Michael KreponThe Franck Report

A group of distinguished Manhattan Project scientists based at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory were among the first to consider whether or how to use atomic bombs in World War II.

The Met Lab’s primary challenge was to establish proof of concept for a nuclear chain reaction and plutonium production. Then the action moved elsewhere. Met Lab scientists had more time and distance from their colleagues at Los Alamos, Hanford and Oak Ridge to have second thoughts about their collective efforts.

The man who chaired their secret deliberations in Chicago was James Franck, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who served as Director of the Chemistry Division at the Met Lab. Like many other scientists working on the Bomb, Franck was a refugee from war-torn Europe. Other participants in this drafting effort included Eugene Rabinowitch, Glenn T. Seaborg, and especially Leo Szilard.

Completed two months before Hiroshima, the Franck Report urged the Truman administration to carry out a demonstration shot of the atomic bomb rather than to use it without advance warning against a Japanese city.

Here are some of the key passages:

“If no efficient international agreement is achieved, the race of nuclear armaments will be on in earnest not later than the morning after our first demonstration of the existence of nuclear weapons. After this, it might take other nations three or four years to overcome our present head start, and 8 or 10 years to draw even with us if we continue to do intensive work in this field.”

“Even though Russia, in particular, has an immense space over which its vital industries could be dispersed and a government which can order this dispersion, the day it is convinced that such a measure is necessary – there is no doubt that Russia, too, will shudder at the possibility of a sudden disintegration of Moscow and Leningrad, almost miraculously preserved in the present war, and of its new industrial sites in the Urals and Siberia. Therefore, only lack of mutual trust, and not lack of desire for agreement, can stand in the path of an efficient agreement for the prevention of nuclear warfare. From this point of view, the way in which nuclear weapons, now secretly developed in this country, will first be revealed to the world appears of great, perhaps fateful importance.”

“One possible way – which may particularly appeal to those who consider the nuclear bombs primarily as a secret weapon developed to help win the present war – is to use it without warning on an appropriately selected object in Japan… If we consider international agreement on total prevention of nuclear warfare as the paramount objective, and believe that it can be achieved, this kind of introduction of atomic weapons to the world may easily destroy all our chances of success. Russia, and even allied countries which bear less mistrust of our ways and intentions, as well as neutral countries, will be deeply shocked. It will be very difficult to persuade the world that a nation which was capable of secretly preparing and suddenly releasing a weapon, as indiscriminate as the rocket bomb and a thousand times more destructive, is to be trusted in its proclaimed desire of having such weapons abolished by international agreement.”

“Thus, from the ‘optimistic’ point of view – looking forward to an international agreement on prevention of nuclear warfare – the military advantages and the saving of American lives, achieved by the sudden use of atomic bombs against Japan, may be outweighed by the ensuing loss of confidence and wave of horror and repulsion, sweeping over the rest of the world, and perhaps dividing even the public opinion at home. From this point of view a demonstration of the new weapon may best be made before the eyes of representatives of all United Nations, on the desert or a barren island. The best possible atmosphere for the achievement of an international agreement could be achieved if America would be able to say to the world, ‘You see what weapon we had but did not use. We are ready to renounce its use in the future and to join other nations in working out adequate supervision of the use of this nuclear weapon.’”

“It must be stressed that if one takes a pessimistic point of view and discounts the possibilities of an effective international control of nuclear weapons, then the advisability of an early use of nuclear bombs against Japan becomes even more doubtful – quite independently of any humanitarian considerations. If no international agreement is concluded immediately after the first demonstration, this will mean a flying start of an unlimited armaments race. If this race is inevitable, we have all reason to delay its beginning as long as possible in order to increase our headstart still further.”

In late May and June, 1945, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and his “Interim Committee” were also considering whether and how to use the Bomb. For reasons discussed in an earlier post (“The Least Abhorrent Choice,” August 24, 2010), Stimson and his advisers, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, found the Franck Report’s recommendations to be unpersuasive.

