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Conversations among German Nuclear Physicists at Farm Hall (1945) [pdf] (ghi-dc.org)
147 points by trymas 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments



> WEIZSÄCKER: I think it's dreadful of the Americans to have done it. I think it is madness on their part.

> HEISENBERG: One can't say that. One could equally well say "That's the quickest way of ending the war.”

And there’s seven decades’ worth of debate summed up in an instant on the day of the first bombing.

Something to keep in mind next time I feel tempted to argue about it.


Capitulation could have ended the war even quicker, at the speed of a telegram. Clearly, that cannot be the only criterion.

(not seeking to argue with you, I'm replying to Heisenberg so to speak)


I imagine there’s an implied “with them as the winners” on the end.


What an interesting read. Also, is it just me or are there a surprising number of german related topics on the frontpage right now?

"We only had one man working on it and they may have had ten thousand"

This is why I always chuckle at the ww2 "documentaries" positing the possibility of german or japanese bomb. Nevermind that both parties were preoccupied fighting far stronger and larger opponents ( US, British Empire, Soviet Union, China ), they lacked the resources, economic power and infrastructure to construct one before the US. We had a much larger economy and resource potential than germany and japan. Just like we do today. It was a race neither had a chance of winning.

Another interesting read is the military's view on hiroshima and nagasaki. Most military leaders saw it as serving no military purpose. So ultimately, hiroshima and nagasaki were the largest human experimentation in ww2. It was a predominately a radiation test on civilian populations and cities. Something we'd continue doing on unsuspecting pacific islanders decades after ww2.


> We had a much larger economy and resource potential than germany and japan.

Yes, I once thought that it should have been surprising that Germany didn't get the bomb first. Upon more reading, the effort that the US threw at the project was simply staggering - nobody knew which was the best technique for how to do a bunch of different things, so the Americans tried all of them at the same time. No other participant in the war could have duplicated that level of effort. And despite all of that effort, the bomb was only ready to be dropped after Germany had already been defeated by conventional arms.

I have also read that the German scientists' point of view is that a nuclear bomb as a practical military weapon was an interesting idea, but that nobody would be able to build one in time for the current war. And they were right - for themselves.


The effort was indeed huge, but it's not so obvious that the Germans could not have done it. IIRC the V2 missile program may actually have been more expensive? Different technology but also hard... hard enough that in 1969 the same guys were still leading the world.


It did not help that some new aspects found in physics were considered 'ungerman' ('Jewish physics') and discarded, especially Einstein's work and many aspects of quantum mechanics. This alone would probably have proved crippling to any efforts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Physik


Not necessarily. Ironically, nuclear explosion physics doesn’t use anything from quantum mechanics, nor from relativity. Intellectually, Germans were well-positioned to complete the project; thankfully, they didn’t have the necessary financial and engineering support.


Care to elaborate on that? Sounds rather surprising. In wikipedia on nuclear fission "quantum" is used 3 times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fission - but I suspect that all of the nuclear physics is based on quantum mechanics isn't it?


I think atemerev's point is that you can find out enough to build a bomb without knowing either relativity or quantum. Yes, E=mc^2 is why the energy is released, but all you need to know is how much energy is released when an atom splits. Yes, quantum mechanics may explain the neutron absorption cross section, but you don't need to know that. You just need to be able to measure the cross section.


Yes, it probably wasn't terribly helpful either that the rejection of Jewish physicists, many of whom helped get the American bomb project off the ground, and rejection of physicists studying "Jewish Physics" left them with probably too few qualified physicists to move a bomb project along as rapidly as the Americans did, even if they had the budget for a project of that size (they didn't), and were willing to spend it early enough (no indication of that). Considering also that they would have had to move rather faster than the Americans, since they didn't finish before the defeat of Germany. Fortunately for the world, there are plenty of reasons why is was essentially impossible for them.


[edited to remove mis-information ] apologies!


Think Un-German, as an English word.


> No other participant in the war could have duplicated that level of effort.

Effort aside, there's also luck. Americans couldn't assume that Germans haven't tried despite the lack of resources, and scored on first attempt by sheer chance.

This is one of those races where even if you're very confident that you're faster than everybody else, you still give it everything you have, because the consequences of not winning are too grave for anything else.


It was not by sheer chance that Groves et.al. showed up at Alamogordo with plutonium, in a sphere of exactly the right size, containing a carefully-constructed initiator, and surrounded by explosive blocks of exactly the right shape, with their detonators connected to timing circuitry specifically developed to have the necessary accuracy, and all components thoroughly tested. If it had not detonated, that would have been on account of a chance event.


And long before that could have been done, they had to do a lot of research and engineering, much of which was dead ends. US could afford to fund all that, including the dead ends. OPs argument above is that Germany couldn't compete, because they didn't have such resources, and had to pick one direction and stick to it. My point is that it's true in general, but there was a chance that Germans would have picked the right one from the get go, and managed to get similar results with a lot less effort.

Ah, I see what you mean. I think it is clear, however, from what they did do, that they were heading in the wrong direction and had some serious misconceptions that would have prevented them being lucky in that sense. There is the question of whether they even did a correct calculation of critical masses prior to hearing about the Hiroshima bomb (while being held at Farm Hall), and they apparently did not understand the relevance of prompt neutrons. I believe one of the Alsos team members said that the German scientists were lucky they did not kill themselves with their primitive experiments.

