Here’s a book every American should read, and no one even knows it exists: “And What of Tomorrow” by George O. Robinson, published in 1956. Robinson, a journalist, was an aide to L.R. Groves, commanding general of the Manhattan project, and the author of the first press releases issued on our atomic energy development. His book, less than 200 pages long, is subtitled “The Human Drama in the Atomic Revolution and the Promise of a Golden Age”. The book is a survey both of the scientific work that led to the splitting of the atom and the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and the unbelievable effort that this country went to in order to put the results of scientific experimentation into action.
As to the science, starting with Einstein and Fermi, and working through the group that worked in secret in Chicago, Robinson’s explanation is easy to follow, even for readers with no scientific background whatsoever.
But the real strength of the book is its description of the American effort – how, during war time, with budgets largely hidden, with the effort shrouded in a great amount of secrecy, the country built three new communities from scratch – Oak Ridge, TN, where uranium was processed; Hanford WA, where plutonium was processed; and Los Alamos NM, the most secret facility of them all, where the radioactive fuels were used to construct the bombs. We are talking about thousands and thousands of acres, the government purchasing land via eminent domain, displacing thousands of residents, farms and businesses, constructing roads, and airstrips, and houses, and stores, and schools, and extremely large research labs. We are talking about procuring all of the specialized equipment needed to furnish the laboratories, much or most of which had to be specially designed and built. We are talking about finding families to move to these locations, scientists, craftsmen, and everyone else needed to enable these facilities to function.
The thousands of employees were largely kept in the dark as to the purpose of what they were doing, only knowing that they were engaged in war or defense work. They did not know what was going on in the building across the street, much less in the other facilities (if they even knew the other facilities existed).
Secrecy was paramount. News was censored – with the media accepting the censorship and not questioning the secrecy. And even after the bomb was tested with public knowledge, the secrecy and the effort continued, with a fourth site, near Savannah GA added to the first three, which became the location of the research and other work needed to develop a hydrogen bomb, something that happened several years after the end of World War II.
All of this work was accomplished over a period of very few years – the policy program decisions, the choice of locations, the acquisition of land and construction of facilities, the hiring and the operation of the facilities themselves, all coordinated by General Groves and his staff.
Think of the United States government today, where the smallest issues can not be resolved because of partisan bickering. We could never replicate this process today. If you read “And What of Tomorrow”, you learn how much this country has changed, and how little it appears to be prepared to meet its international responsibilities. Very sad. And perhaps not reversible.