SHARON FAWCETT: I'm Sharon Fawcett, the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries, and on behalf of the nation’s 13 Presidential Libraries and the National Archives and Records Administration, I welcome you to this third Presidential Library Conference: The Presidency in the Nuclear Age. Today’s gathering follows our 2007 conference on The Presidency and the Supreme Court held at the FDR Library, and our 2006 conference on Vietnam and the Presidency held here, and I think many of you in the audience may have been at that conference.
These symposia are just one way in which the Presidential Libraries collaborate to share resources and educate the public. We also work together on a variety of initiatives, including traveling exhibits, interactive websites like the presidential timeline, institutes for teachers, and national issues’ forums that allow the public to convene in our Libraries and discuss the pressing policy issues and challenges of our time.
Outside in the hallway is an example of our joint collaborations, an exhibit curated by Kennedy Library curator, Stacey Bredhoff, with photos and documents from the collections of the Presidential Libraries. This display, highlighting key moments in presidential history related to nuclear arms, demonstrates the power of our unique holdings to teach new generations about our national history.
The exhibit features a photo of Winston Churchill meeting with Franklin Roosevelt. As you may know, President Roosevelt conceived and was the first to build a Presidential Library and donate it and give it to the National Archives. And dedicating his Library, located next to his boyhood home in Hyde Park, New York, FDR stated that “to maintain archival facilities, a nation must believe in three things: it must believe in the past, it must believe in the future. But above all, it must believe in the capacity of its own people to learn from the past so as to gain judgment in creating their own future.”
At about the same time, Franklin Roosevelt had another building built on the eastern end of his family estate; he called it Top Cottage. It was his own private retreat where he could bring friends and allies to discuss the state of the world. Nestled on top of a hill overlooking the Hudson River, it was there that many believe he first discussed with Winston Churchill the effort to build an atomic bomb.
Today, we gather at the Library here strengthened by the belief that in examining our past, we can better safeguard our planet and our future. We will analyze how the news an American president shared in June of 1942 with his British counterpart would reshape history and the American presidency. We will discuss President Truman’s decision to use the bomb to end World War II, the famed 13 days in October in which a cataclysmic nuclear exchange was barely avoided, and efforts since that time to limit the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.
We will hear directly from two former presidents, a secretary of state and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, presidential advisors, diplomats, Pulitzer prize-winning historians, journalists, and from you, the audience, by way of your written questions. I want to thank all of the Presidential Libraries and those of their Foundations who, along with the Foundation for the National Archives, have lent their support to this conference, and to C-SPAN for broadcasting these proceedings nationally. And I thank all of you for coming. I'd like for just a moment for the representatives from the Libraries and the Foundations and the Kennedy Library staff to stand up and be recognized. [applause]
It now gives me great pleasure to introduce the 41st President of the United States to formally open our proceedings. Now, we invited him to consider parachuting down in celebration to launch this event, but it seems he only goes skydiving on his birthday. But he did agree to send this video, which was taped last week at his seaside retreat in Maine. So ladies and gentlemen, the 41st President of the United States, President George Herbert Walker Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Good morning, welcome. It’s my great pleasure to help open the third national conference sponsored by the National Archives, and by our nation’s 13 Presidential Libraries, from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. It could not be more appropriate that this conference is being held in Boston and hosted by the John F. Kentucky Presidential Library. President Kennedy understood the power of history to enlighten our national leaders as they face the unique challenges of our times. I know that his fascination with the past was instilled by his parents and grandparents and inspired by his having been born in a city that played a pivotal role in the founding of our country. And now, his deep interest in history is carried forth by his daughter, wonderful Caroline Kennedy. And I'm so pleased to accept her invitation to share a few words to open this historic conference.
I understand that this event is helping to mark the Kennedy Library’s 30th anniversary, and I salute that remarkable institution, as well as the other 12 Presidential Libraries for the important work they all do. I should note that the current director of the Kennedy Library, Tom Putnam, grew up here in Kennebunk, Maine, and worked as a volunteer for me at my home on Walker’s Point during the 1980 campaign. I'm pleased that the interest in politics and the presidency that we saw in him as a teenager has led him to take on a leadership role in the Presidential Library system.
The chosen topic, too, could not be more timely. As the world faces the prospect of more countries gaining access to nuclear materials, it is fitting for the Presidential Libraries to gather historians, scholars, and foreign policy practitioners together, getting them together to discuss the presidency in the nuclear age. I applaud all of those who’ve been involved in organizing this conference and look forward to hearing more about your deliberations. [applause]
TOM PUTNAM: Good morning. I'm Tom Putnam, the Director of the Kennedy Library, at least I hope I'm still the Director of the Kennedy Library after President Bush just revealed my flirtations with the Republican Party as a senior in high school. [laughter] Perhaps that's proof that Presidential Libraries are truly nonpartisan organizations, or maybe just that the vetting process for Presidential Library Directors is not as stringent as what goes on in Washington these days.
Anyway, I want to make just a few brief announcements before we get under way. I want to thank our conference producer, Amy Macdonald, and our Director of Education, Nancy McCoy, for all their work putting today’s event together. We’ll be taking written questions from the audience. We passed out index cards as you came in, and there'll be people on the sides to collect those questions, and they'll have more index cards if you need one.
We’ll be using some film clips throughout the day, and those have been given to us by the various Presidential Libraries. They're of varying quality, but that's based really at the time many of those videos were taken. We’ll do our best to keep on schedule. Please note that we’ll open each of the next sessions with video clips so if for some reason you prefer not to watch the video clips, the only thing that we ask is that you not be out in this main hallway because sometimes that can be distracting for those who wish to view them.
In an effort to save time, we won’t have formal introductions of all of our panelists, but that's why we put together that beautiful program booklet. It has detailed biographical information and the moderators, or I will just let you know who each person on the stage is so that you can connect the face with the name.
One program update, ABC Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent, Martha Raddatz, had to travel to Yemen this weekend. Fortunately for us, though, her husband, Tom Gjelten of NPR News, is here in her stead. Caroline Kennedy will join us later today and offer some opening remarks for our afternoon sessions. But I also want to note that we're pleased to have with us Clifton Truman Daniel, the son of Margaret Truman Daniel and grandson of President Truman here with us today. And, Clifton, if you could stand so we could welcome you? [applause]
In the exhibit that Sharon mentioned in the foyer, one of the most arresting documents is a handwritten entry from Harry Truman’s diary dated July 25th, 1945, nine days after the first test. The president writes, “We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire prophesied in the Euphrates Valley era after Noah and his fabulous Ark. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd, or Stalin’s, did not discover this atom bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.”
