Part Five: Completing the Atomic Mission
Chapter 27: The Atomic Age and Its Problems
Employment of an atomic bomb against Japan demonstrated to the world that atomic energy was no longer an experimental hypothesis, but a material reality. A creation of the new atomic age, this awesome weapon of mass destruction heralded the onset of a multitude of fundamental political, social, and economic problems for national leaders in the emerging postwar era. As Secretary Stimson cautioned in his memorandum to the press shortly after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “great events have happened. The world is changed and it is time for sober thought.”1
Anticipating the likely ramifications of the atomic bombing mission, the leaders of the Manhattan Project in the summer of 1945 concentrated their efforts on two problem areas deemed as priority matters: releasing just enough information on the atomic project to inform the general public without violating essential military security, and participating more actively in developing the means of peacetime control of the new source of energy both at home and abroad. “The result of the bomb is so terrific,” the Secretary warned in his pronouncement, “that the responsibility of its possession and its use must weigh heavily on our minds and on our hearts.”2 Even those at Trinity who had witnessed the birth of the new age had felt within moments of the first atomic explosion “their profound responsibility to help in guiding into right channels the tremendous forces which had been unlocked for the first time in history.”3
The Atomic Story: Informing the Public
The bombing of Japan, in an instant, catapulted the Manhattan Project’s closely guarded secret – development of an atomic weapon for military use – into the public limelight. This event precipitated a seemingly endless barrage of requests for information, but project leaders were prepared with official statements on selected aspects of the atomic story. “In accord with its policy of keeping the people of the nation as completely informed as is consistent with national security, the War Department wishes to make known at this time, at
least in broad dimension, the story behind this tremendous weapon. … Other statements will be released which will give further details concerning the scientific and production aspects of the project and will give proper recognition to the scientists, technicians, and the men of industry and labor who have made this weapon possible.”4
The official statements released to the public following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the result of a carefully designed public relations program, begun in early 1944. At this time, Manhattan’s military and scientific leaders had perceived that, from the standpoint of security, the release of some selected information would make it easier to maintain the secrecy of the highly classified, patented aspects of the project. With the objective of preserving essential military security while also adequately informing the American people, the public relations program was planned along two broad lines: preparation of a series of public releases, and preparation of an administrative and scientific history of the project.
Responsibility for preparation of the press releases – to include public statements for the President, the Secretary of War, and other government leaders – in large measure, fell initially upon General Groves and his Washington staff. The need for professional guidance was apparent. Groves contemplated borrowing Jack Lockhart, liaison official for atomic energy matters in the Office of Censorship, but pressing job commitments made him unavailable for the assignment. Lockhart, however, suggested that Groves approach William Laurence, the well-known science reporter of the New York Times. Responding to the Manhattan commander’s request, the managing editor of the Times readily agreed to release Laurence for as long as he was needed by the atomic project.5
During the early months of 1945, Groves cleared the way for Laurence to visit the principal atomic installations and to interview the major participants. He also arranged for Laurence to observe the final significant events in the development of atomic weapons, including the Trinity test and the bombing of Japan. With assistance from public relations personnel at each site, Laurence wrote most of the press releases on various project activities and events and then circulated them to the appropriate project officials for review.6
Because official releases from high-ranking members of government would constitute important pronouncements on future atomic energy policy, final responsibility for these statements was assigned to the Interim Committee. The committee agreed that Laurence should draft the statements and submit them to Arthur Page, a long-time friend and aide of the Secretary of War, for review. Page, in turn, would submit the drafts
to the committee. As work progressed, the committee asked 1st Lt. R. Gordon Arneson, an officer on Stimson’s staff serving as the committee’s secretary, to assist Laurence and Page. The three worked first on the Trinity test press releases and then on those to be issued by the President and the Secretary of War following the bombing of Japan. At its meeting on 21 June, the committee suggested a number of changes to the preliminary drafts and formed a subcommittee, consisting of Page and a representative from General Groves’ office, to redraft the statements.7
After the June meeting, the burden of shaping the press releases into final form fell largely to the personal staffs of Stimson and Groves. The Secretary’s staff took responsibility for coordination with the British and for securing approval of the statements by Stimson and the President. The Potsdam Conference and the defeat of Churchill in the British parliamentary elections at the end of July complicated the coordinating process, but did not result in any radical changes in the statements as earlier approved by the committee. Groves’ staff prepared such additional releases as would be needed following that of the Secretary of War.8
As the time neared for releasing information to the public, Groves reorganized the Manhattan Project’s public relations program to ensure close coordination between the public relations officers at each installation and the District’s Intelligence and Security Division and to retain within his office strong control over all releases. He assigned Lt. Col. William A. Consodine, a lawyer and experienced newspaper writer who was serving as a security officer on his staff, to take charge of public relations in his Washington headquarters and also designated those officers who were to oversee public relations activities at each of the major installations. Groves emphasized the necessity for direct liaison at all times and specified, in some detail, the precise limitations on publication of information, particularly on that relating to scientific matters. As a guide for the public relations officers, the Manhattan commander provided the district engineer with a specific list of those subjects that were to be omitted from all releases and outlined the mechanics for clearing material for publication, photographs, motion pictures, and radio.9
When authorized, the release of prepared statements was carefully controlled and adroitly managed. Within sixteen hours of the Hiroshima
bombing, the President announced to the American public: “It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws it[s] power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.” After giving the people a brief glimmer into the atomic story, he continued that “science and industry worked under the direction of the United States Army ... [to effect] the greatest achievement of organized science in history [and that] the Secretary of War, who has kept in personal touch with all phases of the project, will immediately make a public statement giving further details.”10 The release of Stimson’s statement came shortly after the President’s. In it he provided selected facts on Manhattan’s atomic activities and promised that “every effort is being bent toward assuring that this weapon and the new field of science that stands behind it will be employed wisely in the interests of the security of peace-loving nations and the wellbeing of the world.”11
In the press releases that followed in the days before and after the bombing of Nagasaki, the American people learned the truth about the “explosion” at Trinity and significant aspects about harnessing atomic energy and its future applications. They also received selected background information on Manhattan’s atomic processes, production plants, communities, and significant personalities, both military and civilian. From a public relations standpoint,
The Smyth Report
In the course of the development of the atomic bomb, a number of the scientific leaders of the project – notably James B. Conant, Vannevar Bush, Arthur Compton, and Henry D. Smyth – foresaw the need to release to the public, as soon as an atomic weapon was used, a report of some type that recounted the technical accomplishments of the wartime project. General Groves went along with this proposal, perceiving that the release of carefully selected information would make maintaining the secrecy of the rest easier. Consequently, in early April 1944, Groves conferred with Conant and Smyth concerning the preparation of a report for ultimate public release.
