Policy Planning Staff Files

Record of the Meeting of the State–Defense Policy Review Group, Department of State, Monday, March 20, 1950, 3 p. m. to 5:45 p. m.

top secret
Present: Department of State
Paul H. Nitze
R. Gordon Arneson
George Butler
Carlton Savage
Robert Tufts
Harry H. Schwartz
Department of Defense
Major General T. H. Landon
Robert LeBaron
Najeeb Halaby
National Security Council
S. Everett Gleason
Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence1

Dr. Lawrence said he would address himself in the first instance to the difference in attitude between the working scientists as against what he described as the “talking” scientists. He said that a very small percentage of the scientists did any public talking and that, in his opinion, their views were not representative of the great mass of scientists who did the work. He said he read a great deal in the press to the effect that secrecy and security regulations which surround the atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb developments made it impossible for scientists to work. He classified such reports as complete nonsense and said that when he and a group of laboratory and plant managers were meeting informally recently in a discussion of this subject, not [Page 201] one knew of a single case of a scientist who refused to work on these developments because of security regulations or secrecy. He said that the freedom comes through the magnificent facilities that are available and that all the scientists he knew would much rather have the facilities than the right to publish material on their work. In a recent tour of the country he had talked with many of the men who actually work on the H-bomb and he found none who felt that such work should not be done. Among “talkers” he finds a strange inconsistency in that those who once thought the atomic bomb was a terrible thing now have no such scruples about it but have transferred their sense of horror to the H-bomb.

He labeled the cost of atomic developments as “chicken-feed” and said that we should be spending ten times as much. He said further that expanded developments in the atomic field produce more, not fewer, physicists; that, by the very nature of what it is that makes first-class scientists, the more work there is to do, the faster new ones are bred. As top men in each laboratory and plant are pulled out to start something new, one finds that not only are there capable young men to take their places, but that the young men have newer ideas and produce them much faster than the older men—and he included himself in the latter category.

He said that he was personally optimistic about the development of new types of atomic weapons as well as radiological weapons, and he felt that the time was not far off when there would be those which could insure the defense of Europe and which, furthermore, might be put into the hands of our allies to use themselves. We will only be able to develop such things, however, if we spend more money and energy on the whole field of atomic energy. It was, he added, pointless to think about such developments running in a straight line into the future. On the contrary, these developments spread out in all directions and quite unpredicted uses are often found for new ideas; Putting it another way, you develop the efficiency of one weapon on a rising curve but you don’t have to worry about that part of the curve which begins to slant downward because before that point is reached, something new pops up which continues the curve on upwards.

He expressed, as his personal opinion, that no technical control of atomic weapons was possible without a complete opening up of Russia.

In response to specific questions, he said that not only were such plants as the one at Hanford completely old-fashioned and inefficient now but that he could foresee new raw materials and techniques which would make possible “bathtub” operations.

His major thesis was that our safety lies in being farther ahead scientifically and productively than the Russians.

  1. Nuclear physicist; Director of the Radiation Laboratory, University of California; inventor of the cyclotron; participant in the atomic bomb development program during the Second World War.