AUTHORMalloy, Sean L.
TITLE"A Very Pleasant Way to Die": Radiation Effects and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb Against Japan
PERIODICAL TITLEDiplomatic History

This article confronts the question of what American scientists, the military, and high-level civilian leadership knew about radiation effects prior to Hiroshima. Did they understand radiation's potential for long-term damaging effects to humans and the environment? The author concludes that "most of the immediate and long-term biological effects of radiation on victims of the bomb were predictable at the time of the A-bomb decision, even if imperfectly understood" (p. 543). Using evidence from military, scientific, and government documents, the article reveals a complex and troubling picture of American knowledge of radiation, mainly that there were disconnects between scientific knowledge and policymaking. To explore the possible reasons for the disconnects, the author uses a thorough historical review of the Manhattan Project’s knowledge of radiation and the manner in which the Project’s managers limited and controlled the flow of that information to the administrations of U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. The author argues that his findings are relevant to the scientific and technical history of the Manhattan Project, to the morality of the bombings of Japan, and to questions relating to nuclear testing and early post-war planning in the 1940s and 1950s. The quotation in the title ("a very pleasant way to die") is taken from General Leslie Grove's testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in November of 1945.

Find in a Library with

creative commons - some rights reserved
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.