Roosevelt, from Munich to Pearl Harbor: A Study in the Creation of a Foreign Policy

By Basil Rauch | Go to book overview

5.
The Fight Against the Arm Embargo: Failure

THE HYPOTHESIS OF NUCLEAR FISSION WAS EXPERIMENtally confirmed in January, 1939. A strange reflection of the isolationist temper of Americans at this moment was that American- born physicists did not perceive the military implications of their work or the danger to the United States if Axis scientists were allowed to add an atomic bomb to their arsenal for world 'conquest. But underlying advantages of a free society nevertheless rescued the United States from the danger. Hitler expelled scientists of "impure" race or dissident ideology, and their contribution to the fight against the Axis was of stupendous value to the free nations that welcomed them. Hitler regimented his scientists of "pure" race into projects which seemed to him to be of more practical value to the Nazi war machine than theoretical physics.

Foreign-born physicists in the United States, such as Szilard, Wigner, Teller, Weisskopf, and Fermi, who were more aware of the realities of the world political situation than their American- born colleagues, insisted that publication of information regarding nuclear fission be restricted to prevent it from falling into Axis hands. Foreign-born scientists worked to obtain United States government support for further experimentation. Leading American and British physicists joined their efforts. Publication, except for results voluntarily withheld by individuals, continued for another year. Dean George B. Pegram, of Columbia University, in March, 1939, arranged a conference between officials of the Navy Department and Enrico Fermi. The officials merely expressed interest and a desire to be kept informed.1

-102-

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