A short time later, after further consideration of the proposed idea, Groves requested Smyth to undertake the task of preparing the report. Both Groves and Conant viewed the Princeton University physicist as an excellent choice. He had been associated with the project in various capacities since 1941, starting as a member of the Uranium Section of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) and its successor organizations, then serving as a division head
and associate director of the Metallurgical Laboratory, and was currently acting as a consultant to the University of Chicago program. On 21 April, Smyth informed Groves that he would be happy to accept the responsibility for the assignment, and in May the Military Policy Committee approved both preparation of the report and the selection of Smyth as its author.12
From the outset, General Groves made a special effort to facilitate Smyth’s work. Manhattan provided him secretarial service and guards for his Princeton office, and Groves cleared security barriers so Smyth could visit the various project sites, confer with key personnel, and examine pertinent documents. In a letter to all heads of the major Manhattan installations, Groves wrote: “The purpose is to give clearly and promptly recognition to those who have worked so long and necessarily so anonymously. ... To accomplish his purpose, Dr. Smyth must have rather complete information concerning your phase of the project including access to necessary documents ... [and] information and advice from you and your principal assistants.”13
As Professor Smyth progressed with his work, Groves, in effect, became the coordinator of the project. Whenever Smyth needed assistance, he applied for it directly to the Manhattan commander. For example, Groves in the fall of 1944 approved his request to employ a fellow Princeton physicist, Lincoln G. Smith, as a research assistant. And, in December, he again aided Smyth in obtaining information about the thermal diffusion program, emphasizing that “it is particularly important ... that proper credits be given to the Navy and to Abelson and Gunn.”14
Starting as early as August 1944, Smyth began submitting draft sections to Groves and completed eleven of thirteen projected chapters by January 1945. In late February, he delivered the manuscript to Groves, lacking only a concluding chapter that would “not be a very serious undertaking.” In March, Conant and Groves undertook a preliminary review of the manuscript. After a close scrutiny, they determined that Smyth’s treatment was too technical, did not mention enough names of participants, included too many of the author’s own critical comments on events, and provided too much information about the work at Los Alamos.15
As the time grew near when the report had to be ready for release, Groves arranged for an elaborate and thorough review. He gave the heads of the major project installations and the leading contractor firms an opportunity to comment on the parts of the report that pertained to their activities. After Smyth incorporated whatever revisions these comments made necessary, Groves turned over the entire manuscript to his trusted scientific adviser, Richard Tolman, for a final review and editing. Two scientists in Tolman’s NDRC office – Paul C. Fine, a physicist from the University of Texas, and William S. Shurcliff, Tolman’s technical assistant – aided in the final editing.16
To guide the reviewers on the key issue of security, Groves had Smyth and Tolman draw up a set of rules. There was a general exclusion of everything concerning actual construction of an atomic bomb. Other information could be included if it satisfied at least one of the requirements in each of the three categories set forth by Smyth and Tolman:–
I. (A) That it is important to a reasonable understanding of what had been done on the project as a whole or (B) That it is of true scientific interest and likely to be truly helpful to scientific workers in this country and
II. (A) That it is already known generally by competent scientists or (B) That it can be deduced or guessed by competent scientists from what is already known, combined with the knowledge that the project was in the overall successful or
III. (A) That it has no real bearing on the production of atomic bombs or (B) That it could be discovered by a small group (15 of whom not over 5 would be senior men) of competent scientists working in a well-equipped college lab in a year’s time or less.17
The Smyth-Tolman security rules resulted in many more changes in the draft manuscript. Nevertheless, Tolman and his editorial staff had completed their work by early July. Finally, to make certain that Smyth had given recognition in the report to all project personnel deserving it (Groves was convinced that this was the best means for avoiding future security violations), the Manhattan commander arranged for couriers to deliver selected chapters to appropriate project scientific personnel for a hurried final review. Given only a few hours, in most instances, to complete this review, the majority of the scientists simply signed a statement indicating that they approved the portion of the report they had received without making detailed suggestions. One exception was Colonel Nichols, who predicted the report would arouse “controversy concerning the fairness of credit given to different individuals. ...” He also found that it gave too much attention to the work of the
Metallurgical Laboratory and to those activities in which Professor Smyth was a participant, and not enough to the commercial firms and to Los Alamos. For these reasons, the district engineer recommended that “if the report is issued in its present form, full credit be given to H. D. Smyth for preparing it and that the statement be made that the Army has no responsibility for the report except for asking him to do it.” In the report as ultimately published Nichols’s first recommendation was accepted; the second was not.18
Once again Tolman and Smyth reviewed the report to make certain that every section conformed to the established security rules, while Groves assembled a corps of stenographers, some of whom had to be flown from Oak Ridge, to do the final typing. By the end of July, the manuscript was ready to go to the printers. But a final hurdle remained: obtaining the approval of the Secretary of War – and probably the President – and, because of interchange, at least tacit approval from the British.19
Stimson had come back from the Potsdam meeting on 28 July. In the days following his return, the Secretary gave immediate attention to a number of urgent issues on his accumulated agenda. Initially, he devoted considerable time to consultations with his two assistants, Harvey Bundy and George Harrison, as well as other staff members, and General Groves on the subject of ongoing preparations of the public statements to be made by the President and himself after the first bomb drop. Then on the morning of 2 August, he turned to the question of publication of Smyth’s manuscript. Present at the meeting in his office were Harrison and Bundy; his military aide, Col. William H. Kyle; Groves, Conant, and Tolman as project representatives; Sir James Chadwick, leader of the contingent of British scientists assigned to the project; and Roger Makins, the member of the British embassy staff in Washington assigned responsibility for atomic energy matters.