To tell the story behind that diary entry of both the development and use of the first atomic bomb, please join me in welcoming our first panel, Reverend Wilson Miscamble, Richard Rhodes, and Jenny Conant. Thank you. [applause]
JENNET CONANT: We're going to begin by discussing whether or not Roosevelt really had any choice whether or not to develop the bomb. It really goes back to a terrible coincidence, and that coincidence was the discovery of fission in Germany in 1938 at the same time as the heightening of Nazi aggression in Europe. So the question really, I think, for you gentlemen to start with is once those events took place, was there ever going to be a turning back from the scientists’ point of view? Richard, why don’t you start us off?
RICHARD RHODES: You know, it’s interesting to look at the front page of the New York Times during this period. There were many stories about the discovery of nuclear fission, about its potential for driving steamships across the ocean but also its potential for war. It was not a secret. The science was not a secret. The original papers on the discovery of fission, and then one about the theoretical developments behind that, had appeared in international science journals in late ’38 and early ’39. This was not a secret. It was something that everyone who understood a little bit about the science realized was a momentous change in our ability to release energy from the nucleus of the atom.
And therefore, for me, I think for anyone who looks at this information, the notion that there was a kind of a Faustian bargain, which has been a common portrayal, particularly of Robert Oppenheimer and his early work moving toward Los Alamos and the development of the bomb, the notion that there was some sort of Faustian bargain is fundamentally wrong. The question from the beginning was who was going to follow through and develop such a weapon? And the great concern on the part of particularly the émigré physicists who ended up being the ones who did the primary work on the American bomb, was would Nazi Germany get there first? Because the discovery had been made in Germany, many of the leading physicists in Germany were deeply involved in the development of nuclear physics. They seemed to have a head start over the rest of the world. There was a profound sense of fear, a race toward developing the atomic bomb, which held the program for at least the first few years.
JENNET CONANT: And as those reports from those émigré scientists came in, and many of them fled to this country but they had a network at home, and they began reporting to leaders in this country that there were rumors that there was research going on in Germany, and that Germany was ahead of us in the development of a very powerful new kind of weapon. Now, as these reports came through and we had civilian scientists, leaders of institutions like Vannevar Bush of the Carnegie Institution, James B. Conant, the President of Harvard, Carl Compton, President of MIT, as these men heard these reports from the scientists that were coming in, taking university positions, they grew alarmed and, of course, we have very quickly to move through history, we have Leo Szilard, a very famous Hungarian scientist who drafted his friend, Albert Einstein, to write a letter, finally, to President Roosevelt warning of the danger that the Germans might develop such a weapon first. Bill, tell us what were the immediate ramifications, do you think, for Roosevelt in trying then to decide what to do?
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Interestingly, Roosevelt is not the most receptive to the original Einstein letter. It’s not that he realizes immediately all the details in the way that those scientists that you've just mentioned, Jenny, realized the implications. He moves relatively slowly. The British are quite aware of the German scientists, the potential for the bomb, and their MAUD Committee report galvanizes, I think, when that's reported in detail to the American scientists. It’s then that FDR begins to realize, of course, that the United States has moved closer and closer, the danger of Hitler appearing greater and greater. It’s then that he galvanizes and the incredible effort of the Manhattan Project is sort of put under way.
The scientists initially think that they may be able to handle this venture, but they realize early on they're going to need all the weight and immense force of the American military in a wartime situation to gather the infrastructure needed for the science that Richard, of course, has written about so well. And so, it's from that point on that FDR is behind the venture -- enormous amounts of money committed to this venture. So it takes him a little time to get behind what we now know as the Manhattan Project. But, eventually, he does.
It's kind of interesting to think of that original Einstein letter. You think, “Oh Einstein, he must have really reacted.” But poor Einstein had all sorts of difficulty gaining access to FDR and had other things on his mind.
JENNET CONANT: And he was an old man of science by that time, not on the cutting edge.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Exactly.
JENNET CONANT: It's interesting to note, just generally speaking, that part of the problem was not that the weapon could be built, but whether it could be built in time to use in this war. There was great concern on the part of the scientists, and certainly the wartime leaders, that any resources and manpower would be used, siphoned off, to develop a project that would yield a weapon that would not be useful in time for the war. And so this was the initial concern and probably the initial reason for a lot of the sluggishness. Once it became apparent that such a weapon was going to be feasible with a Herculean effort, but feasible, then it got started in earnest.
RICHARD RHODES: The key really was the difference between a letter from a physicist and a report from the British government that described what sort of machinery you have to build, what kind of chemical and physical work you have to do. It became suddenly visible and practical.
I'd like to compare, I'd like to use a simple image that came from Bertrand Goldschmidt, one of the French scientists who worked in America. He started from a laboratory bench in 1938, the discovery of fission, to the end of the war in 1945, the United States Manhattan Project scaled up to the scale of the U.S. automobile industry in 1945. That was the huge, huge project, that was the process that they had to go through.
JENNET CONANT: And on that point that you both made of it becoming a military project and then ramping up in terms of billions of dollars, billions of dollars in manpower, resources, money. Was there any doubt from the moment this project was conceived that they were building a weapon and a weapon that would be used?
RICHARD RHODES: I don't think so. I think it was clear from the beginning. And again, I want to emphasize how much particularly the émigré scientists felt it was a race against Nazi Germany. Someone said late in the war the notion of a Third Reich defended and powered by atomic bombs for a thousand years was terrifying to everyone.
JENNET CONANT: Yes, James B. Conant said to Harvard students, “The worst possibility we face is not war; the worst possibility we face is the complete victory of totalitarianism.” I think it sums up the feeling of the scientists at that point, that the risk to western civilization, democracy, freedom and everything we held dear was far greater than what they felt at that point was the risk of developing and using such a weapon.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: I think for some of the politicians involved, the more effort expended on the Manhattan Project, it sort of added to the momentum. The project developed a momentum such that it became almost inconceivable that they wouldn't use the product of so much scientific energy, but also so much expenditure of money. That certainly influenced, I think, James F. Burns when we get towards the Truman period of discussion. Burns was a domestic politician, as was Harry Truman. They looked on this as an enormous public investment and they certainly, I think, never really conceived that it wouldn't be used.
RICHARD RHODES: Everyone knows that the Corps of Engineers uses, when they're building dams, the excuse that, “Well, we're half done. We need the rest of the money to finish the job.” It was true for the Manhattan Project, too.
