An Atom of Opposition:
Dissent Within the Manhattan Project Scientist Community
“I am become Death, The shatterer of worlds.”
~ J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Trinity Test of the First Atomic Bomb, 16 July 1945
Robert Oppenheimer ominously quoted the Bhagavad-Gita, but he did not oppose the use of the first atomic bomb, developed in the United States’ Manhattan Project and dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Afterward, many people worldwide condemned using a weapon of such tremendous destructive power against civilians. The idea that a single bomb could destroy an entire city seemed to threaten everyone.
Received historical wisdom holds that various Manhattan Project scientists opposed the Bomb’s operational use. Close reading of primary documents reveals that although a few scientists voiced moral concerns, the true nature of their opposition has frequently been overstated and misinterpreted. While some scientists did seek to substitute nonlethal demonstrations for combat deployment, their objectives were varied. Further, their moral concerns about the death and destruction caused by their weapon became more amplified only as public debate over atomic weapons grew in the post-Hiroshima world. Historians have often read into their early apprehensions a unified moral objection, when in fact there were other parallel concerns at work.[i]
Historians’ motives for this sort of selective reading often reveal timeless concerns such as a general distrust of government and a deep desire for a world free from war. Strong ideological sentiments can influence their choice and interpretation of quoted passages from primary documents. Motivations are also colored by specific anxieties and issues from the historians’ own times, such as Vietnam and Cold War politics, or challenges to U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.[ii]
Debate over the objectives and extent of dissent is relentless. For example, a major national argument arose in 1995 when the Smithsonian Institution planned to display the bomber Enola Gay to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Hiroshima event. This issue became a forum in which Cold War revisionists challenged the public to re-examine the role of government in fomenting and perpetuating war. Like the public, historians divided into camps about the content and purposes of the display. Some sought to celebrate the end of the World War and the triumph of American fighting forces over Japan. Others wished to apologize to Japan and the rest of the world for having used this terrible weapon. In defending their position, historians of either point of view often misunderstood or intentionally misrepresented the conditions under which these wartime decisions were made, the amount of knowledge government officials had, and the degrees of freedom under which they operated. Historians varied most significantly in their depiction of the moral positions taken by the individuals most intimately involved in the decision to build and deploy the atomic bomb.
The human desire to achieve an objective understanding of a historical event necessitates that we separate these biases from the reality of what actually occurred. This is especially true when the issues involve moral choices associated with war. Consequently, it is essential that we understand the processes by which individuals decided to use the terrible potential of the atomic bomb against a civilian population. If there was dissent, what form did it take and why was it not persuasive? Such decisions take on special urgency in the twenty-first century since our weapons are more plentiful, more diverse, and more powerful; and access to them far greater, than in 1945.
The specter of Mutual Assured Destruction drove vigorous nuclear disarmament efforts in the years since Hiroshima. Some historians such as Barton Bernstein and Gar Alperovitz portrayed the Manhattan Project scientific community as deeply divided, frequently citing various pre-deployment petitions and letters as evidence of their moral objection to using the atomic weapon against Japan. These interpretations depicted the opposition of Leo Szilard, Joseph Rotblat, James Franck, and others as absolute and without qualification. Representations of dissent were stated in extreme language to gain effect. For example, Philip Noble writes of “…mass killings…hailed as famous victories” and of the “good atrocities” by which the United States abandoned its practice of having “never previously made war against women and children.”[iii]
Leo Szilard, the Hungarian physicist who became a key dissenting voice, created the first nuclear chain reaction at Columbia in 1939. Szilard later recalled “There was very little doubt in my mind that the world was headed for grief.” He then warned his colleagues that due to the potential of nuclear explosives “the free exchange of ideas was no longer politically sensible.” Physicists from different countries agreed to voluntary censorship regarding the secret of a chain reaction, but “their pact unraveled when Joliot-Curie’s [French] team ignored it…Not until September 1939, when WWII began, did the belligerent nations impose secrecy.”[iv]
When Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, physicists who had fled Europe became fearful that the Germans might be working on an atomic weapon. British scientists actually preceded their American counterparts in gaining government support for further study. In the United States, physicists Szilard, Eugene Wigner and Enrico Fermi decided they must warn their government. They concluded that the Allies must develop the Bomb because “It would be better for the future peace of the world if humanity at least knew where it stands.” Fermi received an opportunity to lecture naval officers in Washington. They dismissed his concerns and later one of them referred to him as a “wop scientist.”[v]
Szilard and Wigner informed Albert Einstein of the reality of a chain reaction. Thereafter Einstein, Szilard, and Edward Teller composed a letter to alert President Roosevelt to the threat. The President took action and directed the Government to enlist Teller and Fermi to explore a controlled chain reaction that might permit the building of a new type of bomb, or as a possible power source for submarines. It appears Roosevelt never doubted that, if successfully developed, the bomb would be used against the Germans and the Japanese.[vi]
When Szilard, Wigner and Teller appeared before a government committee in October 1939 to explain the concept, they were given a small federal grant for further study. An expanded group of scientists and industrial leaders met in early 1940 and concluded that an atomic weapon would have immense destructive power. They recommended that the Government create a national project to develop an atomic bomb. British participation was sequestered until they agreed to surrender commercial claims to the new discoveries. Ironically, Szilard was deemed a security risk because of his statements that Germany might win the war unless the Americans developed the atomic bomb first. “It would be unwise to employ Mr. Szilard in secret work.” Nevertheless, the Manhattan Project launched with great urgency. General Leslie Groves headed the team of academics and administrators. He compartmentalized and distributed the scientific tasks to several different locations to enhance security. Chicago and Los Alamos were the principal sites for research and development.[vii]
In fact, the Germans were not close to developing their own bomb. Nazis distrusted “Jewish science” and erroneously decided that graphite could not be used as a reaction inhibitor. They placed all their trust in heavy water and thus when British saboteurs ruined the Norwegian heavy water plant at Vemork in November 1943 the Germans faced a dead end. The defeats of Operation Barbarossa in Russia during winter 1941-42 stressed the German economy and distracted the army. Supervision of the project moved from the German army to the weak Ministry of Education. The German program lacked both the driving personality of a Leslie Groves and the backing of a War Department.[viii]
On 12 April 1945, the day Allied Intelligence discovered that Germany did not have an atom bomb, Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. Several days later Secretary of War Stimson informed Harry Truman that the United States was a few months away from completing a terrible new weapon. The next day James Byrnes, Director of War Mobilization, told Truman “the bomb might well put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war.”[ix]
Before the Bomb could be dropped, however, the Administration and Project managers faced growing agitation among some scientists at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab). Theoretical physicists had been the darlings of the scientific world for several decades. Involvement in weapons development deeply troubled some such as Victor Weisskopf, who saw the nobility of their profession threatened by participation. “Physics, our beloved science, was pushed into the most cruel part of reality and we had to live it through.” Leo Szilard recalled, “During 1943 and part of 1944 our greatest worry was the possibility that Germany would perfect an atomic bomb before the invasion of Europe. In 1945, when we ceased worrying about what the Germans would do to us, we began to worry about what the…United States might do to other countries.” Samuel Gouldsmith, chatting with a War Department major, said “Isn’t it wonderful that the Germans have no atomic bomb? Now we won’t have to use ours.” The major replied, “Of course you understand, Sam, that if we have such a weapon we are going to use it.”[x]
Even as some scientists begin to realize that their creation might be employed against Japan, others recognized a growing comfort with its use. For example, Physicist Joseph Rotblat noted a tendency among Met Lab staff to become inured to the bomb’s potential. “While everybody agrees that a nuclear war would be an unmitigated catastrophe, the attitude towards it is becoming similar to that of a potential natural disaster, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other Acts of God…” Rotblat was the only scientist to quit – in December 1944 – as a matter of conscience after the disappearance of the Nazi threat. He had expected that the bomb would be tested in a remote location “and then the Japanese would be told ‘Look! We have this super weapon,’ and the war would be over.” But “scientists with a social conscience were a minority in the scientific community.” Rotblat later accused his colleagues of creating weapons “not because of any credible requirement for defense [but rather] to satisfy inflated egos or to experience the intense exhilaration in exploring new scientific concepts…” He labeled such activities “the prostitution of science.” When he co-authored the Russell-Einstein Manifesto with Bertrand Russell in 1955, Rotblat wrote “We feel that scientists…should appraise the perils…of the development of weapons of mass destruction.” Rotblat received the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of nuclear disarmament. Without citing proof, he maintained that that Leslie Groves said “the real objective of building the bomb was, of course, to subdue the Soviet Union. These may not have been his exact words, but they reflect what he meant to say.”[xi]