For almost two hours, the conferees discussed the advantages and disadvantages of releasing what Stimson called “the proposed statement to be made by the scientists. ...” Conant and Groves argued strongly for publication and release as the best means for protecting the future security of the American program. Groves, in particular, saw an analogy between the information in Smyth’s manuscript and “similar instruction given people going west years ago when they were told that they should go to a water hole about 30 miles away and that if it was dry they should go to one about 10 miles beyond that.”20 His point was that it provided facts about the atomic project without revealing any vital secrets.
Stimson, having just returned from
disquieting face-to-face encounters with Soviet representatives at Potsdam, expressed serious doubts about releasing any information that would be helpful to the Russians. Chadwick, who had not yet read the manuscript, also had reservations. He found difficulty in understanding why the atomic leaders in America saw the need to publish such an extensive statement, something he said that the British would not do. Makins stated that Sir John Anderson, the British Cabinet officer in charge of atomic energy, was convinced of the need for issuing a report, but he feared its cumulative impact. The meeting closed with Stimson indicating “that he was practically prepared to accept” publication, relying upon the counsel of his advisers, “because of my confidence in the conservatism of General Groves.” Nevertheless, he concluded that publication should not take place until both the President and the British had approved of it.21
The following day Stimson dispatched a cable to the President, stating that on the unanimous advice of his advisers he had decided to recommend the release of the report for reasons of future security. While awaiting an opportunity to see the President, Chadwick, who in the meantime had read the report, sent an acknowledgment that he could see the necessity for its release. When the Secretary finally saw Truman on 8 August, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima, he advised him that he should make the decision, as “he would have to bear the brunt of the disapproval of Congress for giving away such a valuable secret. After hearing the views of Bush, Conant, Groves, Stimson, Harrison, and Admiral William D. Leahy, his personal chief of staff, at a White House meeting on the ninth, Truman decided in favor of immediate publication.22
On 12 August, the War Department released the first of a thousand copies of the report entitled A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940–1945, which Groves had printed earlier by the Pentagon’s classified reproduction facilities in anticipation of the President’s approval. Issued with each copy of the report was an accompanying statement that sought to place its publication in the proper perspective:–
Nothing in this report discloses necessary military secrets as to the manufacture or production of the weapon. It does provide a summary of generally known scientific facts and gives an account of the history of the work and of the role played in the development by different scientific and industrial organizations.
The best interests of the United States require the utmost cooperation by all concerned in keeping secret now and for all time in the future, all scientific and
technical information not given in this report or other official releases of information by the War Department.23
While the Smyth Report – as it came to be popularly known – achieved its basic purposes of informing the American public without compromising vital project secrets, there were inevitably objections and criticisms on some points. Where appropriate, Professor Smyth made corrections and additions for incorporation in later printings. But none of these corrections and additions greatly altered the original report, which, as Groves noted in retrospect, was “on the whole, ... considering the rather difficult conditions under which it was prepared, ... extraordinarily successful in its efforts to distribute credit fairly and accurately.24
Professor Smyth himself felt the report achieved considerably more than this limited objective. In his view the development of the atomic bomb had raised many questions on postwar atomic energy policy “that must be answered in the near future . . by the people through their representatives.” In accomplishing this, Smyth looked to the men of science, “who can understand ... and explain the potentialities of atomic bombs to their fellow citizens,” to use his report as the vehicle for helping the public gain some insight into the new atomic world. “The ultimate responsibility for our nation’s policy rests on its citizens,” Smyth wrote, “and they can discharge such responsibilities wisely only if they are informed.”25
Atomic Energy: Planning for Postwar Control
Release of selected information was only one aspect of the much larger problem of planning for peacetime legislation and international agreements to control the use of atomic energy in the postwar era. When President Truman, in a message to Congress on 3 October 1945, emphasized the importance of dealing with this problem on “two fronts – the domestic and international,” he focused attention upon a matter that had long been a cause of considerable concern
for atomic project leaders and their scientific staffs.26
As many of the scientists completed the basic research work required to achieve the wartime objectives of the atomic program, they began to consider the future possibilities in the exciting new field of atomic energy. The situation in the Metallurgical Project was typical. In the latter part of 1943, rumors spread of an impending release of numerous personnel. To counter the disquieting effects of these rumors on his scientific staff, Arthur Compton included in his new program for the coming fiscal year basic research projects as well as continuing support for the Hanford and Los Alamos operations.
For the most part, Groves and his scientific advisers opposed having Metallurgical Project scientists undertake any new large-scale or long-range research activities until the war was over, but they could see the necessity for limited research projects for those scientists serving in a standby capacity for the plutonium production facilities and the bomb development program. This concept of limited research generally did not satisfy most Metallurgical Project scientists. Accordingly, Compton endeavored to reduce their unrest by giving them an opportunity to participate in postwar planning. In July 1944, he appointed a committee to formulate “sound national postwar policies ... from the military, scientific and industrial standpoint.” This committee issued in November a “Prospectus on Nucleonics.” It discussed in detail future research and industrial applications of atomic energy in the United States and the need for a world organization to prevent nuclear warfare.27
By August, the Military Policy Committee had also approved appointment of a special committee, suggested by Bush and Conant, “to recommend from a technical standpoint the postwar policy for governmental research and development in the atomic energy field.” Groves, who later stated that a prime purpose of this committee was to convince project scientists that the Army was not forgetting postwar problems, appointed Tolman as chairman, with Warren K. Lewis, Henry D. Smyth, and Rear Adm. Earle W. Mills, assistant chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Ships, as members. Capt. Thorvald A. Solberg of the Navy also sat in on all meetings.
