Oral History Interview with
During the Truman administration, Mr. Arneson served as
the secretary of the Secretary of War's Interim Committee on Atomic Energy,
1945; member of staff, U.S. delegation to the United Nations Atomic Energy
Commission, 1946-48; Special Assistant to the Undersecretary of State,
1948-50; and Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, 1950-54.
R. Gordon Arneson
Washington, D. C.
June 21, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Appendix ]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
See also R. Gordon Arneson Papers finding
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened October, 1990
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Appendix ]
Oral History Interview with
R. Gordon Arneson
Washington, D. C.
June 21, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
Subjects discussed include the Interim Committee (on atomic energy),
press releases on the first use of the atomic bomb against Japan; Truman's
note, "Release when ready, but not sooner than August 2;" destruction
of the Japanese cyclotron; Potsdam Conference; Baruch plan; Acheson-Lilienthal
report; Quebec Agreement; Joint Atomic Energy Committee; U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission; Combined Policy Committee; McMahon bill; Atomic Energy Act
of 1946; sharing of atomic energy information with Great Britain and Canada;
United Nations Atomic Energy Commission; Merck Committee; international
control of atomic energy; decision to develop the hydrogen bomb; NSC-68;
State Defense Policy Review Group; sources of uranium ore; State Department's
Policy Planning Staff; and the announcement of the Soviet Union's first
atomic bomb test.
Names mentioned include James Landis, Dillon Anderson, Henry Stimson,
Harvey Bundy, George Harrison, Arthur Page, James F. Byrnes, Harry Vaughan,
Will Clayton, Paul Van Zeeland, Vannevar Bush, J. Robert Oppenheimer,
Clement Attlee, McKinzie King, Cyril Smith, Dean Acheson, Leslie Groves,
Lyman Briggs, Joseph Volpe, Bernard Baruch, Ed Gullion, John Hancock,
Arthur Vandenberg, Fred Osborn, Andrew G.L. McNaughton, Henry Wallace,
Cyril Smith, Lincoln Gordon, Donald Maclean, Charles Darwin, Niels Bohr,
David Lilienthal, Paul Nitze, Adrian Fisher, Philip Jessup, Oliver Franks,
Harry S. Truman, Robert Lovett, John W. Snyder, Robert Bacher, Lewis Strauss,
Bedell Smith, and Robert Cutler.
JOHNSON: I'd like to begin, Mr. Arneson, by asking you to give us the
place and date of your birth, and your parents' names.
ARNESON: I was born in Osnabrock, North Dakota, May 24, 1916, the youngest
of 14 children. My parents' names were Martin and Gesine, both born in
Norway near Stavanger.
JOHNSON: Were you educated there in North Dakota?
ARNESON: Yes, this was a very rough time, as you probably well know,
during the Great Depression. The first few years of school weren't bad,
but high school and college were really rough; most of us couldn't afford
to be there, in the first place. But I got my bachelor's degree from North
Dakota State University in Fargo. Then I was lucky enough to get
Rockefeller Fellowship in Public Administration, one year at the University
of Minnesota, and the second year at the National Institute of Public
Affairs in Washington.
JOHNSON: What major did you have in college?
ARNESON: At one time, as I was about to enter college, I thought, "Gosh,
I'd like to be an architect." I had done some mechanical drawing and I
thought I had a certain flair for it. I seldom asked my father's advice
on anything, but this time I did; "Dad, what do I do about this?" He said,
"Don't be stupid; you couldn't make a living these days being an architect
if you tried, no matter how good you were." So I went in for political
science and economics.
JOHNSON: What was your father's occupation?
ARNESON: He ran grain elevators. We lived in just about every small town
in the state; every two years we moved. Before we came to Fargo where
I entered junior high school we lived in six "jerk-water" towns: Osnabrock,
Wales, Mayville, McClusky, Mapleton, and Kathryn. Then again, the Depression
cut down the number of grain elevators that could make a profit; and he
finally lost his job.
JOHNSON: Now, this was in North Dakota. Wasn't the Non-Partisan League
very active up there, and did the state
actually own the elevators in
ARNESON: No, they had one state elevator, but most of the elevators were
privately owned or were farmer's co-ops. My father's company was Andrews
JOHNSON: I guess during the Depression architects were one of the first
professions to lose their jobs.