Update | 12 June 2011 11:19 am Another wonderful post by Michael.  As is noted in the comments, there are a couple of versions (1, 2) of the Franck Report floating around because it was originally stamped secret.  I remember some slight differences, but don’t have time right now to spot them again.  Someone (Wellerstein!) should make a high-resolution image from the National Archives so that we have a definitive copy.

Comments

  1. Mark Lincoln (History)

    Fine thoughts and analysis, but the Frank Report evaded reality.

    Japan attacked us. It had been a ruthless nation seeking total power.

    We had built the Bomb and we were going to use it.

    That Germany and the threat of another bomb was passed did not change reality.

    Reality was that Japan had started the war. It had pursued conquest ruthlessly and had ended the war with mass suicide as a tactic.

    The USA would have had to decide to NOT use the bomb rather than decide to use it.

    The bomb was used.

    The Frank Report was a well intentioned document produced by men who’s personal war was over. It was not folly, and predicted much of what would be.

    It is, however, folly to pretend that either the USA or the Soviet Union, or for that matter Japan, would have reacted differently were a demonstration have been targeted in nowhere instead of upon a city which offered a good chance to calibrate weapons effects.

    Why has America vexed itself with a question that few asked at the time?

    Japan started the war. We had built the bomb.

    We were going to use it.

  2. Captain Ned (History)

    Anyone expecting Stalin to not build nukes based on “international agreements” is one of Stalin’s useful idiots.

  3. JP (History)

    The talk about how shocked and horrified Russia would be if the US unleashed a surprise secret weapon on Japan makes ironic reading in view of the penetration of the Manhattan Project by Soviet spies, and of course in view of the fact that the USSR had her own highly secret atomic program in progress. The Soviets were among the least “shocked” by the secret development and surprise use of the bomb! And even if the Soviets hadn’t known anything about it, the idea that Stalin would find the secret development and surprise use of a weapon shocking and horrifying is laughably naive to say the least.

    • Alex W. (History)

      Although, that really just complicates things, as Michael Gordin points out in _Red Cloud at Dawn_: Stalin knew that the US felt that he wasn’t to know about the bomb.

      The essential point of the Franck Report — that the USSR would have absolutely no grounds on which to trust that the USA would be honest with it regarding the bomb, if it didn’t bring them into the knowledge of it in some meaningful way ahead of time — still stands, and was essentially correct. Truman’s half-hearted attempt to inform Stalin about the bomb at Potsdam only reinforced this point, since Stalin knew, even at the time, how little Truman was revealing to him, how little he trusted him.

      Stalin had very little reason to trust Truman; Truman had very little reason to trust Stalin. It’s of course not clear that following the Franck Report recommendations would have changed either of those things.

    • JP (History)

      That “essential point” might have some credibility if taken out of context. However, the US had spent FOUR YEARS trying to “build trust” with Stalin, and that’s only counting since the war began (in fact, FDR had been trying to “build trust” with Stalin since 1933). If Stalin did not “trust” the USA after the Tehran and Yalta Conferences, which conceded to the Soviets all their geopolitical demands, and after the USA had lavished vast quantities of lend-lease largesse on the Soviets with no strings attached, then simply “being honest” about the atomic bomb was not going to achieve that goal.

      In fact, Stalin had EVERY reason to trust Truman in June 1945, as there was no indication at that time that the Roosevelt pro-Soviet line would not continue under Truman. If Stalin did not trust Truman, then he was incapable of trust, and no amount of appeasement or knowledge-sharing would gain his trust.

      Lastly, the notion that somehow WE have failed and are untrustworthy if we keep any secrets from our allies is ludicrous. Allies expect to have secrets from each other, and do not insist on “no secrets” as a condition of an alliance. We had secrets from the British, the British had secrets from us, and the Soviets had secrets from both the US and Britain. Today, the classification restriction NOFORN exists precisely because there are allies who have access to some classified information but are not permitted access to all classified information. Jonathan Pollard is (and should be) in jail because he gave secret information to an ally, but the fact that we keep secrets from Israel does not mean they cannot “trust” us.

