J. Robert Oppenheimer

Destroyer of Worlds

Summary Destroyer of Worlds

Then, finally, they got the go ahead. The Trinity test could take place. Everything would proceed as planned, and the physicists, technicians, military, and government observers assembled themselves a safe distance away. And waited.

On Monday, July 16, 1945, 5:29:45 a.m., the bomb exploded.

The flash of light was seen in three states. The mushroom cloud rose 38,000 feet high. The explosion itself created a half-mile wide crater in the earth, the heat of the bomb fusing the desert sand into glass. William Laurence, the only journalist allowed on the site, reported, "One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World–to be present at the moment of Creation when the Lord said: 'Let There Be Light.'"

Among the physicists, there was applause and cheering, a sense of triumph and relief. The gadget had worked! Oppenheimer was less than enthused. As the bomb exploded, the man perhaps most responsible for its creation instantly thought of a line from the ancient Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita: "I am become Death / The destroyer of worlds."

Soon after, Oppenheimer joined in the general celebration, as everyone was thrilled that the device had worked. It was only after the initial relief wore off that the scientists began to have their own second thoughts, realizing what their hard work had created: the most effective killing machine known to man.

Trinity was more than a demonstration of the bomb: for some, it was a fearful reminder of what nuclear power might be capable of; for others, however, it was the triumphant realization of years of work and over two billion dollars of government money. The time had come to decide for what purpose all those years and all those dollars had served. The time had come to decide whether or not to use the bomb, not in a demonstration, but in an act of war.

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