ARNESON: It was one of the worst ideas I've ever had in my life.
JOHNSON: But now you're doing art work, so you...
ARNESON: Painting is very interesting and rewarding but not very profitable.
JOHNSON: How many of your brothers and sisters got a college education?
JOHNSON: You're the only one.
ARNESON: I'm the only one who went to high school and went on to college.
JOHNSON: Did your parents prod you, or did you...
ARNESON: I was self-propelled, and finished at the top of my class every
year. I prodded myself, and my parents were
very proud of me. I was able
to live at home during junior and high school and college.
JOHNSON: I imagine you were Norwegian Lutherans.
JOHNSON: But you didn't go to Concordia or St. Olaf.
ARNESON: No, but that reminds me of a very interesting aspect. My mother
was really a wonderful person; she had to be to have fourteen children.
In fact, one of my older sisters said that if they were handing out certificates
of sainthood, she'd get one.
She was very shy and she preferred to speak Norwegian. Her English was
passable. She was rather amusing at times; she'd talk about things being
"expensy," and water being "luke," not lukewarm. She was religious, but
didn't palm it off on anybody else. You did what you wanted to do about
that. But when she could no longer find a Norwegian Lutheran church to
attend, she stopped going to church and had her own service at home every
day. She had a beautiful voice, sang a few songs, "A Mighty Fortress,"
"Rock of Ages," etc., read a passage, and sat quietly in meditation.
JOHNSON: So she read and sang in Norwegian?
JOHNSON: So you knew Norwegian?
ARNESON: I was one of the few of us who didn't really know it very well.
I wasn't confirmed in Norwegian. All the older ones were confirmed in
the Norwegian Lutheran church.
JOHNSON: But you did end up serving in the American Embassy in Oslo,
late in the fifties.
ARNESON: Yes, it was very nice. I visited Stavanger, where my parents
JOHNSON: This internship in public administration was sponsored by, or
subsidized by whom?
ARNESON: By the Rockefeller Foundation. You know, they plant seed corn
for all sorts of public service programs.
JOHNSON: What year was this?
ARNESON: This was in 1939-40. I was probably in the fourth or fifth class;
it had started some years before.
JOHNSON: You interned for a year here in Washington. In what offices
of Government did you intern?
ARNESON: I was interested in trade agreements at the time, so my internship
was at the Tariff Commission. I would gladly have stayed with them but
there were no openings when the
year was up. So I had to seize something
to live on, and I worked for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in New York
City for some months. About this time, the war agencies were ginning up;
and I worked for the National Defense Advisory Commission, the Office
of Production Management, and the War Production Board, until the Army
caught up with me in 1943.
I was late being called up only because my local draft board had 5,115
registrants and I was number 5,000. I tried to persuade my boss at the
War Production Board that I was essential to the war effort there but
he didn't agree.
JOHNSON: What did you end up doing in the Army?
ARNESON: I went to Camp Lee, Virginia, to be classified. They were three
men short on a company they were organizing called the 633rd Engineers
Light Equipment Company. They looked at the master roster, and found Arneson,
Aska and Auld; we were picked. We were engineers for a while. Camp McCain,
Mississippi was the soft underbelly of the United States, I must say;
it was a terrible place. Then I got the word that Jim Landis, Dean of
the Harvard Law School, had come down to Washington. He had been working
in civil defense and my wife had been working with him. He was appointed
to go to Cairo as economics minister, to sort out
some lend-lease and
reciprocal aid matters. He said, "I need some statisticians and economists
to help me." And my wife said, "I've got just the man for you." So, I
spent a year in Cairo, which was quite fascinating, being assigned to
USAFIME (United States Armed Forces in the Middle East) as the unit historian,
reports writer and so on.
JOHNSON: What year were you married?
ARNESON: I was married in '40.