Victor Weisskopf also described how the intense focus on difficult technical issues caused moral issues to fade. Constant discussions about mega-deaths and radiation sickness “led to a growing numbness toward those terrible consequences.” Physicist Richard Feynman described similar feelings and Bernard Feld blamed the frantic pace of work as diminishing the chance to discuss alternatives once Germany was defeated. “Nobody stopped and said, ‘We are not at war with the Germans any longer…’”[xii]
Robert Wilson, a Los Alamos physicist with a Quaker background, called a meeting in early 1945 when it became evident that Germany would be beaten, to consider “next steps.” Lead scientist Robert Oppenheimer interposed and told the participants that their efforts to demonstrate the reality of the atomic bomb would lead to the United Nations dealing with the new weapon. But there was no Oppenheimer to dampen concerns at the Chicago Met Lab.[xiii]
Leo Szilard’s personality led him to insert himself into the work of others. He so interfered with fellow scientists and engineers that the Director of the Met Lab, Arthur Compton, ordered him to leave in October 1942, only to reconsider and call him back. Leslie Groves became so exasperated with the physicist that he drafted a letter for Stimson’s signature stating that “It is considered essential to the prosecution of the war that Szilard, who is an enemy alien, be interred for the duration of the war.” Stimson refused to sign. But Szilard’s agitation was not limited to technical matters. The Secretary of War wrote to the Attorney General in late 1942 saying “Leo Szilard…had encouraged the Met Lab as long ago as September 1942 to discuss the political dimensions of their labors.”[xiv]
In Roots of Dissent (1995), historian Matt Price explored Met Lab agitation in 1942 – 1944, showing that mid-level scientists routinely meddled in issues outside their official responsibilities. Dissatisfaction with administrative rules and bureaucracy led to the formation of an informal group dedicated to achieving greater control over the professional environment. Memorandums from this period document the scientists’ frustration with issues of administrative delay and regulation, which they argued could be solved by granting the scientists greater control in policy decisions. Their irritation increased when the lab was made subservient to the DuPont Company and they now had to contend with the “opinions” and “caution” of DuPont engineers.[xv]
Other historians echo Price. Richard Hewlett and Oscar Anderson, for example, observe in The New World (1962) that “with government assuming a greater role in nuclear research, the refugee scientists were eased from positions where they had a broad view of activities and a voice in policy matters. They were enemy aliens and information was increasingly on a need-to-know basis.” After studying the extensive files Szilard left at his death, historian Richard Rhodes concluded that “Szilard had chafed at his continuing exile from the high councils of government.” Szilard’s feelings of importance and rejected influence are consistent with the impression created by his wife Gertrud that “Contemptuous of physical labor, he so angered Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi with his unwillingness to do his share in the lab that Fermi refused to work with Szilard after…1939.”[xvi]
The evolving disquiet at Met Lab was not limited to eccentric egomaniacs like Szilard. With theoretical lab experiments giving way to engineering tasks, the academics in Chicago began to ponder the future. Science historian Lawrence Badash noted that in 1945, as work shifted from proof-of-concept to building an actual weapon at Los Alamos, “Research at the Met Lab had slackened…for those who felt that nuclear research should be pursued vigorously; to maintain the country’s leadership…it was a depressing time.” Historian Charles Thorpe compared Chicago scientists with the engineering-oriented team at Los Alamos. Met Lab scientists were not under the same time pressures as their Los Alamos counterparts and they suffered “intense discontent” with DuPont’s management. Consequently, they tended not to trust Project leadership. In contrast, the Los Alamos team maintained a “disciplined focus on technical problems.”[xvii]
Dissent remained largely a Chicago phenomenon. Scientists at the Hanford Engineer Works and the Clinton Plutonium Laboratory also had time on their hands but did not pursue the petition option. “The crucial factor at the Met Lab was the presence of a few extraordinary individuals” whose chief concern was an escalating struggle over authority. “The imposition…of a class of managers, as well as the subjugation of academic scientists to the authority of the military and industrial officials, [amplified conflicts from] earlier struggles for control of their own work…” Matt Price linked political dissent to workplace issues and contends that the ‘‘antinuclear” Franck Report was “very different from, say, the antinuclear movements of the 1970s and 1980s.” Others agree that some Met Lab scientists resented their estrangement from power. “Szilard and some of his colleagues resented the centralization of decision making and the fact that they had lost control over the weapon they were creating.”[xviii]
As the Chicago scientists gained more time to reflect on the consequences of their development, Szilard and Franck began to discuss the implications of nuclear weapons in the post-war world. “Franck, alone among the scientists on the A-bomb project, had wrung a promise when he joined the venture in 1942, that he could raise moral problems about the actual combat use of the weapon if Germany had not developed it before the United States did.” [xix]
An “Association of Scientific Personnel” unsuccessfully attempted to organize at the Met Lab in mid-1943 in order “to accept the responsibility to society which development of the project entails.” Then in April 1944 Met Lab personnel became alarmed that their funding would be redirected to industry. James Franck authored a memo that captured these concerns and proposed remedies that focused on the scientists’ job security and control over their work. Historian Price interpreted that Szilard’s memo stressed the scientists’ belief that “…the bomb belonged…to nuclear physics; thus they could suppose that, as scientists, they had the right to propose its international control.”[xx]
Some historians have raised Szilard to the level of folk hero and saint for his persistent opposition. At the time, he was described by his colleagues with a mixture of reverence and bafflement: “He tends to overestimate the role of rational thought in human life” (Albert Einstein); “A dedicated non-conformist” (Edward Teller). In a typical self-serving description, Szilard said “Mass murderers have always commanded the attention of the public, and atomic scientists are no exception to this rule.” His assumption that scientists – with himself in the lead – should acquire extraordinary influence is suggested by the fact that in 1930 he devised the idea of forming a German Bund of talented and altruistic intellectuals who would lead the government when the Weimar Republic collapsed. This idea presaged his later designs in which a group of scientist-intellectuals would save the world.[xxi]
In a 1943 memo addressed to other senior physicists and titled “What is Wrong With Us?” Szilard detailed the frustration in Chicago and the imperative that “scientists step outside the strictly defined limits of their authority and actively manage themselves,” that is, to create an academic environment where senior scientists were not managed at all. Price implied that the call for technocratic management was naïve because it “amounts to a plea for scientist participation in government.”[xxii]
Szilard’s desire for influence and imagined self-importance grew until in 1945 he would say “I thought to myself how much better off the world might be had I been born in America and become influential in American politics…In all probability there would have been no atomic bomb and no danger of an arms race between America and Russia.” In early 1945 Szilard had still voiced no formal reservations about using the atomic bomb against an enemy. He did however stress that to gain some sort of post-war international control over atomic energy, it was essential that the bomb be used. “It will hardly be possible to get such political action unless…atomic bombs have actually been used in this war…”[xxiii]
Unlike Franck and Szilard, most scientists were caught up in the Project. Theodore Taylor, one of the chief designers at Los Alamos, remembered the excitement: “The most stimulating factor of all was simply the intense exhilaration that every scientist and engineer experiences when he or she has the freedom to explore completely new technical concepts and then bring them into reality.” Further, the majority of the team was pragmatic about using the weapon. Claudio Segre, a member of the Los Alamos team whose mother and in-laws had been murdered by the Nazis, told his son “There are lots of things to go to hell for, but working on the bomb isn’t one of them…It was because there was a man like Hitler.” Edward Teller had read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon during his first few weeks at Los Alamos, solidifying his distrust of communism and leading him to view the bomb as a deterrent against the Soviet Union. “That really settled my mind.” Some scientists were even cavalier about the weapon’s grim lethality. Leslie Groves reported that the evening before the Trinity test, Fermi offered to take wagers from his fellow physicists about whether the bomb would ignite the atmosphere and destroy the world. There was some actual doubt about this question.[xxiv]
Fermi’s gallows humor coincided with the real and chilling decisions to pick targets for the new weapon. Conventional bombing had reduced many Japanese cities to ruin. In March 1945 the AAF began incendiary raids intended to devastate the population centers. The raids razed 40 percent of the urban area of the 66 cities attacked, rendering homeless twenty-two million people, and 30 percent of Japan’s entire population. The 2,200,000 civilian casualties included 900,000 fatalities, more than exceeding Japan’s combat casualties of 780,000.[xxv]
The new president, Harry Truman, became fully involved just as the government’s “Target Committee” met May 10 – 11, 1945 to consider six different options for the atomic weapon, ranging from tactical use in the invasion of Japan, to use against a city without warning. Two selection criteria were that the targets be in a large urban area of more than three miles in diameter, and that they be capable of being damaged effectively by a blast. One of Hiroshima’s qualifications was that it was “an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is … such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. Adjacent hills…are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage.” Interestingly, Groves persisted in wanting Kyoto as the primary bomb target because “it was large enough in area for us to gain complete knowledge of the effects of an atomic bomb.” The sacred nature of the site, with a probable higher level of civilian casualties, was not a consideration.[xxvi]