After the Germans surrendered my dad's division was scheduled to be transferred to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan. At least that is what they were told. He was happy to hear of the bombings on Nagasaki and Hiroshima since from his perspective it caused the Japanese to surrender.

Of course it's debatable on whether or not those bombings did indeed cause the surrender of Japan. Politically the U.S. has not been a nation to stomach large numbers of its soldiers being killed. The actions on Iwo Jima and Okinawa were far more bloody than the public cared for. How many more such battles would a war weary public have endured? Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not military targets but they were political targets.

I don't know if the bombings were morally right or wrong and can see the argument both ways. But from at least one drafted soldier's perspective they were a good thing.


> it's debatable on whether or not those bombings did indeed cause the surrender of Japan

They were specifically mentioned in emperor's address. Yes, they caused the surrender.

> Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not military targets

They were military targets. There was army HQ, troops stationed there, factories which were producing military goods.


>> "Yes, they caused the surrender."

Broadly speaking, this is widely regarded amongst historians as not true at all, though most American schoolchildren are still taught it.

Mostly this is because American conventional airpower was so overwhelming in Japan that its effects were substantially interchangeable with the bomb. Before the atomic bombings, Secretary of War Henry Stimson (who chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki as targets) mentioned that America had literally run out of targets to (conventionally) bomb in Japan [0].

A more detailed summary of the "Bomb didn't cause surrender" argument is given in [1].

[0] http://www.doug-long.com/stimson5.htm , ctrl-F for "I was a little fearful that before we could get ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon [the atomic bomb] would not have a fair background to show its strength."

[1] https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/30/the-bomb-didnt-beat-jap...


"its effects were substantially interchangeable with the bomb"

Yes, its military effects. (And humanitarian effects.)

But no, in political effect. If "war is politics carried on by other means" and the goal was to defeat Japanese Fascism, then you had to make sure it couldn't come back from the dead after a grudging surrender. That was IMHO the main lesson of Versailles. And it worked.


I think this is the part that people miss when discussing the nuclear attacks. It’s purpose was not tactical or military. It was a political purpose.


>. It’s purpose was not tactical or military. It was a political purpose.

When people debate this issue, I find they tend to resort to a reductionist view of history and the players involved in order to justify their personal views of the US. The degree to which one is opposed to American cultural imperialism and military hegemony, or believes the US to be an evil state, tends to be the degree to which one believes the bombings had a nefarious purpose, or an ulterior motive. The whole thing has become a Rashomon style play of contradictory truths, except no one insisting on the order of events, motives or naming the culprit was actually there.

It seems more likely to me than not that the bombings didn't have only that one explicit purpose to the exclusion of the others, just as it seems unlikely to me that the bombings were either absolutely responsible or absolutely irrelevant to Japan's surrender.


Yes I agree with what you write here. I don’t mean to suggest it was a purely political calculation. I mean to suggest that decisions can be militarily bad or irrelevant while still be necessary politically.


Citing the Emperor's address as evidence isn't a great idea. It contains plenty of demonstrably false statements, like this:

> Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.


I was going to say that considering an entire city as a contiguous military target is a war crime. However, a quick search makes me doubt that such a provision was part of any relevant treaty in 1945. Massive bombings were inconveivable when the second Hague Convention was signed in 1907.


It isn't debatable because we know hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender. If the nukes were the cause of japan's surrender, hiroshima would have been enough and nagasaki wouldn't have happened.

Also, there is no ambiguity to the morality of hiroshima or nagasaki. No more than there is any ambiguity to the morality of nazi death camps. They were both racially driven war crimes and crimes against humanity. And as mcnamara said, if we had lost the war, our leaders would have been executed for war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The atomic bomb was the only reason given by the Emperor for the surrender in his address to the nation. Even after 2 atomic bombs were dropped there was an attempted military coup to prevent the Emperor from surrendering.

>...They were both racially driven war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Why do you say they were racially driven? The same types of civilian bombing was done in Germany as was done in Japan. If we had the atomic bomb before the war ended in Germany, I am sure it would have been used there.


There are serious debates about these issues.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debate_over_the_atomic_bombing...

Your stated confidence that there was no difference in the way Germany and Japan were viewed in terms of racial difference from the US—come on, how is that supposed to demonstrate anything other than a personal desire to prove that racially-tinged animosity wasn't a factor?

Protip: don't expect a historically sophisticated, humane, balanced historical account to emerge from HN comments.


>...There are serious debates about these issues.

Of course there is debate - I never said their wasn't.

It was the original poster who wrote:

>>..It isn't debatable because we know hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender.

>…Your stated confidence that there was no difference in the way Germany and Japan were viewed in terms of racial difference from the US—come on, how is that supposed to demonstrate anything other than a personal desire to prove that racially-tinged animosity wasn't a factor?

Don't misrepresent what I wrote. I never said "there was no difference in the way Germany and Japan were viewed in terms of racial difference from the US".

The original poster wrote:

>>…They were both racially driven war crimes and crimes against humanity.

If someone makes extraordinary claims, they need to provide some evidence. Maybe there is some proof of this, so in my reply I asked for some evidence. I also pointed out that the same types of bombing was done in Germany and if the bomb had been available earlier I ams sure it would have been used there also. I wrote:

>…Why do you say they were racially driven? The same types of civilian bombing was done in Germany as was done in Japan. If we had the atomic bomb before the war ended in Germany, I am sure it would have been used there.

