Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview

20
INCOMPLETE ANSWERS
1946

THE SECOND MAJOR war in my lifetime had ended. Once again, central Europe was experiencing the bitter aftermath that is the natural consequence of war. Would this peace also contain the seeds of the next conflict? War in the atomic age holds a new horror. I cannot imagine that anyone present at the Trinity test was confused about that; the danger of another war lent intense importance to healing the wounds of war and to building a cooperative, stable relationship among the nations of the world. The United States responded with a program unprecedented in history: Under the Marshall Plan, Germany and Japan, the defeated foes, were given aid for postwar reconstruction. That investment paid great dividends in easing bitterness and creating a more cooperative spirit in the decades that followed. It is unpleasant to imagine what those years might have held without the contribution made by the Marshall Plan.

A new era was underway, and the alumni of the Manhattan Project would play considerable role, sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional, in determining the shape that it assumed. Several misconceptions skewed developments in 1946. The best-known and most damaging was the assumption that American secrecy had successfully kept detailed information about nuclear weapons within Great Britain and the United States. A more subtle and less recognized influence was connected with the German atomic bomb project. Most of the people who could recount that story with authority are now dead. Knowing that the answers I offer are full of uncertainties, I feel that guesses are better than silence.

Speculation about the German effort to build atomic weapons, as the Szilárd-Einstein letter indicates, began in 1939. In May 1945, a special group, led by Colonel Boris Pash, completed their investigations of German

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