      Stalin certainly expected us to have secrets from him — that’s why he told the NKVD and GRU to find out what they were! The idea that withholding information from Stalin might cause him not to trust us is thus untenable, and again, if that was the basis for his distrust then nothing we could have done would cause him to trust us.

    • Alex W. (History)

      I’m not sure Stalin had much reason to trust Truman in the postwar. Roosevelt, perhaps — but Truman was quite a different person and politician. And the fact that Roosevelt would keep Stalin out of something as big as the atomic bomb does not exactly speak to postwar candor.

      The fact of the atomic bomb was not some sort of incidental secret — it was a major strategic operation that had profound effects for the war and the postwar. It’s on the level of not tipping Stalin off that you were intending to invade Europe.

      The US was itself, of course, considering the options of what it would take to invade the USSR — even including dropping atomic bombs on it. I’m not sure why you would assume that Stalin had good reasons to think the US would give it very many security guarantees. As far as Stalin was concerned, the only reason he got the concessions he did at Yalta, etc., was because he stuck to his guns, and because the US couldn’t afford to cut him loose.

      Whether Stalin was capable of trust, I dare not speculate. But there was little reason from the Soviet point of view to think that the US (or UK) would continue their alliance after the threat of the Axis powers had been removed.

      I don’t think the Manhattan Project scientists were ludicrous in thinking that perhaps Stalin should at least be tipped off about the bomb. That’s not the same thing as giving him the blueprints or inviting him to Los Alamos.

      It wasn’t just the Chicago scientists who thought this was a good idea: the list of those who advocated for it explicitly during the project included people like Vannevar Bush, James Conant, Niels Bohr, and Robert Oppenheimer. The idea wasn’t that Stalin should have a bomb, obviously, but that there would be absolutely zero chance at postwar arms control if they didn’t have some wartime disclosure. I’m personally dubious that there was much of a chance even with disclosure, but “much of a chance” is different from “absolutely zero.”

      Even Truman, in the end, felt that Stalin should be tipped off — hence the Potsdam approach. It just wasn’t much of a tip, and it came rather late.

      It’s not clear what the best case scenario would have been, for we are talking about Stalin, here. But there’s really no argument that things could have been any worse than they were, since Stalin acquired far more information by espionage than he would have ever been given.

    • JP (History)

      “I’m not sure Stalin had much reason to trust Truman in the postwar.”

      He had no reason not to trust Truman in the period under discussion here. There was every indication in June 1945 that the Roosevelt line would continue.

      “the fact that Roosevelt would keep Stalin out of something as big as the atomic bomb does not exactly speak to postwar candor.”

      This is equivalent to saying that if Roosevelt kept ANY secrets at all from Stalin, then Stalin couldn’t trust him. As I said, this argument is untenable.

      “The fact of the atomic bomb was not some sort of incidental secret — it was a major strategic operation that had profound effects for the war and the postwar. It’s on the level of not tipping Stalin off that you were intending to invade Europe.”

      If you keep a secret from an ally, is it going to be a “small” secret or a “big” secret? Obviously there is little point in keeping small secrets from an ally. And until the first successful test of the bomb, there was really nothing to say.

      We kept the timing and location of our Pacific offensives secret from Stalin, and these also had profound implications for the war and postwar world. Would you really argue we had an obligation to divulge those secrets in order to gain Stalin’s “trust”?

      “The US was itself, of course, considering the options of what it would take to invade the USSR — even including dropping atomic bombs on it.”

      The US was not doing so in the period under discussion here (from the death of FDR to the Franck Report).

      “I’m not sure why you would assume that Stalin had good reasons to think the US would give it very many security guarantees.”

