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Lecture 2

NATS 1775 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Nuclear Weapon, The Roots, James Bryant Conant


Department
Natural Science
Course Code
NATS 1775
Professor
Vera Pavri
Lecture
2

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Unit 11B: Technology in WW2
January 14, 2016
Science, Technology and WWII Overview
In this unit, we will examine the role of science and technology in WWII. A key theory to remember is
technology as applied science, as is our continuing discussion about the theme of management and
control. This is also a story which highlights technology and race, especially when we consider the story
of the atomic bomb.
From the beginning, we see major differences between WWI and WWII, including a major change in
philosophy pertaining to science and technical development. The new approach to developing science and
technology in WWII was called "big science." Big science is still a popular idea even today, yet its roots took
hold in the US just prior to them entering the war (just like the US entered WWI a couple of years after it
started they will do the same in WWII following the bombing of Pearl Harbor).
I will first describe some of the general criteria associated with big science, and then highlight specific
examples such as the development of jet engine technology, high frequency radar and the atomic bomb. It
will be your responsibility to make a connection between the general principles of big science and each of
these case studies. We will also look at how this new big science philosophy took hold in the US and which
organizations were instrumental in its development.
While the atomic bomb is probably the best example of "big science" around, we will also look at some of
the ethical and moral questions raised by it deployment in WWII. The US dropped two bombs on the
Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th 1945. Over 200000 lives were
lost in total. At the time, the American government justified their decision on a number of different grounds,
including the idea of using the bombs to bring an early end to the war, revenge for Pearl Harbor, and as the
best way of saving American soldiers' lives. We will examine each of these arguments and also examine
the vast criticism surrounding this decision. Many of those who objected to using the bombs cited racial
discrimination and claimed that it wasn't the right thing to do or even necessary in determining the outcome
of the war. Even today, this question of whether the bombs should have been dropped is not an easy one
to answer.
It is also important to understand that one reason why the atomic bombs were developed in the first place
was because the allies at this time believed the Nazis were doing the same thing. It was only after the war
was over that they were able to go into Nazi Germany and determine what progress had made with this
kind of project. To their surprise, they discovered the Nazis were years behind in developing their own
atomic weapon, despite the fact that Germany had been a world leader in nuclear physics research before
the war began. What was the reason for this delay? Part of the answer is this: Hitler termed areas like
nuclear physics "Jewish" science, and therefore had little interest in pursuing this field. Instead, he was
focused on created an "Aryan" based science platform. For Hitler, politics played a key role in shaping
science and technical research, and in the next unit, we will explore this idea in further detail.
I. The Rise of “Big Science Projects”
Interwar period (between WWI and WII) set foundation for new era of “big science” projects that will
become a staple of WWII and post war period. What is Big Science? According to Historians Ciesla
& Trischler:
A. One project that is often based around a single apparatus; fusion of different scientific-technical
disciplines
B. Extensive and intensive use of both financial and human resources
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