JENNET CONANT: You make a good point in your book, Richard, also that even as early as ’43 and all during ’44, there were constant conversations about the postwar effect. There were constant concerns among the scientists. They saw right away that this was going to be a weapon of revolutionary capacity, a completely different class of weapons that would have an enormous effect on international relations. Right away, those conversations started to take place. Interestingly enough, while there was enormous attention paid to this concern, there was very little conversation about whether or not the bomb would be used.
RICHARD RHODES: I guess as I've looked over what the scientists were talking about, they really … First of all, they needed a reason beyond making a weapon of mass destruction. When Oppenheimer went around to the universities to recruit people for Los Alamos and elsewhere, he couldn’t tell them what they would be doing. So what he told them, typically, was, “This thing that we're going to be working on may end this war. And it may end all wars.” So even at the beginning of his recruiting for Los Alamos where they actually built the physical bombs, there was a sense that this had large implications for the future of the world.
JENNET CONANT: So take us to Roosevelt’s situation. We've had the trinity test, it works. We have bombs in development. We now have to decide how to use the bomb, where to use the bomb. Various military and scientific committees are drawn up, and the advising committees are recommending use of the first bomb on an industrial city that would be a war plant with a large population of workers clustered around it for maximum effect. The notion was that, just as in Europe, air power alone could not end the fighting, that in Japan they had demonstrated that they were very fierce fighters, that they would fight to the death. We knew this from the horrendous death tolls in Iwo Jima and Okinawa. That we could carpet bomb the cities before we sent in troops, but there would be a horrendous loss of life, both of Japanese and of Allied soldiers. So the concept was that you would use this bomb without prior warning to shock the Japanese into surrender.
RICHARD RHODES: Let’s be clear. The decision to bomb cities, to kill civilians had been made three years earlier in Europe. And by the summer of ’45, it had also begun in Japan when at the beginning of August 1945 every Japanese city of more than 50,000 population had been firebombed and basically burned out with the loss of at least a million Japanese civilian lives. The question of the decision to drop the bomb, which has become in school programs all over America a fundamentally moral question, was already resolved, if you will, within our government and our military by then. It was not believed that these weapons were different in order of magnitude of destruction from firebombing. And in fact, they were not.
JENNET CONANT: The conventional bombing of Tokyo in one night using really old-fashioned jelly gasoline, incendiary bombs, killed 100,000 in one night. So it was not seen by the scientists, really, as a moral issue.
RICHARD RHODES: And to make sure that the bomb was as conventional as possible -- because there was concern about the radiation being the equivalent of poison gas, which of course we had foresworn during the war -- the bomb was deliberately set to go off 1,800 yards above ground zero so that there would be no churning up of soil and irradiating of soil and production of a lot of radioactive materials. They wanted -- they the scientists in Los Alamos, the military and in Washington -- wanted this weapon to function basically as a blast weapon like any other high explosive. In fact, it was essentially a firebomb, and most of the casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were caused by the firestorms that followed the use of the weapon, not by radiation or even by blast. So the issue really came down to something that in the eyes of the people making the decision at the time seemed to be, “Should we use a really big explosive, not an atomic bomb, but a really big explosive to convince the Japanese to surrender?”
Let me just throw in one other point here. We were so angry at the Japanese by 1945, we knew we had basically destroyed their wartime economy. They were down to a thousand calories a day per citizen. They were going to run out of bullets within a year. We had mined their harbors. We had completely surrounded the island with ships. We had destroyed their air force. We couldn’t understand why they wouldn't surrender, and the hope was, as it was described, that this bomb would shock them into deciding that it was time to fold. And, in fact, it did.
JENNET CONANT: And the other aspect of that same point was the Japanese were known to be extremely proud. They had, in Iwo Jima, they had fought to the death, and you had 20,000 dead. And then only about a thousand allowed themselves to surrender. So the feeling was perhaps the bomb, as this new form of revolutionary science, would have almost a mystical quality that would allow the Japanese imperial army and navy to sort of surrender with dignity, to sort of yield to this greater power and say, “We cannot fight this.” That was a large part of the thinking behind the notion that you would not warn them, that you could not test this weapon in advance, which is a very popular thing that is now debated in schools. Why would you test a …
WILSON MISCAMBLE: There was some effort, Jenny, to say there is going to be a major attack.
JENNET CONANT: Yes, there was.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: It wasn't a specific warning.
JENNET CONANT: At Potsdam, yes.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: “We're going to drop an atomic bomb upon you.”
JENNET CONANT: We warned them of a devastating attack.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: A devastating attack. So there was a limited warning and they did explore, and some of the scientists, of course, wanted them to explore further the idea of some sort of demonstration of the force of the weapon. And this was deemed not to be feasible, that the Japanese might move American POWs to the area where a test was to be designated or something of that sort. Plus, they had a limited number of bombs. They were making use of what they had and the momentum was to try and force an end to the war as quickly as possible.
We live in a post-Hiroshima world. I think sometimes we read back in for the domestic policymakers. They didn't know all the details and implications of what we think of as the atomic bomb beforehand. So there was this thinking, “It’s a much larger weapon. Perhaps it will have the beneficial impact on the Japanese.” But not all policymakers thought these weapons would end the war. All the preparations for the invasion of Kyushu were continuing apace. And, indeed, General Marshall was wondering perhaps we’ll be able to use some of these bombs as part of the land invasion to, if you will, soften up the Japanese defenses on that island. So the uncertainty of the policymakers needs to be appreciated.
RICHARD RHODES: And of the weapons themselves.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Yes, they weren't sure how they would … The one test at Alamogordo, okay …
JENNET CONANT: The one bomb.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Yeah, one bomb.
JENNET CONANT: Phil Morrison had a great line. I'll paraphrase where he said, “These were more complicated pieces of laboratory equipment than proven weapons.” They did not have 100 percent confidence that they would work; they could work partially. And worst case scenario, they could be a dud. So you didn't really want to give advance warning of what might be a dud. And also these weapons had been tested, one of them had been tested, but they had never been used in combat. So these were very far from a predictable weapon. And so the scientists had very grave questions about the outcome.
Now, Bill, bring us up to speed. We've talked a great deal about Roosevelt. He’s been briefed at every stage of this. He is the one that godfathered the project and shepherded it through. He dies, however, before it has to be used. Truman comes to office and in two weeks, I think, he’s in office before Henry Stimson finally brings him up to speed. Tell us about that conversation?
