Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills examines how the atomic bomb transformed our nation down to its deepest constitutional roots -- by dramatically increasing the power of the modern presidency and redefining the government as a national security state -- in ways still felt today. A masterful reckoning from one of America's preeminent historians, Bomb Power draws a direct line from the Manhattan Project to the usurpations of George W. Bush.
The invention of the atomic bomb was a triumph of official secrecy and military discipline -- the project was covertly funded at the behest of the president and, despite its massive scale, never discovered by Congress or the press. This concealment was perhaps to be expected in wartime, but Wills persuasively argues that the Manhattan Project then became a model for the covert operations and overt authority that have defined American government in the nuclear era. The wartime emergency put in place during World War II extended into the Cold War and finally the war on terror, leaving us in a state of continuous war alert for 68 years and counting.
The bomb forever changed the institution of the presidency since only the president controls "the button" and, by extension, the fate of the world. Wills underscores how radical a break this was from the division of powers established by our founding fathers and how it in turn has enfeebled Congress and the courts. The bomb also placed new emphasis on the president's military role, creating a cult around the commander in chief. The tendency of modern presidents to flaunt military airs, Wills points out, is entirely a postbomb phenomenon. Finally, the Manhattan Project inspired the vast secretive apparatus of the national security state, including intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA, which remain largely unaccountable to Congress and the American people.
Wills recounts how, following World War II, presidential power increased decade by decade until reaching its stunning apogee with the Bush administration. Both provocative and illuminating, Bomb Power casts the history of the postwar period in a new light and sounds an alarm about the continued threat to our Constitution.
Garry Wills (PhD Yale, 1961) is an adjunct professor and cultural historian whose many books include penetrating studies of George Washington, Richard Nixon, the Kennedy family, Ronald Reagan, and religion in America.
His numerous prizes include the Merle Curti Award of the American Historical Association, the National Book Critics Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and an honorary doctorate from the College of the Holy Cross.
Garry Wills, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, discusses the transformation of American politics that occurred in the decades since the nuclear bomb was developed.
"Since Korea, no Congress has ever declared war again," he says.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills expresses concern over how the modern executive branch uses signing statements to apply law according to a president's interpretation of the Constitution, a move that some believe jeopardizes the separation of powers. He accuses President Obama of using "stealth signing statements" on a number of occasions.
First atomic bomb test, near Alamogordo, New Mexico, July 16, 1945.Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New MexicoWeapon whose great explosive power results from the sudden release of energy upon the splitting, or fission, of the nuclei of heavy elements such as plutonium or uranium (seenuclear fission). With only 1133 lb (515 kg) of highly enriched uranium, a modern atomic bomb could generate a 15-kiloton explosion, creating a huge fireball, a large shock wave, and lethal radioactive fallout. The first atomic bomb, developed by the Manhattan Project during World War II, was set off on July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert. The only atomic bombs used in war were dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki three days later. In 1949 the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, followed by Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964), India (1974), and Pakistan (1998). Israel and South Africa were suspected of testing atomic weapons in 1979. See alsohydrogen bomb; Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty; nuclear weapon.