The Committee produced three broad recommendations: aiming points need not be specified, industrial targets need not be given high priority because the remaining factories were too small and highly dispersed, and the bomb should be dropped in the center of the city. In other words, argues historian Gerald DeGroot, talk of military targets was “mere window dressing designed to assuage the guilt of those who found terror bombing unpalatable.”[xxvii]
In mid-May as part of preparations for the Potsdam Conference, Truman appointed an “Interim Committee” to advise him on all matters relating to the new weapon. The Interim Committee delegated this job to four scientists – Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi, Ernst Lawrence, and Robert Oppenheimer. Prior targeting of civilians in Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo was the context for the Committee’s May 31 recommendation that “a surprise attack on a military or industrial target surrounded by workers’ homes would have the greatest psychological impact.” The scientists did not know if the Bomb would work flawlessly, or if it would kill more civilians than a conventional air raid. They were not certain of the destructive potential of either bomb at the present level of technology, nor of the long-term effects of radiation poisoning. Minutes of the meeting illustrate their uncertainty: “It was pointed out that one atomic bomb in an arsenal would not be much different from the effect caused by any Air Corps strike of present dimensions. However, Dr. Oppenheimer stated that the visual effect of an atomic bombing would be tremendous.” By this time the concept that widespread attacks could be made against civilians was commonplace. Conventional raids had made about 22,000,000 people homeless, one-third of the urban population of Japan. Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that the Interim Committee confirmed “we could not give the Japanese any warning; that we could not concentrate on a civilian area; but that we should seek to make a profound psychological impression on as many of the inhabitants as possible…the most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by worker’s houses” (emphasis added unless noted). Thus the Committee implicitly recommended terror bombing of civilians.[xxviii]
Gerard DeGroot is one of the historians who argue that for most Manhattan Project scientists the Bomb had been a deterrent, never a weapon. “When it became clear that Germany was not building a bomb, the need to deter disappeared and the moral justification for the research evaporated.” This group began to fear that long-range government funding for science and atomic energy might be jeopardized if use of the bomb set off an arms race, because it would assure that the military retained control of nuclear science, with its onerous secrecy constraints that handicapped the free flow of ideas and discoveries.[xxix]
Met Lab physicists formed a “Social and Political Implications Committee” to discuss their concerns about the future of nuclear research. James Franck, who chaired the group, was a refugee from Nazi Germany and a Nobel laureate, and had been an officer in the Imperial German Army during WWI. This group went on to issue a report that advocated turning over atomic technology to an international body in order to avoid a future arms race. The June 11, 1945 Franck Report argued that “The only reason to treat nuclear power differently…is its staggering possibilities as a means of political pressure in peace and sudden destruction in war…We therefore felt it our duty to urge that the political problems…be recognized in all their gravity.” The scientists stated flatly that “the fundamental facts of nuclear power are a subject of common knowledge… [and] to the last day of the European war, we have been living in constant apprehension as to [Germany’s] possible achievements.” They expressed their fears about future atomic wars: “In the past, scientists could disclaim direct responsibility for the use to which mankind had put their disinterested discoveries. We cannot take the same attitude now…All of us…live with the vision…of sudden destruction visited on our own country…” The scientists proposed a world government or “a specific international agreement barring a nuclear armaments race. In fact, if the race of nuclear armaments is allowed to develop, the only apparent way in which our country could be protected…is by dispersal of industries [and] of our major metropolitan cities…The race of nuclear armaments will be on in earnest not later than the morning after our first demonstration of the existence of nuclear weapons.”[xxx]
The Franck Report proposed ways in which the Bomb could be revealed to the world community. One was “to use it without warning on an appropriately selected object in Japan.” But such an approach “may easily destroy all our chances of success [because] allied countries…will be deeply shocked [and so too] American public opinion…of such an indiscriminate method of wholesale destruction of civilian life.” (Instead, polls after Hiroshima showed the American public overwhelmingly supported use of the Bomb.) “Thus…military advantages and the saving of American lives…may be outweighed by the ensuing loss of confidence and wave of horror and revulsion.” The Report proposed “a demonstration of the new weapon may best be made before the eyes of representatives of all United Nations, on the desert or a barren island.” This would permit the United States to say “You see what weapon we had but did not use.” Despite proposing a demonstration, however, the Report allowed that “after such a demonstration the weapon could be used against Japan if a sanction of the United Nations…could be obtained.”[xxxi] This was not the unqualified moral objection claimed by later historians and activists.
So the scientists did not rule out the use of the Bomb against Japan, and their primary concern was to prevent an arms race that could threaten the United States. They further advised, “We are now on the threshold of the second stage [which can provide] a really substantial stockpile of atomic bombs. Thus it is to our interest to delay the beginning of the armaments race at least until the successful termination of this second stage.” The Report characterizes the two available atomic weapons as “comparatively inefficient bombs.”[xxxii]
The Franck Report concluded: “In the war to which such an armaments race is likely to lead, the United States…will be at a disadvantage compared to the nations whose population and industry are scattered over large areas…If the United States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons. If the government should decide in favor of an early demonstration of nuclear weapons it will then have the possibility to take into account the public opinion of this country and of the other nations before deciding whether these weapons should be used in the war against Japan. In this way, other nations may assume a share of the responsibility for such a fateful decision.” Thus the scientists argued that a demonstration would also “share responsibility” with other nations if the Bomb was used against Japan.[xxxiii]
The Franck Report stressed the ease of access to nuclear technology and correctly predicted an international race to develop even more potent weapons. To address this longer-term threat, the Report called for a system of international controls administered through the United Nations. To the immediate question of using the atomic bomb against Japan, the Report noted that conventional bombing with incendiaries had already “reduced [Japanese cities] to ashes,” thus the obliteration of yet another city would accomplish little. Nevertheless, the weapon could be used if certain conditions were met and the Japanese government continued to refuse to surrender. To increase the likelihood of surrender, the Franck Report recommended improved terms which included the retention of the emperor and negotiated rather than unconditional surrender. But overall emphasis makes it clear that avoiding Japanese deaths was secondary to concerns over a post-war arms race.[xxxiv]
Given the Met Lab scientist’s angst over loss of control, Matt Price asserted that the Franck Report was simply “another stage in the years-long struggle over the control of the project.” The Report expressed the concept that scientists have a right to control their work, “thus a political culture was crafted through the complex manipulation of self-interest…”[xxxv]
Franck gave his letter to Arthur Compton, director of the Met Lab, on 12 June. Compton sent his own analysis to Stimson, erroneously warning that the Franck Report advocated outlawing nuclear weapons. The Report subsequently became a founding document of the nuclear disarmament movement in such journals as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A style of selective interpretation developed in the works of historians such as Lawrence Wittner, who concluded that: “Nuclear disarmament activists increasingly underscored the Franck Report as a defining moment of dissent and moral courage…” Wittner avoided the Report’s qualifying language and characterized its embedded dissent in absolute terms, saying: “The Franck committee produced a report that argued forcefully against combat use of the Bomb against Japan.” Not surprisingly, Wittner joined the argument for a world government, saying “The answer [to why nations have not abolished the Bomb] lies in the pathology of the nation-state system.” Still other historians characterized the Report as “a last ditch effort to change the government’s mind” which “argued against the use of the bomb…on moral grounds.” Historian Matt Price said “The authors of the so-called Franck Report pleaded that nuclear weapons not be used on Japanese cities.” This significantly overstated the argument for demonstration prior to use.[xxxvi]
In their 16 June report, the Scientific Panel disagreed with Franck’s recommendations. A non-combat demonstration was impractical because the Bomb might not work at all. Besides, only two were available. The report began with the assurance that “we recognize our obligation to our nation to use the weapons to help save American lives in the Japanese war.” It then recommended that before the weapons were used, Britain, Russia, France, and China be advised. Nevertheless, “the opinions of our scientific colleagues … are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender. Those who advocate a purely technical demonstration would wish to outlaw the use of atomic weapons…Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use …We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” As Hans Bethe noted, this language was simply not forceful enough to dissuade a government determined to end the war by using the “ultimate” weapon. The Interim Committee accepted the Panel’s report and recommended that the bomb be used as soon as possible, without warning, against a military target surrounded by worker’s houses.[xxxvii]
The only documentary evidence that the scientists’ arguments had some impact on the administration is the memorandum Ralph Bard, Undersecretary of the Navy, wrote to Secretary of War Stimson, on 27 June. Bard noted “before the bomb is actually used…Japan should have some preliminary warning for say two or three days…the Japanese government may be searching for some opportunity which they could use as a medium of surrender.”[xxxviii]