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Truman had some limited familiarity with the Manhattan Project only to the extent that he knew vast amounts of resources were being expended on this major sort of infrastructure scheme, but no real knowledge of the atomic bomb. Stimson mentions it briefly to him on his first day in office, but really it’s two weeks until there's a serious briefing and Henry Stimson, of course, was the Secretary of War. He and General Groves give Truman a substantial briefing. Truman has a whole series of issues on his plate. You can imagine him dealing with a war that's taking place in Europe, worrying about the Pacific war as well and the need to move troops across there, etc., difficult relations developing at this point with the Soviets.
While some historians want to say he focuses completely and begins to channel his decision-making in light of the potential of the atomic bomb, I don't think there's strong evidence to support that. He begins to look upon the bomb as a potential weapon that may help in ending the war. He goes off to Potsdam to the conference held in mid-July in the suburbs of Berlin intent on gaining Stalin’s entry into the war against Japan, thinking that Soviet support would be needed to tie down the Japanese army in Manchuria, looking ahead not seeing these as sort of alternate courses -- that if they drew the Soviets in, this may obviate the need to use the bomb. For Truman, it was hit them with everything to force their surrender as quickly as possible. It was not an either/or, it was a both/and. He was trying to get the Soviets into the war and planning to use the bomb.
It’s at Potsdam that he hears news of the successful test of the weapon and I can see where his new Secretary of State, James F. Burns, began to think a little, “Perhaps we don't need Soviet involvement to the extent we thought we might have.” But for Truman, he was never involved in the atomic diplomacy machinations that some historians suggest. So he looks upon it as an opportunity to save American lives. He really was not thinking and not presenting him as a moral paragon who was concerned about Japanese civilian lives. He wanted to end the war and save American lives. And that drove his thinking on this matter. You know, it’s the course of action that he pursued right through until the end. I believe that subsequent to the use of the weapons, he did have serious considerations and moral qualms about it because he was living in a post-Hiroshima world and began to see the damage that this one weapon had to …
JENNET CONANT: We're going to look at a clip in just a second that echoes what you've just said, which will be Truman explaining his decision to use the bomb and to drop it on Hiroshima. Remember that at this point, really, what you said -- to summarize -- is that it really was seen as a deus ex machina end of war, final and swift. And that the idea was to save the maximum number of lives. And the value of the bomb at that point to policymakers and to the President seemed to outweigh its risks down the line which were still hazy in their view, of the risks to civilization in the future. Let's look at this clip. This is from the Truman Library archives.
JENNET CONANT: Richard, the vast majority of the Los Alamos scientists fully supported and later expressed no remorse at the using of the Hiroshima bomb. Nagasaki was a different story.
RICHARD RHODES: There was a sense, I think, that the bomb was used at Nagasaki too quickly, not giving the Japanese time to absorb what had happened before, and perhaps the beginnings of what Wilson is calling a post-Hiroshima state of mind -- that these really were revolutionary weapons. But I want, I think, to emphasize also what actually happened at the end of the war. The bombs probably didn't lead to the end of the war, the Japanese surrender. The latest research by a Japanese American scholar would indicate that it was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and then coming down the Kurils and really getting very close to Hokkaido that led the Japanese finally to decide that it was time to throw in the towel.
However, I like to emphasize as well that the Emperor, who had to step into politics in an unprecedented way for the first time, used the bomb as a reason why he should do so and why he should give the weight of his authority to the peace party within the Japanese government. So that notably when he broadcast his re-script to the Japanese people on the 15th of August, he spoke specifically of a new and most terrible weapon of war as a reason why he and his people should, he said, think the unthinkable and accept the surrender.
So the bomb had its part I would say almost as a psychological weapon. But the real determining factor seems to have been the fact that the Soviet Union joined the war. It had been neutral up to that point. And Stalin, when he got word of the bomb at Hiroshima, he hadn’t really believed there was such a thing before, even though his own scientists were working on it. When he heard of Hiroshima, he moved up the time from the 15th of August when his country was supposed to start fighting the Japanese to the 8th of August.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: That's a highly contested area, as you know well.
RICHARD RHODES: Oh, yes.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: As to what actually caused the Japanese surrender. And while I think you're referring to Professor Hasegawa’s book, Racing the Enemy, while he wants to downplay the atomic bomb, I think it’s hard to separate out, when you have this dual punch against the Japanese, how to separate the relative importance of the Soviet declaration of war and quick entry into the war and the use of the atomic bombs. For me, I find the Emperor’s intervention decisive in the Japanese surrender. Even after the use of the bombs, even after the Soviet declaration, the Japanese military wanted to continue the fight. The Japanese war cabinet is divided. It’s three to three when they come to the Emperor. That should have necessitated the resignation of the Suzuki government, but the Emperor decides to step down from the imperial throne and to join that discussion.
And when one looks at what motivated him, and I see him as the decisive figure, I see the bomb, the use of the bombs as much more important. So if he’s the decisive figure and the bombs influenced him decisively, then I think one can draw a conclusion that the atomic bombs are crucial in forcing Japan's surrender at the time it takes place. And this is a matter that historians, obviously historians, enjoy in engaging in debate and discussion and this controversial decision has been much debated, sometimes presenting Truman in a quite unfavorable light as knowing the Japanese were on the verge of surrender, going ahead and using the bombs anyway. That interpretation, I think, should be confined to the dustbin.
Truman used the bomb primarily to defeat Japan. That was his principal motivation and, of course, to save American lives. And I believe it had the desired impact. I'm not dismissing the contribution of the Soviet declaration of war, but it’s a joint thing. That's precisely what they were after.
RICHARD RHODES: My general impression in writing history is that when there are five reasons, all five apply. That people are sufficiently complicated, yeah. I would add, though, that the largest air raid on Japan by our conventional bombers was the 14th of August, and it was in the northern part of Japan. And it would seem to have been a way of basically telling the Russians to back off. Because really the alternative to what happened would have been a divided Japan, like divided Germany. And I think we were most concerned to make sure that the Russians made as little encroachment down into the Japanese islands as possible.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Certainly the Soviet ambitions, they asked for a joint military command of the occupation of Japan, wanting something similar. And they had declared war six days earlier.
RICHARD RHODES: Yes, exactly.
JENNET CONANT: Now, in terms of the Soviets, all this time that they are considering the war and the outcome of the war, they're also very seriously worried about the post-war ramifications of the use of the bomb, particularly in terms of the Soviets. The scientists, Niels Bohr being one of the most outspoken leaders, but certainly Conant and Bush came on board with the view that you had to have international agreement, complete international agreement to control these weapons after the war, or we would have a devastating arms race.