      Because the US had given him exactly those guarantees at Tehran and Yalta. We agreed to the borders he wanted, to allow him to create pliant buffer states, and to cripple the two main threats to Soviet security (Germany and Japan). What more security guarantees could any Russian ruler need?

      “there was little reason from the Soviet point of view to think that the US (or UK) would continue their alliance after the threat of the Axis powers had been removed.”

      The reason to think that was because FDR sought to establish a basis for such postwar cooperation during the war. That the Soviets thought they could not trust the US became a self-fulfilling prophecy immediately after the war.

      “I don’t think the Manhattan Project scientists were ludicrous in thinking that perhaps Stalin should at least be tipped off about the bomb.”

      And he was tipped off at Potsdam after the first test was successful!

      “The idea wasn’t that Stalin should have a bomb, obviously, but that there would be absolutely zero chance at postwar arms control if they didn’t have some wartime disclosure.”

      I don’t agree that the chance was absolutely zero without disclosure. It was negligibly small whether Stalin was tipped off or not.

      “Even Truman, in the end, felt that Stalin should be tipped off — hence the Potsdam approach. It just wasn’t much of a tip, and it came rather late.”

      Late? Stalin got the tip when there was actually something to say (we had tested successfully).

      If Stalin wasn’t going to trust the US under the circumstances that actually existed from April to August of 1945, he wasn’t going to trust the US under any circumstances.

    • Alex W. (History)

      Let me put my point this way: the Americans knew that they were purposefully keeping Russia out of the loop, because they knew the atomic bomb would drastically affect the postwar order, and, they thought, give them an upper hand against Russia. They considered the possibility of talking to Russia about it, and decided against it, until the absolute last minute, and even then, they didn’t really tell much. They didn’t say that it was an atomic bomb.

      This tells you that they thought it was not an incidental secret. This also tells you that they were not trying to gain Russia’s trust. This is what disturbed Bush and Conant so — they perceived this to mean that Roosevelt and later Truman were going to try and maintain an American nuclear monopoly by means of secrecy alone, not arms control agreements. This they found ridiculous, the worst case scenario. Bush to Truman, 1945: “A secret race on atomic bombs can lead to a very unhappy world.”

      That’s what they were trying to avoid. Now it may have been in vain — I suspect it was. I don’t think international control was going to work out. But they saw it as the strategic, moral, and political move to try and make. And making it known that Russia was not considered to be a “real” ally, by keeping them out of *what they thought* was going to be the biggest revolution in warfare since gunpowder was certainly a hinderance in that.

      Nobody expects now, and certainly not then, that allies would share all secrets with each other. But they generally do expect allies to share things that they expect will forever change the postwar world. And this is not some sort of post-hoc view of things: this is exactly the view that Vannevar Bush and James Conant espoused. (And neither were as doe-eyed or left-wing as the Franck Report scientists.)

      (And again, just so everyone is clear, we aren’t talking about technical secrets. We’re talking about just acknowledging that you’re working on something big.)

      The idea that they had nothing to say before Trinity is nonsense and you surely know it. They certainly knew they had more to say before then, and had taken great pains to conceal it from the Russians specifically.

      By September 1945, the US had made atomic war plans for potential use against Russia. They certainly had every intention of cutting them out of the atomic world if they had the option.

  4. Alex W. (History)

    A little known fact about the Franck Report: it was, like all other Manhattan Project documents that discussed the bomb (much less its use and postwar proposals), completely classified as “SECRET.”

    In January 1946, Eugene Rabinowitch (one of the Franck Report authors and a co-founder of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) petitioned to have the Franck Report formally declassified for public consumption, as part of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago’s campaign for a “civilian” Atomic Energy Act (the McMahon bill, as opposed to the “military” May-Johnson bill). This was back when declassification of Manhattan Project documents was still a fairly ad hoc affair, before formal procedures had been completely put into place. The officer relaying the declassification request noted that: “Inasmuch as most of the information contained in this Report has already been widely publicized, it is believed that declassification is sought in order to show that certain political and social problems were recognized and discussed by the scientists some time before the bombs were dropped.”