Then I decided I had had enough of Cairo and I was going to go to Officer's
Candidate School. I went before the board and was turned down; it damned
near broke my heart. In fact I was hospitalized for two weeks with severe
arrhythmia. I couldn't understand it. Dillon Anderson, Colonel Anderson,
who was in charge of the outfit said, "Second Lieutenants are a dime a
dozen. Why don't you just stay here; you're doing fine. You're not going
to get shot at or anything." I said, "I don't want to stay here; I want
to go to OCS."
Well then, in one of those twists of fate, Colonel Bellm, who was on
the USAFIME staff, happened to be back in New York on leave. At a cocktail
party he ran into a Sergeant Lilienthal of the Air Force, who was between
assignments and he was looking for a place to go. Bellm suggested, "Why
don't you come out to Cairo?" Bellm, being
a civilian colonel, didn't
know that you can't be over complement in the Army, so when Lilienthal
shows up, we have one too many enlisted men. So I made OCS the second
time before the board.
JOHNSON: Lilienthal, not the [David] Lilienthal.
ARNESON: No, no. This guy was a Republican. He arrived with an autographed
portrait of Tom Dewey! I went to Camp Barkley, Texas, and trained for
the Medical Administrative Corps. I finally got through that. We took
turns drilling the troops. I am left-handed, so I had trouble remembering
which hand was left and which was right, and damn near flunked. But no
one in the Medical Administrative Corps cared much about drilling anyway.
My great claim to fame in Officers Candidate School was during a baseball
match with another company. I wasn't much of a baseball player, and they
put me out in left field where I would be harmless. It was the bottom
of the ninth, two out, and two on base; and I was up. I hit a two-bagger
and won the game! Instant hero!
On being commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, I was supposed to go to Fort
Hamilton, Ohio, a VA hospital there. We were allowed ten days delay enroute,
you know, and I came back to the Washington area to be with my wife for
a few days. One day I went over to the Pentagon to see if any of my
associates were there. A couple were, including my former boss, Colonel
Dillon Anderson. Anderson, by the way, was later Executive Secretary of
the NSC, for a short period after the war. I thought he owed me one. I
said, "Now look, Colonel, do you know of any interesting assignments in
the Pentagon?" His reply: "By golly, I do. You go see Harvey Bundy. He's
a very special friend and associate of the Secretary of War [Henry] Stimson."
ARNESON: Harvey Bundy, the father of McGeorge and Bill Bundy, a lawyer
from Boston. I went to see him. It seems he had a Captain Hodge who had
been working for him, and wanted overseas duty. So Bundy asked me whether
I would like to take the job. I didn't even know what the job was, but
I said, "Sure, it would be great." I'd get to stay in the Washington area;
I had been abroad long enough. For two weeks after taking the job I had
no idea what it was all about. In fact, I was getting bored, because all
I was doing was drafting replies for Stimson to send to little old ladies
who were complaining that their sons had not yet made General. After all,
they had finished basic training already!
And then one day, Bundy said, "See the safe over here in the corner?
I want you to familiarize yourself
thoroughly with its contents. It has
to do with a weapon that's going to win the war." That's how I got involved
in the atom bomb.
JOHNSON: According to Hewitt and Anderson's history of the project, you
worked in the office of George Harrison, a consultant to Secretary of
War [Henry] Stimson.
ARNESON: Yes, that happened when Stimson was finally persuaded to organize
an Interim Committee to advise him about the various aspects of this new
force. Incidentally, he did not ask their opinion about use; he said the
question of use of this weapon was peculiarly one for him and General
Marshall to recommend to the President. So when the Interim Committee
was formed, Bundy said, "I guess Gordon maybe you had better be the committee's
Recording Secretary." I started working for George Harrison, who was deputy
chairman of the Committee.
JOHNSON: Harrison's position was just as a consultant to…
ARNESON: A special assistant.
JOHNSON: This meant writing, a quite a bit of writing. Had you been a
writer prior to this?
ARNESON: Yes, I had done all of the historical work in Cairo, where I
was the unit historian.
JOHNSON: I know that the Army set up a historical program; that was part
of the Army's historical program?
ARNESON: It must have been, yes.
JOHNSON: How many were there working as historians there in Cairo? Were
you the only one?
ARNESON: As far as I know, I was the only one. I was the historian and
the weekly progress report writer.