The Soviets were key to this agreement. But nobody felt it was going to be easy to bring the Soviets to the table when we already had nuclear superiority or the nuclear edge. Part of the feeling about using the bombs was it not that you would also shock the Soviets? That the fear that this weapon might inspire might make them more cooperative in postwar talks?
RICHARD RHODES: I think it was clear that that was somewhere factored in. Certainly in the thinking of Bryant because he was approached by Leo Szilard and other scientists with this issue in mind and then when he went to London shortly after the war to have talks with the Soviets. He, of course, was famously talking about having a bomb in his pocket and trying to scare the Russians.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: That, Richard, though, was a rather joking remark. I'm not here to defend James F. Burns …
RICHARD RHODES: Indeed.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: But what is notable in my view is how limited were the American efforts to utilize their possession of the atomic bombs in diplomacy? And I think this is because Truman and Burns were broadly continuing the Rooseveltian policy of wanting some sort of cooperative relationship with the Soviets. And Burns’ remark to Molotov was only in response to Molotov’s joke and comment to him, “Do you have a bomb in your pocket?”
RICHARD RHODES: Yes, indeed.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: So it needs to be understood in context. Folks take out a particular quotation delivered in a joking remark and suggest that Jimmy Burns was at the conference table threatening the Soviets, “If you don’t agree to what I suggest, we’ll lob one into the Kremlin.” That was hardly the approach at all, hardly the approach at all. What is more notable is that Atchison and David Lilienthal, delegated by Truman to come up with some kind of plan, come up with a reasonable plan for international control of the weapons in late ’45 and into ’46. And most folks would say that the decision by Burns and Truman to put the financier, Bernard Baruch, as the negotiator for that plan, hampered the likelihood of its being accepted. But there were efforts made for international control in late 1945 and in ’46.
JENNET CONANT: But not stupendous efforts, Richard?
RICHARD RHODES: Well, let’s just say the Atchison, Lilienthal plan was developed by a committee that included as its chairman Robert Oppenheimer and a number of really hardheaded business and engineering leaders. It was a plan that will ultimately be the way, with some modifications, the way we do get rid of nuclear weapons, I think.
JENNET CONANT: Quickly outline that plan, that school of thought?
RICHARD RHODES: It basically said that all aspects of the development of nuclear energy would be under international control from the mining of uranium ore to the production of the metal, etc., all the way through.
JENNET CONANT: And called for frequent inspections, tight controls of production.
RICHARD RHODES: Exactly. However, and this is what bothered Baruch so much, it did not have any mechanism for enforcement. There was not going to be a United Nations army that would defend the mines and defend the factories. And this puzzled Baruch a great deal. He said, “What if someone decides to cheat? What if someone decides to start building a bomb?” And Oppenheimer said, “Well, that would be an act of war, wouldn't it?” Meaning that if the means were distributed more or less equally around the world, as they are today, and one country decided to cheat on an agreement to have no nuclear weapons, ultimately if diplomacy failed and conventional forces failed, the other countries could also begin to develop nuclear weapons again. At worst then we would come to today, end up where we are right now, which is with nuclear weapons around the world on 15 minutes warning time. That would be the worst case scenario under this plan. So I think in the long run, what Oppenheimer and his committee put together made great sense. But it didn't make sense to Baruch. It wasn't conventional enough. It didn't take into account from Baruch’s point of view the question of who’s going to defend the mines and so forth.
JENNET CONANT: There was also the notion of secrecy. Secrecy became a very contentious issue in this time. The Oppenheimer committee essentially believed that these scientific secrets could not be safeguarded, that they would leak out. That science has a way of gaining its own momentum, that it moves forward, that other scientists would, in other countries, would develop these weapons in their own time. Therefore, the secrecy was sort of a moot point. This was not a popular notion with everybody and not a popular notion with the U.S. military. And this led to quite a division. Explain, Richard, where that took us as we come to the years post-Hiroshima immediately, the super, essentially? When you talk about Teller and the super?
RICHARD RHODES: Oh, I see. I’m not sure in the context of secrecy what you mean?
JENNET CONANT: Well, he was developing a super bomb that he thought could be safeguarded, that would give us a greater edge, more powerful weapons?
RICHARD RHODES: Well, I see this in the context of those years right after the war when we felt that we were secure internationally because we had sole monopoly on nuclear weapons. The Soviets had never pulled all their troops out of Europe. They had three or four million men on the ground in Europe. We had come home in great numbers, leaving everything behind as we left, as one of the generals said. But we had the bomb. And, therefore, even Edward Teller, who was notably paranoid about the Soviet Union throughout his life, went off to the University of Chicago to work physics again and felt so secure that he was writing articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist about world government, if you can imagine Edward Teller writing such a thing.
Then the Soviets finished their work with the help of espionage, to be sure, and tested their bomb in August of ’49. And the balance was totally shaken as far as we were concerned. Now, they had those millions of men on the ground in Europe and they had the bomb. Teller’s response was to champion the idea of a bigger bomb, the thermonuclear, the hydrogen bomb, which would be triggered by an atomic bomb, but would be capable of being built to any volume and scale that you wanted. And that, of course, in the course of about three months of work with President Truman, became the next project that was going to happen.
JENNET CONANT: Bill, why did Truman embrace this idea?
WILSON MISCAMBLE: The discussion about whether to proceed with, if you will, the next level of nuclear weapons to the decision to build the hydrogen bomb, in the end proved a relatively easy decision for Truman. It's the momentum of nuclear weapons. The Soviets having obtained the A bomb, Truman asked his advisors, “Are they likely to be working on an H bomb?” And the answer was, “Yes.” And by the way, that was the correct answer. Of course, they were working. So this debate on whether to proceed ahead pits in argument some of the classic figures of the whole story of nuclear weapons. Of course, we have Nick Thompson here with us. It pits Paul Nitze against George Kennan in a debate; Robert Oppenheimer and Kennan are strongly opposed to proceeding with the H bomb and they say, “Look, any level of destruction that we need to threaten the Soviets, the atomic bomb should suffice.”