    Of note is that the MED organization did remove a number of sentences and modify others of them. The versions floating around on the web are sometimes complete and original, sometimes not. Of interest to me are the passages that were considered too sensitive to release by the MED organization in early 1946:

    ***

    — “From this point of view, the way in which the nuclear weapons now being secretly developed in this country are first revealed to the world appears to be of great, perhaps fateful importance.”

    — “If we consider international agreement on total prevention of nuclear warfare as the paramount objective, and believe that it can be achieved, this kind of introduction of atomic weapons to the world may easily destroy all our chances of success.”

    — “It may be very difficult to persuade the world that a nation which was capable of secretly preparing and suddenly releasing a weapon as indiscriminate as the rocket bomb and a [million] times more destructive, is to be trusted in its proclaimed desire of having such weapons abolished by international agreement.” In this passage, the “million” was changed to “thousand” by the MED censor. (Too suggestive of the “Super” bomb idea.)

    — “Thus, if the prospects of an agreement will be considered poor in the immediate future the pros and cons of an early revelation of our possession of nuclear weapons to the world–not only by their actual use against Japan, but also by a prearranged demonstration–must be carefully weighed by the supreme political and military leadership of the country, and the decision should [not be left to military tacticians alone].” This passage was modified to say “not be left to considerations, merely, of military tactics.” An interesting show of irritation, perhaps? (The MED personnel did not think of themselves as being mere military tacticians.)
    There is also one missing sentence which I have been unable to find in any published version, just following the line: “…the compelling reason for creating this weapon with such speed was our fear that Germany had the technical skill necessary to develop such a weapon, and that the German government had no moral restraints regarding its use.” It is so heavily scratched out in the microfilm copy of the original Franck Report that I cannot see its contents, though I may try to consult the original some day to see if its contents can be figured out.

    — “To sum up, we urge that the use of nuclear bombs in this war be considered as a problem of long-range national policy rather than of military expediency, and that this policy be directed primarily to the achievement of an agreement permitting an effective international control of the means of nuclear warfare. The vital importance of such a control for our country is obvious from the fact that the only effective alternative method of protecting this country appears to be a dispersal of our major cities and essential industries.” I am not sure that the “vital importance” sentence was meant to be classified (it is not marked as such), but it was omitted from the versions of the Report published in 1946. The “sum up” sentence was definitely marked for removal.

    ***

    Plus any indication that the US had looked into thorium in any way as a “fertile” element. (They did not want to try to hide the fact that thorium was fertile, only that the US had been interested in it. This is likely because General Groves had expended quite a lot of effort trying to lock up international thorium supplies in secret.)

    The above deletions/edits were published in the version of the Franck Report that came out in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1946, and have often been reprinted from there, apparently. The version at NuclearFiles.org (http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/ethics/issues/scientific/franck-report.htm) is fairly complete (it derives from the same source I have, that which has the MED censor’s marks on it), though it is missing the one passage mentioned above.

    • krepon (History)

      Alex:
      As always, many thanks for your contributions.
      MK

  5. bradley laing (History)

    Was there an assumption by the authors of the Franck Report that the European empires would break up, after World War II, leading to the large numbers of independent states that came afterwards?

    That the Japanese Imperialists could recruit people from India to fight against the British should have been a sign that the post-war order could include independent states. And those indepedent states would have to agree to international control of atomic energy, also.

  6. Mark Gubrud (History)

    Reading the words of the Franck report one senses a desperate fatalism. The authors must have known at some level that they had no chance of persuading Truman or the military to opt for such a “demonstration” instead of using the bombs.