If Bard was one of a handful of administration decision-makers who had doubts, individual scientists struggled with their own moral dilemmas, often reaching very different conclusions. In a 2 July letter to Szilard, Edward Teller wrote “The things we are working on are so terrible that no amount of protesting or fiddling with politics will save our souls.” He argued that the best thing would be combat use, to “get the facts of our results before the people.” The next day Szilard launched his program of formal dissent by circulating “The First Szilard Petition” among Met Lab scientists. An associated 4 July cover letter emphatically stated that the bomb should not be used on moral grounds, but it is not clear how many – if any – of the signatories saw this letter. The actual petition recognized that the bomb could still be used if Japan rejected the opportunity to surrender. Significantly, it contained no proposal for a non-combat demonstration. “The war has to be brought speedily to a successful conclusion and the destruction of Japanese cities by means of atomic bombs may very well be an effective method of warfare. We feel, however, that such an attack on Japan could not be justified … unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan after the war are publicly announced and subsequently Japan is given an opportunity to surrender. Atomic bombs are primarily a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities. At present our Air Forces… are using the same methods of warfare which were condemned by American public opinion only a few years ago when applied by the Germans to the cities of England. Our use of atomic bombs [would extend] this path of ruthlessness.” Szilard’s petition thus called for a final attempt to negotiate modified surrender terms before using the atomic bomb.[xxxix]
Oppenheimer blocked attempts to circulate Szilard’s petition in Los Alamos. Historian Peter Wyden labeled this “covering up” growing opposition to the bomb. Szilard told Oppenheimer that he knew his petition was unlikely to change the decision to use the bomb, but “from a point of view of the standing of the scientists in the eyes of the general public one or two years from now it is a good thing that a minority of scientists should have gone on record in favor if giving greater weight to moral arguments.” This wording suggests concern about reputation rather than morality..[xl]
Leo Szilard’s 4 July cover letter presented the most cogent moral argument yet, but it was a separate document written on a different date: “…it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war…Many of us are inclined to say that individual Germans share the guilt for the acts which Germany committed during this war because they did not raise their voices in protest…We are in a position to raise our voices.”[xli]
On this same date, Groves began to gather evidence against Szilard, whom he said had not shown “wholehearted cooperation in the maintenance of security.” By now, Groves was thoroughly fed up with Szilard’s interference in military matters. In an internal memorandum, he charged that “the program has been plagued since its inception by the presence of certain scientists of doubtful discretion and uncertain loyalty… steps should be taken to sever these scientists from the program and to proceed with a general weeding out of personnel no longer needed.”[xlii]
The sixty-seven signatures on Szilard’s petition created a false impression of solid opposition in Chicago. Met Lab scientist Ralph Lapp wrote that the petition’s real importance was in kindling the postwar scientists’ movement for international control of atomic energy. When Compton took an informal poll of his team, 13 percent favored not using the atomic bomb at all; 46 percent favored using it on a military target in Japan; 26 percent wanted a demonstration in the United States; and 15 percent considered the decision a prerogative of the military.”[xliii]
Scientists at the Oak Ridge site produced their own variant of Szilard’s petition on 13 July. It was briefer, but used vague language:“We respectfully petition that the use of atomic bombs, particularly against cities, be sanctioned by you as the Chief Executive only under the following conditions:(1) Opportunity has been given to the Japanese to surrender on terms ensuring them the possibility of peaceful development in their homeland, (2) Convincing warnings have been given that a refusal to surrender will be followed by the use of a new weapon, (3) Responsibility for use of atomic bombs is shared with our allies.” Clinton scientists similarly reworked Szilard’s petition, proposing that nuclear technology be shared with America’s allies and advocating an explicit warning to Japan that a new weapon had been developed. In neither case was military use ruled out.[xliv]
A second Oak Ridge petition appeared within days, proposing the demonstrate-demand-deploy process: “The power of the weapon…imposes a special moral obligation on the government and people of the United States…the power of this weapon should be made known by demonstration…and the Japanese nation should be given the opportunity to consider the consequences of further refusal to surrender.”[xlv]
The Trinity Test in New Mexico, 16 July 1945, finally revealed the potential of the atomic weapon. British physicist Otto Frisch described the menacing scene. “Without a sound, the sun was shining; or so it looked.” As Isidor Rabi described it “It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye…” Metallurgist Cyril Smith said “This is not a pleasant weapon we have produced…a city is henceforth not a place in which to live.” Oppenheimer chose words from the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky…I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.”[xlvi]
The day after Trinity, Szilard reworked his initial effort to create a 17 July petition, which was again signed by over sixty scientists. Somewhat more moderate in tone, it omitted his outrage over the saturation bombing of civilian targets and instead focused on the bomb’s potential to destabilize the international political balance. Like the first document, it did not take an inalterable stand against use of the bomb. Rather it argued that the U.S. carried an “obligation of restraint.” The petition made two oblique appeals to President Truman to be mindful of “moral responsibilities.” Szilard sent his petition to General Groves, who did not forward it to Secretary Stimson until 1 August. It is doubtful if Truman ever heard about the petition until after the war. [xlvii]
The operative language of the Second Szilard Petition again conceded combat use of the Bomb, but emphasized the future threat to the United States and the loss of international reputation for not showing restraint. “We feel, however, that such attacks on Japan could not be justified…unless the terms which will be imposed after the war on Japan were made public in detail…and if Japan still refused to surrender our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs. Such a step, however, ought not to be made at any time without seriously considering the moral responsibilities which are involved.”[xlviii]
When Szilard argued that deployment of the Bomb would commit the United States to “moving along a road leading to the destruction of the strong position hitherto occupied in the world,” it is likely that he referred to the country’s military lead rather than its moral leadership, because he followed by cautioning “our demonstration…will precipitate a race in production of these devices…” Szilard’s 17 July Petition thus mentioned moral issues but did not categorically oppose using the Bomb against Japan.[xlix]
Edward Teller took this petition to Oppenheimer and returned with Oppenheimer’s ambiguous response – that “our only hope is getting the facts of our results before the people. This might help to convince everybody that the next war could be fatal. For this purpose actual combat use might be the best thing.”[l]
The same day as Szilard circulated his second petition, the Interim Committee warned Stimson that the United States could not maintain a long-term Bomb monopoly. Once it became clear that such a weapon was feasible, others would build the device, threatening the United States. Consequently, the Committee focused on how the Bomb should be used, rather than whether it should be used. Oppenheimer’s cover letter to the report stated that “We are not only unable to outline a program that would assure…hegemony; we are equally unable to assure that such hegemony, if achieved, could protect us from the most terrible destruction… We have grave doubts that this further development [of more effective atomic weapons] can contribute essentially or permanently to the prevention of war.” Accordingly, “It is our unanimous and urgent recommendation that…all necessary international arrangements be made, to this one end [to make future wars impossible].”[li]
Stimson shared many of Oppenheimer’s misgivings, but reluctantly agreed to use the Bomb against Japan. He later asserted that “…deliberate premeditated destruction was our least abhorrent choice. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the Japanese war. It stopped the fire raids, and the strangling blockade; it ended the ghastly specter of a clash of great land armies.” He thus foresaw greater loss of life if the atomic bomb were not used. Other Allied leaders had few reservations about using the bomb. When physicist Niels Bohr expressed his concern to Winston Churchill in May 1944, the Prime Minister responded “I cannot see what you are talking about. After all, this new bomb is just going to be bigger than our present bombs.” Not surprisingly, when Roosevelt and Churchill met in September 1944, they agreed that the Bomb might be used against the Japanese “after mature consideration”, and that the Japanese should be warned that “this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender.” Leslie Groves probably captured the prevailing attitude when he said “…we were trying to perfect a weapon that, however repugnant it might be to us as human beings, could nonetheless save untold numbers of American lives.” But as Leo Szilard understood, you could not compare the use of the atomic bomb with the bombing raids against Tokyo and Dresden because “the atom bomb would achieve similar destruction with one weapon and one plane.”[lii]
By July 22, the decision to use the Bomb had been made. As historians Len Giovannitti and Fred Freed observed: “What is not clear…is how that decision was made…was it perhaps already made by not being made at all…?” (emphasis in the original). Historian Robert Norris commented that “Decision implies thought, analysis, and discussion about a range of possible courses of action, a weighing of alternatives, and then, after the deliberation of the pros and cons of each, a choice being made. Clearly this is not what happened with regard to use of the atomic bomb.” Groves told one author, “Truman did not so much say ‘yes’ as not say ‘no.’ It would have taken a lot of nerve to say ‘no’ at that time.”[liii]