To clarify what I said about the same types of bombing done to cities in Germany, there is this account by the physicist Freeman Dyson who was a civilian scientist working for the Operational Research Section of RAF Bomber Command headquarters:

>…We killed altogether about 400,000 Germans,* one third of them in the two fire storms in Hamburg and Dresden. The Dresden fire storm was the worst. But from our point of view it was only a fluke. We attacked Berlin sixteen times with the same kind of force that attacked Dresden once. We were trying every time to raise a fire storm. There was nothing special about Dresden except that for once everything worked as we intended.

http://www.bible-researcher.com/dresden/dyson.html

Roosevelt wanted to use the bomb on Germany if it could be made available. before the war in Europe was over. I've never seen any suggestions that any of the Roosevelt administration (or any of the allies) proposed the atomic bomb not be used over Germany because of their race. If someone wants to claim that the use of the atomic bomb in Japan was "racially driven", it is entirely fair to ask for some evidence.

>Protip: don't expect a historically sophisticated, humane, balanced historical account to emerge from HN comments.

I agree.


After Hiroshima and the Russian invasion of Manchuria, but before Nagasaki, the Japanese army was preparing to impose martial law on Japan to prevent anyone from surrendering.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrender_of_Japan#August_9:_S...

After Hiroshima, the Russian invasion of Manchuria, and Nagasaki, Japan still went through an attempted coup to try to prevent the surrender.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrender_of_Japan#Attempted_m...

I think it's totally false to say "hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender". That doesn't match the evidence of history whatsoever.


You're treating acts committed by a handful of officers as done by the entire army or nation. Neither act means that the bombs had a bearing on the decision.


We're not talking about a democracy, though. This handful of officers and the emperor were the decision makers.


A handful of officers made decisions, not this particular one. Preparation for martial law had the backing of one member of the six man Supreme War Council, while the coup never had anyone above the rank of major or lieutenant colonel onboard.

>We're not talking about a democracy, though.

Like the democratic decision to drop the bomb? This is a silly statement, everybody involved had most of the power consolidated into a few hands.


>...we know hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender.

I think this is an interesting idea but I would love to see a source on this.

When I took a Japan at War class in college our professor seemed to be of the opinion that using the atom bomb was what finally convinced the Japanese to surrender unconditionally but that they would have agreed to a conditional surrender as long as their emperor was guaranteed some form of independence. What are your thoughts on this?


That is the justification for the bomb for the American public.

Many Japanese cities (sixty-ish) were destroyed by traditional firebombing. For the Japanese, Hiroshima and Nagasaki simply meant "two more cities".

Two days after Hiroshima, Russia declared war against Japan. So their strategic position in the war became hopeless. Historians believe Russia entering the war shaped the surrender much more than the atomic bomb.

https://nationalpost.com/news/did-the-atomic-bombings-of-hir...


I'm not the parent but I wrote a comment about this elsewhere in the thread https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19115219

and another similar comment previously https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10485563


avn2109 gave some sources in another comment - let me add one more: https://mises.org/wire/atomic-bombing-japan-reconsidered


"..the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb...should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization...This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Power". - Imperial Rescript on Surrender, by the Showa Emperor (Hirohito).


A superweapon is a convenient thing to blame one's surrender on. But if you look at the discussions the Japanese war cabinet had behind the scenes these days, it's clear that they were worried about an imminent Soviet invasion just as much as the bombs.


> But if you look at the discussions the Japanese war cabinet had behind the scenes these days, it's clear that they were worried about an imminent Soviet invasion just as much as the bombs.

Can you post a source for these? Google hasn't been any help.

English translations, obviously, would be preferred.


Wikipedia has a lengthy article on various debates and controversies on this broad subject (whether the bombs were justified or not), including Soviet role in it, and whether it made the second bomb unnecessary.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debate_over_the_atomic_bombing...


It doesn't seem to have have transcripts of the "discussions the Japanese war cabinet had behind the scenes", which is specifically what you wanted people to look at in your former comment.


Transcriptions are not available, obviously, but the closest thing I've seen to date is "The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945", which is available in English. Compiled by the Pacific War Research Society, a group of Japanese historians, from accounts from officials and written records, their version of history does indeed claim that the Japanese government was pinning their hopes on the Soviet Union brokering a peace agreement with the United States and was deliberately delaying responses to the US until their hopes were dashed by the Soviet declaration of war. The use of atomic weapons was an additional impetus, not a deciding factor.

As an aside, the book makes for fascinating reading. Being compiled by Japanese from accounts by other Japanese, one has to be wary of a certain amount of face-saving and retconning, of course. However, it's the first I've seen that overlays the timeline of events occurring within the Japanese government with the US progress in the war.


"we know hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender."

That may well be the case but it is not remotely clear that the people making that decision knew it for a fact which is what actually has bearing on the morality.

Also - why focus so much on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, London, Coventry, etc. were all attacks on civilians. We tend to judge atomic bombing as being special because of the thermonuclear age that followed but if it wasn't for that, we'd think of them as "strategic" bombing of population centres exactly the same as all the other such bombing done by all sides in WW2.


Just because I focused on hiroshima and nagasaki doesn't mean I don't think the firebombings were any better. They were war crimes and crimes against humanity also.


>The bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, London, Coventry, etc. were all attacks on civilians.

And at the time it appears the military leaders saw the atomic bomb as primary an optimization measure for carrying out this kind of city-wide attack.

(See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog_of_War)


It's worth mentioning that more civilians died in the firebombing of Tokyo than in either of Hiroshima or Nagasaki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Tokyo). That was a conventional bombing raid (essentially covering the city in napalm).