This Postwar Policy Committee, as it came to be called, interviewed scientists from all of the major Manhattan Project research centers and received a large number of written memorandums. The committee,
seeing the need for maintaining United States military superiority, recommended continued production of active materials and weapon development and government support of fundamental research and industrial applications. To administer the program, the committee proposed a national authority that, in the manner of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), would make funds available to government-operated military and civilian laboratories, colleges and universities, and commercial firms.28
Another individual gravely concerned with postwar planning was Niels Bohr, the eminent Danish physicist who had escaped from his occupied homeland in 1943. In conversation with Soviet officials at the Soviet embassy in London in April 1944, Bohr had learned that the Soviets had heard rumors of the Manhattan Project and were very much interested in the program. He concluded that Russia would continue to push development of atomic energy and, considering the quality of the prewar work of Soviet physicists added to the knowledge they might gain from a defeated Germany, he thought they would succeed. Bohr advocated that the United States and Great Britain should adopt an open atomic policy after the war, using the revolutionary new development to achieve effective international relations with the Soviet Union. Meeting with Churchill in April and Roosevelt in August, the Danish scientist zealously conveyed his convictions to both of the wartime leaders. Bohr experienced little success in communicating his ideas to Churchill, but he received a much more sympathetic hearing from Roosevelt, who promised to take up the matter with Churchill at their next meeting.29
Roosevelt next met with Churchill in early September at the OCTAGON Conference in Quebec,30 called to plan for the final campaigns against Germany and joint operations against Japan, but it apparently was not until Churchill’s two-day visit to Hyde Park following the conference that the two leaders discussed Bohr’s proposals. With Admiral Leahy present, they considered the Danish scientist’s suggestions for ending the secrecy of the bomb and negotiating an agreement with Russia to avoid a postwar arms race, but decided that his ideas were premature. They then turned to postwar Anglo-American atomic relations, including the possibilities of industrial
application, which Churchill perceived could contribute to British economic recovery, a subject he had discussed with Roosevelt at Quebec.
Agreeing that the wartime atomic partnership should continue after the war, the Prime Minister and the President recorded their views in a brief aide-memoire, typed on Churchill’s official stationery and initialed in red ink by both leaders. In it they rejected any immediate announcement of the existence of the Manhattan Project and called for continuing “the utmost secrecy”; they recommended that the bomb “might perhaps, after mature consideration, be used against the Japanese, who should be warned that this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender”; and they agreed that “full collaboration between the United States and the British Government in developing Tube Alloys for military and commercial purposes should continue after the defeat of Japan unless and until terminated by joint agreement.” For the two leaders, the aide-memoire constituted a preliminary statement of their hopes and fears concerning future use and control of the newly evolving revolutionary source of energy, especially in its application to development and proliferation of nuclear weapons.31
Meanwhile, Bush and Conant, undoubtedly influenced by the growing unrest among project scientists as well as by the progress of the war in Europe, also sought to instigate planning for postwar control and use of atomic energy. The day after the Hyde Park meeting (about which they knew nothing), the two scientific leaders wrote to Secretary Stimson, pointing out that the time was approaching when the public would have to be informed about atomic developments during the war and when national legislation would have to be enacted and diplomatic measures taken. Release of information, preferably in the form of a detailed history, would become essential, they believed, either when the bomb was used against the enemy or, if Japan surrendered before that happened, when the war ended. Basic atomic knowledge, they warned Stimson, could not be kept secret and for a government to assume that by doing so it would become secure “would be extremely dangerous.” The Secretary, Bush and Conant suggested, should talk to the President about drafting legislation to establish a “national commission” and a treaty with Great Britain and Canada that would continue and extend the wartime arrangements for interchange of technical information.32
Three days later, Bush received an unexpected summons to the White House to bring the President up-to-date on atomic developments. When
Roosevelt introduced Bush to Lord Cherwell, Churchill’s scientific adviser, and Admiral Leahy and then began talking generally about the bomb and interchange with the British without regard to Cherwell’s continued presence, the OSRD director became aware that the President had been carrying on freewheeling discussions with Churchill, Bohr, and others without benefit of consultation with his regular advisers on atomic matters. Without mentioning the aide-memoire, Roosevelt stated that he had talked to Churchill about complete interchange as a way of keeping Britain strong after the war. Greatly concerned by Roosevelt’s indication that he was plunging ahead with postwar planning for atomic energy without sufficient guidance from those with an expert knowledge of atomic matters, Bush suggested that the President should have a talk with Stimson. Roosevelt agreed, but when Bush proposed to Stimson three days later (25 September) that he point out to the President the dangers of an international armaments race if Russia were not permitted to share in the interchange of scientific data, the Secretary demurred. He did not think, he told Bush, that he could hold the President’s attention long enough to impress upon him the seriousness of the prospect. Bush then suggested that he and Conant prepare a statement on international control that Stimson could then pass on to the President. The Secretary consented to this arrangement.33
Bush and Conant submitted a statement on the “salient points concerning future international handling of [the] subject of atomic bombs” on 30 September. They elaborated in some detail “on the international postwar aspects ... of great importance to the future peace of the world” and predicted a successful demonstration of an atomic bomb capable of a blast damage equivalent to 1,000 to 10,000 tons of ordinary explosives before 1 August 1945. But, they continued, this enormously powerful weapon was only the first step in “an expanding art.” The future was likely to bring development of a “super-super bomb” using heavy hydrogen that would produce blast damage equal to that of “1,000 raids of 1,000 B-29 Fortresses delivering their load of high explosives on one target.” Because any nation having the necessary technical and scientific resources could produce in three or four years atomic bombs equivalent to those the United States and Great Britain would soon have, the advantage held by these two countries was only temporary.34 Given the ever-present possibility
of “the accidents of research,” another country might attain as great a temporary advantage as the United States and Great Britain then held. Nor was a continuing policy of complete secrecy after the war likely to prevent other countries from producing nuclear weapons, for all the basic scientific facts necessary to do so already were known to physicists.