On 6 August 1945, the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the largest city in Japan’s Chugoku Province, all but obliterating it. The city housed a communication center and large depots of military equipment, but the primary objective was to demonstrate the United States’ determination to use every lethal means to force Japan’s surrender. The bomb killed an estimated 80,000 people directly. Between 10,000 and 50,000 more died before the end of the year from blast aftereffects, including the previously unknown phenomena of radiation poisoning. Estimates of total deaths run as high as 200,000 depending on the evaluation of cancer statistics. Seventy percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed. President Truman immediately followed the bombing by threatening “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”[liv]
Similar destruction occurred on 15 August when a second bomb detonated over Nagasaki, one of the largest sea ports in southern Japan. Six days later, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers. Some historians attribute the surrender more to Russia’s entry into the war, or to the widespread devastation of conventional bombing, than to the atomic bomb. Nevertheless, the war was over. In announcing his surrender, Emperor Hirohito said in part: “The enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight…it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”[lv]
Those close to the decision to drop the atomic bomb almost immediately began to voice reservations. In his 8 August 1945 ultimatum to the Japanese, President Truman had said “We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city…We shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.” But some military and government officials expressed deep reservations about targeting civilians. Secretary Stimson, who had not fully adjusted to recent trends in aerial warfare, worried that the United States might “get the reputation for outdoing Hitler in atrocities.” He wanted the bomb to be used exclusively on industrial targets because, pointing to the terror effects of its use: “the atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon.” General George Marshall shared Stimson’s concern, arguing that the bomb should be used on a specifically military target and then only after a precise warning was given. “We must offset by such warning methods the opprobrium which might follow from an ill-considered employment of such force.” After the bomb was dropped, Marshall suggested that “we should guard against too much gratification because it undoubtedly involved a large number of Japanese casualties.”Somewhat later Admiral William Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet, said that the scientists “had a toy and they wanted to try it out…The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment.” Halsey’s compatriot, Admiral William Leahy, placed the bomb in “exactly the same category” with poison gas and germ warfare, because it was intended for use on noncombatants. Even Truman had reservations. Henry Wallace recorded in his diary that on the day after Nagasaki, the President gave orders to stop atomic bombing. He didn’t like the idea of killing, as he said, “all those kids.”[lvi]
In the first months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, public attitudes overwhelmingly supported the Bomb’s use. At the end of 1945, Fortune magazine published a survey showing that fewer than 20 percent of respondents had any moral reservations, while 50 percent felt the United States had acted properly. Another 23 percent were sorry that more bombs were not dropped on Japan. On the flight of the second carrier, Bock’s Car, to Nagasaki, the radio operator asked accompanying journalist William Lawrence if he thought it would end the war. Lawrence’s response was probably typical: HH“Does one feel pity or compassion for the poor devils about the die? Not when one thinks of Pearl Harbor and the death march on Bataan.” In fact, Lawrence became one of several on-the-spot journalists who, in the weeks that followed the war, revealed that the Bomb was much more sinister in the way it kept on killing. And atomic bombs were qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from ordinary chemical explosives. Individual bombs could achieve a “saturation attack,” such that there was nothing left to justify returning to the target.” Churchill described further attack under these conditions as “making the rubble bounce.” Philosopher Bertrand Russell captured the public’s growing misgivings in an address to the House of Lords on 28 November 1945, less than four months after Hiroshima, saying “I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the gravity of the possibilities of evil that lie in the utilization of atomic energy…This is a thing we have got to face… throughout the civilized world.”[lvii]
As awareness grew about the enormous power and deadly aftereffects of the Bomb, the public, the scientists, and the politicians began to reposition their opinions about the morality of using atomic weapons. In this changing environment, Groves blocked Szilard’s attempt to publish his Petitions, concerned that public exposure would question the decision to drop the bomb. Groves had Szilard fired, and later blocked his commendation on the basis that the scientist had “showed a lack of respect, even approaching disloyalty, to his superiors.”[lviii]
Years later, Szilard claimed that immediately after the bombings, he had drafted a petition to President Truman calling them “a flagrant violation of our own moral standards,” but had decided not to send it once Japan surrendered. He made many similar claims, documented only in his personal notes. Whether or not he prepared such a statement when he said, Szilard did embark on a determined effort to create a world government to control the atomic genie. At his urging, Robert Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago, organized a meeting of influential scientists and opinion-makers in late September 1945. The conference predicted a balance of terror in a nuclear-armed world, described in the words of economist Jacob Viner as “a new equilibrium.” Szilard continued to argue for a single world government as the solution. Other scientists shared his general objectives. Hans Bethe said “At the end of the war, many of my colleagues and I…hoped to try to slow down and, if possible, reverse the nuclear arms race. We had hoped that [the Bomb] would ultimately be placed under international control.”[lix]
Szilard was convinced that only an international “Atomic Development Authority” could foreclose nuclear war. “The issue that we have to face is whether we can have…a world government without going through a third world war,” he argued. He more fully developed his concept of world order, expanding his assumed expertise to include economics, geopolitics, and public finance. Implementation of his plan required “the building up of a vast consumer’s goods industry in a number of countries including Russia [to lessen] the repercussions of booms and depressions.” His world authority would “enforce peace by maintaining an armed force strong enough to be able to restrain from illegal action most of the nations but not strong enough to coerce the United States or Russia.” Further, Russia should receive “perhaps five billion dollars per year” from an unspecified source. “What we need in this country now is…a crusade for an organized world community.”[lx]
Stimson also became certain that broad controls were needed. “I…am still convinced of the importance…of a change in Russian attitude toward individual liberty but have come to the conclusion that it would not be possible to use…the atomic bomb as a direct lever to produce the change.” He speculated the Russians were already developing their own bomb. “Civilization demands…a satisfactory international arrangement respecting the control of this new force.” Stimson proposed a direct approach to the Soviets to open discussions on just such a control agreement.[lxi]
These objectives were slowly incubating in the minds of others, to emerge soon after Hiroshima. For example, in October 1945, a flyer appeared addressed “To All Women Living at Los Alamos” inviting them to a meeting in the high school library. There they would discuss “the truth about atomic energy and its possible use for good or evil – that it can never be the exclusive property of this or any other country.” This effort was linked to the Los Alamos Association of Scientists.[lxii]
Many Met Lab concerns were soon incorporated into American foreign policy. In June 1946, Truman chose Bernard Baruch to present the U.S. proposal for control of nuclear weapons to the United Nations. The “Baruch Plan” proposed: (1) Manufacture of atomic bombs shall stop; (2) Existing bombs shall be disposed of, and (3) An International Authority shall possess full information as to the know-how for the production of atomic energy. Ambassador Andrei Gromyko delivered the Soviet Union’s rejection five days later.[lxiii]
More Manhattan Project scientists began to speak about the decision to use the Bomb. After a 24 September meeting between Oppenheimer and new Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Stimson’s aide George Harrison wrote “There is distinct opposition on their part to doing any more work on any bomb [and] whether they are going to be asked to continue perfecting the bomb against the dictates of their hearts and spirits.” Oppenheimer delivered the same message to Truman, saying “I feel we have blood on our hands.” The President later described Oppenheimer as a “cry baby” scientist. Also in September most of the Los Alamos lab staff signed a public statement warning of the danger of an atomic arms race and urging efforts at international control. When the government began to develop a thermonuclear (hydrogen) bomb, Arthur Compton wrote a letter to Henry Wallace saying “We feel that this development should not be undertaken, primarily because we should prefer defeat in war to a victory obtained at the expense of the enormous human disaster that would be caused by its determined use.” Albert Einstein weighed in with “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”[lxiv]
As the scientists’ public face, Oppenheimer’s words carried added weight. When the Fat Man bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Physicist Kenneth Bainbridge said to him, “Now we are all sons of bitches.” But outside of the Project, Oppenheimer was initially guarded and circumspect. He expressed vague qualms, as when he wrote to his former Ethical Culture School teacher that “You will believe that this undertaking has not been without its misgivings.” Later his comments were more pointed even if his language was opaque. Speaking to an audience a year after Trinity, he said “We were rightly and somewhat desperately concerned that these weapons…should be manifest to all men to see and understand, that they might know what future war would be…It would not have been a better world if the unrealized possibility of these terrible weapons had been a secret shadow on our future.”[lxv]
Oppenheimer eventually became more direct, as when he remarked to an MIT audience in November 1947 that “In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.” Still later, in a rare public appearance at McMaster University in 1962, he said “My own feeling is that if the bombs were to be used there could have been a more effective warning and less wanton killing than took place actually in the heat of battle and the conclusion of the campaign.”[lxvi] Despite his misgivings, however, Oppenheimer remained dedicated to nuclear science until McCarthyism drove him out.
