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Manhattan Project Veterans & Experts on Pres. Obama’s Hiroshima Visit


Manhattan Project veterans and experts are reacting to President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima on May 27, 2016. Obama became the first sitting president to visit the city where the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

The Manhattan Project veterans who are still alive today recall the race to end World War II and the Manhattan Project’s goal of bringing the war to a speedy conclusion. Many also express fervent hope that nuclear weapons will never be used again. Here are some comments on President Obama’s visit by Manhattan Project veterans, historians, and experts.

Physicist Benjamin Bederson helped wire the switches for the Fat Man bomb on Tinian. “We remain convinced that dropping the bomb helped end the war and helped save many lives, Japanese and American. At the time, that was the only consideration that counted. All else paled in comparison, and there is no reason to alter our view.”

Engineer Lawrence S. O’Rourke conducted research on the gaseous diffusion proccess in Manhattan and at Oak Ridge, TN. “I have visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in each case accompanied by Japanese business associates. Several served in the Japanese military. Respect for the dead and injured was manifest, as was understanding of military decisions on each side, given the imminent invasion and enormous cultural divides. It is appropriate for President Obama to visit Hiroshima, given similar motivation. Political or morally judgmental positions are contraindicated at this place. Other times and other places are open for such discussions.”

Physicist Robert Carter worked on the project at Los Alamos: “I hope that the visit is not in any way viewed or construed as a regret or apology for the way the U.S. forced Japan to surrender in the war they so brutally started and pursued. I would have preferred a less lethal use of our nuclear weapons, but accept the decision by our leaders as best, with due consideration of all factors.”

Chemist Dieter Gruen worked on uranium at Oak Ridge, TN during the war. “President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and the friendly reception he received by the Japanese hopefully represents a cessation of hostile feelings toward the US engendered by our bombing of Hiroshima. That horrible event put a stop to that most horrible of all wars! May nuclear weapons never be used in anger again.”

Chemist Lilli Hornig and her husband Don Hornig both worked at Los Alamos. In an interview with Yahoo Japan, she said: “I think it was too bad, but we were at war. Those are the things that happen in war. I think there would have been enormous casualties if we had tried to invade Japan…Would Japan apologize for Pearl Harbor, to start with? Or any number of other attacks? No. It’s what you buy into when you are at war. But that’s why you should stop having wars.”

James Forde worked as a lab assistant in New York, where he was the only African-American employee: “I recently finished Richard Rhodes’ book [The Making of the Atomic Bomb], and found it fascinating. I have had some reservations about the bomb because of its devastating consequences to the people impacted. Nevertheless, my reservation was overcome by my thoughts about the number of American lives that would be lost in an invasion. Rhodes’ book related the same conflict in the minds of many of the “higher ups” in government, and also among some of the scientists responsible for the bomb. In addition, there was compassion for the Japanese people in the circle who decided on the use for the bomb. This revelation made me feel a lot better about our government. I do not expect or want the President to apologize for the bomb. However, I would hope that he could note that the resilience that Japan has shown in rebuilding their cities, is the same resilience they would have shown in defending an invasion with increasingly more casualties on both sides, and even more devastation on their cities.”

Richard Rhodes, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Making of the Atomic Bomb and a member of AHF’s Board of Directors: “A visit of an American President to the site of the world’s first atomic bombing has been long overdue, not to apologize–war is cruel and America’s World War II leadership sincerely believed this new weapon would decisively end the cruelest war in human history–but to contribute to turning a place of tragedy into a place of inspiration. That inspiration, as the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have appealed repeatedly across these past 71 years, must be to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from the arsenals of the world.”

Robert S. Norris, senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and member of AHF’s Board of Directors: “President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and his remarks there closes a chapter seventy years old and points to a future of cooperation with the Japanese in banning nuclear weapons.”

Kinue Tokudome, Founder/Director, US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, and a member of AHF’s Advisory Committee: “As a Japanese person, I could not help but be moved by seeing President Obama meeting atomic bomb survivors. But as someone who has been helping former American POWs share their experiences with Japanese people for many years, I wish their representative had been there too.

“Although President Obama had said that the purpose of his visit would not be to revisit the past, the image we saw today clearly symbolized reconciliation, resulting from his reaching out to the victims of the past war in Hiroshima.

The White House briefly considered inviting a former POW to join the occasion, but in the end decided not to. It was a missed opportunity. After all, suffering of POWs was on President Truman’s mind when he announced the dropping of the atomic bomb on August 9, 1945. If one of them joined atomic bomb victims today, that would have sent an even more powerful image of reconciliation, as well as providing historical context of this significant event. 

“I hope this visit will encourage us, Japanese and Americans, to have more open and honest dialogue on our shared history. If that happens, it would be a great legacy of President Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima.”