However the psychological impact of the nuclear attacks being a single bomb is important to consider as well.


This isn't a serious comment, and is a gross misrepresentation of WWII history. It's deeply concerning to me that WWII history is being rewritten as just another example of the evil United State Empire being racist again (you're not the only one who thinks this wrongly about WWII).

We're probably less than a decade away from revisionist history bleeding over into 9/11, and people will actively teach my children that the United States deserved it as some kind of cosmic karma.


It’s debatable because we just don’t know when the surrender would have taken place in the absense of the bombings. We can look at statements by leaders on what they would have done under the hypothetical of them not occurring but we still wouldn’t know what would have happened if they didn’t occur. Perhaps one nuke was not enough to induce surrender. When the second occurs maybe it’s enough to induce. Maybe they were arguing amongst themselves on how to surrender with honor or some other nitpick but then the nukes quickly ended any internal discussions. Post facto the leaders can say this or that but we’ll never really know what they would have done if bombings didn’t occur.

There is moral ambiguity on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For one, you view the actions with the benefit of hindsight and with the moral views of a different era. So in your mind you can say they were definitely moral crimes but you can’t objectively demonstrate this in the sense of convincing most people that you are right.

Was the bombing of Dresden racially motivated? I’ve never thought it so. There were certain racial views against the Japanese but that doesn’t make the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima racially motivated. Was the Tokyo fire raid racially motivated? What about the invasions of Okinawa and Iwo Jima? We could have blockaded Japan and possibly forced their surrender. Of course that wouldn’t have stopped the 2 million or so Japanese soldiers in China from doing their fighting.

Yes, McNamara said that. Was he right? I don’t think so. The Germans and the Japanese had no need for trials of conquered leaders. They just killed them. It’s interesting to think about the what ifs and claim this action was unnecessary or that action was morally criminal. We’ll disagree on the efficacy of the nuclear attacks. My previous post was mostly to point out that the bombings weren’t meant to serve tactical military considerations. That the bombings were political and hence it’s perfectly reasonable that the military leaders would consider them militarily useless even if they weren’t useless in the broader political context. Military leaders don’t always get it right. McArthur famously wanted to nuke China like 50 times during the Korean War.


I find the notion that morality can be objectively demonstrated by convincing a majority that your viewpoint is correct very interesting notion...

In any case, I also think the charge of racism is a bit uncalled for, the complete disregard for human suffering exemplified by the firebombing campaigns are surely enough to qualify as very serious war crimes all on their own.

(Though to claim that an America that was interning all its japan connected citizens in camps was acting without any racial impulses do seem rather implausible)


The Manhattan Project wasn't focused on developing the atomic bombs just for dropping on the Japanese. The US was afraid of Germany developing a bomb first, and evidence presented here[0], at least, suggests several tactical and strategic reasons for choosing Japan over Germany (such as superior German air support, the perceived greater likelihood of Germany's imminent surrender versus Japan, and fears that Germany might better be able to reverse engineer a dud than the Japanese.)

None of this suggests a primarily racially-motivated rationale. The evidence doesn't seem to support the premise that the US bombed Japan because they were Asians and didn't bomb Germany because they were Caucasians.

Although, racism and xenophobia likely informed American public opinion of the bombings after the fact. There's no way to know how that would have played out had Germany been bombed, or both Germany and Japan.

[0]http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/2013/10/04/atomic-bomb-used-n...


> several tactical and strategic reasons for choosing Japan over Germany (such as superior German air support, the perceived greater likelihood of Germany's imminent surrender versus Japan, and fears that Germany might better be able to reverse engineer a dud than the Japanese.)

...well, there was also the fact that Germany had already surrendered by the time the first atom bomb was built.


>...well, there was also the fact that Germany had already surrendered by the time the first atom bomb was built.

That did probably make the calculus a lot simpler.


> It isn't debatable because we know hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender.

Not only is this debatable but it is often debated.

Your post is absurd. In your mind the Holocaust is morally equivalent to the nuclear bombings of Japan. That's crazy: Japan and the US were engaged in a war (that Japan started) whereas the Jews (and other victims of the Nazis) were not at war with Germany.

If you want a more nuanced perspective on the bombings and the surrender of Japan, read Downfall by Richard B. Frank. Even if you disagree with Frank, acting like there's no debate on this subject is dishonest. There's plenty of debate. In my opinion, people who talk about issues like this in absolute terms are unwilling or unable to grapple with the complexity that necessarily exists in wartime.


I don't know about you, but I think I would run up the white flag after being nuked once.


The Japanese should have surrendered in 1943 AND THEY KNEW IT. Its easy to blame the evil Americans for nuking Hiroshima. Nobody ever talks about the Japanese government dragging out a losing war. The Japanese public themselves knew it though. Its why even today the military is disliked. All of Japan was supposed to go down in a blaze of glory- luckily the emperor regained his senses at the eleventh hour.


>I don't know if the bombings were morally right or wrong and can see the argument both ways. But from at least one drafted soldier's perspective they were a good thing.

Soldiers volunteer to fight a war, civilians don't. If the Japanese had bombed LA, we wouldn't be having this conversation, every American would understand why this was morally wrong.


The question isn’t whether Americans would unambiguously view a fire bombing of LA as morally wrong. The question is would the Japanese view it as morally wrong? Of course the victims view it as wrong. Would the offenders?


That's not the question, the question is "was it morally wrong to drop the nukes?"

