Steven Shapin, 4 November 2021
When the Manhattan Project was launched in 1942, the military was fully on board and totally in charge. The army knew all about secrecy in weapons development and how to ensure it: people were vetted; fences were thrown up around installations; communications were censored; and, above all, compartmentalisation was made an organisational imperative. No one should know any more than they needed to know to do their job; specialisation spelled security. The most important group of people whose knowledge of Bomb design and fissile fuel-making was restricted were many of the elite scientists working on the Manhattan Project, while thousands of lower-level workers knew nothing at all about the project’s intended product. The problem, however, was that the key workers were civilian scientists accustomed to relatively open communication, not enlisted men used to following orders. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, won this battle with its overall director, General Leslie Groves.