JOHNSON: Was this attached to the headquarters there?
ARNESON: Yes. Colonel Anderson was the chief honcho.
JOHNSON: That was the experience that really paid off for you then.
ARNESON: I was very acutely aware that the meetings of this committee
were of historic importance, and I had better make damn sure that I was
reporting them correctly. I have all the minutes, by the way.
JOHNSON: Of the Interim Committee?
ARNESON: Would you find them useful?
JOHNSON: Oh, sure.
ARNESON: Let me send them to you.
JOHNSON: Do you have just a rough estimate of how many pages we're talking
ARNESON: Fifty pages.
JOHNSON: Oh, sure; we'd be glad to xerox them and send yours back to
ARNESON: I kept minutes, and I also kept a daily log. You might want
to look at both.
JOHNSON: You had this stuff in the safe, this information about the atomic
bomb, the Manhattan Project?
ARNESON: Early work by the Navy; the Manhattan Project; relations with
the British and the Canadians; the Combined Policy Committee; everything
you could think of.
JOHNSON: What month and year are we talking about when he said, "Here's...
ARNESON: I came on board at the end of February 1945. I would say before
the end of March I had access to this material.
JOHNSON: We're up to '45. So it's in the latter stages now.
ARNESON: Yes, the test at Alamagordo was in July.
JOHNSON: Yes, but the Quebec Agreements, that information was in there
ARNESON: Oh, yes, everything that had anything to do with the program.
JOHNSON: You were assigned to draft a press release for the Secretary
of War Stimson on the first use of the bomb.
ARNESON: There were two press releases; one was the President's statement,
and the other one was Stimson's report to the President on the project.
The second one was the one I worked on. The first one was done by Arthur
Page, who was a long-term associate of the Secretary, active in public
relations. He did the one to be released in the President's name. That's
the one I took to Potsdam to make sure that the President saw it before
we released it in Washington.
JOHNSON: Okay, the one that you prepared came out over Stimson's signature,
as a release from the Secretary of War's office.
ARNESON: To the President; a report to the President.
JOHNSON: A report or memo to the President. Before we talk about this
second one, let's consider the one you took to Potsdam. I've read where
the British had suggestions for revisions in the statements for both Truman
and Stimson, and some were incorporated. Do you remember any
from the British that you incorporated in your write-up?
ARNESON: Yes. Nobody gave me any guidance, so I just went ahead and started
writing. I had tried to assess the importance of various scientists in
the program, and that's an almost impossible job. How do you assess [Otto]
Hahn and [Fritz] Strassmann versus Einstein? It was really beyond my depth.
The British suggested that it be deleted and we agreed. I was glad to
do so. That was the primary change I remember.
JOHNSON: Stimson remarked that changes were made to add "pep" to the
ARNESON: His reference was to changes in the projected Presidential statement
which were made as the result of the unexpected yield of the test at Alamagordo.
I think we also thought we had ought to give [General Leslie] Groves a
little more credit than I had given him in the first draft.
JOHNSON: Okay, you are dispatched to Potsdam with two copies of a message
from Stimson asking authority to have the White House release the revised
statement, as soon as necessary, and Truman approved the draft before
he left the Potsdam conference. That would have been July 31st, I think,
Now, this is something that we received from George Elsey, and have put
in his papers. I wanted to ask you about it. Is this memo here the one
that you took to Potsdam?
JOHNSON: You're sure that's the one you took to Potsdam?
ARNESON: The President's statement, yes.
JOHNSON: Well, I might just identify this as War 41011, 30 July 1945,
from AGWAR, Washington, D.C. to Tripartite Conference, Babelsburg, Germany.
On the back, Truman has written "Secretary of War, reply to your 41011
suggestions approved. Release when ready, but not sooner than August 2."
[See Appendix ]
ARNESON: I've never seen this before, but that sounds right.
JOHNSON: When he said "release," is he talking about releasing the press
release, the information, and not about releasing the bomb? How do you
ARNESON: That could be read both ways. Groves you know had estimated
sometime back that he would have the first bomb
ready by the first of
JOHNSON: But I think Truman said he did not want the bomb used until
he had left Potsdam.