Some nuclear scientists quietly changed their career focus. John Von Neumann, for example, had created the first electronic computer to speed calculations at Los Alamos. After “the massacre at Nagasaki,” he had a crisis of conscience and thereafter developed the science of cybernetics and wrote about human implications of modern technology, saying that separating basic research from technological applications was “an illusion.” Szilard switched to biophysics in 1946. “His aim was always world government and world law; but, as a temporary pragmatist…he often devised short-run solutions, including rules for limited nuclear war and even the reciprocal nuclear destruction of cities, in order to buy time in a perilous age.” Other Manhattan veterans such as Joseph Rotblat called the use of the bomb a “wanton, barbaric act” and advocated oaths for scientists similar to those for physicians. The Pugwash Group oath which he helped draft included “I will not use my education for any purpose intended to harm human beings or the environment.”[lxvii]
Whereas certain writers used Met Lab dissent to support disarmament causes, others attacked those who did not dissent. Journalist Robert Jungk went so far as to praise Werner Heisenberg and his German colleagues who “obeyed the voice of conscience” and deliberately misled the Nazi government about the possibility of an atomic bomb. In contrast, he described Oppenheimer as someone “with no ethical concerns about the bomb, whose driving ambition was to win worldwide recognition.” Jungk broadly condemned scientists “for their macabre joy after viewing the first successful bomb explosion.” For him, the postwar crusade against nuclear weapons was led by scientists “who felt a sense of guilt.” Barton Bernstein also criticized the Manhattan scientists for developing the Bomb. “Supporters of the bomb claim that it shortened the war and saved lives. Opponents argue that its use was inhumane since Japan was close to surrender, and also that the bomb had an ulterior motive: to intimidate the Soviets into making postwar concessions.” (Hans Bethe discounted the findings of Jungk and others that Heisenberg and German scientists sabotaged the Nazi bomb for ethical considerations. “They simply did not think such a weapon could be developed during the time frame of the war.”)[lxviii]
The 1950s and early 1960s saw the height of nuclear disarmament activity by Manhattan Project scientists. Activists and philosophers such as Bertrand Russell gradually displaced scientists as leaders of the cause. Use of the scientist’s dissent passed in the 1970s and 1980s to a new group of journalists and historians such as Lawrence Badash, who saw Truman’s fateful decision as encouraging the Cold War and the McCarthy witch hunts; and to Gar Alperovitz, whose Vietnam War-inspired critique was aimed at governmental propaganda in general. Meanwhile the agenda of the “New Left” historiography took a step further than Badash to portray U.S. foreign policy as inherently imperialistic and driven by an insatiable American capitalist economy. New Left historians could employ the supposedly austere scientific dissent to underscore the corrupting influence of imperial designs on public policy.[lxix]
Leo Szilard led the efforts to rewrite the history of Manhattan Project dissent. In a 1960 interview in U.S. News and World Report, for instance, he asserted that “I opposed [dropping the Bomb] with all my power…I don’t think Japan would have surrendered unconditionally without the use of force. But there was no need to demand the unconditional surrender… Byrnes was concerned about Russia’s having taken over Poland, Rumania and Hungary [and thought the bomb] would render the Russians more manageable in Europe.” By this date, fifteen years after Hiroshima, Szilard could unabashedly claim that “I drafted a petition to the President which…opposed, on purely moral grounds, the use of atomic bombs against the cities of Japan.” Szilard’s now-refined posture of absolute pacifism would cause him to conclude that “It is just as immoral to force a sudden ending of a war by threatening violence as by using violence…Suppose Germany had developed two bombs and dropped them on Rochester and…Buffalo…Can anyone doubt that we would have [defined this] as a war crime?” Leslie Groves chose to ignore dissent issues altogether. In his autobiography Now It Can Be Told, Leo Szilard is mentioned only twice, both times in relation to technical matters. Dissent in the scientific community is not mentioned at all. Nevertheless, although Groves ignored dissent, the academic community did not.[lxx]
In the twenty years after Hiroshima, historians repeatedly questioned the decision process that led to combat use of the Bomb. In 1965, Gar Alperovitz’s Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam ratcheted up the revisionist attack and moved the issue into the public sphere. The Vietnam War heightened public mistrust of government during the late 1960s and 1970s, as did the Watergate controversy. Consequently Alperovitz’s book fed on the growing climate of suspicion. Subsequent revisionist books and essays operated with a heightened sense of outrage, such that counter-revisionists felt it necessary to respond with increased vigor.
Alperovitz proposed that development of the A-Bomb had deeply influenced American policy prior to Truman’s decision to use it; that Truman’s nuclear policies produced the Cold War; and that Truman thereby reversed an alleged Roosevelt policy of accommodation with the Soviet Union. Alperovitz’ chief target was any government decision-making process that increased international tensions. To make his point, he used Met Lab dissent to illustrate how conscientious objections could be ignored during political deliberation. His tone was decidedly more confrontational than any previous attack, charging that the desire to intimidate the Soviet Union, post-war, trumped any moral reservations about dropping the bomb. Opposition to the Vietnam War and cynicism about government decision-making assured that subsequent exchanges between orthodox, revisionist and counter-revisionist historians would likewise display cynicism and strong emotion.[lxxi]
In this environment of heightened scrutiny, the idea that Szilard and other scientists had emphatically opposed use of the Bomb became received wisdom. When Alperovitz published revised versions of his book in 1985 and 1996 – in large part to answer the counter-revisionists – the scientist’s dissent was described in more absolute terms. In other histories written in the late 1980s, we read “But in 1945, fearful of a Soviet-American nuclear arms race and morally opposed to the use of the weapon on Japan, Szilard tried desperately to reverse the course of American policy.” Elsewhere historians generalized “When Szilard opposed using the bomb, Byrnes rejected his argument and added that the A-bomb would be useful to intimidate the Soviets,” and “Having done all he could to create the atomic bomb and all he could within the law to prevent its combat use in 1945, he spent his last nineteen years courageously seeking arms control, disarmament, and world peace.” Only the first and last phrases of this sentence are accurate.[lxxii]
Although some scientists voiced moral concerns, their unconditional opposition to using the Bomb has been overstated as unconditional and absolute. While various individuals did seek to substitute demonstrations for deployment, most conceded that the Bomb could be used to end the war. The scientists’ language was often imprecise and their recommendations ambiguous. Their moral concerns about the suffering and death inflicted on the Japanese people were muddied by their worries about launching a nuclear arms race, and of possible constraints on future nuclear physics research in a weapons-focused environment.
General consciousness of the terrible threat of atomic weapons grew steadily after Hiroshima, sustained by vigorous anti-war and nuclear disarmament movements. The assertion that the scientist’s opposition was unequivocal and wide-spread became a greater part of the story as public debate intensified. Historians and journalists distrustful of U.S. policies incorporated an analysis of wartime moral decisions into their critique of government decision-making. By the mid-1970s however, the public became habituated to the prospects of nuclear Armageddon. Meanwhile the Met Lab’s often unfocused and poorly articulated dissent had transmuted into unconditional dissent. Consequently, the general intent of the dissenters – to demonstrate the power of the Bomb and force surrender before combat deployment – was converted into unqualified rebellion against any combat use of the Bomb.