Hence, the soundest policy was to disclose completely, as soon as the first bomb had been demonstrated, the history of its development in the United States, keeping secret only “manufacturing and military details.” Complete secrecy was certain to result in an international armament race, with secret development in the Soviet Union and other countries. Not even control of most of the world’s supply of uranium and thorium would prevent development of the super-super bomb, using heavy hydrogen, the supply of which is virtually unlimited. The wisest solution for the postwar period was “free interchange of all scientific information on this subject ... under the auspices of an international office that derived its power from whatever association of nations is developed at the close of the present war. ... Under these conditions,” Bush and Conant concluded, “there is reason to hope that the weapons would never be employed and indeed that the existence of these weapons might decrease the chance of another war.35
The Bush-Conant statement brought no immediate reaction from Stimson. Toward the end of October, the Secretary talked to Bush about some of the points made in it, but he did not indicate what action he intended to take. Bush’s own view at the time was that Stimson should comment on the points and then send them on to the President. Foreshadowing the ultimate establishment of the Interim Committee, the OSRD chief also suggested that Roosevelt was going to need an advisory group to guide him in reaching decisions on atomic matters, but he felt the time was not quite propitious yet for suggesting it to the President. Harvey Bundy also proposed such a group. He visualized a six-man commission comprised of a representative of the Secretary of War, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Navy, and three scientists familiar with the atomic project. After atomic weapons had been used, this commission would assist the President in preparing a brief public statement about the importance and characteristics of atomic energy and in outlining a program for its temporary and its permanent control in the United States.36
Not until early December did Bush have another opportunity to broach the subject of future atomic energy problems at the War Department. On the eighth, at a meeting with Bundy and John J. McCloy, the Assistant Secretary of War, Bush suggested that the President should immediately nominate an advisory group to prepare
press releases, draft legislation, and advise on the development of a postwar experimental program, emphasizing the need for bringing the Department of State into the planning for the international aspects of atomic energy. Subsequently, both Bundy and Bush briefed Stimson on the substance of the discussion. While agreeing that the State Department had to be informed soon, Stimson was still not ready to make decisions on an advisory committee or international exchange. Months would pass before he reached a decision on either matter.37
After Roosevelt’s death, Stimson went to Truman with a suggestion to appoint an advisory group on atomic energy. The resulting Interim Committee, which began meeting in May, did not take up the discussion of postwar legislation for domestic control of atomic energy until July. On the nineteenth, the committee considered the first draft of an atomic energy bill, prepared by two War Department lawyers – Brig. Gen. Kenneth C. Royall and William L. Mar-bury. Under guidance from George Harrison and with technical assistance from the Manhattan District, Royall and Marbury in drawing up the draft bill had included the Bush-Conant proposals and incorporated the basic premise that, in the postwar period, atomic energy would have to continue to receive substantial federal support and remain under strong federal control.38
Many provisions seemed closely patterned after the wartime program, including continuation of essentially military control with no significant relaxation of security restrictions on research and development activities. The nine-man commission proposed by the bill – five civilians, two representatives of the Army and two of the Navy – resembled the Military Policy Committee. The commission was to be a part-time advisory group, whose members could hold other government positions and would receive no compensation. Assisting the commission would be four advisory boards on military applications, industrial uses, research, and medicine, each comprised of technical experts appointed by the commission. Serving the commission would be a full-time staff headed by an administrator and deputy administrator, an arrangement not unlike that of Groves and Nichols in the Manhattan Project, particularly because the commission could delegate all of its powers to these officials.
The extensive powers granted to the commission – in this Royall and Marbury followed the earlier suggestions of Bush and Conant – were similar to those held by the Army in the wartime program. They included custody of raw materials, facilities and equipment, technical information and patents, and all contracts and agreements related to production of fissionable materials. As in the Manhattan Project, the administrator would have authority to carry on atomic research in commission-owned facilities or to have it done by other institutions under contract. For this or any other commission activities, he would
have broad powers to acquire property, facilities, or services. The commission would administer its own security, personnel, and audit regulations. Finally, the bill provided that the commission would direct, supervise, and regulate all atomic activities, even those pursued by outside organizations.39
Bush and Conant felt that the two War Department lawyers had granted the commission more sweeping powers than were needed for a peacetime organization. They also proposed, and Groves and Harrison agreed with them, that only civilians should be members of the commission. Harrison noted that the armed services would be adequately represented on the advisory board on military applications.40
The War Department asked General Royall to revise the bill on the basis of the comments made by Manhattan leaders and Interim Committee members. With the objective of making only minor changes so as to provide the basis for compromise, he reduced the number of officers on the commission to four and, to a limited extent, the commission’s powers over nuclear research, stating that its mission would be to minimize interference in private research and to make more use of it.
But these modest changes did not satisfy Bush, who requested that the War Department bill be completely reviewed with the aim of subjecting the commission to the usual government controls except where exemptions were clearly necessary. The bill underwent several revisions in late July and early August, yet it did not fundamentally change in its original approach and continued to prescribe a considerable amount of military control and governmental dominance in nuclear research activities. Consequently, when the War Department submitted its proposals for domestic control of atomic energy to Congress, they largely took the form and direction laid down in the Royall-Marbury bill.41
Postwar International Aspects
After the atomic bombing of Japan, the problem of international control of atomic energy loomed large for the leaders of the American and British governments, and each gave the matter their immediate attention.42 In his 9 August radio message to the American people on the Potsdam Conference, President Truman declared that the United States intended to make the new force of atomic energy into a weapon for peace and that information on weapon design
and production would not be released to the rest of the world until adequate means of control had been established. After reading the President’s statement, Prime Minister Clement Attlee promptly endorsed it, and on 13 August he publicly stated his support of the “preparation of plans for the future control of the bomb ... to the end that its production and use may be controlled and that its power may be made an overwhelming influence towards world peace.”43
In a memorandum to Truman on 11 September,44 Secretary Stimson advised the President that the best policy for international control would be for the United States, with British support, to make a direct approach to the Soviet Union, proposing joint arrangements for limiting use of the bomb and encouraging development of atomic power for peaceful and humanitarian purposes. A few days later, at a meeting of the President’s Cabinet, Vannevar Bush and Under Secretary of War Patterson joined with Stimson in support of direct negotiations with the Soviets. Other members of the Cabinet, however, opposed sharing the secrets of atomic energy with the Soviet Union and the rest of the world.