ARNESON: "Release when ready, but not sooner than August 2." Well, you
can't tell for sure whether he's talking about the bomb or about the statement.
JOHNSON: I think we've concluded that it's the statement he's talking
ARNESON: I would think so, yes. It isn't altogether clear but the "release
when ready" doesn't refer to anything except his statement.
JOHNSON: Here he's talking about releasing the information.
ARNESON: Yes. Let me tell you a little story about that trip to Potsdam.
I don't know whether you want to have this sort of thing or not.
JOHNSON: Sure. We like background.
ARNESON: I got very short notice, and I grabbed the next plane. Nobody
gave me a secure pouch, so I sat on the envelope all the way. I got to
Orly after dark. I showed my travel orders to the colonel in charge of
flights. My orders said in effect: "Come hell or high water, get this
He said, "I'm sorry, we can't fly into Gatow [airfield]
tonight; we don't have any landing lights there."
I was listening very carefully to his voice. I don't know why I knew
this, but I thought, "This man's from South Carolina, judging from his
accent. Jimmy Byrnes is from South Carolina. He is South Carolina's favorite
son." I said, "Please get me Jimmy Byrnes on the phone; he'll be very
disappointed." The colonel got him on the phone and I could tell immediately
that I had guessed right. "Yassah, yas indeed, sah. Yas, right away sah."
He turned to me and said, "You'll leave in ten minutes." What they did
at Gatow was to line the field with fifty-five gallon drums, with oil
in them, and set the oil on fire to silhouette the field. It was quite
a spectacular sight.
JOHNSON: This field was located...
ARNESON: Outside of Potsdam. It had been carved out of a heavy pine forest,
so if you missed it you were in real trouble. But it was a smooth flight,
and everything went fine.
JOHNSON: You weren't the only passenger were you?
ARNESON: Yes, except for the radio operator.
JOHNSON: What kind of a plane was it?
ARNESON: ADC-3, that old perfectly dependable workhorse.
JOHNSON: That trip was just for the purpose of you transmitting this
telegram to the President. Do you remember whether this was on ditto copy,
ARNESON: I've never seen that before.
JOHNSON: But you say this is the one you took to Potsdam. Well, the note
we're talking about you hadn't seen before, but this side here. You see,
he wrote on the back of this.
ARNESON: Well, you see, I was given a sealed package; they might have
put it in mouse droppings for all I knew.
JOHNSON: Well, I was just going to say the original is a ditto, on pink
paper, and this xerox copy has a lot more contrast than you'll find on
ARNESON: The story doesn't quite end yet. I left word to be awakened
early the next morning. I got a jeep to take me in. The road from Gatow
to Potsdam was lined with Russian soldiers waiting Stalin's departure.
As I came along they couldn't tell whether I was a colonel, or a general,
or a lieutenant, so I got saluted over and over again.
JOHNSON: You were reviewing the Russians troops.
ARNESON: Yes; then I finally arrived about 6:30 a.m. and as I came inside
the house, the little White House, I saw Jimmy
Byrnes in a hallway, loping
down the hallway looking for his luggage. General [Harry] Vaughan intercepted
me, and insisted on taking the material. I said, "Make sure that Jimmy
Byrnes knows about this, because otherwise there will be real trouble."
That was the end of my mission. I went back to Gatow and flew home.
JOHNSON: So you gave this to Vaughan and then Vaughan gave it to Byrnes,
and Byrnes gave it to the President.
ARNESON: It was all in good time. They were leaving in the next half
JOHNSON: They came back, of course, on the Augusta. But did they
fly out of Potsdam?
ARNESON: They must have.
JOHNSON: But you weren't on the same plane with the President.
ARNESON: No, I had since left.
JOHNSON: You went back and took the same DC-3?
ARNESON: I don't know what I took back; I think it was a commercial airline.
I saw Will Clayton at Gatow. He was on the Interim Committee. I told him
my mission had been accomplished, and he was relieved. Then, I also met
on the way, a man who later became Belgian Foreign Minister, Paul
Zeeland. At that time he was involved with the International Red Cross;
I had dealings with him later on several years after that.
