garage?
I found this article to be very interesting. The point above in particular, for example, has parallels with the allied code-breaking efforts, which were similarly organized primarily as an industrial operation. (The Bletchley Park data base lists more that 10,000 people who were associated with work there during the war). As with the Manhattan project, much is written about key figures, like Turing and Flowers, whose contributions were of course crucial, but the true genius of the effort was the fact that the British, and later the Americans, created a large industrial organization for code breaking.
I think what the article is saying is that there was an awful lot of technical knowledge between the scientific understanding (e.g. talking about what Heisenberg did or didn't know) and being able to build a factory. This knowledge the allies also didn't have at the beginning, of course.
And engineers tend to be less colorfully interesting than physicists. (No offense intended, I'd include myself in this characterization)
We're under fire! Yeah - under fire!! Those five thousand ships the Allies couldn't possibly have, as you say - they've got 'em! Yeah, they've got 'em!! - Major Werner Pluskat, June 6, 1944.
The process used was very crude, simple and inefficient so they needed to do it on a huge industrial scale. And only the US could do it on that scale.
You could call it "the dumb luck of nature" that something like an atomic bomb couldn't have been produced with, say, 19th century technology but that it could, barely, be produced by the full industrial might of a mid-20th century nation.
Which is to say that start-up producing amazing things in basements now certainly rely on the sum-total of previous industrial achievements, we don't how much some interesting bit of knowledge compared to those achievements could be leveraged.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, the US produced more M4 chassis (all vehicle types) in 1943-alone (21,231, admittedly a huge surge in yoy production)  than Germany produced of any single chassis type during the whole war (most numerous: Pz III at 15,747 total) .
Firebombing was even more effective (but not economical) in killing Japanese civilians, as you note. However, firebombing would not have been as effective vs the Soviets (far less flimsy, compact wood construction) nor have the same effect vs ground forces: making a live demonstration of atomic bombs still useful intimidation, according to this view.
One of the lessons of WWI was that military victory wasn't enough, too many Germans could tell themselves afterwards that they were stabbed in the back, etc. If the goal was to defeat Japanese fascism, then it was important that no Japanese could believe such things afterwards. And for this, a shocking weapon (one plane, one city) was effective in a way that (say) a starvation blockade would not have been.
Do you have a cite that the ambiguity was intended to reduce the chance the Japanese would surrender? I don't know the history well.
I have the impression that, given the US's knowledge of its own military superiority, it would never have accepted anything besides total surrender and occupation. (This is not just vindictive; cease fires and truces are less effective for ensuring the enemy doesn't rise later.) Therefore, if the declaration was vague, this if anything would have been to encourage getting the Japanese to the bargaining table.
Wikipedia seems consistent with this:
> A major aspect relating to the Potsdam Declaration was that it was intended to be ambiguous. It is not clear from the document itself whether a Japanese government was to remain under Allied occupation or whether the occupation would be run by a foreign military government. In the same manner, it was not clear whether after the end of the occupation Japan was to include any territory other than the four main Japanese islands...This ambiguity was intentional on the part of the U.S. government in order to allow the Allies a free hand in running the affairs of Japan afterwards.
One can certainly criticize the US for not accepting conditional/partial surrender as a way to avoid unnecessary deaths, but the ambiguity of the declaration doesn't seem like the issue.
If fairly clearly shows that they were not listening to the requests made in the Szilard petition, which is what I am claiming. They did not publicly offer the terms of surrender or wait for a refusal.
For others, here are the relevant excerpts from the Szilard petition, which is quite short and worth reading in full:
> We feel, however, that such attacks on Japan could not be justified, at least not unless the terms which will be imposed after the war on Japan were made public in detail and Japan were given an opportunity to surrender....If such public announcement gave assurance to the Japanese that they could look forward to a life devoted to peaceful pursuits in their homeland and if Japan still refused to surrender our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs....we, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief, to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; ...
This is not the case, the petition was to prevent the US from dropping a bomb unless Japan had been given the terms of surrender and refused them. This did not happen, and thus the situation can't be boiled down to "nuke or invasion" as there was a third option was not tried. I'm not making any further arguments, my positions on them are extreme and I don't want to try to convince others of them.
Fascinating how much sense it makes. Likely the truth is somewhere in-between.
Points taken about industrial might, and Germany's increasing industrial output throughout the war, despite all the (apparently ineffectual) bombing, though. Maybe leave off the sums?
A program that just pursued plutonium production and separation to produce implosion devices would presumably be a lot cheaper (though still massively expensive in absolute terms, obv).
The US also was trying to just do it, whereas the USSR had the benefit of stolen research.
Industrial capacity and efficiency.
What’s interesting is that German industrial capacity, despite being bombed 24/7(US daylight and British nighttime raids often in excess of 1,000 bombers) were able to continue producing warfighting equipment in increasing record numbers often with the use of slave labour.
Despite increased German industrial production of warfighting equipment despite being bombed, the US strategic industrial depth ensured ultimate victory rather than tactical prowess.
What’s interesting in Stan McChrystal’s recent book “Team of Teams” is his mention that while 20th century conventional conflicts were about industrial capacity and efficiency, the 21st century will likely be about adaptability.
The result of Oregon Trail appears to be what led to the second offset strategy, which emphasizes intel, stealth, and precision guidance tech. But it also provided information by way of a two part study by a panel of historians. The historians studied 100 asymmetric wars throughout history, which lead to this key insight: if a government can figure out the reason people support the insurgents, and offer an alternative, then they would likely win. If they cannot find the reason, or are unable to win the hearts and minds of the people, they will likely lose. The more military force is substituted for politics, the less likely the government would be to win. We saw this outcome in Vietnam (and have to a certain degree seen the same in the Middle East).
I believe this insight is what has lead to the US' third offset strategy, which is deterrence of war through overwhelming technological advantage.
The point to all this being that industrial capacity and efficiency is just one cog in the machine. The bomb was a technological advantage. You don't need much industrial capacity or efficiency to make one. Inevitably, the best way to win a war is to convince the other side of your cause, and then they'll just stop fighting.
The bomb project was expensive because they were accelerating perhaps 30 years of normal research and development into 4 years. They did not know what would work, so they made two different types of separation plants, and two different types of bombs. All the clean room technology needed for the factories needed to be developed from scratch.
With the wisdom of hindsight, the "race to the bomb" was a waste, but at the time it seemed prudent. Then again war is waste, war is about laying waste.
The Manhattan Project was so expensive largely because it was a shotgun approach to development. They tried 6 different ways to produce 3 different possible bomb fuels and two different bomb designs. Ultimately the most promising methods didn't work (centrifugation) but this didn't cause the program to halt or have to rethink things, it kept chugging on everything else running in parallel and ultimately succeeded with producing 3 different ways of making HEU and one for making Plutonium plus a bomb design that worked for each of the two fuels.