My position, based on my classes on the rule of law in warfare from a US service academy, is that civilians are an illegal target for the military and using a nuke on several hundred thousand people to take out a handful of industry is definitely outside of acts of legal warfare. It's different to target a manufacturing facility directly, even with civilians inside.

So, this isn't an argument, my position is the correct one. Even a US service academy teaches its officer candidates that the nukes were objectively wrong. The lives of civilians are more sacred than the lives of soldiers during wartime, legally.


The answer to the question of the morality of the bombing at least in part depends on whether one is a victim or perpetrator. You correctly stated that Americans would consider a fire bombing of Los Angeles to be morally wrong. From the viewpoint of the victim it's not hard to view such an act as morally wrong. From the perspective of the perpetrator it's not so clear cut.

So, this isn't an argument, my position is the correct one.

I did not know your view of the morality of this bombing was the only one that matters. Apparently far too many people are wrong on this issue then.

Even a US service academy teaches its officer candidates that the nukes were objectively wrong. The lives of civilians are more sacred than the lives of soldiers during wartime, legally.

Apparently our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan did not get the message. Of course, the perspective taught in West Point today was not the one taught in West Point in 1945. It was not the viewpoint of Army Air Force commanders either during WWII. What is deemed moral is culture and time dependent. Hence some people - myself included - think it only proper to at least consider the views and knowledge of the people at the time the decisions are made.

Since you have deemed yourself correct on this issue there isn't a point in discussion I suppose. Nothing I say can cause you to question anything on this matter. I will read any response you wish to give since I'm not so certain about my position.


There were 3 issues involved in the decision to drop the bomb: 1. The battle of Okinawa was fought vigorously by the Japanese leading the allies to increase their estimates of the cost of war on the Japanese homeland. 2. The fear that if the war lasted too long then the Soviet Union would enter the pacific war and carve up Japan in the same way we carved up Germany 3. Japan's desire for a conditional surrender

It is the 3rd factor that was the crux. I believe if we understood the terms of the conditional surrender then we could have ended the war without dropping the bomb. In fact, we likely did comply with what the Japanese wanted since we protected the emperor after the war.


I find it very peculiar that you use "we" when talking about the USA country from 84 years ago, is it just me?


>..We had a much larger economy and resource potential than germany and japan. Just like we do today. It was a race neither had a chance of winning.

Germany spent about an equivalent amount of money in the V1 and V2 rocket programs that the US spent on the Manhattan project. Though Heisenburg later claimed he had sabotaged the German effort, the evidence seems to be a bit in favor of saying that he just miscalculated the amount of uranium needed so that it looked like it would be impractical as a weapon:

>...The largest piece of evidence was that Heisenberg had miscalculated the critical mass needed to achieve an atomic bomb, and thus still believed that tons of U-235 was necessary to create the bomb.

http://holbert.faculty.asu.edu/eee460/anv/Why%20the%20German...

>...Most military leaders saw it as serving no military purpose. So ultimately, hiroshima and nagasaki were the largest human experimentation in ww2.

They weren't chosen at random. For example, the original target for Nagasaki was supposed to be Kokura:

>...The American bomber was a B-29 named Bock's Car, and it was supposed to drop the world's first plutonium bomb on Kokura. Three times, Bock's Car passed over Kokura, bomb bays open, a hum in the cockpit signaling that the bomb was ready for release, the crew wearing the special goggles that were supposed to protect them from the flash of the atomic explosion.

>But although the radar scope was locked on to Kokura, the orders were to drop the bomb only on visual identification of the huge arms factory that was the target.

https://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/07/world/kokura-japan-bypass...

The use of the atomic bomb was both a military and political statement.


The military did see a lot of utility in the atomic bomb, though they did not fully grasp the effects. Ostensibly, General MacArthur looked at using atomic bombs to clear the beach heads of Japan before sending in the Marines, which would have killed a lot of the latter.


I didn't say the military didn't see the utility of the atomic bomb, I said the military saw no military utility in hiroshima and nagasaki. There is a difference between using the bomb to kill soldiers and to destroy/irradiate and kill civilians. Just like there is a a military utility of the gun to kill enemy soldiers, but no military utility to shooting children.

For example, a concentration camp to keep enemy soldiers is far different than a concentration camp to keep jewish, japanese american, etc civilians ( fathers, mothers and children ).

And it's odd that you bring up macarthur since we know for a fact that he was against hiroshima and nagasaki.

"When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-mitchell/countdown-to-hi...


> I said the military saw no military utility in hiroshima and nagasaki

How do you reconcile that with the commonly held historical view? Or is that merely your own personal opinion?

"Hiroshima was a city of both industrial and military significance. Hiroshima was the headquarters of the 2nd General Army 第2総軍 (日本軍) with responsibility for most of western Japan including Kyushu as well as a depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It was a good radar target and it was such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills that were likely to produce a focusing effect that would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers, it was not a good incendiary target. It was classified as an AA(Prime)Target. It had a military garrison of about 40,000 men. Hiroshima was the primary target for the August 6 attack, with Kokura and Nagasaki as alternatives. Far from being an innocent city full of civilians, the garrison of 40,000 soldiers were doing calisthenics when the bomb exploded and were in fact the largest single group of casualties in the city.

