Thus began what would become the Manhattan Project, a sprawling collaboration among the military, academics and corporations, ultimately employing 130,000 and spending the then-extraordinary sum of $2.2 billion in successfully building the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oak Ridge, Tenn., worked on uranium; Chicago worked on plutonium; Hanford, Wash., built reactors; Los Alamos, N.M., designed bombs; and Alamogordo, N.M., held testing.
One can imagine how things might have gone if Donald Trump had been the president who received Einstein’s letter: After two months, he would have congratulated himself for a “phenomenal job,” wound down his atomic task force and left the whole nuclear thing to the states.
Texas would compete with Florida for uranium, while New Jersey and Ohio bid up plutonium prices.
New York, making bombs, wouldn’t be in touch with Washington state, which would be retrofitting the B-29 without specs.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, complaining about the lack of coordination, would be demoted and denied whistleblower protection.
The bombs wouldn’t work properly in tests, the bombers would take off without enough fuel, Trump would blame the governor of Michigan — and we’d all be speaking Japanese.
Trump has declared himself a “wartime president” and on Wednesday afternoon he asserted that “we went through the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country,” calling the pandemic “worse than Pearl Harbor.”
Yet, incredibly, he is declaring a premature cease-fire against a virus that has killed more than 70,000 Americans — by coincidence the same number killed the day the bomb fell on Nagasaki. Congratulating his coronavirus task force for a “phenomenal job,” Trump indicated Tuesday that he would shut it down — then reversed himself Wednesday after a resulting furor, saying he “had no idea how popular the task force is.”
Instead of mobilizing the nation for testing, contact tracing, antivirals and vaccines, he declared that his administration did a “phenomenal job” and applauded the reopening of workplaces, while calling for schools to reopen without adequate protections in place. Vice President Pence thinks “we could largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us” in just a few weeks.
On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, scientists again pleaded for a stronger response. “We risk complacency in accepting the preventable deaths of 2,000 Americans each day,” Caitlin Rivers of Johns Hopkins University told a House panel. She said the country is doing only a third of the testing needed “to gain control of this outbreak” and warned that we could “again create the conditions that led to us being the worst affected country in the world.”
Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “governments and private companies must join forces to make massive continued investments in testing.”
And the Trump administration? It boycotted the hearing, refusing to let top doctor Anthony Fauci testify. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the panel’s ranking Republican, protested, saying Fauci’s testimony would have been “useful to this country.”
But Trump talks about the pandemic as if it has passed. “We have saved millions of lives, but now we’re going to make our comeback,” he said in the Oval Office on Wednesday, as a nurse standing behind him, protected neither by mask nor social distancing, twiddled his thumbs.
Trump congratulates himself for “an incredible job on testing,” backing that up once again Wednesday with his wildly false claim that the United States has tested more than all other countries combined. He said states “have everything they need” and that if any American worker is nervous about possible exposure and wants to get a test, “they should have no problem.”
Perhaps because the White House has loads of tests — those coming near Trump are tested repeatedly — Trump doesn’t realize most Americans who want tests still can’t get them. On Wednesday, I tried — and failed — to arrange a test for an 85-year-old family member with cancer and diabetes.
Trump’s idea of a Manhattan Project is apparently to install a Manhattan real estate investor — Jared Kushner — in charge of a group of volunteers prioritizing protective-equipment requests from Fox News personalities. Without a federal government empowering a real Manhattan Project, some scientists, billionaires and industrialists have tried to form their own, the Wall Street Journal reports. But group members recognize their ideas “could be ignored altogether by the Trump administration.”
Of course they’ll be ignored. Trump has already declared an early and unilateral cease-fire with the virus.
In his perverse version of a Manhattan Project, the Enola Gay has taken off, but the pilot has no flight plan and the bomb is still a prototype in the model shop.