JENNET CONANT: Is adequate, yes.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Should suffice. But the military, Edward Teller, and in the end Dean Atchison is the decisive figure on this three-person committee with the Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson. Dean Atchison is the Secretary of State, David Lilienthal was the Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission. And they recommend to Truman 2-1, Atchison and Johnson against Lilienthal, “You must proceed ahead.” So, of course, they proceed ahead with the background of the Korean War as additional momentum, and their fear that the Soviets were somehow rather gaining momentum in this contest. The Cold War is locked in place by this point and that sort of dangerous fear that somehow or other the Soviets would steal a march on the United States and have some sort of advantage over the United States, drives American decision making. Of course, this is the reason for the endless escalation in the arms race, the difficulty. It’s driven by a fear that the other side might get some sort of advantage and that they would exploit it. I'm rather glad to say we were never put in a position to see whether the Soviets would have exploited such an advantage, although the Cuban Missile Crisis is a pretty close case, obviously.
RICHARD RHODES: Let me just throw in here a couple of other names. I. I. Rabi, Isidor Rabi, saw this, who was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission at the time of this decision in ’49, made the point, along with some of his colleagues, that the decision to go ahead with a larger scale weapon was a good time to try once again to negotiate with the Soviet Union some sort of control over these weapons. That was not attempted, that was left to one side because the President basically took the advice of Dean Atchison and his Joint Chiefs. Oppenheimer argued, I think correctly, that these weapons would be more dangerous to the United States which had more major cities than they would be to the Soviet Union, which had fewer major cities, and that therefore it was not to our advantage to push this new technology that would represent weapons of megaton scale yields rather than kiloton scale yields. So there were good arguments above and beyond any moral questions about such weapons as to why it would have been a good idea not to go that way.
JENNET CONANT: And Rabi and others already foresaw that you could have smaller nations, rogue nations, petty despots, and he even foresaw a black market for the fuel, the supplies that enabled you to build a bomb. All of these dangers were discussed, actually, and brought up. People often think that we learned the hard way. Actually, many of these dangers were discussed and foreseen by the scientists. But the notion was that an arsenal of bombs would safeguard democracy.
Let’s look at Eisenhower’s famous atoms for peace speech. Now, he gave this speech in New York in 1953 before the United Nations General Assembly. The audio is not very good, so bear with us.
JENNET CONANT: Richard, the atomic dilemma. What are Eisenhower and his advisors approach going to be in the next few years?
RICHARD RHODES: This was kind of the beginnings of what led to the International Atomic Agency, this speech. And as well in the course of time and with the added influence of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this was the beginning of the movement that led to the international agreement among countries not to develop nuclear weapons in 1968. So Eisenhower had several things in mind: one was to push the peaceful uses of atomic energy as an alternative to people going nuclear in terms of weapons. We would supply that kind of knowledge and skill. We sent a lot of nuclear reactors around the world in the months and years to come, most of them fueled with weapons grade uranium, by the way, which we are now desperately trying to recover from all over the world. At the time, people really didn't think about it in that context, but that was one of the problems.
There was also beginning to be the nuclear power industry, and the Soviets were perceived to be ahead in that line of work. So there was another aspect that was basically commercial that was involved in all of this. We were trying to win over the nations of the world to a particular vision of minimal proliferation of nuclear weapons and minimal development of nuclear weapons, and to salt that and season that proposal with the advantages of nuclear technology for energy.
JENNET CONANT: It was a flawed strategy, though, was it not, Bill, in that we had the majority of these weapons and went to other countries and said, “Don’t build them?”
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Absolutely. Eisenhower’s is a complicated story. While we have atoms for peace and the seemingly very positive gestures to gain international cooperation and use of atomic power and energy, Ike made a very conscious decision to try and reduce dependence or reliance on conventional weapons and to put greater reliance upon at least the threat of nuclear weapons. And a number of times that threat certainly implied was made during his administration, perhaps even in the ending of the Korean War, certainly in the Taiwan Straits episodes, etc. And the Eisenhower administration built up the American strategic bomber force and had a greater military reliance on nuclear weapons, sort of a change from the Truman strategy of NSC-68, which had nuclear weapons and conventional forces a much greater reliance. So he’s got that military side of it while at the same time pushing atoms for peace. And I think that's part of the difficulty of being able to sell it, if you will, in the international community, folks seeing that contradiction. That was it.
JENNET CONANT: Yes, I think the Russians in particular.
RICHARD RHODES: Although there was the beginning of an agreement with the Soviets in Eisenhower’s second term, that Eisenhower was actually pushing for a nuclear test ban and came very close. Unfortunately, the U2 plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union completely bollixed that summit and made it impossible for Khrushchev, who was interested in this bargain, to follow through.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Eisenhower, the U2 episode, touches on one of Eisenhower's great concerns. I mean, it was a concern that had dominated Truman’s thinking as well: how to assure that the Soviets wouldn’t be cheating, if you will, cheating in their development? If there was to be an agreement, how would it be implemented? How would it be enforced? And the development of that plane and the amazing photography it was capable of, Ike saw it as the perfect sort of guarantee because you'd be able to look down and observe. Now eventually, it’s not needed because of satellite reconnaissance, but he had …
RICHARD RHODES: He had tried something called open skies with the Soviets, and they had not been willing to agree. That's when he authorized the U2.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: That only made him more suspicious, if they wouldn't agree to this sort of inspection system, then what must they be up to?
RICHARD RHODES: Yes, exactly.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Here's this question of fear that drives so much of the arms race.
JENNET CONANT: And in a sense, what we're talking about here is that Eisenhower has to grapple with the fact that there has never been an international committee to police this kind of weapon before. We are talking about a new instrument, an international body. And no such body has ever existed before, and they are sort of trying, muddling, to find their way into how to assemble this body and how it will work; whether it will have an army, how it will police. And it’s a slow and clumsy process.
RICHARD RHODES: When in 1960 the first corona satellites started orbiting the Earth, people who saw the film that came back from those satellites, which by the way was jettisoned from the satellite, fell down on a parachute back out of orbit into the air and was caught by a plane with a hook on its tail, as it were, extraordinary technology. [laughter] Edwin Land had developed the film package as part of his Polaroid operation, so it was an interesting piece of technology. But someone said it was as if the curtain had been drawn back on the Soviet Union. Suddenly, we could see the whole country and see it clearly, and that led to the discovery that the Soviets had essentially no ICBs, as we had feared greatly and as Kennedy had run for president on the grounds that there was a missile gap. It turned out there was no missile gap. Well, there was, but it was in our favor by a long shot. This, I think, sets the stage for …
JENNET CONANT: The next decade.
RICHARD RHODES: Yeah, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
JENNET CONANT: And a different kind of technological race.
RICHARD RHODES: Yes.