    I still think, tragic as it is, that the actual use of the bombs against human flesh, in ending the world’s most lethal war, was essential to preventing their later use in an even more lethal one. The world needed to see those horrific images, to hear the harrowing testimony of the survivors, and to know that this had actually happened and could yet again.

    The sad and terrifying thing is that even then so many (often intelligent) people failed to get it, and today we are in danger of forgetting.

    This is the true reason for annual remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They died for us.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Well said. And we are quite lucky, in hindsight, that the ability (scientific, technologic, and economic) to develop nuclear weapons, first arose ca. 1940. Ten years earlier, and World War II would have been far, far worse. Ten years later, and the Cold War would likely have been World War III. 1940 but Roosevelt decides that Szilard and his buddies are a bunch of crackpots, ditto.

  7. Gregory Matteson (History)

    There are two elements so far overlooked in the above arguments: The first being that the Franck Report scientists had not wrapped themselves in the delusion, later adopted by many American political and military leaders, that “The Secret” of the bomb was something that the US owned, and could keep, by the Grace of God, for all eternity.
    Another factor is the question whether the bomb actually precipitated the Japanese surrender. Many, perhaps most historians knowledgeable of the internals of Japan, do not believe this to be the case. I think perhaps it is arguable our commencing the use of the Bomb precipitated the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan, which indeed appears to have been the central issue driving the Japanese decision to surrender.
    The biggest secret of the Bomb, the one that inevitably would be disclosed on use, was that the damned thing worked.

  8. OT (History)

    “Demonstration shot” wouldn’t have worked, as it would have proved only technical capability, not ruthlessness, the other essential part of a terror weapon.

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      I don’t know if a demonstration shot would have worked or not, but I don’t think there was any question at that point about either side being unwilling to contemplate the mass deaths involved in destroying a city from the air if that is what it took. Dreseden, Hamburg, Cologne, Coventry, Tokyo…

      I think in some ways the it is interesting that people who were quite happy to order the fire bombing of cities by conventional means even paused for thought to use the bomb on cities.

      I guess deep down this points to some rather worrying line of subconcious thought that ballances deaths… area bombing with 1000s of heavy bombers and a mix of high explosive and incenduries over a week is ok because it’s hard, probably too hard to actual wipe another nation off of the map with, and somehow “fair” because a lot of the bomber crews will die. Ultimately you are testing your resources against theirs and there is a genuine struggle attendent with horrible terms like “de housing” etc.

      On the other hand, doing it with one bomb is horrifying because its so easy, and so disproportionate, and makes possibile a few hundred such bombs could wipe out a nation. Once you have the bomb, and a means to deliver it, and your enemy has no means of reprisal, you are no longer testing your industrial and logistical ability to destroy each other through attrition.

      And I would suggest that this is precisely why people think a demonstration shot would have been more appropriate. The threshold for demonstrating willingness to do so was crossed the moment people started targeting cities.

  9. Gregory Matteson (History)

    OK, if we agree that a “Demonstration shot” wouldn’t work, why shouldn’t we have nuked a strictly military target?

    • Captain Ned (History)

      Kokura Arsenal was the primary target but was too cloud-covered. The ROE required visual confirmation of the target.

  10. John Schilling (History)

    I am exceedingly skeptical of any analysis which greatly considers the question, “What should the United States do to earn/have earned the trust of Stalinist Russia?”, without a comparable consideration of the opposite question.

    In early 1945, Russia was the country that had chosen to ally itself with Nazi Germany in an attempt to conquer Europe and only switched sides when Hitler double-crossed Stalin first. If the question is, “How much information should we give them about the most powerful weapons of the age, that they might trust us?”, the reasonable response is, “What have they done to earn our trust in such matters”?

    As noted, the biggest secret of the bomb was that the damn thing worked. The moment that secret is revealed to the Russians, the clock is ticking on a process that inexorably leads to an enemy of the United States having nuclear weapons – because there was no realistic prospect of Russsia being anything but a Cold War enemy of the United States. “Let’s tell them about the bomb ASAP, so they will trust us and not be our enemies”, seems most unlikely to have been effective.

