Professor B. Wilkerson
Sep. 25, 2012
A Mixed Bag
On June 27, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created National Defense Research Committee, later to be known as the Office of Scientific Research and Development, subordinate to the Council of National Defense. The purpose of the Committee was to coordinate between the War Department and the Department of the Navy just about any and all wartime research efforts outside of aviation in order to win the war. The Committee was given vast resources, little oversight and allowed to grow. It was out of the creation of this Committee that the world would first become acquainted with the power that applied atomic theory could unleash in the form of the Manhattan Project.
During its height, the Manhattan Project employed 130,000 people at remote places throughout the interior (Arsenault). At the time, that was more than the entire U.S. auto industry and each of those ...view middle of the document...
It also scares strangers half a world away. The Manhattan Project had spurred the most massive arms race the Earth had ever seen and a the half-century Cold War that would take the world to the brink of annihilation in the early 1960’s when President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev locked horns in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The complications with nuclear armament progressed as more and more nations acquired the weapons. Western nations would have them pointed at Eastern nations and vice versa. Now, there are several nuclear capable nations and some of them are adversaries of other countries with the same capabilities. That problem is compounded further from when the Soviet Union collapsed and lost positive control of some of their weapons or weapons grade material. Rogue states such as North Korea and state sponsors of terrorism like Iran are actively pursuing nuclear programs with nefarious intent for their enemies. J. Robert Oppenheimer might not have seen this world.
The nuclear age has not been without benefits and advancements. Many regions in the U.S. and abroad are powered by nuclear power in an effort to save fossil fuels and be better for the environment. The energy isn’t without risk, though. Every reactor is susceptible to melt-downs with disastrous consequences as was evidenced by the tragedy at the Fukushima plant in Japan. Another area where nuclear research has benefitted society is medicine. PET scans, radiation therapy, and musculo-skeletal imaging are all positive results of nuclear research.
The Council of National Defense, established 1916, probably had no idea that it would one day be the father to so many ideas that would affect the world in as many ways as it did. Its National Defense Research Committee acted decisively to bring about the end of a war the size of which the world had never seen. It also created a way to destroy that same world. I guess it’s what we do with that technology between those two extremes that will determine ultimately whether it was worth it.
Arsenault, Mark. "The Big One: The Manhattan Project Was The Biggest Covert Operation Imaginable, And It Changed The Outcome Of The World's Biggest War. Now The Park Service Is Hoping To Tell The Story." National Parks. Feb. 2010: Web. 25 Sept. 2012.