JENNET CONANT: Now, we should probably take time for some questions. Okay, first question. You said that Truman did not have moral qualms. Were there any advisors or leaders making a moral argument? Bill, you want to start us off?
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Henry Stimson, I think, had some major concerns and Stimson’s concerns are evident in his recognition of what cities would be attacked, etc., so they certainly come through. But they were not at a level where he was suggesting the bomb not be used. So he certainly is one of the senior advisors who I think had some moral qualms. Truman’s moral qualms emerge quite quickly after the use of the weapon. Someone wrote to Truman after Nagasaki and said, “I hope you have a third bomb that you could use.” And Henry Wallace, who was Secretary of Commerce at the time, quotes Truman as saying, “Oh my God, I can’t bear the thought of killing more women and kids.” He was getting all the reports back and began to see what a revolutionary kind of weapon this was and the radiation, etc., so his own moral qualms developed. While Harry Truman maintained right through his life that he didn't have regrets about the decision, that it was a decision that had saved not only American lives but saved literally thousands and thousands of Japanese lives, so he held firmly to that in his public stance, I think he felt the responsibility of the action.
So I want to suggest that he had his own sort of moral wrestling with the responsibility that he carried on his shoulders. Any American president, I think, would have made the decision he made. But the burden had come to him. He had taken it and he had to live with that decision, which I think he still believed was the right one, but it was a morally complex one.
RICHARD RHODES: There was a Navy officer on the interim committee, the committee that was deciding about these issues, who was quite adamant that this was not a weapon of war, this was a weapon of mass destruction.
JENNET CONANT: Bard, yeah.
RICHARD RHODES: And had no place whatsoever in the American arsenal. Truman, and I can say this because I'm a native of Independence, Missouri, where I spent a good part of my childhood and used to see President Truman coming out to be photographed with the tourists from his summer house, Truman really was a very stubborn man and someone who, once he made a decision, was determined that it was the right decision and that he wasn't going to rethink it. In that, I think he shared a little bit of that quality with George W. Bush. So it was not like Truman to say later that he was wrong, but it’s very clear that he was someone who was as horrified by the destructive effects on civilians of this weapon, as was the rest of the world, although you find very little protest, very little response. The only organization I could identify from the press in 1945 was the National Council of Churches, who raised questions about the use of this weapon.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: The Secretary of the National Council of Churches wrote to Truman, I think a Reverend Calvert was his name, and Truman responded back in fairly vigorous fashion saying the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they were going to continue in their resistance, this was the necessary course of action. So he responded back to criticism from a sort of moral point of view.
RICHARD RHODES: And famously, when Robert Oppenheimer went to see him that fall and said, “I have blood on my hands,” Truman said, “Get that son of a bitch out of my office. I never want to talk to him again.”
JENNET CONANT: It’s important, though, to note since you raise that that Oppenheimer in saying that did not reflect the majority of the scientific community.
RICHARD RHODES: No.
JENNET CONANT: The majority of the scientific community … My grandfather once said that the battlefield is no place to question the doctrine that the end justifies the means and that you do that in peacetime. Remember, the scientists were developing a whole range of weapons and then, as now, chemical weapons were a very rapidly advancing technology. They had no doubt that they would soon have viral agents that could be introduced that would be a threat to the globe. So you had other deadly weapons on the horizon that would have to be controlled. They had developed these terrible incendiary weapons that had killed hundreds of thousands in Japan. So, again, the bomb was not of a different moral order, it was just another kind of weapon.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Yes, Richard made that point earlier. A moral Rubicon had been crossed with Bomber Harris and the British bombing of German cities.
RICHARD RHODES: Yes, exactly.
JENNET CONANT: So Truman was also responding here to the advice he was getting from his military and scientific leaders, that this was really not a moral question. We have, I believe, a question from the audience from Mr. Sorensen.
THEODORE SORENSEN: Oh, thank you. I have heard that the Hiroshima bomb was enough to convince the Japanese, but they would not yield on the Emperor and therefore the Nagasaki bombing went ahead. They still wouldn’t yield on the Emperor and the U.S. said, “Okay, keep your Emperor.” Is that true?
JENNET CONANT: That's a complicated area, yes.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Most folks see that the Nagasaki bomb came so quickly after Hiroshima. The Japanese were still in discussions about what their response would be, so Hiroshima is August 6th, Soviet intervention August 8th, Nagasaki August 9th. I don't think the decision-making was sufficiently clear cut. What is clear is the Americans who had not conceded on the matter of the Emperor beforehand, once the Japanese sued for peace gave an assurance that the Emperor could stay subject to the authority of the American occupation commander, who was, of course, going to be Douglas MacArthur. That was a quite substantial qualification of the Emperor’s role. So sure they were saying the Emperor could stay, but it was going to be a different type of Emperor than had existed prior to the Japanese surrender.
RICHARD RHODES: And I think one of the reasons that's been lost in history as to why we were prepared at that late date to accept some role for the Japanese Emperor, I think had a great deal to do with our concern about whether the Japanese people would indeed lay down their arms, or whether they would continue, guerilla level or whatever level, to fight the occupation. It seemed clear that if we basically decapitated the Japanese state that we would be putting the country into chaos and that it would be much better to keep their structure subject to the authority of this centurion we were sending in rather than simply make the whole place fall apart. So I think we had practical reasons for changing our minds, if indeed that's what happened.
Once the bombs were released to the military, the idea was simply to keep using them as military weapons with no necessary orders from Washington, even though, of course, all this other was going on. I talked to some of the scientists who put the Nagasaki bomb together, and they all emphasized that they felt it would be decisive and that every day that was delayed in assembling it, especially since there was a typhoon coming that might then have delayed the drop until the middle or late August, was a day when more American lives were lost. Louis Alvarez, one of the physicists who flew with the bomb, told me that he liked to go look around and check things out. He said, “I went over to some of the ships in the harbor at Tinian and they were all loaded with coffins ready for the invasion.” He said that really galvanized our effort.
JENNET CONANT: One of the questions from our audience was in terms of the scale of the Manhattan Project, the number of people working, the billions of dollars devoted, how secret, really, was it?
RICHARD RHODES: It was extremely secret. Some of the people working at grids didn't know what they were building. All this material would come in in one end in these little briefcases with chemical vials in them, would go out at the other end in the hands of a counterintelligence agent. It was a great mystery and the press in the United States cooperated in not publishing any stories. There was a comic strip of Superman using atomic power in some way, and the cartoonist was called in by the FBI and told to leave that alone and change the subject. It was very much a national secret. It’s extraordinary to think of it today. How long would we keep such a secret?
