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The American atomic bomb project, code-named the “Manhattan Engineering District” or simply the “Manhattan Project,” fulfilled the science-fiction [Page 339]prophecy made by H. G. Wells in his 1914 novel The World Set Free —of an invention of powerful bombs that continue to explode in a fictional equivalent of a chain reaction. It made science fiction a scientific reality with profound political, military, and ethical consequences.
Before the Manhattan Project was officially authorized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in December 1942, a top-secret mission under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a new weapon had been put forth in June 1942. Initially, its military command was assumed by Colonel James C. Marshall, while Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist from the University of California at Berkeley, was ...