Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present

By Shane J. Maddock | Go to book overview

2
Too Stupid Even for
the Funny Papers
THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN ATOMIC
MONOPOLY, 1939–1945

In September 1945, nuclear physicist James Franck warned President Harry S. Truman that “the idea that there exists a secret formula [for the atomic bomb] which can be guarded in its entirety” should be dismissed “as too stupid even for the movies and the funny papers.” The president ignored this warning and soon pledged publicly that the United States would hold its atomic monopoly as “a sacred trust” until “world cooperation for peace” achieved “a state of perfection.” Truman’s breezy confidence in U.S. atomic secrecy typified early American nuclear policy. He and other U.S. policymakers, including Truman’s predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, disregarded warnings from well-informed atomic scientists that America’s nuclear secrets could not be kept forever. Political and military leaders dismissed such physicists as starry-eyed idealists, but events soon exposed policymakers as the deluded ones. Beneath their hubristic policy initiatives and public pronouncements lay a deeply engrained faith in U.S. technological prowess, a science fictioninspired belief in superweapons, and a historical amnesia regarding how American fears of other states, especially Nazi Germany, acquiring atomic bombs had spurred the U.S. nuclear program. Faith in the U.S. atomic mo-

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