Nagasaki was a major industrial city making torpedoes and ammunition. Mitsubishi Steel, Orikami Ordinance Works and a large engine works dominated the production in the city in addition of a large garrison. There were also a major dockyard used for the transport of men and materials to the north. It, too, was a high priority target but was a secondary target that was only hit if the primary target was too cloud covered for a visual drop on the primary."

https://www.quora.com/Did-Hiroshima-and-Nagasaki-have-milita...


Firstly, there is a world of difference because a munitions factory within a city being a viable target and the whole city itself being a target. Are you seriously justifying the destruction of hundreds of elementary schools, hospitals, shops, etc just because a city has a port? Following your logic, every city is a military target. And why limit it to just a city. Why not the state or province. A military factory is in a state. So should everyone in the state be killed? Why not expand it to the entire country. A country has a military factory. Is everyone in the country guilty?

Secondly, by August of 1945, Japan had been starved of food and resources for years. So whatever industry they had was nonexistent. So even if you are able to justify nuking an entire city just to take out a factory, you still can't justify hiroshima or nagasaki because they was no industry to speak of in August of 1945.

Whether you like it or not, hiroshima and nagasaki are no different than auschwitz and dachau. Indefensible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It's amazing the lengths we'll go to justify genocide. Also, it is not a commonly held historical view. It's a commonly held propaganda that we've been forcefed since childhood. And it's not my opinion. It's the opinion of General MacArthur, the commander of the entire pacific theater. It is also the opinion of Eisenhower, Marshall, Nimitz and every major military leader.


Very few documentaries mention this but the Allies won the war because of their colonies. The uranium used for the Manhattan project came from Congo for example. All the resources of South America and Africa were at their disposal.


If you look more into it, Germany was very close to being able to build a reactor that would have been able to produce plutonium. Their graphite reactor research never went critical because they didn't know that the boron impurities in graphite was absorbing too many neutrons. I'm not saying if they knew that they would've had the resources to make enough plutonium for a bomb, but the German scientists wren't that far away. Having said all that, if you read through all of these documents it seems like they had no idea how the bomb was built and designed.


I don't believe that it was a unfair race so to speak. In my knowledge it were the German scientists who moved to US and helped US develop the bomb. US may have had the resources but it definitely lacked the knowledge for building bomb which German surely possessed.


Even had Germany somehow kept the knowledge, it had, at best, a very brief period of time between the beginning of the war and the period when its industrial capacity was being seriously strained, if not bombed almost continuously, to work on the weapon. The Nazi nuclear bomb project was also underfunded for political reasons, not to mention the fact it would have been very difficult to justify working on a blue-sky wonder-weapon instead of building more tanks and planes and rifles for the three-front war practically at their doorstep.

You can try to posit a Nazi regime without such constraints, but a Nazi regime which isn't lead by Hitler is fundamentally different from the regime we're talking about. A well-run Nazi Germany, one which didn't pick unwinnable fights, is a Nazi Germany contrary to Hitler's vision.


According to Wikipedia, "The German V-weapons (V-1 and V-2) cost the equivalent of around USD $40 billion (2015 dollars), which was 50 percent more than the Manhattan Project". That was super high-tech, blue-sky research, which in the end had almost zero military impact. It was not stopped by Allied bombing. It was done at the expense of more practical things, like tanks and planes, despite serious shortages of some of the ingredients (like fuel).

The Manhattan project indeed had a brain trust working on it, the like of which existed nowhere else on the planet. (Maybe more Hungarian than German, though.) Germany could not have replicated that, but it seems likely to me that the brains they did have would have been plenty.

There could have been some other roadblock of course, like the total lack of some material. But I don't know of one. IIRC the Soviets mined about half their Uranium in E Germany, so that was available.



Such an amazing read. What positively surprised me, but perhaps shouldn't have, is that they seem almost relieved they didn't get there first. It's reassuring in a way I have trouble verbalising.


If you happen to be in the Stuttgart / Tübingen area of Germany, you should visit the experimental reactor in Haigerloch, now a museum [1]. You really get the impression that the team around Heisenberg was trying to build a reactor to generate energy, but you have to be careful: I am not sure that if they would've gotten to a state where a bomb was also feasible, they would've been openly (or even secretly) against building it. This quote by Heisenberg makes it seem like he thought about this quite a bit during his time at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut, and maybe came to a personal conclusion:

HEISENBERG: One can't say that. One could equally well say "That's the quickest way of ending the war.”

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forschungsreaktor_Haigerloch


Some of them were relieved but some of them weren't. There was Gerlach's reaction described later in the document.

"7. HAHN and HEISENBERG discussed the matter alone together. HAHN explained to HEISENBERG that he was himself very upset about the whole thing. He said he could not really understand why GERLACH had taken it so badly. HEISENBERG said he could understand it because GERLACH was the only one of them who had really wanted a German victory, because although he realized the crimes of the Nazis and disapproved of them, he could not get away from the fact that he was working for GERMANY. HAHN replied that he too loved his country and that, strange as it might appear, it was for this reason that he had hoped for her defeat. ..."

Then there was also this bit:

"... BAGGE: That's not true. You were there yourself at that conference in Berlin. I think it was on 8 September that everyone was asked – GEIGER, BOTHE and you, HARTECK, were there too– and everyone said that it must be done at once. Someone said 'Of course it is an open question whether one ought to do a thing like that.' Thereupon BOTHE got up and said 'Gentlemen, it must be done.' Then GEIGER got up and said 'If there is the slightest chance that it is possible – it must be done.' That was on 8 September '39.

WEIZSÄCKER: I don't know how you can say that. 50% of the people were against it.

