PM Files

Memorandum by the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)

top secret

Memorandum for:

  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission

Subject: Development of Thermonuclear Weapons

At the direction of the President the enclosed letter from the Secretary of Defense on the subject is referred herewith to the above Special Committee of the National Security Council for submission to the President of advice regarding the recommendation contained in the last paragraph thereof.

In accordance with the Committee’s normal procedure, representatives of each of the members have initiated the urgent preparation of a staff study of this proposed program, with particular reference to its feasibility, for consideration by the Committee as a basis for its advice to the President.

James S. Lay, Jr.

The Secretary of Defense (Johnson) to the President

top secret

Dear Mr. President: Since your recent decision with respect to work by the Atomic Energy Commission on the hydrogen bomb, certain developments, which you and I have discussed, make it apparent that the Soviets may already have made important progress in this field of atomic weapons.1

In view of the extremely serious, in fact almost literally limitless, implications to our national security if the above conclusion should prove to be factual, I have requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff to give [Page 539] consideration to what our position should now be with regard to immediate development of the hydrogen bomb.

They are of the opinion, with which I fully concur, that it is incumbent upon the United States to proceed forthwith on an all-out program of hydrogen bomb development if we are not to be placed in a potentially disastrous position with respect to the comparative potentialities of our most probable enemies and ourselves.

I recommend therefore, most urgently that, within strict secrecy limitations, you expand our atomic energy program so as to include the immediate implementation of all-out development of hydrogen bombs and means for their production and delivery.

Very respectfully,

Louis Johnson
  1. No record of a Truman–Johnson conversation on this subject has been found in the files of the Department of State. The developments referred to by Secretary Johnson related to the Fuchs case. Further information on the origins of this communication appears in Hewlett and Duncan, pp. 415–416.