The Manhattan Project and its Cold War Legacy at the Woodrow Wilson Center

The Manhattan Project and its Cold War Legacy at the Woodrow Wilson Center

Bob Furman

On Wednesday, February 20, 2008, the Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project sponsored an in-depth discussion of the Manhattan Project and its Cold War legacy. The session featured William Lanouette and James Hershberg as well as veteran Robert Furman (pictured), who directed the first atomic intelligence unit. The panel was introduced by Mircea Munteanu. Cynthia C. Kelly, president of AHF, talked about its new book, The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007). The event was followed by a reception.

Panelist William Lanouette has written extensively on the politics of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. He was Washington Correspondent for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists before joining the U.S. General Services Accounting Office in 1991, from which he recently retired. Lanouette is the author of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb (Scribners, 1992; University of Chicago Press, 1994). He talked about the accidental nature of the Manhattan Project and some “what ifs,” the struggle for civilian control of nuclear matters, and how the competition between Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories contributed to escalating the Cold War arms race.

Robert Furman is a retired Major in the Army Corps of Engineers. After working for General Leslie R. Groves on the Pentagon, he joined him in August 1943 to lead the first atomic intelligence unit. Under the Alsos program, he helped uncover the German bomb effort, recovering uranium ore, equipment, and eventually capturing the German scientists themselves. Bob Furman discussed his experiences with the Manhattan Project, Alsos mission and the early Cold War race with the Russians to gain possession of the nuclear materials and physicists in Germany.

James G. Hershberg is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Author of James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age (Knopf, 1993; Stanford University Press, 1995). His remarks focused on the Cold War and nuclear issues today.