    • Alex W. (History)

      You’re making a straw man out of their argument.

      The argument was: let’s set up something with the UN that will allow people to monitor nuclear activities. That would allow us to know that 20 separate countries weren’t all trying to make 20 separate bombs in secret.

      Of course you could not hope to do such a thing without the agreement of the USSR. The argument was that for the USSR to agree to such a thing, it would need to trust that the US was not using it as a ruse to just keep the Soviets from the bomb. And that they would never believe such a thing if they were completely left out of it from the beginning, because that would be a clear sign that the USSR was in fact going to be the next enemy.

      Now in retrospect we know a lot of things, such as the fact that Stalin almost surely would have made a bomb either way, and that he already knew about the project, and so on. I’m not sure that international control had the chance of a proverbial snowball in 1945-1946. It was not really given much of a chance in any case — keeping Russia out of the loop, maintaining a policy of indefinite secrecy, and the Baruch changes to the Acheson-Lilienthal Plan surely doomed it, with or without Soviet intransigence.

      And that is what the Franck Report scientists were getting on about. In their mind, the absolute worst-case scenario would be the one that actually played out: the US and the USSR creating exponentially-growing stockpiles, spending trillions on defense, putting the world in unimaginable, ridiculous levels of danger, well above and beyond the actual needs of mutual security, along with the US investing heavily in secrecy as a form of technological control, despite the fact that at best it adds a little time before parity, and at worst it hinders your own scientific and technological development (to say nothing of liberal democracy). The American scientists were just as worried about how such policies would effect the USA as they were about them affecting US-Soviet relations. (And indeed, the domestic effects are ones that have well outlived the Cold War.)

      What the Franck Report scientists and the early BAS types ended up being wrong about was that having arsenals in the tens of thousands necessarily would lead to nuclear war. But it’s hard not to see that as a lucky break, given the close calls.

      It would take twenty years of such close calls, and such ridiculous levels of stockpiles, before people could actually go back to the table and put into place the kinds of things that were proposed in 1945 — arms control limits, proliferation safeguards, and UN inspections.

      I’m not saying one has to agree with the Franck Report authors, even from a 1945 standpoint. I’m not sure I do. But one ought to take them seriously as legitimate views that rational and intelligent people could have espoused at the time.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I understand the argument quite well. And no, you could not hope to do such a thing without the agreement of the USSR. You also could not hope to do such a thing *with* the agreement of the USSR, under Stalin. There would be no basis for trusting Stalin to abide by any such agreement, no plausible mechanism by which such trust could be earned, and no point without that trust. At best you could get the treaty on paper, but ignored in practice.

      So, if the agreement isn’t going to take effect, there’s no point in shaping policy around it. I do understand the appeal of various UN-centric nuclear arms control proposals floating about at the time, but there was not ever any real possibility of them coming to pass except in some grotesquely warped fashion (e.g. Pax Americana via B-29 and Fat Man).

      More generally, any great discussion of how one must act to win the trust of Adversary X, without a corresponding discussion of the trustworthiness of X, is likely to lead to bad policy.

  11. Gregory Matteson (History)

    In regard to the question of relations between the US and Stalin, it is well to remember that what Stalin wanted; confirmed from his own mouth; was a piece of Japan. US policy up to the end of WWII was to oppose the dividing up of nations.
    In the end, the US protected Japan from the punitive wrath of all the allies, and Stalin got only a very small bit of Japan (Sakhalin and the Kuriles), he had hoped to get at least Hokkaido.
    Perhaps it would have been better if the US had retained it’s traditional policy after the war, of opposing the partitioning of peoples and nations.

  12. Fred Miller (History)

    This discussion reminds me of Einstein’s famous words, “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.”