[i] Particularly since the 1960s, revisionist historians increasingly challenged the decision processes which led to the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and used scientific dissent to support their case. For example, see: Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, the Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power. New York: Vintage Books (1985); Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: and the Architecture of an American Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1995). Pp. x – 847. Others focused on the conflict between public memory and historical accuracy, as in the case of Badash and Bernstein: Lawrence Badash, Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1939-1969 (Control of Nature). New York: Prometheus Press (1995). Pp. 1 – 129; Barton J. Bernstein, “The Struggle Over History: Defining the Hiroshima Narrative” in Judgment at the Smithsonian: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Philip Nobile, ed. New York: Marlowe & Company (1995). Pp. 152-239. Other revisionist scholars have also been associated with the “New Left” of contemporary history which blames Truman and the United States for fostering the Cold War. This group is represented by historians such as Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, eds. Hiroshima’s Shadow. Stoney Creek, CT: The Pamphleteer’s Press (1998). Pp. x – 584;
[ii] Revisionist motivations take a variety of textures. Gar Alperovitz and Barton Bernstein, for example, are motivated by a deep distrust of government generated during the Viet Nam War. Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb; Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy; Barton Bernstein, “Introduction”, in Toward a Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms Control, Helen S. Hawkins, G. Allen Greb and Gertrud Weiss Szilard, editors. Boston: The MIT Press (1987). At times these and other works of the 1980s also reveal anger at Reagan-era foreign policy in Central America: Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy. In the 1990s the curators of the national Air and Space Museum wished to move public debate from the celebration of air power to rumination on the costs of war. Curators of the National Air and Space Museum, “The Crossroads”, in Judgment at the Smithsonian: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Philip Nobile (editor). New York: Marlowe & Company (1995). P. 3.
[iii] Judgment at the Smithsonian: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Philip Noble (editor). New York: Marlowe and Company (1995). Pp. xlv – xlv1.
[iv] Keith Eubank, The Bomb. Krieger Publishing Company: Malabar, FL. (1991). P. 5; Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford University Press: Stanford (2009). P. 2; Lawrence Badash, Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1939-1969 (Control of Nature). New York: Prometheus Press (1995). P. 27; Gerald J. DeGroot, The Bomb: A Life. Harvard University Press: Cambridge (2005). P. 18; Helen S. Hawkins, G. Allen Greb and Gertrud Weiss Szilard (editors), Toward a Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms Control, Volume III (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987). P. xxx.
[v] R.A.C. Parker, Struggle for Survival. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1989). Pp. 234 – 6; Robert Jungk, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists. Translated from German by James Clerigh. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World (1958), P. 202; Eubank. Pp. 5 – 6.
[vi] Letter, Einstein to Roosevelt, 2 August 1939, in Bush-Conant Files, Office on Scientific Research and Development Records, Record Group 227, National Archives; Eubank. Pp. 6 – 9; Eubank. P. 29.
[vii] Richard Hewlett and Oscar Anderson, The New World, 1939-1946: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Volume 1 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962). P. 20; Parker, Pp. 234 – 6; Eubank; Pp. 8 – 10; Letter, Navy Department, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, to J. Edgar Hoover, Szilard Files (October 1940). FBI Records, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.
[viii] Eubank, Pp. 38 – 42, 46.
[ix] Ibid. P. 44.
[x] Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster (1986), Pp. 524 – 5; Jungk, P. 178; Leslie R. Groves, Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962), P. 184.
[xi] John Cox, Overkill. Pelican: New York (1981). P. 10.; Paul Chilton, “Nukespeak: Nuclear Language, Culture, and Propaganda.” From Nukespeak: The Media and the Bomb. Crispin Aubrey, ed. London: Comedia Publishing Group (1982), quoted in Donna Uthus Gregory, ed. The Nuclear Predicament: A Sourcebook. St. Martin’s Press: New York (1986). P. 129; Joseph Rotblat and Daisaku Ikeda, A Quest for Global Peace: Rotblat and Ikeda on War, Ethics, and the Nuclear Threat. London: I.B. Tauris (2007). P. vii; Rotblat and Ikeda, P. 18; Joseph Rotblat, “Leaving the Bomb Project” in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41 (August 1985). P. 18; Rotblat and Ikeda, P. x; David Krieger, editor. The Challenge of Abolishing Nuclear Weapons. Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick (2009). Pp. 255 – 6; Ibid, P. 129, 45.
[xii] Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago (2006). Pp. 152 – 3; Bernard Feld, interviewed by Ian Low, in “Science for Peace,” in New Scientist, July 24, 1975. Pp. 208-9.
[xiii] Robert R. Wilson, “Niels Bohr and the Young Scientists” in Assessing the Nuclear Age: Selections from the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists”, edited by Len Acklund and Steve McGuire. Chicago: Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science (1986). P. 38.
[xiv] Letter, Compton to Groves, 26 October 1942, File 201. Manhattan Engineer District Records, RG 77. National Archives; Draft Letter, Secretary of War to Attorney General, 28 October 1942, File 201, Szilard Papers; Badash, P. 49.
[xv] Matt Price, “Roots of Dissent: The Chicago Met Lab and the Origins of the Franck Report,” in The Journal of the History of Science in Society (June 1995) Volume 86, Issue 2. Pp. 226 – 33.
[xvi] Richard Hewlett and Oscar Anderson. The New World, 1939-1946: Volume 1 of a History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Pennsylvania State University Press: University Park (1962). Pp. 24-25, 51; Rhodes, P. 635; Hawkins and Greb, P. xviii.
[xvii] Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago (2006). P. 152.
[xviii] Badash, P. 52; Price. Pp. 223 – 5; Hawkins and Greb, P. xxxiii.
[xix] Hawkins and Greb, P. xxxiv.
[xx] Price, Pp. 235 – 9.
[xxi] Hawkins, Greb, and Szilard, Toward a Livable World; Badash, Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons; Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford University Press: Stanford (2009). P. 1; Hawkins and Greb, P. xix; Edward Teller, “Leo Szilard: Two Obituaries,” in Disarmament and Arms Control (Autumn 1964). Pp. 450-1; Leo Szilard, “The Physicist Invades Politics,” in Saturday Review of Literature (May 3, 1947). P. 7; “Der Bund”, from the Szilard papers assembled by G. Allen Greb and Gertrud Szilard. (1930).
[xxii] Price, Pp. 231 – 2.
[xxiii] Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford University Press: Stanford (2009). P. 5; Letter, Szilard to Bush, 14 January 1944. Bush-Conant Files, Office on Scientific Research and Development Records, Record Group 227, National Archives.
[xxiv] Robert A. Hinde, Bending the Rules: Morality in the Modern World From Relationships to Politics and War. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2007). P. 121; Claudio G. Segre, Atoms, Bombs & Eskimo Kisses: A Memoir of Father and Son. Viking: New York (1995). P. 32; Stanley Blumberg and Gwinn Owens, Energy and Conflict: The Life and Times of Edward Teller. Putnam: New York (1976). P. 20; Groves, Pp. 296 – 7.
[xxv] Norris, P. 383; Robert A. Pape, “Why Japan Surrendered,” in International Security 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993). P. 165; United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report, Pacific War. Washington (July 1, 1946).
[xxvi] Leon V. Sigal, Fighting to a Finish: The Politics of War Termination in the United States and Japan, 1945. Cornell University Press: Ithaca (1988). Pp. 179-182; “Minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee, Los Alamos, May 10-11, 1945.” U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project File ’42-’46, folder 5D Selection of Targets, 2 Notes on Target Committee Meetings. Record obtained at www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27a/046.html; Groves, P. 275.
[xxvii] DeGroot, P. 77.
[xxviii] Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangeld Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. Henry Holt and Company: New York (2002). Pp. 131 – 3; R.A.C. Parker, Struggle for Survival. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2989). P. 171; Badash, Pp. 49 – 51; Minutes of the Interim Committee, 31 May 1945. Reference Manhattan Engineer District – Top Secret, Harrison-Bundy files, folder 100, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Interim Committee, May 31.
[xxix] DeGroot, Pp. 55, 68.
