December 29, 1942
It started out like a normal day for Robert Jenkins. He got up early and made a big breakfast to fill his cavernous stomach. Robert proceeded to get ready for work as a security guard at the Benson Brothers Big Bank. Robert walked out the door early to make sure he would be on time. However, blocking his way were two men in expensive suits.
“Mr. Robert Jenkins,” the tall one said. “We’re here from the US Army, and we’d like to have a little talk.” Robert begrudgingly let the two in, knowing he’d definitely be late for work today.
The short one began talking a mile a minute. “We’ve been researching you for a while, and know you went to college to be a physicist. The Army is working on a top secret project that will ensure that we win the war, and we need your expertise. We’ve talked to the museum, and they’ve agreed to give you a break from your job for a while. What do you say? Would you like to join the Manhattan Project?”
April 5, 1943
Jenkins walked out of the main building at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The collection of labs and housing, almost a city, was the base of the Manhattan Project. The other recruits were abuzz with conversation. A tall, thin man with glasses, who led the conversation, was talking nonstop.
“This is amazing!” He yelled. “We’ll win this wretched war for sure with nuclear technology like this. I’m glad to be working on this project.”
A short man with boyish features quickly spoke up. “I’m not so sure,” he replied, his chubby cheeks wobbling as he spoke. “This whole project is crazy. Nuclear power is too uncontrollable to be harnessed for weapons of war. We’re treading on dangerous ground here, even if this project doesn’t work.”
“You’re crazier than a goat with a migraine,” the thin man retorted. “The speaker,
Robert Serber, knew what he was talking about. This project has been under development for years. They wouldn’t add us on if they weren’t positive it could work.” The two looked like they were about to choke each other, when they suddenly chuckled and walked off.
Noticing Robert staring, the tall one walked over to Robert. “I’m sorry you had to see that,” he said. “I’m Thomas Simmons, and that was my longtime friend Herbert Smith. Our arguments get a little heated sometimes. So, what did you think about Serber’s speech?”
“It was brilliant! The project gets better the more I hear about it. Anything that will finish this wretched war is good.” Robert was enthusiastic.
“Good, good! I think you and me are going to become good friends.” Thomas gave Robert a sly, knowing smile.
June 10, 1943
Robert walked into his lab on time, wiping a small coffee stain of his silk tie. “Hey, Tom,” Robert said sleepily. “Working early again?”
Tom didn’t even look up from his workspace. “Yep. The boss wanted me to finish these tests on the casing for the bomb by Friday, and I can always concentrate better in an empty lab.”
As the rest of the employees trickled in, the lab got less and less quiet. By lunch, an argument broke out between Tom and Herbert. The two men argued about almost anything they disagreed on, making Robert wonder if they really were friends. Today the topic was something they argued about often: the atomic bombs they were constructing.
“There’s no way these weapons will win the war. If we make them, Germany or Japan will just follow suit and build their own bombs. Then the war will just keep going!” Herbert yelled.
“And this is coming from the same guy who thought the bombs would never work,” Tom said, his voice slowly raising as well. “If you hate the project so much, why don’t you just leave?”
Herbert retorted, “The government pays well, and we all need the money. I don’t have to like my job, or agree with it.” Robert just tried to tune out the two as he enjoyed his sandwich. Suddenly, two scientists walked in. There was a man with a thin face who he knew as Dr. Julius Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists leading the project, and a tall woman with glasses.
“What’s going on here?” Oppenheimer said. “Calm down, you two, and work out your altercations like men. I came down here to report on this lab’s progress, which has clearly plummeted due to your arguments,” Oppenheimer nodded to the woman, who scribbled furiously on a pad of paper while he walked over to the lab’s boss. Tom and Herbert looked at each other sheepishly. Robert rolled his eyes and finished his sandwich. I see why Tom comes in early, he thought.
January 1, 1944
The holidays weren’t that different in Los Alamos. Tom had stopped by his apartment once, but other than that Robert had the past few days all to himself. Robert never had visitors over the holidays, but sometimes visited his brother. Los Alamos had really become home.
July 20, 1944
The last few days had been pretty hectic. A new bomb design, called the Fat Man, had been instituted, and a lot of people were being moved around between labs. Robert’s new lab was a lot closer to his apartment. Robert didn’t really like walking, so this was a big improvement.
On his first day, he found out that he still had the same lab as Herbert, but not Tom. Herbert was just as talkative, but had some very negative opinions on the project.
“All our work was wasted! Oppenheimer screws up and now we have to start the project over. We better be getting paid extra for this!” Herbert yelled. Robert tried to tune out Herbert’s ranting, but couldn’t help it. Herbert was annoying and looked like a five year old, but he made a lot of good points.
