Minutes of the Meeting of the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, Washington, January 24, 194651

top secret

[Here follows discussion of various subjects.]

Atomic Energy Commission

Mr. Royall52 asked what was the exact function of the recently appointed Atomic Energy Commission.53 Mr. Acheson54 said that before Secretary Byrnes left he had been talking to him about what the American member on the United Nations Atomic Commission would say when and if that Commission is set up, and he is asked by his colleagues what he can tell them. Mr. Byrnes talked to the President about this problem and then appointed the Commission composed of Mr. Acheson, Mr. McCloy,55 Dr. Bush,56 Dr. Conant57 and General Groves. The Commission has had two meetings and its function as stated in the announcement is to study the question of safeguards and control of atomic energy so that the American member on the Commission may be told what to say. The Commission was appointed to advise the Secretary of State and not Congress. The Commission decided to get some of the men who have been working with General Groves to assemble the facts. The men selected are Dr. Oppenheimer,58 [Page 737] Mr. Thomas of the Monsanto Chemical Co.,59 Mr. Barnard of the Bell Telephone Co. of New Jersey60—electronics expert—Mr. Winne of the General Electric Co.61 and Mr. David Lilienthal of T.V.A.62 They are to meet with General Groves and in two weeks’ time give the background which the Commission must have in order to advise the American representative on the United Nations Commission. There are many questions the answers to which the Commission should know, such as: (1) Raw materials. Are they scattered and in large quantities over the face of the earth, or are they concentrated in a few areas and in small quantities? (2) Technical trends. Will the bomb be produced in small and decentralized plants or must there be a large plant? (3) Cost factors. Is it the poor man’s weapon or the rich man’s weapon? Mr. Royall said that he had been urging the War Department to take steps in the direction of compiling this information which he felt should have been done long ago. He spoke of the existing confusion in Congress and at the White House, etc., and said he was glad such a Commission has been set up. Mr. Forrestal63 agreed. Mr. Acheson said that after yesterday’s meeting of the Commission he had talked with Senator McMahon64 and told him that he will go over with him whatever conclusions are reached. He said that Senator McMahon had agreed not to call the people working with this Commission to testify.

Mr. Petersen asked how the Commission could be coordinated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are responsible for instructions to our military staff people on the United Nations. Mr. Acheson said that for the time being the Commission will rely on General Groves to tell it if it is going in the wrong direction. When Mr. McCloy returns they will talk to General Eisenhower,65 Admiral Nimitz,66 and General Groves. He reiterated that the purpose of the Commission is to keep our delegates advised of possible pitfalls to be avoided. Mr. Royall inquired whether the State Department had been asked for its views [Page 738] on legislation pending before Congress.67 Mr. Acheson said that the Secretary had received a letter just prior to his departure and had said that he would talk to the interested Senators on his return. Mr. Royall said that he was somewhat in doubt as to the present White House views on the legislation.

  1. The Secretaries of the State, War, and Navy Departments or their representatives met on an almost weekly basis in 1946. Mr. Acheson usually represented the Department of State due to the frequent absence from Washington of Secretary Byrnes. Records of these meetings exist in the Central Files of the Department of State under enclosure number 811.002/1–2446.
  2. Kenneth C. Royall, the Under Secretary of War.
  3. The body under reference was the Secretary of State’s Committee on Atomic Energy. This Committee, of which the Under Secretary of State was chairman, had been appointed on January 7 and had met on January 14 and 23; draft minutes of these meetings exist in the Atomic Energy Lot File, Department of State. For a detailed account of the work of the Committee, and its Board of Consultants, see Hewlett and Anderson, Chapter 15.
  4. Dean Acheson, Under Secretary of State.
  5. John J. McCloy, former Assistant Secretary of War (1941–1945).
  6. Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
  7. James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, 1941–1946; President of Harvard University.
  8. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Los Alamos Laboratories of Manhattan Engineer District, 1943–1945.
  9. Charles A. Thomas, Vice President, Monsanto Chemical Company.
  10. Chester I. Barnard, President, New Jersey Bell Telephone Company.
  11. Harry A. Winne, Vice President, General Electric Company.
  12. David E. Lilienthal, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

    The Lilienthal group constituted the Committee’s Board of Consultants which met frequently in January, February, and March. The Department of State Atomic Energy Files contain handwritten notes on the meetings of the Board of Consultants taken by Carroll Wilson of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, the Board’s secretary.

  13. James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.
  14. Brien McMahon, United States Senator from Connecticut; Chairman of the Senate Committee on Atomic Energy.
  15. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief of Staff, United States Army.
  16. Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Chief of Naval Operations.
  17. In regard to Congressional legislation on atomic energy in 1946, see Hewlett and Anderson, Chapter 14.