Study Guide

Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the Worlds Most Dangerous Weapon Warfare

By Steve Sheinkin


"The trouble," a friend said, "is that Oppie is so quick on the trigger intellectually, that he puts the other guy at a disadvantage." (Skinny Superhero.(1).23)

This kind of advantage is pretty helpful when you're trying to beat your enemy using scientific achievements, no?

"In starting and waging a war," he told his generals, "it is not right that matters, but victory. Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! The stronger man is right!" (The U Business.(2).38)

While Hitler's viewpoint is certainly effective at starting conflict, he would eventually discover that sometimes it is right that matters…because he's the one that lost the war. Those with pity in their hearts—those who acted with compassion—were the ones who came out on top in the end. Take that, Hitler.

"Look, you fool," Sam said, laughing, "what the Soviet Union needs more than anything in the world is time, precious time." Stalin had no intention of keeping the agreement [not to fight Germany], Sam said, but the deal gave the Soviets time to build up their military strength. "And when the proper hour comes, you'll see, we'll sweep over Germany and Hitler like nothing ever imagined." (Tradecraft.(4).36)

This quote made us think of Gone With the Wind when the guys are all excited about the start of the Civil War, and the Confederates are filled with certainty that they will win in no time. Perhaps it's necessary for those waging war to believe it will be over quickly and relatively painlessly, although the reality is often quite the opposite.

The United States cut off oil exports to Japan. This left Japan—a nation with few natural resources—with barely enough fuel to survive another year. President Roosevelt hoped Japanese leaders would be convinced to stop their armies from advancing further. Instead, Japan became even more determined to conquer new territory, new sources of raw materials—even if this meant taking on the United States. (Rapid Rupture.(5).13)

In retrospect, this shows the importance of understanding your enemy and their culture. Roosevelt's strategy is an example of unintentionally making the situation even worse than it was before through failing to accurately anticipate Japan's response to U.S. actions. This is something you want to avoid when it comes to war, just FYI.

"No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion," Roosevelt declared, "the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory." (Rapid Rupture.(5).33)

Does being "right" ever really determine the outcome of war? We know it helps in terms of propaganda and getting everyone all riled up to fight for a cause, but can we definitively say that the "right" side always wins? We're pretty sure Hitler thought he was right, too, but thankfully he was heartily defeated. Can you think of an example in which the "wrong" side has won? Is it all a matter of perspective?

The Soviet Union and the United States were allies in World War II. But that's because they were fighting common enemies—not because they liked each other. (Enormoz.(7).5)

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is an old proverb that sums up much of the relations between the Allies and the Soviet Union. They each knew that they needed the other to take down Hitler, but that didn't mean that they had to like each other. In fact, Winston Churchill once said to his personal secretary "if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."

The Germans loaded the four badly injured men into a truck. By the accepted rules of war, the British soldiers should have been treated as prisoners of war. Instead, the Germans poisoned them and dropped their bodies into the sea. The other five were taken to a concentration camp and interrogated by the Gestapo. They refused to give more than their name, rank, and service number. German soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed the prisoners and shot them in the head. (Gliders Down.(10).27)

Warfare is never pretty, but when one side decides they no longer have to adhere to the rules, it gets really ugly. Based on the Geneva Convention—which the Germans definitely signed after WWI—the British soldiers were entitled to certain rights. Those rights did not include being poisoned and unceremoniously buried at sea, though, so in addition to being absolutely morally reprehensible, these acts were also illegal.

They removed their white camouflage suits, revealing British military uniforms. They wanted the Germans to know they were soldiers on an official Allied mission—that way, hopefully, the Germans wouldn't retaliate against Norwegian civilians in nearby towns. (High Concentration.(15).6)

The fact that they were worried about the Germans retaliating against civilians shows how awful the Nazi occupation could be. But major brownie points go to the Norwegian group for showing pride in their service and at least trying to protect their fellow countrymen.

But the fighting raged on, with some of the biggest battles in the history of war taking place on the blood-soaked Soviet soil that spring. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet premier, called desperately for the Americans and British to launch an invasion of German-held Western Europe. This would force Hitler to fight on two fronts, taking pressure off the Soviets.

President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told Stalin it was coming. American and British troops were just beginning their attack on Germany's ally, Italy. And American forces were locked in ferocious battles with Japan all over the Pacific. A major invasion of Western Europe was still a year away. (Laboratory Number 2.(18).2-3)

Military scholars to this day argue over what would have happened if the Americans and Great Britain had launched an invasion of Western Europe sooner. Do you think it would have made a difference in the war's outcome? Could it have possibly negated the need for the atomic bomb?

Ever since Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States had been demanding unconditional surrender. Now, after the enormous sacrifices American fighters had made, Truman felt he could not back down from that demand. Political worries played a role too. If Truman began negotiating with Japan now, it could be seen as a sign of weakness. Political opponents would attack him for flinching under pressure. (Reaction Begins.(34).74)

Unconditional surrender is a big deal. International diplomacy is no simple matter, though, and Truman had to assert strength and superiority in order to make Japan even consider the terms of the surrender. Hence: Nagasaki.