HARTECK: All the scientists who understood nothing about it, all spoke against it, and of those who did understand it, one third spoke against it. ..."


What an interesting exchange here! This really highlights an issue that we have been dealing with for these last 80 years: What to do when the leader is known to be unjust/evil?

Here we see that these very intelligent men all were patriots to their own people, despite their evil leader. But they all knew that this patriotism was misplaced and would make the world worse. They all knew that they should loose, despite their loyalty to their own people.

In the 8 decades since, have we come to a conclusion on how to deal with this? What is a person to do when the nation goes towards evil? Must we all go Capt. America on our own[0]?

The decisions of these cowards and their internal conflicts echo to this day.

[0]https://external-preview.redd.it/sORWym5kfi2NIanLWbz_0nWtqPP...


Highlight for me:

>WEIZSÄCKER: I don't think we ought to make excuses now because we did not succeed, but we must admit that we didn't want to succeed. If we had put the same energy into it as the Americans and had wanted it as they did, it is quite certain that we would not have succeeded as they would have smashed up the factories.

>WEIZSÄCKER: One can say it might have been a much greater tragedy for the world if Germany had had the uranium bomb. Just imagine, if we had destroyed LONDON with uranium bombs it would not have ended the war, and when the war did end, it is still doubtful whether it would have been a good thing.


Von Weizsäcker, and his family, are extremely interesting. The father was a somewhat reluctant ambassador to Britain. The four brothers all were highly successful, as a physicist, a politician (President of Germany in the 90s), an economist, and a political scientist.

I had the honor to study with the economist. I rarely get the explicit idea that someone is smarter or dumber than me. But with him, it was so obvious I skipped right over jealousy straight to awe and enjoyment.

There is also a play, “Copenhagen”, featuring three or four possible versions of a meeting of WeizsÄcker. Heisenberg, and Bohr.


Richard von Weizsäcker (President of Germany) was fabulous. Every interview worth reading, every word well chosen. Nobody since has lived up to that high standard yet in my opinion.


No coin without flipside: "... Er war - für die Bundesrepublik in dieser Form bis heute einmalig - der intellektuelle Gegenentwurf zum Kanzler, und er hat diese Rolle auch gerne angenommen. Im privaten Leben war er zwar oft unbeherrscht, hochfahrend und anmaßend. Untergebene schurigelte er zuweilen aus nichtigem Anlass. Doch seine öffentlichen Auftritte inszenierte Weizsäcker untadelig. ..." Source [german]: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/richard-von-weizsa...


Translation: "He was - uniquely to this day for the Federal Republic - the intellectual counterbalance to the Chancellor [Kohl?], and happily played this role. In private life, he was often uncontrolled, arrogant and overbearing. He sometimes bullied his staff for trivial reasons. But Weizsäcker played his public appearances flawlessly."


Read his speach for 40 years end of WWII in Germany:

http://www.bundespraesident.de/SharedDocs/Reden/DE/Richard-v...



>HEISENBERG: I am still convinced that our objective was really the right one and that the fact that we concentrated on uranium may give us the chance of collaboration. I believe this uranium business will give the Anglo–Saxons such tremendous power that EUROPE will become a bloc under Anglo–Saxon domination. If that is the case it will be a very good thing. I wonder whether STALIN will be able to stand up to the others as he has done in the past.

Another timeline that most can be glad we didn't go down. America would be even more dominant over the western world. Russia even more on edge.


Not sure if you are being sarcastic - but isn't he in 1945 correctly predicting the development of the western world over the next 30-40 years, in which the US were clearly the dominating NATO power? I don't think Heisenberg meant that the US will threaten European nations with annihilation.


I'm having trouble parsing the quote, I think by 'Anglo-Saxon' he really means 'England and the US', and it's not really clear that England the US have true "power and control" over Europe. Instead what we see is a Europe dominated by England and Germany with large military influence by US.


If you look at the period from 1945 to, say, 1975, though, which is the speaker's perspective, American political and economic influence were both extremely strong compared to today, in addition to the obvious military influence.


The thing is, from the 60's through the fall of the wall, you can say what you want, but I distinctly remember everyone MUCH preferring German Marks to any other European currency. (Probably the Swiss Franc was on par with it, you get the idea. No one wanted Lira, and, at times, even Pounds and French Francs were out of favor.) Germany, or Germany and France, were usually the driving force behind most European initiatives during that time.

Not only then, but still today. (If not even more today.) I remember the late unpleasantness with the PIIGs, and believe it or not, there was a little while there where people would try to determine where a Euro note came from...

and they wouldn't take it unless it was from Germany.

The Germans may not be vocal about dominating Europe, but they definitely dominate Europe. And they have in many ways for a long time. At least since the 60's.


correct. it's important to understand that 50% of the world GDP was inside the continental US at the end of the war. they were extremely correct in their predictions.


It sounds like Heisenberg is predicting that the USSR would not be a major power in postwar Europe. And this didn't turn out to be the case.

Whether this was a good thing or not, I think newsgremlin should ask some Poles.


Nobody thought the USSR would develop nuclear weapons as quickly as they did. Had it taken them an extra decade or so I think there's a very possible future where the United States strikes, with nuclear weapons if necessary, any site where another state was developing their own nukes, in order to maintain sole possession of the weapons.


I don't know man?

Right now it's looking like Germany is clearly the power in Europe. With American military still there, and still largely based in Germany. I could be totally off, but it really does seem like Europe is dominated, in most meaningful ways, by Germany.


