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The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
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Group Reads: Post-1980 > The Girls of Atomic City_September 2013

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Larry Bassett | 0 comments There is a website for this book: http://www.girlsofatomiccity.com/ . Included on the site is a one hour video of an interesting presentation by author Denise Kiernan at NYU shortly after the book was published in 2013.

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Heather Fineisen | 64 comments I just found out that one of my mother-in-law's aunts was a girl of Atomic City, and met her husband there. Curious to find out more of the family lore as I read on.

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Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
I'm really looking forward to this one. My grandfather was at Oak Ridge. Thanks, Larry, for the website. I'll be visiting it.


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Heather Fineisen | 64 comments Love the personal connections!

Larry Bassett | 0 comments I was looking at The Big Picture of this book and realized that it is about a government effort to create a weapon of mass destruction. That thought set me back somewhat. I thought about "the end justifies the means," a concept with which I disagree. How important is the process if you agree with the purpose or goal? I thought about the tendency to respond to violence with more violence. I thought about "War Is Not the Answer!" I will be thinking about war and morality as I read The Girls of Atomic City and wonder how it will help me think about Syria.

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Meran | 126 comments I won't be reading this one... I've worked at what's now called the Savannah River Site (read Conroy's novel on how the government bought a town in SC) which is where the tritiated water was processed for use in the bombs, got Rad Worker Training there, then moved on to Rocky Flats, where the triggers for those bombs were made. (I worked on cleanup on those places. Believe me, they say it's fine but it WILL NEVER HAPPEN)

I know a lot of this history by being in it, traveling the roads around the places. The moral burden isn't really "felt" by Americans, sadly. (ps. I was a willing part because I cared, in the cleanup. Most just "kept their jobs".. I'd hoped to make a difference, even if it was small.)

When you read these stories, extrapolate. Big time. Believe the under, hidden stories. They're all true. You can't be paranoid enough. Yes, those bombs probably did save many lives, in the long run. But the price may have been too high. JMHO.

Larry Bassett | 0 comments I am thinking, with Meran's encouragement, there is a lot between the lines in this book. One of the top issues has to be women's rights and how women were (and are) treated in the workforce. And also how workers (men and women) can sometimes be treated as "cogs in the machine" rather than human beings.

The book just made it in time to get any interviews with people who were working on The Project in 1942. Eighteen year old "girls" are now in their eighties and dying off with the rest of the WWII veterans.

What is the title of the book by Conroy, Meran?

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M.L. | 69 comments Just started it and looking forward to the book (new subject for me) and everyone's comments.

John | 5 comments Building on what Larry posted, I'd like to ask a question to the group. I was too young to have lived through the war, but from what I've always heard and read, nearly the entire nation was focused in "winning the war." It's a somewhat ambiguous phrase, not the least because of the moral implications (it's easier to build weapons that will "win the war" as opposed to build weapons that will create horrific loss of life). How did people at the time view their participation in the war effort? Were personal moral questions ever addressed, in public or in private?

I recently read Steven Casey's "Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War Against Nazi Germany." It was a fascinating view of the war from a fairly lofty standpoint, and I'm interested in seeing resonances with Roosevelt's messaging and the "man on the street” (or "woman in a government lab," as the case may be).

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M.L. | 69 comments The first chapter describes how people in a small mining town in Pennsylvania felt about doing their part in the war effort. It also, then moves to the opposite end of the spectrum, the decision makers.

So far I like this very much. There is a list at the beginning of cast of characters in order of appearance, and at first it seems like it could be a jumble of characters, but the way it's being handled is very clear.

The fist chapter introduces the reader to Celia Szapka. It gave me a well-rounded picture of Celia, her family, her aspirations, and I think she is what we would term today as 'proactive', she is a doer. It describes the secrecy, the anticipation. Then the next section, same chapter, moves to a totally different perspective.

Larry Bassett | 0 comments Flash Beagle said: Then the next section, same chapter, moves to a totally different perspective.

The alternating between what I call the sociological and the scientific is very good, I think. The details of the science of the project are not always clear to me but I suspect it mimics the foggy notions the "regular" people who lived and worked in Oak Ridge experienced.

This intentional community is planned and controlled in the smallest detail from the top down. I wonder how many government sociologists studied what happened there in real time or in retrospect.

The science portions of the book are clearly indicated by a different typeface. Fascinating! I am enjoying this book and it is getting me to think about how our American society works. Imagine PhD's and high school graduates living together in the same dorm arrangement. And the mud - what an interesting aspect of life to be a focal point, ever present.

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Diane Barnes | 3975 comments Mod
It struck me as I was reading that this type of thing could never happen in today's society. Imagine people today voluntarily agreeing to keep quiet and ask no questions about what they were doing. And can you imagine the media agreeing to be hands off until it was "safe" to fill them in? Thousands of people in the compound, their families, and the nearby town of Knoxville knew something was going on, but the mere fact that it would help us win the war kept them from asking too many questions.
For us modern Americans, our need to know overules perceived National security. I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

Larry Bassett | 0 comments Diane said: And can you imagine the media agreeing to be hands off until it was "safe" to fill them in?

