A Reporter’s Journey Into How the U.S. Funded the Bomb

Almost exactly a year after legislation funding the atomic bomb was approved, the United States dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As I sat in a dark, cavernous movie theater in Berlin watching the film “Oppenheimer,” my mind was thousands of miles away. Like many other people who turned out to see the biopic, I was captivated by Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of the Trinity test and Cillian Murphy’s performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the singularly ambitious, then morally conflicted father of the atomic bomb. Listen to This Article Open this article in the New York Times Audio app on iOS. But as I watched images of the sprawling nuclear laboratory at Los Alamos flash across the screen, I couldn’t stop wondering: How did the U.S. government pay for the $2 billion project? Did Congress approve the money? And if so, how did lawmakers keep it a secret? These arguably hairsplitting thoughts nagged at me thanks to my job as a congressional correspondent focused on federal spending. (I was in Berlin for a brief break — so much for that.) The assignment requires me to wade through dense legislative documents — sometimes on the order of thousands of pages — in search of projects and earmarks that lawmakers would rather taxpayers not know they are paying for. But this was secrecy on a whole other scale. I went home and Googled, expecting to find a lengthy Wikipedia entry or an article in a history magazine. But all I found was a snippet from a textbook published by the National Counterintelligence Center. It mentioned that Roosevelt administration officials had sought in 1944 to smuggle money for the bomb into a military spending bill, and were assisted by Congress. I was incredulous. How could they have possibly hidden so much […]

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By Donato