    Historians, and especially ardent amateurs like myself, love to try to guess what Japanese military leaders would have done, or what the Supreme Soviet would have done, under different circumstances. I don’t take my own speculations or others too seriously.

    I think old Albert may have been right: everything changed much earlier than Hiroshima, or even Trinity. These events showed us how powerful the genie was, but it had been let out of the bottle long before.

    The genie grew rapidly: the US and USSR both perfected the technology, and that of it’s delivery systems,in forty years. No significant improvements are left to be made.

    The movement to put the genie back in the bottle, meanwhile, has been much less predictable. It has repeatedly sprung to life, made progress, and collapsed to relative insignificance. It has acheived much more than seemed possible, at the time, but never maintained it’s momentum quite long enough to finish the job.

    The conclusion of Einstein’s quote reminds us of the magnitude of the task: “If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”

    • bradley laing (History)

      I really hate to say this, but I think the Einstein “watchmaker” qoute was a fabrication in the DC Comics series “Watchmen.” The original, real qoute was I wish I’d become a shoemaker.”

    • bradley laing (History)

      http://www.todayinsci.com/E/Einstein_Albert/EinsteinAlbert-Quotations.htm

      [Misquotation] If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker. [Apparently remorseful for his role in the development of the atom bomb.]

      — Albert Einstein

      “Although often seen cited as “”Attributed. New Statesman (16 Apr 1965″”), Ralph Keyes in The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (2006), 53, states ‘Einstein said no such thing.”” See the similar quote about a plumber.

      Science quotes on: | Atomic Bomb (48) | Knowledge (462) | Plumber (4)

  13. krepon (History)

    A classic shoebox quote from Stalin, speaking to Kurchatov and Yannikov after the Bomb’s unveiling:

    “A single demand of you comrades… Provide us with atomic weapons in the shortest possible time. You know that Hiroshima has shaken the whole world. The balance has been destroyed. Provide the bomb — it will remove a great danger from us.”

  14. Carey Sublette (History)

    _I think in some ways the it is interesting that people who were quite happy to order the fire bombing of cities by conventional means even paused for thought to use the bomb on cities._

    Could you name who you have in mind?

    The person whose opinion most mattered here, aside from Truman himself, was Stimson whose view was the exact reverse of what you described.

    He was terribly troubled by fire bombing, but believed in the use of the atomic bomb because he felt its shock value might precipitate Japanese surrender.

  15. Gregory Matteson (History)

    Also, I have never found a better general account of the firebombing campaign than Inferno: The Firebombing of Japan, March 9-August 15, 1945, By Edwin P. Hoyt, Madison Books, 2000

  16. John S (History)

    On the point of a “demonstration” shot possibly allowing us not use the bomb on an inhabited city: does no one remember that a “real” shot” didn’t work to convince the Japanese to surrender. It took two bombs to force contrition. Why would anyone think an explosion in the middle of the desert would have been more convincing than obliterating a city?

    • Carey Sublette (History)

      “Why would anyone think an explosion in the middle of the desert would have been more convincing than obliterating a city?”

      A demonstration shot need not have been over a remote desolate area (few deserts in the Home Islands however) — an unannounced bomb drop over Tokyo Bay was a possibility that would have exposed the entire Japanese leadership to a very impressive spectacle.

      The machinations of obtaining War Minister Anami’s consent to surrender were quite extraordinary and not part of established protocol or procedure, so how it would have played out with a different introduction to the A-bomb is impossible to guess. It is not like there was some specific destruction threshold that had to be met to trigger surrender.

      What I find interesting as a point of history is that there was no formal consideration of a demonstration option.

      It was brought up at the Interim Committee meeting, and was discussed there and dropped, but it was an item not on the agenda, outside of the committee’s charter, and no studies had been prepared on the question.

      Without formal consideration of this possibility, there was no chance for a demonstration to be conducted.

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