Tonight on the PBS Newshour there was a Washington Post reporter as a talking head indicating that the paper had negotiated with the administration about how much information to release about the Black Budget. I believe he said 95% of the available information was voluntarily withheld.

This is something that I have heard regularly in 2013: media outlets holding back information at the request of the government. Doesn't this sound familiar to you?

Can I imagine the U.S. media holding back information from publication in wartime? I sure can.

Larry Bassett | 0 comments John asked: How did people at the time view their participation in the war effort?"

Here is a quote from the book:
Helen had been an ideal recruit - smart, independent, a high school graduate - and the pay scale overrode any uneasiness about the lack of detail regarding the wheres, whens, and hows of the job itself. A job was a job.

I think Rosie the Riveter was glad to have a job that paid really good money even if the propaganda posters of her suggested she was motivated by patriotism.

But young women working for The Project found out that men doing the same job were being paid more money than they were.

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Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
John wrote: "Building on what Larry posted, I'd like to ask a question to the group. I was too young to have lived through the war, but from what I've always heard and read, nearly the entire nation was focused..."

John, I'm a baby boomer, so I have no personal recollection of the war either. However, my grandparents, mother, and aunt have all told me of their experiences during the war. My mother and aunt were children. Their interest in the war was guided more by what was denied them by rationing. My grandparents were a fount of information.

My grandfather was deferred from military service as essential civilian personnel. He began in the shipyards along the gulf coast building troop ships and transports. His work began while separated from his wife and children. Later, he moved his family to the coast.

It was not simply a matter of construction. Those who built the ships were all on board when they were taken out during test runs. All the men were conscious of the presence of U-Boats in the gulf. Later in the war he was sent to Oakridge as a pipe and steam fitter.

For two looks at war on the home front, I'd recommend The Good War: An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel , Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation and Ken Burn's "The War," especially those segments dealing with war on the homefront.

On a greater scale is the question of whether the atomic bombs should have been dropped on Japan. You'll find plenty of material arguing both sides of the issue. Whatever your opinion, I think we'd all have to agree once the genie was let out of the bottle at Los Alamos, the conduct of war has become a more perilous proposition.

Mike S.

FrankH | 49 comments I enjoyed reading about these young 'hillbilly gals' and I think the book does a decent job of explaining the science and technology behind uranium enrichment. With all the work and repetition involved in creating weapons-grade fissionable material, I did wonder why the author didn't give us a better idea of how much of it was required for 'The Gadget' on the Enola Gay (I don't remember reading anything about tonnage, but perhaps I missed a detail or two). BTW, Kiernan mentions briefly Paul Tibbets, the flight captain for the Hiroshima mission; there's decent old movie out there 'Above and Beyond', starring Robert Taylor as Tibbets, and like '...Atomic City', it emphasizes the great efforts the military made to keep the project secret.

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Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Larry wrote: "My review:

This is an excellent review of an excellent book.

Mike S.

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M.L. | 69 comments I'm still reading and enjoying it (reading time is almost nil unfortunately). I like the alternating story lines.

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Diane Barnes | 3975 comments Mod
Wow! Talk about coincidence! My Aunt in Boone, NC sent me a copy of a book of reminiscences of mountain people in and around Watauga County. There was a story in there about my paternal grandmother, Blanche Perry. It turns out that she was in an experimental study in the 1950's for treatment of her throat cancer. She was sent to Oak Ridge for a 2 month period for the then new radiation therapy. It worked, and she lived for many more years before dying in 1999 at the age of 92.
I couldn't believe I got this information so soon after reading this book. Amazing!

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John | 5 comments Saw this on the Atlantic, thought it might be of interest: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology...

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Josh | 185 comments Took me a while to churn through this one, but in the end I certainly liked the book. My wife is from Clinton, her grandmother having been one of the "gauge watching girls".

A lot of great insight that lends to why Oak Ridge is still (in my opinion) an anomaly kind of community compared to the rest of the county and surrounding area. When the gates opened up, its my opinion that the two communities of Oak Ridge and Clinton (or Knoxville, Kingston, etc) still stayed fairly segregated. To this day, there are very few Anderson County residents that claim both communities. Most Clinton folks can count on two hands the number of people they know who live in Oak Ridge and my guess is the inverse is true as well. Separate school systems, totally different religious diversity--the two communities don't "hate" one another, they've just evolved separately and seem worlds apart despite being less than 10 miles disconnected. For anyone with Clinton or Oak Ridge ties, this is a must read.

message 23: by M.L. (last edited Sep 28, 2013 10:14AM) (new)

M.L. | 69 comments There are some real gems in the various story lines but a bit too much 'filler' to keep up my interest and the story just thinned / lost focus during those times. My favorite parts had to do with science and especially the scientist who barely escaped from Germany. I became very engaged during that segment. Good to know about this part of history.

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