JOHNSON: So this is the end of July of 1945. You come back and, of course,
we have the two bombs being used and the war coming to an end with Japan.
Do you recall any outstanding events of that period that you think we
ought to put down on paper?
ARNESON: Yes, I know one that has been on my mind for many, many years.
One afternoon shortly after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I
was in Harrison's outer office, with Major Britt from Groves office. The
major had a message to be transmitted immediately to General MacArthur.
It had the approval of General Groves. It called for the immediate destruction
of all the Japanese cyclotrons. I said to myself, "This is all wrong;
it shouldn't be done. First of all, there's really no war potential in
the cyclotron; the Japanese could never produce an atomic bomb by means
of a cyclotron. Second, this action by the Army would further infuriate
the scientific community, which was already up in arms about the May-Johnson
bill." The War Department was sponsoring that bill, and of course it never
made it. The McMahon bill finally did.
So I took the message into George Harrison and I said,
"George, I think
this is a big mistake. Why don't you ask one of our scientific friends,
say Van [Vannevar] Bush--you have high regard for his judgment--and see
what he thinks about this." So he picked up the phone and tried to reach
Bush, but it was late in the day and Bush had gone home. I said, "Well,
it's three hours earlier in Los Alamos; try [Robert] Oppenheimer." He
said, "Ah, hell, if this is what Groves wants, let him have it." And the
message went out. The Australians erupted, "What the hell is going on
here." They didn't like MacArthur very well for many reasons; they thought
maybe he just acted on his own, which he hadn't, of course, because this
message went out over the signature of Secretary of War, who was then
The War Department apologized; the State Department apologized, and they
both said this was a mistake, that it hadn't been carefully thought out
and shouldn't have been done. I felt vindicated, but much too late.
JOHNSON: By that time they had been dumped in the sea, or...
ARNESON: They were destroyed in a matter of hours. We saved all the bits
and pieces we could use, and the rest was dumped into the ocean. Now,
it does happen--we've learned in recent years--that the Japanese had a
bit more of a program going than we thought, but they weren't getting
anywhere anymore than the Germans were.
JOHNSON: This happened in September, not long after the Americans occupied
ARNESON: No. It was in early November. The book Day One, by Peter
Wyden, refers to this episode. He doesn't have it quite right. Has me
speaking a little more gently than I did. I was supposed to have said,
"This is very unlikely," and I didn't say that; I said, "It's a damn foolish
thing to do."
JOHNSON: On September 21, 1945 the President's Cabinet apparently first
discussed the possibility of enlisting the Soviet Union in controlling
atomic energy, and Stimson made the proposal. Many were against it except
for Henry Wallace.
ARNESON: And [Dean] Acheson.
JOHNSON: Vannevar Bush proposed control, in exchange for basic information
that could not be kept secret anyway. Do you have a recollection of that,
of that event when Stimson recommended to the President that now we get
the Soviet Union into some kind of international control?
ARNESON: Joe Alsop once said that Stimson was "that granitic statue to
the ancient virtues," and he was. He believed fervently, somehow, that
one could make a deal with the
Soviets. He used to say, "The only way
to get a man to trust you is to trust him, and show your trust"--real
19th Century, mid-Victorian ethics. He believed that; he really did. When
he went to Potsdam--remember he invited himself--Truman didn't invite
JOHNSON: Stimson invited himself to Potsdam?
ARNESON: Because he just thought he ought to be there--with the bomb
and all of that business coming up. It was very fortunate that he was.
While there, he realized that the Soviets weren't just ordinary people,
and that you could not trust them. Their behavior at Potsdam changed his
mind very quickly.
JOHNSON: You mean it changed Stimson's mind.
ARNESON: Yes, and maybe he still thought it was worth trying to come
to some agreements with the Soviets, but he certainly wasn't optimistic.