The American government, however, was under continuing pressure from the British to institute international control measures as quickly as possible. From the standpoint of the British, who wanted to implement the Hyde Park aide-memoire provision assuring them full collaboration “in developing Tube Alloys for military and commercial purposes ... after the defeat of Japan ...” and to secure a revision of the 1943 Quebec Agreement provision that restricted their access to information pertinent to the industrial and commercial applications of atomic energy, these international measures were essential not only to ensure that the atomic bomb would be used in the interest of world peace but also to facilitate new agreements on a postwar atomic partnership.45
Taking cognizance of the British desire for prompt action, President Truman in his 3 October message to Congress stated emphatically that a discussion on an international control policy could not wait until the United Nations Organization began functioning. Negotiations must begin at once with the United Kingdom and Canada, and then subsequently with other nations, for the purpose of working out “arrangements covering the terms under which international collaboration and exchange of information might safely proceed.”46 Consistent with this objective, Truman at the end of the month accepted Prime Minister Attlee’s request for a meeting with him and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
In preparation for this conference, scheduled to open in Washington on 11 November, both Secretary of State Byrnes and Secretary of War Patterson (who had replaced Stimson on
27 September) consulted extensively with Bush and Groves. When Bush, on his own initiative, visited Byrnes on 3 November to urge adoption of a definite policy on international control, the Secretary asked him to prepare a written statement of his views of what needed to be discussed by the three heads of state. Sensing a lack of preparation by the State Department for the upcoming conference, Secretary Patterson had members of his War Department staff draw up proposals to be discussed. Both Groves and Bush were called in for consultation by Byrnes on the eighth and by Patterson on the tenth to revise the War Department proposals. When the actual conversations on atomic energy began, Truman and Byrnes advanced the proposals set forth in the statement Bush had prepared for the Secretary of State and the British agreed to them as an agenda without presenting any counterproposals. Byrnes then called in Bush on the twelfth to assist in preparation of the conference communique.
On 15 November, the three political leaders announced their conclusions on atomic energy in the Truman-Attlee-King Declaration. They agreed that an open exchange of the fundamental scientific aspects of atomic energy with other nations of the world was desirable to facilitate its development for peaceful purposes; however, to ensure against its use for destructive purposes, they acknowledged that a limited exchange of the specialized aspects necessary for industrial application must be enforced until such time as the United Nations could establish international controls. To achieve these controls, they recommended that the United Nations set up an international organization to function under its auspices.
The three leaders also directed that steps be taken to work out a new basis for Anglo-American collaboration in atomic energy matters in the postwar period. They delegated the task of preparing a suitable directive to Patterson and Sir John Anderson. Patterson called in Groves and Harrison to advise him, and the two, working with members of Sir John’s staff, prepared two memorandums issued on 16 November. The first memorandum stated that there should continue to be full and effective cooperation between the three states in atomic energy matters, that the Combined Policy Committee and Combined Development Trust should be perpetuated,47 and that the committee should work out an appropriate basis for future collaboration. The second document, “Memorandum of Intention,” set forth detailed guidelines for the committee to follow in developing a new agreement to replace the Quebec Agreement.
For the period of several months, the Combined Policy Committee endeavored to work out suitable terms of a new Anglo-American agreement. It turned over to a subcommittee – composed of British embassy staff member Roger Makins, Canadian Ambassador Lester B. Pearson, and General Groves – the task of drafting a report with scientific recommendations for inclusion in a new agreement. When completed, the subcommittee’s report called for the rescinding
of the provisions in the Quebec Agreement that had restricted British development of atomic energy for industrial and commercial purposes and proposed that each signatory state develop the means for full and effective interchange of information required for its atomic activities; agree not to disclose information or enter into negotiations with outside states concerning atomic energy without prior discussion and policy determination; undertake measures not only to control uranium and thorium deposits within its own borders but also, through established international ore control agencies, to acquire foreign ore deposits; and coordinate and consult with each other before using nuclear weapons against other states. Subcommittee members did not necessarily agree on all points outlined in the submitted report. General Groves, for example, noted that inclusion of many of the suggested provisions, especially those on full and effective interchange, would give the agreement the effect of a secret military treaty in violation of Article 102 of the United Nations Charter.
On 15 February 1946, the Combined Policy Committee considered the subcommittee’s proposals for a new agreement. Committee members were inclined to agree with Groves that many of the recommended provisions would violate Article 102. One member suggested that this conflict with the United Nations Charter be avoided by continuing Anglo-American cooperation on atomic matters under terms of the Quebec Agreement. But Lord Halifax, the British ambassador who had replaced Sir Ronald Campbell on the committee, objected that the wartime agree ment did not meet postwar requirements, especially on exchange of information.
At the next committee meeting on 15 April, Halifax shifted his position. The United Kingdom would be willing, he said, to accept the proposal for continued collaboration under the Quebec Agreement and the Declaration of Trust in the area of raw materials, provided that these two documents were amended to meet postwar requirements as outlined in the subcommittee’s proposals. This compromise was unacceptable, however, to the American members (Byrnes, Patterson, and Bush) because they did not think it would eliminate the conflict with Article 102. Finding itself in a deadlock, the committee turned the problem back to the heads of state.
Truman and Attlee were unable to make further progress toward the full and effective cooperation they had set as a goal. In fact, Attlee’s strongly worded plea to President Truman in June 1946 went unanswered, because Congress was about to enact domestic legislation placing additional restrictions on release of atomic information that cast further doubt on the feasibility of any kind of interchange.
From May until the end of 1946, Anglo-American cooperation on atomic energy continued to function under the Quebec Agreement and the Declaration of Trust. Practically speaking, collaboration was limited essentially to the area of raw materials. In late July, for example, the Combined Policy Committee approved the Groves-Makins-Chadwick formula for allocating in 1946 the larger share of the available supply of uranium ore to the United States so
that the Manhattan Project had a sufficient amount to meet the needs of its bomb production program. It also adopted a Combined Development Trust proposal designed to ensure a fair allocation of the costs of raw material received by each country through the Trust since V-J Day.
