Oppenheimer to Groves Re: Origins of the Atomic Bomb & the Code Name "Trinity" - Fantastic!
J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER, Typed Letter Signed, to Leslie R. Groves Jr., October 20, 1962, Princeton, NJ. 1 p., 8.5" x 11". Very good.
“Thank you for your warm and most welcome letter of the 17th. I am very glad that the future is to have more from your pen; and think that your decision to write for later publication will give you the liberty that will make that writing possible.”
“There is no rational answer to your question about the code name Trinity. I did suggest it, but not on the ground that it is a very common name for rivers and peaks, and not only in Texas: one enters New Mexico from the northeast through Trinidad. Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation:
As West and East
In all flatt Maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the Resurrection.
That still does not make Trinity; but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens, ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God;—d.’ Beyond this, I have no clues whatever.”
After publishing his history of the Manhattan Project in 1962, Groves did not publish any more book-length writings.
Together, Groves and Oppenheimer selected Los Alamos for the site of their secret laboratory for the Manhattan Project. In July of 1943, when Oppenheimer’s Communist Party associations caused broad concern, Groves overrode them, declaring Oppenheimer was “absolutely essential to the project.”
Oppenheimer selected the code name “Trinity” for the first test of a nuclear weapon. The Manhattan Project conducted the test at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, on a part of an Army Air Force bombing and gunnery range. The test was of an implosion-design plutonium device, similar to the Fat Man bomb used less than a month later on Nagasaki, Japan. The explosive energy of the device equaled 22 kilotons of TNT. Both Groves and Oppenheimer were among the small number of scientific and military observers of the test.
Oppenheimer later recalled that he initially thought of a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one....” Many years later, he recalled that another verse from the Bhagavad Gita came to mind, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was born in New York City into a Jewish family and graduated from Harvard University in 1924 with a degree in chemistry and advanced studies in physics. After study at Cambridge, Oppenheimer received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1927 from the University of Gottingen. He accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley, and he developed a particular love of the desert southwest of New Mexico. He served as advisor to a generation of students in physics and worked closely with Ernest O. Lawrence and his cyclotron experiments. For his scientific work, he was three times nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics between 1945 and 1967 but never won. Essentially apolitical before the mid-1930s, Oppenheimer became more concerned about politics and international affairs at that time. He supported liberal causes and some later labeled communistic. Though he never joined the Communist Party, many of his associates were active in the party in the 1930s and 1940s. After General Leslie R. Groves Jr. was appointed director of the Manhattan Project in September 1942, he selected Oppenheimer to head the project’s secret weapons laboratory. Oppenheimer supported the use of the atomic bomb against Japan but believed the second bomb used against Nagasaki was unnecessary. After the war, Oppenheimer briefly returned to the California Institute of Technology before accepting a position as director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey in 1947. He also served as chair of the General Advisory Committee for the Atomic Energy Commission. In December 1953, Oppenheimer’s security clearance was suspended, and he requested a hearing. The confidential hearing focused on Oppenheimer’s ties to Communists in the 1930s and 1940s, including scientists working on the Manhattan Project, and resulted in his loss of security clearance.
Leslie R. Groves Jr. (1896-1970) was a United States Army General with the Corps of Engineers who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and directed the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. Born in New York to a Protestant pastor who became an army chaplain, Groves graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1918 in a course shortened because of World War I. He entered the Corps of Engineers and gained promotions to major by 1940. In 1941, he was charged with overseeing the construction of the Pentagon, the largest office building in the world, with more than five million square feet. Disappointed that he had not received a combat assignment, Groves instead took charge of the Manhattan Project, designed to develop an atomic bomb. He continued nominally to supervise the Pentagon project to avoid suspicion, gained promotion to brigadier general, and began his work in September 1942. The project headquarters was initially in the War Department building in Washington, but in August 1943, moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He and physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer selected the site in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for a laboratory, and Groves pushed successfully for Oppenheimer to be placed in charge. Groves was in charge of obtaining critical uranium ores internationally and collecting military intelligence on Axis atomic research. Promoted to major general in March 1944, Groves received the Distinguished Service Medal for his work on the Manhattan Project after the war. In 1947, Groves became chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. He received a promotion to lieutenant general in January 1948, just days before meeting with Army Chief of Staff Dwight D. Eisenhower, who reviewed a long list of complaints against Groves. Assured that he would not become Chief of Engineers, Groves retired in February 1948. From 1948 to 1961, he was a vice president of Sperry Rand, an equipment and electronics firm. After retirement, he served as president of the West Point alumni association and wrote a book on the Manhattan Project, published in 1962.
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