At the end of World War 2 a friend of mine, Lt. Commander of the Coast Guard, Johnny Arwine, and myself went to the California Institute of Technology1–Cal Tech– to meet with a great many old time atomic physicists who had been at the project that dropped the original bomb–from Los Alamogordo2, 3. It was our intention to organise these people so that some sort of sensible control could be monitored across the bomb. Nobody had thought about it at this date and Johnny Arwine and I were still in uniform. We were both in the world of engineering, then in the world of arts and then finally in the Services. Neither of us had a thing to do with atomic fission in its development.
We got these atomic physicists together. I took the chair and Arwine addressed them. We spoke of using a propaganda weapon against anyone who would use atomic fission further against the human race. We planned to use any means we had to educate the people in the world concerning this.
The nuclear physicist was already so furious about this that Arwine and I could not control the meeting. We could keep them in their place, tell them to talk but we couldn’t get across any thought that was even rationally workable. These men said one thing: “We wish to overthrow the government of the United States by force.”
That is an astonishing chapter in the field of nuclear physics which only a few of us know about. There was a revolt and later on offices opened in the United States to propagandise the public in a movement led by the late Albert Einstein.
Arwine and I failed and withdrew our support from that meeting and did our best to calm them. We reported the findings to the Navy Department and the President. We said that we could not associate our names with this organisation. But the atomic physicist did try and he is not going to do much more because Albert Einstein is dead.
The other day I read the list of atomic scientists who are now dead. It is practically the whole roster. They died of leukemia, cancer and the very diseases radiation sickness breeds. They died to a marked degree of radiation, mostly I suppose mentally because they had exerted a tremendous overt act against the world and have been unable to repair it in any way.
That is clear fact and not propaganda. I am just stating that there was a background where the nuclear physicist did attempt to revolt. The punishment taken against him was severe. The information given here is not even vaguely confidential and I am not in the possession of any confidential material.
From that time on it was what seemed to be a lost cause. We knew that the world was certainly in danger from the theory of atomic war, but I am afraid that none of us were clever enough to realise that continued testing would take place since it seemed so stupid. None of us counted on the factor that the airs of the earth would be polluted with radiation. That was not part of our understanding and so the only new thing that has happened here, has been a certain carelessness for public welfare in the continued testing of the bombs.
Now let us examine this “revolt” and let us see in it the truth of the threat of hysteria. Even the men who made the bomb became so hysterical for a while that they could not even calmly organise. They screamed disgracefully at their own government. The danger was never that great, certainly. Defences were being built, no new war threatened. Yet these men went a bit mad. The group could not be controlled. They would not even listen to the necessity of calm public education. They merely wanted more hysteria. By the actions of these persons can be predicted a possibility of hysteria on a much wider scale. Propagandists to the contrary, this must be prevented.
I do not believe that atomic fission will continue being tested to a point where everybody dies. But I do believe that bombs will continue being tested to a point where everybody could be worried to a point where a great deal of the ability would be gone out of society.
I am not talking against the United States. The United States was simply the first to develop this. Since that time the bomb has gotten into much more irresponsible hands, Russian hands and the Russian is attempting to capitalise on this hysteria factor.
In the final analysis man has done an unfortunate thing and unless defences can be found and the public educated he may very well pay a dreadful price.
- Wikipedia: California Institute of Technology. ↩
- Wikipedia: Los Alamos National Laboratory. ↩
- In the 1989 edition of All About Radiation, the preceding sentence reads, “At the end of World War II, a friend of mine–Lieutenant Commander of the Coast Guard, Johnny Arwine–and I went to the California Institute of Technology to meet with a great many old-time atomic physicists who had been at the project that exploded the original bomb at Alamogordo.” See Wikipedia: Alamogordo. ↩