May 7, 1945
Robert stood in shock, listening to the radio. The announcer had just proclaimed that Germany had surrendered to the Allies. Robert ran out the door to Herbert’s apartment, not even bothering to knock on the door as he dashed in. Tom was already there. “Did you guys hear that!” Robert shouted. “We’ve won!” They all cheered.
Tom cried, “Now the was is almost over. We can use the atomic bombs on Japan, and the world will finally have peace. Looks like our job here is almost over.” The three friends talked excitedly for a few more minutes. Tom left, and Robert was about to leave with him before Herbert stopped him.
“Robert, I need to ask you something. I was walking home when I overheard a few people talking. In a few months they’re going to conduct a secret test of the bomb, using the Fat Man design. We need to see that test. What do you think?”
Robert thought to himself, a secret test? It sounds strange, but I want to learn more about the project. There’s a big chance we’ll get caught though. “I’ll do it, but we need to plan this out. We don’t know what will happen if they catch us,” Robert said.
“Oh, I’m one of the sneakiest people out there. I’ll come up with the best plan to get us in there,” Herbert said, his voice dripping with exaggeration.
July 16, 1945
Robert and Herbert were seated in Herbert’s 1942 Pontiac Streamliner, racing down a dirt road that was turning to mud in the rain. Herbert was lucky to get such a new car during the war, with all the car companies manufacturing vehicles for the war. “We’re not going to make it in time!” Herbert yelled, swerving to miss a rock in the road.
“I see the tower!” Robert yelled. Herbert parked the car and the two got out. A fence was keeping them from getting any closer to the tower. “Are you sure this is safe?” Robert asked.
“Of course!” Herbert replied. “This fence was built to keep anyone from wandering inside the radiation zone. We can get back in the truck if you feel safer.” Robert looked at Herbert and got back in the truck. Herbert joined him, checking his watch as he got in.
“It’s four o clock A.M. The bomb should explode any minute now. The guards won’t be around with the bomb about to go off, so we’re clear,” he said. But the test didn’t start on time. In the time they spent waiting, Robert fell asleep.s
Later, Herbert shook him awake. “It’s five thirty now. The lights on the tower just turned on,” he said. And then, without warning, the tower was ripper to shreds by a massive explosion. The ground shook like an earthquake and the sky lit up like day. It felt like the Earth was falling apart.
Eventually, Herbert broke the silence. “We should get out of here,” he said sullenly.
Robert finally spoke halfway through the drive. “I never imagined it would be this powerful,” he said. “Where is the bomb dropping?”
“I’m not sure,” Herbert said. “There’s been a rumor that they are going to use it on Japanese cities.”
“Cities?” Robert was shocked. “But something this destructive will kill everyone. We end the war by killing innocent people?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Herbert said. “No one would listen.” The car ride was silent for the rest of the way, except for when the car ran through a large pothole.
August 6, 1945
Three B-29 bombers flew in over Hiroshima, Japan. Like majestic birds of prey, the planes swooped down towards the heavily populated city. Then the planes leveled off and the bomb was released from the middle one. The pilots were silent as the uranium explosive descended on the city and exploded. The mushroom cloud reflected in the pilot’s goggles, hiding their emotions as the planes returned home as heroes.
August 15, 1945
The war had ended yesterday. Robert wandered through his morning routine in a stupor, confused about what to think. The atomic bombs were so powerful that Japan surrendered five days after being bombed a second time in Nagasaki.
Why bomb cities? Robert thought. The Japanese bombed a military base, so we struck back by bombing innocent lives? It doesn’t make sense, but it finished the war. Now everyone can get back to their lives, and no more US soldiers will die. Robert trudged out the apartment door, and down the street which led to his lab. A truck sped by, splashing him with mud. Ironic, Robert thought. The happiest day in the US, and it was cloudy and rained the whole time.
Robert waddled into the lab. His boss was waiting for him, and instructed him to go to the office next door. He entered the room to find General Groves, the man in charge of the project, and Dr. Oppenheimer.
“Hello Robert,” General Groves said. “We’ve been watching your lab for a while now. Since the project is over, most of the scientists at Los Alamos are going back home. However, your work on the project was great, and we’d like to keep you on the permanent team here, doing more extensive nuclear research. What do you say, Robert?”
Robert was stunned. “It’s been an honor to be on this project. Up to now, I haven’t really been living up to my full potential. I was a security guard, for crying out loud! But this project didn’t just end the war. It also killed millions of innocent people and will continue to kill more. It finished the war, but at what cost? I’m done. I’m going back to my old life.” And with that, Robert walked out the door.
Oppenheimer said, “General Groves, he can’t say that! bring him back in here right now!” Groves gave him a sad look. “Let him go. Maybe he’s right.”