The decision as to whether the U.S. should make a hydrogen bomb, said Harry Truman, is mine and nobody else's. But there were a lot of people looking over his shoulder, and they seemed remarkably in agreement on how he should play his hand: they wanted the H-bomb-built."I am very unhappy," said Dr. Harold Clayton Urey, the Nobel Prizewinning atomic chemist, "to conclude that the hydrogen bomb should be developed and built. I do not think we should intentionally lose the armaments race; to do this will be to lose our liberties, and with Patrick Henry, I value my liberties more than I do my life."Should the Russians win the race and build the first H-bomb, he added, they might decide that they did not even have to use it. They might say: " 'We will build these bombs and issue ultimata to the western countries, and the millenium of Communism will be with us immediately...' "
Harold Urey, standing before the Roosevelt Day dinner of the Americans for Democratic Action in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, had a right to be heard. His Nobel Prize had been won in 1934 for the discovery of heavy hydrogen, a basic step toward the development both of the first atomic bomb and any hydrogen bomb that may come. He had predicted the date of the Russian atomic bomb explosion far more accurately than had U.S. military or political leaders.
"I personally hope very much," he said, "that the [hydrogen] bombs will not explode . . . However, nature does not behave in the way I should like at times, and so there is no use in engaging in wishful thinking. I think we should assume that the bomb can be built." His estimate of the cost of development: $100 million.
Others joined in, urging the building of the H-bomb: Elder Statesman Bernard Baruch, Republican Senator John Bricker, Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Tom Connally.
What, then or who was holding up the President's decision? If there were voices inside the Administration counseling against the H-bomb, they did not make their arguments public. Many a Washington correspondent pointed the finger at retiring Atom Boss David Lilienthal, who last week characterized all such stories about him as "inaccurate," but was careful on security grounds not to say just where he did stand.
This week the President made his decision. He ordered work on the H-bomb to go ahead. Harry Truman's announcement had in it no sabre-rattling swagger, only the reluctant awareness of a duty that had to be done. He knew that he was authorizing construction of the deadliest weapon ever known to man.
White House aides on Tuesday afternoon summoned a dozen reporters, handed them this statement from the President:
"It is part of my responsibility as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to see to it that our country is able to defend itself against any possible aggressor.
"Accordingly, I have directed the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or superbomb. Like all other work in the field of atomic weapons, it is being and will be carried forward on a basis consistent with the over-all objectives of our program for peace and security.
"This we shall continue to do until a satisfactory plan for International control of atomic energy is achieved we shall also continue to examine all those factors that effect our program for peace and this country's security".


The Democratic candidate for President of the U.S., campaigning in California, looked out at his Oakland audience, drew a deep breath, and struck hard again last week for his proposal that the U.S. end its hydrogen-bomb tests. To Adlai Stevenson the reaction was a heady surprise: his words triggered a burst of applause and cheers in the crowd of 5,000. In a week when the Eisenhower tide was rising (see below) and Stevenson was searching determinedly for a big issue, the H-bomb argument seemed to be striking fire far more so than his proposal to end the draft. Result: a high-level Stevenson campaign decision to play the hydrogen-bomb proposal for all it was worth beginning with a national television speech this week.

Adlai had been toying with his H-bomb notions since last April when, in the midst of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, he said: "I believe we should give prompt and earnest consideration to stopping further tests of the hydrogen bomb." In subsequent speeches and statements he declared his hope that, once the U.S. set the example, the Russians might follow suit. If they refused, the U.S. could detect the violation (by-air samplings) and then "reconsider its policy."

In the Wagon. After Stevenson's first proposal, Harry S. Truman, who gave the order in 1950 for the U.S. to start H-bomb development, commented that "our power to guard the peace would be weakened" if tests were halted. Last week, in the political wilds of northwestern Pennsylvania, Truman was asked if he had come to agree with Stevenson. The old Democrat swallowed hard. "I'm in the same wagon," he said. "I can't be anywhere else."

The U.S., as both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower have made clear, cannot safely end H-bomb tests until the entire system of atomic-weapons production is placed under a workable mutual-inspection system. And although he has a few scientists in his corner, Stevenson is boldly down-facing the experts when he questions the "sense" of further hydrogen development. Even now, the U.S. and Russia are engaged in a desperate race for an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a hydrogen payload. For the U.S. to test the missile package without continuing work on its thermonuclear warhead would give the Soviets a disastrous advantage.

Moreover, said Atomic Energy Commissioner Willard Libby last week, the latest U.S. H-bomb tests have helped to develop a weapon with a lower rate of fallout contamination.

Under the Wire. The question of further thermonuclear development is new only in the sense that this is the first time it has been bandied about as a political issue in a national campaign. After World

War II, left-wing viewers-with-alarm begged Harry Truman to stow the A-bomb away in the national attic. The Russians, they said, could not possibly develop the bomb for at least a decade. Truman refused and the Soviet Union, depending heavily on Joseph Stalin's army of scientists and his very effective spies, came forth with the atomic bomb in 1949. Again, the hand-wringers pleaded with Truman not to go ahead with the H-bomb. Truman did go ahead and because he did, the U.S. got under the wire by a few short months and escaped the earth-shaking fact of a Russian H-bomb monopoly.

In both these cases, the decisions were made deliberately, quietly and completely by the man who held final responsibility for the nation’s strength, and indeed. Its continued existence.: the President of the U.S.

The careful decisions could be undone if in Election Year 1956, the matter were to be decided by nothing more than the appeal of a political candidate in search of an issue.

Source: National Archives and New &York Times


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