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The Beginning or the End

The Beginning or the End(1947)


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Speaking from his laboratory, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist and one of the world's leading atomic scientists, praises the discovery of atomic energy, buts also warns of the many dangers posed by the discovery. To illustrate his concerns about the future of atomic science, Oppenheimer outlines the history of the study of the atom, beginning his account in the early days of World War II: As Germany races to build the first atomic weapon, many American scientists are busy studying the use of the atom as a source of energy. One such scientist is Matt Cochran, a Columbia University researcher working under the guidance of Dr. Enrico Fermi and Dr. Marré. Matt's research leads to an important discovery that confirms Marré and Fermi's theory that splitting uranium atoms produces energy. When Matt raises his concern that atom splitting will be used to make highly destructive weapons, Fermi tries to allay his fears by reassuring him that the United States government is interested primarily in energy uses for the atom. Following the success of early atom-splitting experiments, Matt and some of his colleagues decide to take their discovery to world-famous scholar Dr. Albert Einstein, who, in turn, interests President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the new findings. With Roosevelt's cooperation, researchers at universities all over the United States begin studying the atom. In 1941, following America's entrance into the war, Roosevelt authorizes a project to develop an atomic bomb, despite a predicted cost of up to two billion dollars. Work on the bomb begins in December 1942, at the University of Chicago, with help from leading scientists Dr. Chisholm, Dr. John Wyatt and Dr. C. D. Howe. These scientists are later joined by Col. Jeff Nixon, who has been assigned to act as an official observer for the Army. Though the initial atomic experiments are successful, Matt begins to question the ethics of the project, and shares his concerns with his new wife Anne. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Gen. Leslie R. Groves is placed in charge of bringing the scientific, industrial and defense communities together to build the atomic bomb, and Jeff is assigned to work for him. In 1945, following the death of Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman becomes President of the United States and vows to continue the atomic project. A short time later, Oppenheimer, who is now head of operations at the bomb's Assembly Center in Los Alamos, New Mexico, receives the first delivery of uranium-235, a necessary component of atomic bomb production. The uranium is used to build the first atomic bomb, which is eventually tested successfully in the New Mexico desert. In July 1945, after Truman gives an order to use the atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender, Jeff and Matt are assigned to accompany the crew transporting the bomb to the South Pacific. While preparations are made to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, tragedy strikes when Matt accidentally comes into contact with radioactive material and dies. The next day, on 6 August 1945, Jeff and others board the "Enola Gay," the airplane carrying the atomic bomb, and watch in silence as the bomb is dropped over Hiroshima. After the mission, Jeff returns home and tells Anne the sad news of Matt's death.