JOHNSON: Well, also about that time, on October 3, 1945 Truman pledged
to Congress to request international control. I think there was a feeling
at the time that if we didn't have international control we'd have an
arms race, a nuclear arms race. But Truman himself did distinguish between
basic scientific knowledge and engineering know-how, in manufacturing
the bomb. Then, he was also under pressure
from British Prime Minister
[Clement] Attlee and Prime Minister [McKinzie] King of Canada to state
an American policy toward cooperation on atomic energy. In early November
of '45, Vannevar Bush and others were busy preparing for a visit by King
and Attlee. One of the proposals was a staged or step-at-a-time approach
in regard to the Soviet Union, and of course, I think by this time the
United States decided it had to keep its guard up. I believe at that meeting
there was a proposal for a U.N. scientific agency to oversee Western-U.S.S.R.
cooperation, to provide information and inspection in the event of disarmament.
This was approved in substance by Truman, Attlee, and King on November
14, a very important communique apparently.
ARNESON: Yes, indeed.
JOHNSON: Do you recall how strong American fears were at the time about
a secret atomic weapons arms race, and what are your recollections of
these agreements with Canada and the United Kingdom in November of '45?
ARNESON: Those fears led to establishing the United Nations Atomic Energy
Commission, which was supported by the Russians as well as ourselves.
I don't think we were very much worried about anybody else having the
bomb any time soon. I don't think we thought that the Russians were
very far; the Germans had turned out to be in kindergarten on this question;
and, of course, the Japanese hadn't gotten anywhere, either.
JOHNSON: Doesn't this become a basis for the Baruch plan, these ideas
that were worked out here in November of '45?
ARNESON: The real basis for the Baruch plan was the Acheson-Lilienthal
JOHNSON: When was that?
ARNESON: Before Baruch in March 1946.
JOHNSON: Perhaps, before we talk about the U.N. and the Atomic Energy
Commission's attempt to cooperate with the Soviets, we could say something
about the background at this point on these agreements with Canada and
Great Britain, and including the Quebec agreement. You gave me a report
here on "The Articles of Agreement Governing Collaboration between the
Authorities of the USA and the UK in the Matter of Tube Alloys." That's
its subtitle; the overall title is "The Quebec Agreement." Basically,
what did the Quebec agreement provide for?
ARNESON: As we mentioned earlier, it provided that neither would use
the weapon against the other, which seemed rather silly. But it also provided
that the U.S. could not use the weapon
against third parties without British
consent. I mention that in '43 there was a certain amount of sense in
this because we didn't know where the Germans were. If they got the bomb,
the U.K. would have been the logical target. This proviso made no sense
after the war.
JOHNSON: The fear was that if the Germans got it they might use it on…
ARNESON: They'd retaliate on England, because she was close at hand.
It also provided that the United States and Great Britain wouldn't pass
any more information on to other countries. Now this is the part that
the British didn't like: "Fourthly, in the view of the heavy burden of
production falling upon the United States as a result of a wise division
of war effort, the British government recognizes that any postwar advantages
of an industrial or a commercial character shall be dealt with as between
the United States and Great Britain, on terms to be specified by the President
of the United States to the Prime Minister of Great Britain." Now the
British didn't like that provision. We didn't like the veto provision.
Ironically enough, when we were ready to drop the bombs on Japan, the
British acquiesced in our doing so even before Alamagordo. They gave their
consent on the Fourth of July!
JOHNSON: In '45.
ARNESON: After the war, we had to think again about allocation of ore;
we had been getting all of it during the war because we needed it and
the British weren't doing much of anything. But after the war, it was
divided 50-50. As a result, stockpiles were growing in England; they weren't
using them, and we were running short. One of the principle objectives
of the negotiations in 1947 was to change that allocation, and also to
abrogate the Quebec Agreement in toto, to abrogate the part
the British didn't like and the part we didn't like. So there was a trade-off
there, you see.
Acheson went before the Joint Atomic Energy Committee on the 12th of
May 1947 to tell them what we were up to. In the process he said, "You
know we have to think about what's gone before; here's what the Quebec
agreement provided, and we want to get rid of it." When he read the terms
of the agreement, the hearing room erupted in indignation and anger. Several
members walked out at the very thought that we'd have to ask anybody's
permission to use these weapons. Actually the Committee's reaction gave
quite an impetus to the negotiations. We accomplished four objectives.
We abolished the veto proviso; we abolished British dependence on us for
their future industrial and commercial use. For 1948 and '49 we received
all the ore from the Belgian Congo, and the British received none.
