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Why President Harry Truman never doubted the decision to drop atomic bombs in World War II

President Harry S. Truman speaks during a television address from the Oval Office in 1947.
Truman Library
President Truman was never told about the Manhattan Project as vice president. It was only after President Roosevelt passed away and Truman was sworn in as president that he was informed of the project.

The blockbuster "Oppenheimer" has renewed interest in the history of U.S. efforts to create atomic weapons during World War II. President Harry S. Truman, a native of the Kansas City area, never doubted his decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The film "Oppenheimer" hit the theaters last week to commercial success and critical acclaim. Its popularity has renewed widespread interest in the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government's 1940s effort to create atomic weapons.

According to biographer Jeffrey Frank, President Harry S. Truman and his staff were steadfast in their belief that it was necessary to use the bomb to end the war with Japan.

"There was a committee called the interim committee, which their role was to decide whether even to use this thing," Frank says. "I've read the minutes and stories about it — not one person had any doubt as to whether it should be used."

But Truman, an Independence native, is not the only Kansas City-area tie to the atomic bomb.

Three alumni from Park University in Parkville were involved in the effort to create the bombs used in World War II.

Perhaps the most notable among them was Joseph McKibben, a 1933 graduate, who pulled the final levers that ultimately detonated the first test of an American atomic weapon in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

"He's better known in the record as the man that pushed the button," said Tim Westcott, Park University's archivist. "In April 1943, the government decided to send all of (the nation's finest atomic energy researchers) to the place that we now know called Los Alamos. And it is there at Los Alamos that he becomes the lead manufacturer on the group that has to design the trigger mechanism."

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