As the date neared for a civilian agency to take over control of the program in the United States, Attlee wrote to Truman that he felt the time was opportune to resume discussion of cooperation. The President promised to take up the question in the near future, but reminded the Prime Minister that Combined Policy Committee discussions had revealed considerable differences in interpreting the 16 November memorandum by the two countries and that new legislation for domestic control in the United States contained provisions that would further complicate collaboration.
Many factors had contributed to the breakdown of efforts to establish effective Anglo-American cooperation. Among them were the lingering American distrust of the British dating back to wartime incidents, the continuing problem of security (revelations in early 1946, for example, of espionage in the Canadian program that pointed up once again the inherent threat in information interchange), and the determination of the United States not to jeopardize achievement of international control through the United Nations with too close a relationship to the British.
In the efforts of the United States in late 1945 and in 1946 to establish in the United Nations an effective system for the international control of atomic energy, members and former members of the Manhattan Project played a considerable role in assisting the State Department, the agency responsible for developing America’s proposals. Foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States met in Moscow from 16 to 20 December 1945 and agreed, as enunciated in the Truman-Attlee-King Declaration of 15 November, to form a United Nations Commission on Atomic Energy, with representatives from each state on the organization’s Security Council, and from Canada when it was not a member of the Council. On 24 January 1946, the United Nations General Assembly approved the British resolution authorizing establishment of the Commission on Atomic Energy and scheduled its first meeting in New York City for June. In March, President Truman nominated Bernard M. Baruch, the well-known financier and long-time adviser to American presidents, to be the representative for the United States on the commission.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State had established a special committee to advise him on the interchange of atomic information with other countries. He named Dean Acheson, the Under Secretary of State, chairman of the committee, and appointed John J. McCloy (who had resigned as Assistant Secretary of War in November 1945 to return to the practice of law), Bush, Conant, and Groves as members. At its first meeting on 14 January, Acheson suggested that, because the members of the committee were busy officials who could devote only a limited amount of time to preparation of such a plan, the committee should
appoint a panel of consultants to assemble the pertinent data and draw up proposals. General Groves objected, pointing out that he, Bush, and Conant were familiar with the problems involved.
But the special committee decided in favor of a panel. The six members – David E. Lilienthal of the Tennessee Valley Authority, who served as chairman, Chester I. Barnard of New Jersey Telephone, Harry A, Winne of General Electric, Charles A. Thomas of Monsanto Chemical, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had left Los Alamos and returned to the University of California, Berkeley – submitted a draft report to the committee in early March. This draft, after considerable revision, became the basis for the Acheson-Lilienthal report, a plan for step-by-step cooperation of the United States with the other nations of the world in establishing international controls over atomic energy. The report, released on the twenty-eighth, served as a working paper and a basis for public discussion. The United States delegation to the United Nations Commission on Atomic Energy presented the essential points of the plan in June, and these became substantially the principles finally accepted by the commission on 30 December. During the extended deliberations, Bernard Baruch relied heavily upon many members and former members of the Manhattan Project, including Groves, who served as his consultant; Tolman, who acted as his scientific adviser; and a scientific panel made up of Robert F. Bacher, an experimental physicist who had served in various capacities at Los Alamos, Arthur Compton, Oppenheimer, Thomas and Urey.
Postwar Domestic Aspects
“No matter what international policy may be eventually worked out for the United States and the world,” General Groves told a congressional committee, peacetime control of atomic energy “is necessary to protect America’s tremendous investment in atomic research and development and to insure that this development will go steadily forward.”48 To achieve this end, members of the Manhattan Project in late 1945 and early 1946 actively participated in the planning and ongoing discussions of the various legislative proposals under consideration.
Shortly after V-J Day, the Interim Committee sent the President its revised Royall-Marbury bill on atomic energy, and the President immediately circulated the draft measure to the various government agencies likely to be affected by its provisions so that they could review it. Assured by the committee’s provision that any legislation enacted should be subject to revision
at the end of a two-year period, most of the agencies gave their approval to the draft bill very quickly. Only the State Department, which was deeply involved in the question of international control, threatened to hold up its approval for an indefinite period. But because most of the leaders associated with the wartime atomic energy project strongly felt there should be no delay in establishing a clear national policy, Secretary Patterson secured the President’s permission to proceed without that agency’s approval and to introduce into Congress what came to be known as the May-Johnson bill.49
On 3 October, the President in his message to Congress emphasized the need for prompt action on the measure to ensure preservation of the enormous investment in atomic energy, to provide direction for continuing research, and to establish adequate controls over raw materials. That same day, Congressman Andrew J. May introduced the War Department’s bill. When the hearings on the bill opened in the House Military Affairs Committee on the ninth, Secretary Patterson in a prepared statement explained to the committee why the Army was anxious to turn over responsibility for atomic energy to a peacetime organization: “The War Department has taken the initiative in proposing that it be divested of the great authority that goes with the control of atomic energy, because it recognizes that the problems we face go far beyond the purely military sphere. The atomic bomb is the most devastating weapon we know, but the means of releasing atomic energy which it employs may prove to be the greatest boon to mankind in the world’s history. The wisest minds in our Nation will be required to administer this discovery for the benefit of all of us.”50
Also appearing before the committee were Groves, Bush, and Conant. Committee members questioned each of them concerning the unusually broad powers to be given to the atomic energy commission proposed in the bill. Groves, who first restated the Army’s desire to be relieved of the burden of administering the atomic energy program, posited that the powers were necessary for the commission to cope with its vast responsibilities. Bush granted that Congress would be giving up control of atomic energy, except for appropriations and its right to revise the basic act, but considering the enormous hazards, he believed rigid federal control was an absolute necessity. Conant, too, expressed the view that the commission must be able to exercise extraordinary controls for reasons stated clearly in the bill itself: “The misuse of such energy, by design or through ignorance, may inflict incalculable disaster upon the Nation, destroy the general welfare,
imperil the national safety, and endanger world peace.”51 At the conclusion of the testimony, the committee prepared to end the hearings and report the atomic energy bill back to the floor of the House.