JENNET CONANT: And even at lower levels, even electricians and engineers and road builders who were up at the projects didn't even tell their families what they were doing or where they’d been. So the secrecy was observed, really, quite far down the ranks.
RICHARD RHODES: The scientists figured it out fairly quickly and so did other people who had some kind of edge knowledge of the science involved.
JENNET CONANT: We have a question from someone, which says, “Were there Manhattan-like projects in Germany and Japan? And how close were they?” Really, the question should be in Russia. How close were they?
RICHARD RHODES: Well, the Russians were hampered by the fact that Stalin thought this was disinformation that he was getting from Klaus Fuchs and the other spies at Los Alamos and elsewhere in the project. He never funded the program beyond the laboratory scale until Hiroshima and the film that the Russians took at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When that reached Moscow and he saw the destruction, he suddenly believed that this was a serious thing. So the Russians were never very far along.
The Japanese were even less far along. They started working on a bomb quite early and I think, by the way, that should be weighed in the scales of the question of the moral issue of using nuclear weapons. I have no doubt that the Japanese military would have bombed us if they’d finished their bombs in time. The scale is such that they realized it would take more than a third of their national electrical supply just to run the machinery to enrich the uranium or run the reactor, and so forth, to make plutonium. So they understood early that there was no way they were going to be able to do this in time of a war. And there were no other countries -- Germany never got beyond working on a reactor. They had at the end of the war a 50 percent scale reactor fueled with uranium, metal and heavy water, which is to say if they'd built one twice as big, they would have had a functioning reactor. So they were still at the experimental level as well.
Why the Germans didn't pursue the bomb has been a fascinating and interesting question. Heisenberg, after the war, wrote an article in the journal Nature implying that they had, the scientists, had decided not to give Hitler the bomb. This, I think, was -- pardon me -- bull.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: So true.
RICHARD RHODES: The fact is they managed to get lost in all of the curious politics of academia and so forth. Heisenberg never was able to conceive the scale. He told the German who ran the industry in Germany, the architect, I'm blocking on his name …
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Albert Speer.
RICHARD RHODES: Yes, Speer. He told Speer, who said, “You can have whatever you want. What do you need?” And he said, “Well, we've got to build a little cyclotron, and then we need to build a bigger cyclotron. And then if we got those things done right, then we can go on to,” and so forth. And Speer threw up his hands, he thought this was useless. And Hitler himself never really got the idea. Hitler was much more interested in rockets, which was good for us because a rocket cost as much as a bomber and it could only carry a thousand pounds of high explosives.
JENNET CONANT: Right, across the Channel, but not the ocean.
RICHARD RHODES: That's right, exactly. So no one else really was in a position in terms of the sheer industrial capacity that the United States had available in the midst of a major world war.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: The British scientists certainly were aware of what was going on, and they were to some extent drawn into the Manhattan Project, although Churchill always worried, of course, that the United States would maintain it as their project and there were fairly testy discussions towards the end of the war and then after the war as to what role the Brits might have in gaining access to all the technology to which they had contributed so they could develop a British bomb.
RICHARD RHODES: And, in fact, we cut off Great Britain, refused to let them share in the ore that we were getting from South Africa after the war, even though we had agreed to do so before. It was a great scandal at the time. In fact, it was our refusal to cooperate with Great Britain that I think led to the decision that they were going to have to develop an independent weapon and did so.
JENNET CONANT: An audience member would like to know how close we came to dropping a bomb on Germany? How serious were we about that?
WILSON MISCAMBLE: I think very serious if a bomb had been available for use. The bomb was developed to be used against Hitler’s Germany. So I think it’s quite reasonable to suggest that was the military planning. But, of course, the war in Europe ended in the first week of May, and of course the test came in July 16th, 17th, in New Mexico.
JENNET CONANT: In fact, the question on moral qualms, this is one of the murky areas. For many of the refugee scientists, basically there were no moral qualms about dropping it on the Third Reich. They had actually more moral qualms, many of the refugee scientists who had been so critical to the bomb’s development, about using it against the Japanese. So interestingly enough it complicated the picture.
RICHARD RHODES: General Groves answered this question, who ran the Manhattan Project for the Corps of Engineers, answered this question many times. And he specifically said, “Had we had one in ’43, we certainly would have used it.” However, someone pointed out that the bomb was always planned for dropping by the B29 and there were no B29s in the European theater at all. They were exclusively for the Pacific theater. The other alternative was a big British bomber, and Groves was damned if he was going to let the first atomic bomb … He was quite an Anglophobe.
JENNET CONANT: Be dropped by a British plane.
RICHARD RHODES: Yes, exactly.
JENNET CONANT: Another question I had here from an audience member is if fear of the thousand-year Reich motivated the huge development of the Manhattan Project, could the intensity or similar fear of nuclear proliferation today now trigger an equally large, massive commitment to disarmament?
RICHARD RHODES: I think it is. I think that's exactly what we're seeing, have been seeing, since President Obama took office, and before that in the efforts of the group who essentially were veterans of the Reykjavik summit. We’ll be talking about some of this afternoon. But George Schultz and his group around Stanford and the Hoover Institution have been immensely active in the last three years in trying to move toward an international commitment to get to zero with nuclear weapons. I think we're beginning to see a little bit of progress. It’s an immensely complicated problem. The next step is probably going to be for President Obama to announce that we've reduced, or will reduce if the Russians do, our arsenal to about a thousand weapons, and then we’ll go down from there in concert with other countries where there are a lot of political issues to resolve and security issues among various states around the world before we do that. But I think process is under way. We’ll talk about that this afternoon.
JENNET CONANT: Bill, why don’t you finish us off?
WILSON MISCAMBLE: I think that will be a very challenging process precisely because the same issues that define so much of what we've talked about in the early part in the possession of nuclear weapons, the fear of what the other side may have, whoever that other side may be, is always a kind of break on the decision of any American president to risk nuclear disarmament.
RICHARD RHODES: The other side in this case also being Democrats and Republicans. Because many of these issues have not been international issues at all, they've been political issues within domestic politics within the United States.
WILSON MISCAMBLE: Sure.
TOM PUTNAM: You've given us a wonderful preview of what's to come. Join me in thanking this fabulous panel. [applause] So we’ll take a short, 15 minute break. We’ll start the film on the Cuban Missile Crisis at 10:40. And please take a minute to view the exhibit during the break time. Thank you very much.
END OF PANEL ONE