Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

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

24
OUR DOUBTS
HAVE A FIRM FOUNDATION
1950

DURING THE LATE 1940s, the United States made a grand step toward peace. The Marshall Plan, together with assistance to Japan, laid the foundation of friendship with the enemies of yesterday. Those were courageous decisions. They were unprecedented. But during that period, the United States had neglected the development of arms.

During the postwar period in the Soviet Union, in spite of all the other needs of the country, Stalin had placed a high priority on the development of armaments. To me, Truman's decision to move ahead with the "so-called super bomb" was an acknowledgment that an arms race existed, and we would necessarily lose the race if we continued to do nothing. At the time, I believed my perspective—that given the Soviet emphasis on military power and the ability of their scientists, they were fully able to win an arms race— differed from that of most physicists.

My feeling about opinions within the scientific community was based on what I knew: the responses of Fermi, Bethe, Conant, Oppenheimer, and the reports of the General Advisory Committee. I was not particularly well informed. Even today, I seldom read nontechnical articles, and in 1950 I was isolated and busy at Los Alamos. Forty-some years later, having finally taken time to read the March 1, 1950, issue of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, I discovered that my opinion about my colleagues then was wrong, or at least incomplete.

Scientists gave a wide variety of responses to President Truman's announcement. According to the March issue of The Bulletin, the public debate began with an indiscretion made by Senator Edwin C. Johnson. In a televised discussion on November 1, 1949, the senator said: "Here's the thing

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