But adverse reaction in the Senate Military Affairs Committee, and from the press and public, indicated the measure would arouse considerable opposition. When Senator Edwin C. Johnson introduced the bill in the Senate committee, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, the committee’s minority leader, challenged it as dealing with a subject beyond the competence of a standing committee and therefore requiring consideration by a special joint committee of Congress. He had already introduced a joint resolution proposing formation of such a committee. By a parliamentary maneuver, he was able to hold up further consideration of the bill until the House of Representatives voted on his resolution.
Meantime, newly formed associations of atomic scientists at the Metallurgical Laboratory and at the Clinton Engineer Works had mobilized a press campaign against the bill on the grounds that it was an attempt by the Army to railroad legislation through Congress without the extensive hearings before an impartial committee such an important subject deserved. They also gave voice to the suspicion that the bill represented an attempt by the War Department and the Navy to secure control of the postwar atomic energy organization, pointing especially to the provision that would permit military officers to serve in the chief administrative posts without adequate supervision by the part-time commissioners. Many scientists, too, called attention to the severity of the penalties provided in the bill’s security provisions (ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine), seeing in them evidence of an attempt to place undue restrictions on scientific employees in the postwar atomic program. Members of the Interim Committee’s scientific panel, who had earlier endorsed the May-Johnson bill, expressed alarm at the heavy penalties for unauthorized release of classified information.
These developments marked the beginning of a prolonged legislative battle. During the remainder of 1945, a coalition of scientists, legislators, and government officials exerted a growing opposition to the May-Johnson bill, which had at first the effect of preventing the backers of that measure from securing its rapid enactment and led ultimately to its displacement by a bill more acceptable to the groups in the coalition. Becoming increasingly aware of the growing criticisms of the May-Johnson bill, President Truman privately withdrew his endorsement, leaving the way open for substantial changes in the measure. And in the Senate, support grew for Vandenberg’s proposal that a special committee be established to deal with atomic energy matters. When his resolution for setting up a joint committee of both Houses failed to secure the required votes, Brien McMahon, a young senator from Connecticut, led a movement for creation of a special committee in the Senate. Passage of a resolution subsequently
established the Special Committee on Atomic Energy, with McMahon as chairman.
Serving with McMahon were Senators Vandenberg, Johnson, Richard B. Russell, Tom Connally, Harry F. Byrd, Millard E. Tydings, Warren R. Austin, Eugene D. Millikin, Bourke B. Hickenlooper, and Thomas C. Hart. Edward U. Condon, the physicist who had worked at Los Alamos briefly during the war but departed because of his objection to security measures, joined the committee as its scientific adviser and James R. Newman, a lawyer with an extensive knowledge of science, as its special counsel. In late November, while Newman worked with Manhattan and other government officials to draft a substitute measure to replace the May-Johnson bill, the committee commenced a series of almost daily public hearings with the objective of informing its members and the American people on the scientific aspects of atomic energy. It closed the hearings on 20 December, when Senator McMahon introduced his new bill, and reconvened them in late January 1946.
As the attention of the country focused on atomic energy, opposition grew toward any legislation likely to give an undue amount of influence to the military in atomic activities and place too restrictive controls on nuclear research and scientists. The movement, an aspect of widespread postwar weariness with things military, received extensive support among scientists employed on the Manhattan Project, who were by then effectively organized as the Federation of Atomic Scientists.
In February, Secretary Patterson and General Groves testified before the Senate Special Committee, urging passage of legislation generally along the lines of the May-Johnson bill. Both objected strongly to the provisions in the McMahon bill that virtually excluded the armed services from participation in the military application of atomic energy. Groves, for example, contended that no shift in emphasis on atomic energy as a military weapon was possible until there were no longer wars between nations. Both also felt that the security provisions of the McMahon bill, based upon the Episonage Act, were inadequate for an area as sensitive as atomic energy.
Secretary Patterson thought the McMahon bill placed too many restrictions on research in nuclear science. Groves continued to express preference for the May-Johnson bill’s provision that the members of the commission be part-time, rather than full-time as provided by the McMahon measure, because he believed more capable men could be secured for part-time service. He also objected to the McMahon bill’s exclusion of active military members from the commission and he favored the May-Johnson bill’s provision of a single executive rather than a commission performing the executive function.52
Although the Special Committee had reported the McMahon bill to the Senate on 19 April, it did not come to the floor of the Senate until 1 June. After only three hours of debate and a few minor amendments, the measure passed with no dissenting votes. The bill went to the House Military Affairs Committee on the fifth and, after brief hearings (11–13 June), to the House of Representatives. The House passed the bill with major changes on 20 July, but most of the amendments were removed in a subsequent conference session. President Truman signed the measure on 1 August as the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Under terms of the act, the Army’s responsibility for direction and control of atomic energy in the United States was to pass to a civilian agency, the United States Atomic Energy Commission. This legislation also created the Military Liaison Committee and the General Advisory Committee, which were to provide, respectively, coordination and support on matters relating to future military and scientific and technical applications.53
For the wartime leaders of the Manhattan Project, the long-delayed enactment of the Atomic Energy Act marked another significant step in their efforts to solve the problems they faced in peacetime control of atomic energy. Already they had achieved success in the program for release of public information, accomplished without endangering the nation’s security. But many were convinced that provisions in the new legislation were likely to be inadequate from the standpoint of security and ineffectual for the future military application of atomic energy. Many also were disappointed in the limited success attained in reaching workable agreements for international control of atomic energy. They had willingly made available their special knowledge to the American, British, and Canadian political leaders endeavoring to achieve such agreements through diplomatic negotiations and the new United Nations Organization. These efforts, however, clearly revealed that substantive progress in international exchange of information and control of atomic energy would become possible only when ways were found to remove the numerous and persistent causes of fundamental distrust among the nations of the world.