Next 30-40 years from 1945 on.


I thought by Anglo-saxons he specifically means English/England, as by the end of the war it would look like England being the remaining empire readying to take chunks out of Europe. Not American as they seem to differentiate in several conversations. America running NATO is intentional by European powers and is not the same as the colonial attitude at the time. The US was not as well known for foreign interventionism at this time, especially during the peak of colonial empires before their decline post-WW2

As a German I would love to have read it in German or hear the audio files. Nevertheless an interesting piece of history.


Same here. I tracked down the German version on their website here: http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/pdf/deu/German101ed.pdf (PDF)


These are possibly a re-translation, supposedly the german originals were lost, at least that was the situation in 2013: http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/2013/09/13/what-did-the-nazis... (third paragraph)


Thank you very much for that!


Me too!


Dürrenmatt's famous play The Physicists has a very similar setting, I wonder if he was inspired by this at all.


Note how quickly they feel the need to defend themselves, why they couldn't get the bomb done in time. Considering their situation (prisoners of war in the UK), I find that instinct patently absurd.

Over half of the transcript is them coming up with excuses why the Americans succeeded where they did not. Let it be a lesson about the human condition that the excuses all but eclipse the guilt over having attempted to build such a bomb themselves. Both the guild and envy are powerful emotions. Envy wins.


I think the defensiveness only looks absurd in hindsight.

They were wondering whether they’d go back, and how they’d be perceived/treated by their fellow Germans. Would they be perceived as traitors for failing to create the bomb?


Fascinating stuff, really interesting characters. I for one never knew the Germans were pursuing fission for the production of "engines". Do yourselves a favor and read the entire transcript.

The comments about how they see history being written, specifically about the German contributions, comes across as particularly naive but evident of men who were clearly distraught and disoriented.

And their predictions about Stalin and Russia were ominous but nearly correct several times over.


> Fascinating stuff, really interesting characters. I for one never knew the Germans were pursuing fission for the production of "engines". Do yourselves a favor and read the entire transcript.

I'm fairly sure that by "engines" they meant reactors.


They talk about a 'Maschine' in the German version 'a machine' and clearly mean a machine to produce energy i.e a reactor.


The terminology was obviously not settled at this point. I’m almost certain ‚engine‘ refers to a reactor.


How did we end up purifying the amount of U235 needed?

I saw on another page "General Leslie Groves consulted with lead scientists of the project and agreed to investigate simultaneously four separate methods of separating and purifying the uranium-235: gaseous diffusion, centrifuge, electromagnetic separation and liquid thermal diffusion."

Seems like a ton of work.



Operation Epsilon is a pretty good (if probably overly literal) play about Farm Hall. Worth going to see if you get a chance.


Overall a neat piece of history to read, to sit in that disbelief as fragments of the world start being lifted back up from the ground where they've shattered. Neat quotes:

Heisenberg: I believe this uranium business will give the Anglo–Saxons such tremendous power that EUROPE will become a bloc under Anglo–Saxon domination. If that is the case it will be a very good thing.

Heisenberg: [T]he days of small countries are over.

Weizsäcker: Our strength is now the fact that we are 'un–Nazi'.

Heisenberg: I believe that we are now far more bound up with the Anglo–Saxons than we were before as we have no possibility of switching over to the Russians even if we wanted to. On the other hand we can do it with a good conscience because we can see that in the immediate future Germany will be under Anglo–Saxon influence.

Weizsäcker: If I ask myself for which side I would prefer to work of course I would say for neither of them.

Weizsäcker: History will record that the Americans and the English made a bomb, and that at the same time the Germans, under the HITLER regime, produced a workable engine. In other words, the peaceful development of the uranium engine was made in Germany under the Hitler regime, whereas the Americans and the English developed this ghastly weapon of war.


Plugged it in a previous thread but will plug it as relevant again, since I see debate in this thread about Japanese surrender and wheather the Germans were really developing the bomb.

Have a read of Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg, he was involved and saw a lot of the nuclear planning during the Cold War. It’s pretty clear from his retelling that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were not essential to end the war. Japan was days away from surrender, and we killed more people in a firebomb raid than with the A-Bomb anyway, so it’s not like they weren’t already suffering citywide destructions. In fact Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two cities kept off of the firebombing list simply to still have test targets for the A-Bomb.

On the German front Hitler apparently discontinued the nazi program when he found out it was going to take too long for his timeline to win the war.

In Cold War terms there’s almost too much disturbing in the book to list. But one thing it brought home to me was that we should have a “no first use” policy like other countries, but we don’t because we like to threaten their use. And we have absolutely no need for land based ICBMs anymore given we have SLBMs more than capable of destroying the world, the ICBMs are a strategic liability (targets) and yet instead of getting rid of them we are planning to spend over $100b to replace them.


An under-emphasised point: If defeating Japanese fascism was a valid war aim, then the bomb was a really efficient weapon. Even if mining the harbors was much cheaper & had more military effect. The lesson from Versailles is that surrender wasn't enough to defeat German militarism, just a few years later they could spin stories about the army being stabbed in the back... but such stories didn't sell so well in 1950, 1960, with Soviet & US tanks facing each other in Berlin. The US ability to fly over in 1 plane, 1 bomb, 1 city was another really hard-to-deny reality.

And: It's not clear that "no first use" policies are anything more than PR tools. IIRC it emerged that not one of the USSR war plans for Germany was nuclear-free.




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