Michael KreponAnd the Winners Are…

My thanks to all who submitted entries in the Best Quips about the Bomb competition. The results are below the jump. Shall we do some variation of this again next year?

Contest judges Joshua and Jeffrey were drawn to two of the quips submitted by Carl Vehse. The first is by Enrico Fermi, cited in Robert Jungk’s Brighter than a Thousand Suns (1970):

Don’t bother me with your conscientious scruples. After all, the thing’s superb physics!

The second is Harry Truman’s quip, cited in, among other books, Gerard J. DeGroot’s The Bomb: A Life (2004):

During a meeting at the White House in October 1945, [Robert] Oppenheimer tried to convey his deep moral crisis. ‘Mr. President, I have blood on my hands,’ he remarked. ‘Never mind,’ Truman replied, ‘it’ll all come out in the wash.’ (According to some accounts he offered Oppenheimer a handkerchief.) ‘Don’t you bring that crybaby in here again,’ Truman later told an aide. ‘After all, all he did was make the bomb. I’m the guy who fired it off.’

Joshua has done some detective work on this passage in DeGroot’s book:

“DeGroot has combined two quotes. For the whole thing, he cites a book review by Steven Shapin, which says this:

Oppenheimer agonised publicly more than anyone else: the physicists, he famously confessed, ‘have known sin; and this is a knowledge they cannot lose’. Against some opposition from his scientific colleagues, he had insisted that the bomb be used on a Japanese civilian target, but, several months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said to President Truman: ‘I feel we have blood on our hands.’ ‘Never mind,’ Truman replied, ‘it’ll all come out in the wash,’ whereupon the President instructed his lieutenants: ‘Don’t let that crybaby in here again.’ Oppenheimer’s agonising continued to the end of his life, and some of it focused on the question of why there had been so little agonising at the time. ‘When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success,’ he admitted in 1954. ‘That’s the way it was with the atomic bomb.’

“Notice what’s missing! The rest of the quote appears on p. 152 of Abraham Pais and Robert Crease, J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life (2006) — which cites Nuel Pharr Davis, Lawrence and Oppenheimer (1986). It appears as:

Don’t you bring that fellow around again. After all, all he did was make the bomb. I’m the guy who fired it off.

Joshua could make a career out of the shoebox business.

For these two entries, and for stuffing the ballot box, one prize in the Best Quips Competition goes to Carl Vehse.

The second prize wasn’t easy to award. After sifting through the entries, I have arbitrarily changed this category from ‘best original quip’ to ‘best non-cited quip.’ My reasoning: all quips start out as originals, but only the quips of prominent people wind up as footnotes. Our collective deference to prominent people threatens us with the loss of countless memorable quips. My finalists:

Courtesy of Paul Stokes: Sign posted on a photo of a Titan missile and reentry vehicle: “We care enough to send the very best.” Really, Paul: The Titan? The very best?

Courtesy of ‘Jack Pirate:’ “Hardly original, but it’s hard to beat the ‘World-wide delivery in 30 minutes or less, or your next one is free’ sign found at a Minuteman silo.” Is there something about time spent at ICBM bases that prompts creative genius?

Courtesy of Steve Hayes: Overheard at a CW training exercise: “Don’t bother holding your breath, that’s a blister agent.” Obviously, a tough training course.

Courtesy of Carey Sublette, whose posts are always outstanding, with a nod to Jack Handey: “Instead of trying to build newer and bigger weapons of destruction, mankind should be thinking about getting more use out of the weapons we already have.”

Courtesy of Mike P: Placard seen at an anti-nuclear demonstration outside RAF Greenham Common during the ’80s: HISTORIANS DEMAND A CONTINUING SUPPLY OF HISTORY! As a greatly lapsed History major, how could I not love this one?

A very tough call, but the winner is Jack Pirate. Jack & Carl: email me (krepon@stimson.org) with your mailing addresses and the inscriptions you would like on your books.


  1. Jack Pirate (History)

    “Shall we do some variation of this again next year?”

    I say yes!

    • Jack Pirate (History)

      On a more serious note, there is a lot of interesting and accessible material in that thread. It would make a good starting point for the wonk-to-be who wants to get a feel for what’s out there.

  2. Paul Stokes (History)

    Well, Titan may not have been the very best, but it wasn’t bad for its time, and “anonymous”, who came up with the quote, seems to have thought so.

    Hats off to “Jack Pirate”.

  3. FSB (History)

    Late entry:


    Quote of the Day
    Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010

    They’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. It’s madness. They don’t understand accountability to the taxpayer.

    –Former Sandia National Laboratories Vice President Bob Peurifoy, criticizing the management of U.S. nuclear weapons program construction projects that have been burdened by massive cost overruns.

    • supergrover (History)

      The source for the Bob Peurifoy quote is a story by John Fleck in the Albuquerque Journal.

      ‘LANL Complex Price Increasing’

      … Among the most vocal critics of the agency’s nuclear project management are a cadre of retired nuclear weapons experts.
      “This is mismanagement,” said Bob Peurifoy, who retired as a vice president at Sandia National Laboratories in 1991 after 39 years helping in the nuclear weapons complex. Peurifoy had a hand in the development of five of the eight nuclear weapons in the current U.S. arsenal.
      “They’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” Peurifoy said in an interview. “It’s madness. They don’t understand accountability to the taxpayer.” ….


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