Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)

 

 

Director:     Roland Joff.

Starring:     Paul Newman (Major Leslie Groves), Dwight Schultz (Robert Oppenheimer), John Cusack (Michael Merriman, a fictional character), Bonnie Bedelia (Kitty Oppenheimer), Laura Dern (Kathleen Robinson), Natasha Richardson (Jean Tatlock), Del Close (Dr. Kenneth Whiteside), Joe D'Angerio (Seth Neddermeyer). 

This is the story of the Los Alamos Project that produced the Atomic Bomb.

 

 

 

 

In August, 1945 Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima and Fat Man was later dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Around 200,000 people were killed.  On September 2, the Japanese surrender.  

What makes the story especially interesting is the tension between the "eggheads" who are working on the project and the army personnel running the overall show.  There are many conflicts between the scientists and the army in the form of the commander General Leslie (Dick) Groves (Paul Newman) who demands what the scientists see as an excessive amount of  secrecy and spying on the researchers.

An additional problem is that the leader of the scientists is Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) who has a history of being involved with politics on the wrong side: the left.  On the side and on the sly, Oppenheimer has a virtual mistress (Natasha Richardson) who was a Communist and the army is totally freaked out about it.  So, needless to say, there are lots of confrontations.  

As they approach the end of the project and the realization of the reality of atomic weapons, the scientists start talking about limiting the use of such weapons, which really drives General Groves to distraction.

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background: 

 

Three Hungarian Jewish refugee physicists, Le Szilrd, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner, were worried that the Germans might be able to develop an atomic bomb.  They then sought the help of Albert Einstein, the well-known physicist, to have their concerns receive a hearing.

1939 (August 2)  --  Le Szilrd largely wrote the letter of concern, known as the Einstein-Szilrd letter, to President Roosevelt.  The letter suggested that funding be provided for a study of the feasibility of an atomic weapon.

over a month later  --  the letter finally reaches Roosevelt.  The President agreed to create a Uranium Committee (under Lyman Briggs, chief of the National Bureau of Standards).  The committee then began small research programs into the matter.  Physicists Philip Abelson and Enrico Fermi did some work in the area, but the project remained small. 

1941 (February)  --  discovery of a new element, plutonium.

1941 (March)  --  a British committee reports that a uranium bomb could be produced by using just 25 pounds of uranium-235.

1941 (August)  --  members of the British committee fly to the US and discover that Lyman Briggs had shown their report to no one.  He was somewhat opposed to the very idea of an atomic weapon.

The British then told some Americans, Ernest Lawrence, James Conant and Enrico Fermi, of their report.  A campaign began to oust Briggs from control of the program.

1941 (October 9)  --  Vannevar Bush met with Roosevelt and was told of the urgency for an accelerated atomic program.

by November --  Roosevelt authorized an "all-out" effort.

1941 (December 6)  --  the first meeting of the new Top Policy Group. 

1941 (December 7)  -- the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor brining the US into the war.

early 1942  -- Arthur Compton organized a group at the University of Chicago to study plutonium and fission piles (primitive nuclear reactors).  This group brought in University of California theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer.

1942 (June)  --   Oppenheimer convened a summer study at the University of California on his research. They confirmed that a fission bomb was feasible. Oppenheimer realized that a research project was needed for the production of the bomb.

Vannevar Bush asked Roosevelt to assign the project to the military. Roosevelt chose the Army. 

Colonel Leslie Groves was chosen to lead the project.  Groves was promoted to brigadier general.  The new general then chose Oppenheimer to be the scientific director (in spite of his radical politics). The site chosen for the project was the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was built on a remote  mesa in New Mexico.  It had previously hosted the Los Alamos Ranch School.

1943-1944  --  the group tried to develop a gun-type fission weapon with plutonium. 

1944 (July)  --  the group decides to stop work on the dead end idea of a plutonium gun method of delivery.

1944 (end of July)  --  the entire project was organized around the problem of solving the implosion problem

1945 (July 16)  --  the first nuclear test took place.

1945 (August 6)  -- the detonation of the bomb, Hiroshima, Japan, with 145,000 deaths.

1945 (August 9)  --  detonation of the bomb over Nagasaki, Japan, with 70,000 deaths. 

 

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