Eisenhower Library, Dulles papers, “Telephone Conversations”

Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Strauss), Monday, March 29, 1954, 10:30 a.m. 1

The Secretary called and mentioned the explosion.2 S. said it was grossly exaggerated by those who wish we did not have such a weapon and don’t care if Russia has it. Nothing was out of control. Nothing devastated. The Sec. said that was not correct from our point of view. Japan and England are upset. S. said the Japanese were inside the warning range; otherwise they would not have heard the explosion six minutes after seeing the flash.3 The Sec. asked if another one were planned; confidentially, he said, one was held Friday. He said a large piece of the ocean is patrolled, but difficult to see ship even on radarscope. How the tuna was contaminated, he doesn’t know. Many things suspicious. The Sec. said international law is involved—can we have an operation that destroys all living things in an 800-mile radius? S. said not a single person was destroyed. No effect on fish. Under the blast, the fish would be killed.

The Sec. said the effect was serious. S. asked what he wanted done. The Sec. said he didn’t know but suggested bearing in mind the tremendous repercussions these things have. It should be kept under control. The general impression around the world is we are appropriating vast area of the ocean for our use and depriving other people of its use. There is panic re the fish being contaminated, etc. Some feel the British Isles could be wiped out, and so they better make a deal on the best terms possible with the Russians. S. described the islands around Bikini as being tiny. S. said the time has come for a careful explanation, and guesses he better do it this week.4

The Sec. referred to a message re Stassen and Aldrich having talked with Churchill. C. volunteered he was being pressed to request no more tests, but he said he would refuse to answer questions Tuesday.5

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S. said there were 5,000 people within 30 miles on Friday and 5,000 within 40 miles. Nobody got any radiation. There were no special precautions.

The Sec. said it would be a good thing if something could be said to moderate wave of hysteria. It is driving our Allies away from us. They think we are getting ready for a war of this kind. We could survive but some of them would be obliterated in a few minutes. It could lead to a policy of neutrality or appeasement. They might go into the Soviet-proposed agreement that we will each agree not to use it. We can either go on as we did before not relying on their promises or if we stop, we know they will be going on. The Sec. wants him to say something that will bring this back to the realm of reason.

S. said as far as closing of a large area is concerned, it is done only during the period of tests. An area from Florida to the Bahamas and an area on the West Coast is closed permanently for rocket tests. No one said anything. The British and others who have military establishments do the same thing. But this brought the whole thing in for questioning.

S. asked if any progress had been made with Zarubin matter? No, except they are studying memo. The Sec. said he does not expect an answer for a month. S. said good. The Sec. said he thinks it will drag on and there will be a renewed effort to get discussions on their proposal. S. asked if he got anyone to do what he wanted McCloy to do? He said no, as he feels it will be a long while before the matter is very active. Probably, we will get some questions in a month, which we can answer easily. He is not sure it will reach the point of high-level negotiating. S. agreed on the Sec.’s thinking.

S. said in the next couple of days, he would like to come over and report more fully. The Sec. will call him.

  1. Drafted by Phyllis D. Bernau of the Office of the Secretary.
  2. Reference is to the U.S. hydrogen bomb test which occurred in the Marshall Islands on Mar. 26. Regarding U.S. testing, see the editorial note, p. 881.
  3. The hydrogen bomb test of Mar. 26 resulted in the contamination of a Japanese fishing vessel and its crew. For documentation on the diplomatic repercussions of this occurrence, see volume xiv .
  4. Strauss read a prepared statement on the subject at the President’s news conference of Mar. 31; for extracts, see Department of State Bulletin, Apr. 12, 1954, pp. 548–549, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1954, pp. 163–165.
  5. From March to May 1954, President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Churchill corresponded on several occasions regarding atomic energy questions. Their exchanges are documented in volume vi .