[xxx] Eubank. P. 52; “Report of the Committee on Political and Social Problems Manhattan Project Metallurgical Laboratory” University of Chicago, June 11, 1945 [The Franck Report]U.S. National Archives, Washington D.C.: Record Group 77, Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. Report from www.dannen.com/decision/franck.html
[xxxv] Price, Pp. 240 – 4.
[xxxvi] Price. Pp. 222 – 3; Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford University Press: Stanford (2009). P. 5; Wittner, P. 222; DeGroot, P. 74; Price, P. 222.
[xxxvii] Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons, by the Scientific Panel of the Interim Committee on Nuclear Power, June 16, 1945. Source: U. S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, Folder #76. Report obtained from www.dannen.com/decision/scipanel.html; Bethe, P. 25.
[xxxviii] Memorandum by Ralph A. Bard, Undersecretary of the Navy, to Secretary of War Stimson, June 27, 1945 Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #77, “Interim Committee, International Control”. Report facsimile obtained at www.dannen.com/decision/bardmemo.html
[xxxix] Teller to Szilard, July 2, 1945, quoted in Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago (2006). P. 156; Szilard Petition, First Version, July 3, 1945, U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. Report facsimile obtained from www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/SzilardPetition.shtml
[xl] Peter Wyden, Day One: Before Hiroshima and After. Simon & Schuster: New York (1984). P. 29.; quoted in Hans G. Graetzer and Larry M. Browning, The Atomic Bomb: An Annotated Bibliography. South Dakota State University: Pasadena (1992); Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. Pp. 190-1.
[xlii] Leslie Groves to Lord Cherwell, 4 July 1945, U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, decimal files, “201 (Szilard, Leo).” Document acquired from Leo Szilard Online, www.dannen.com/decision/lrg-fal.html; Norris, P. 392.
[xliii]Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago (2006). P. 152; Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Weaver, Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project. Temple University Press: Philadelphia (1999). P. 184.
[xliv] Oak Ridge petition, July 13, 1945, Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. Report facsimile obtained from www.dannen.com/decision/oakridge1.html
[xlv] Second Oak Ridge petition, mid-July 1945, Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. Report facsimile obtained from www.dannen.com/decision/oakridge2.html.
[xlvi] Goodchild, Pp. 161 – 2; Rhodes, P. 672; Second Oak Ridge petition, mid-July 1945, Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. Facsimile obtained from www.dannen.com/decision/oakridge2.html; DeGroot, Pp. 64 – 5
[xlvii] “A Petition to the President of the United States” [Second Szilard Petition], July 17, 1945, U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. Report facsimile obtained from www.dannen.com/decision/45-07-17.html
[l] Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. Simon & Schuster: New York (1995). P. 203.
[li] Philip L. Cantelon, Richard G. Hewlett and Robert C. Williams (editors), The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fission to the Present, Second Edition, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1991). Pp. 30 – 1.
[lii] Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War. Harper and Brothers: New York (1947). P. 633; Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, P. 530; Robert C. Williams and Philip L. Cantelon, eds. The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fission to the Present, 1939 – 1984. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1984). P. 45; Groves, P. 254; Leo Szilard, quoted in DeGroot, P. 71.
[liii] Len Giovannitti and Fred Freed. The Decision to Drop the Bomb. Coward-McCann (1965). P. 243; Norris, Pp. 373 – 4; Jungk, P. 208.
[liv] Parker, P. 241.
[lv] Parker, P. 242; Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Penguin Publishing (2001).
[lvi] Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, P. 445; White House Press Release on Hiroshima, August 7, 1945, retrieved from The Atomic Archive, www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Hiroshima/PRHiroshima.shtml; Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, P. 650; McCloy Diary, 29 May 1945, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, acquired at www.japanfocus.org/-Sean-Malloy/3114; Henry Lewis Stimson, “National Affairs: Least Abhorrent Choice,” in Time, February 3, 1947; Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, P. 445; Martin Steinmann, Jr., ed. Hiroshima: The Decision to Use the A-Bomb. New York: Scribner Research Anthologies (1964). Parker, P. 238; Pp. 1-2; John Morton Blum, ed. The Price of Vision: The Diary of Henry A. Wallace, 1942-1946. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston (1973). P. 474.
[lvii] “The Fortune Survey.” Fortune. (December 1945). Pp. 303-10.Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth. Knopf: New York (1982). P 311; “Hiroshima as a Civilisational Metaphor”,in Indian Express Newspapers, August 6, 1998, retrieved from www.indianexpress.com/ie/daily/19980806/21851024.html;War Department Press Release, 9 September 1945, quoted in DeGroot, P. 99; [lvii] Wilfred Burchett, “The Atomic Plague”, in The London Times, September 5, 1945; Amy Goodman and David Goodman, “Hiroshima Cover-Up: How the War Department’s Timesman Won a Pulitzer”, August 10, 2004, retrieved from Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, www.wagingpeace.org/articles/2004/08/10_goodman_hiroshima-cover-up.htm ; DeGroot, Pp. 106; Badash, P. 57
[lviii] Groves, “Reconsideration for Military Decoration (Dr. Leo Szilard),” 21 June 1946, File 201/Szilard, Manhattan Engineering District Records.
[lix] Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Pp. 749-750, 753-4; Bethe, Pp. ix-xii.
[lx] Leo Szilard, “Can We Avert An Arms Race By An Inspection System?” in Our World or None, Dexter Masters and Katherine Way (editors), (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1946). P. 64; Leo Szilard, “Calling for a Crusade” in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April-May 1947, Pp. 102-6; Leo Szilard, “Calling for a Crusade” in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April-May 1947, Pp. 13 – 20.
[lxi] Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War. “Letter and Memorandum, September 11, 1945.” In Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War. Octagon Books: New York (1948). Pp. 642-646.
[lxii] Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Weaver, Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project. Temple University Press: Philadelphia (1999). P. 186.
[lxiii] Bernard Baruch, “The Baruch Plan.” Printed in The Atomic Age: Scientists in National and World Affairs, edited by Morton Grodzins and Eugene Rabinowitch. Basic Books: New York (1965). Pp. 45-46.
[lxiv] Rhodes, Dark Sun, P. 204; Ibid, P. 205; Ibid, P. 206; Ibid, P. 207; Donna Uthus Gregory, editor. The Nuclear Predicament: A Sourcebook. St. Martin’s Press: New York (1986). P. 316.
[lxv] Jeremy Bernstein, Nuclear Weapons: What You Need To Know, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2008). P. 153; Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Pp. 750 – 1; Rhodes, Dark Sun, P. 203.
[lxvi] J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Physics in the Contemporary World.” Technology Review 50 (Feb. 1948). P. 203; Northrop Frye, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Togo Salmon, City of the End of Things: Lectures on Civilization and Empire. Oxford University Press: Oxford (2009). P. 14.
[lxvii] Steve J. Heims, John Von Neumann and Norbert Wiener: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death. MIT Press: Cambridge (1980); Robert A. Hinde, Bending the Rules: Morality in the Modern World From Relationships to Politics and War. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2007). Pp. 110-130; Rotblat, quoted in Steven Shapin, “Don’t Let That Crybaby in Here Again”, in London Review of Books. 7 September 2000.
[lxviii] Jungk, P. 18; Bernstein, Barton J., editor. The Atomic Bomb: The Critical Issues. Little, Brown: Boston (1976). P. 34; Bethe, Pp. 24-5.
[lxix] Badash, Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons; Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy. New Left historians who employed the direct connection between Truman’s Hiroshima decision and the Cold War are represented by William Appleman Williams, The Roots of the Modern American Empire. New York: Vintage Press (1973). Pp. 1 – 576; Joyce Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy 1945-1954. New York: Harper and Row (1972). Pp. 1 – 820; Thomas G. Paterson, Soviet-American Confrontation: Postwar Reconstruction and the Origins of the Cold War. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press (1975). Pp. 1 – 302.
[lxx] Szilard, “President Truman Did Not Understand,” Pp. 68-71; Groves, Pp. 39, 41.
[lxxi] Gar Alperovitz. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam. New York: Simon and Schuster (1965). Pp. x, 317
[lxxii] Hawkins and Greb, P. xviii; Ibid, Pp. xxxiv-xxxv; Leo Szilard, Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts, Spencer Weart and Gertrud Weiss Szilard (editors). Cambridge: MIT Press (1978); Pp. 328-62; Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. New York: Vintage (1996). Pp. 1 – 864; Hawkins and Greb, P. 183-5; lxiii – lxiv.
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