JOHNSON: Because they already had a stockpile.
ARNESON: Yes. We also got the right to draw down their stocks if necessary.
Finally, we agreed on nine areas of information where we might cooperate,
which would be legal and not involve restricted data. That got into a
big hassle. At one point Cyril Smith was in England and he was planning
to talk to the British about the metallurgy of plutonium, one of the agreed
nine areas of information exchange. That created a hell of a furor. [Senator
Bourke] Hickenlooper was enraged and [Senator Brien] McMahon was enraged,
and Bush was enraged. The AEC called off Smith's mission; actually, he
was out shooting grouse in Scotland, and had not discussed the metallurgy
JOHNSON: You're talking about 1945. You prepared a study that was transmitted
to [Robert] Patterson on November 7, with suggested proposals on revising
the Quebec Agreement. Were you already suggesting these kinds of revisions
that you've already described? Were you already proposing those kinds
of revisions in 1945?
JOHNSON: But it took you two years to do it?
JOHNSON: Okay, on November 15, 1945 you, General Leslie Groves, Harrison,
and Joseph Volpe drafted a memo, in collaboration with a British team,
on a new set of guidelines to supersede the Quebec Agreement. The only
important disagreement was Groves' insistence on greater restriction of
information exchange. There was an agreement on memorandum of intention,
which was a guide for the Combined Policy Committee to use in revising
the Quebec Accords. You did reach an agreement, apparently, called the
Memoranda of Intention.
JOHNSON: And this retained full exchange on basic scientific information,
but put limits again on exchanging engineering and construction data.
Did not the British and the Canadians already have information on how
to use U-235 and plutonium to make the bomb? I mean was it that essential?
ARNESON: They had only bits and pieces.
JOHNSON: They did have engineering information on how to manufacture
ARNESON: The British were our great Allies during the war. When we first
thought about atomic bombs, we floundered around for a couple of years,
not knowing what we were doing. We assigned the job to the Navy and the
Navy didn't know what
it was doing. Dr. Lyman Briggs was a nice old man,
but a bureaucrat. The Navy thought they might develop nuclear propulsion
somehow. It was only when the British came up with their MAUD committee
report which said a bomb was feasible, that we got energized and organized
the Manhattan District. They sent over at least two dozen of their best
scientists to work at Los Alamos, at Oak Ridge, and in Canada. We did
not admit them into the plutonium business at the Met lab in Chicago or
the plutonium producing piles at Hanford. Their team was led by Sir James
Chadwick who discovered the neutron. They really gave it a full court
Groves said the British were very helpful. In fact, he said Churchill
was our best ally. He was the one who kept prodding us and prodding us
and he did more for us than anybody else. Roosevelt was rather wishy washy;
he couldn't make up his mind about what he wanted. There is no question
that the British were a really great help to us. But there were worries
on the part of Bush and Connant and others that Roosevelt had probably
exceeded his war powers in the Quebec Agreement. Moreover, the Quebec
Agreement was an executive agreement which was binding only to the signatories.
But with Roosevelt dead and Churchill out of office, the British were
still reverting to it and wanting to get the advantage of it.
Bush was particularly concerned that we should not aid and abet British
postwar economic development in this field. That really wasn't our job.
But I often thought we were a little cranky about that.
JOHNSON: A little nationalistic?
ARNESON: Yes. But Bush carried the day.
JOHNSON: He was afraid they would compete and maybe get the market ahead
ARNESON: Yes. Actually in terms of nuclear power their need was about
ten times greater than ours. Their economy was in absolute ruins. They
had no foreign exchange. Oddly enough, even today, they don't have any
more nuclear power than we do.
JOHNSON: Is that right?
ARNESON: We have about 17 percent and they have 17 percent.
JOHNSON: Was Hanford our first one, our first nuclear power plant?
ARNESON: No, Hanford wasn't a power producer; it was a plutonium producer.
They were interchangeable in a way, depending how you put them together.
I remember when all this was being negotiated. General Groves turned to
Joe Volpe and me
said, "You meet with the British tonight out at the
Embassy, and don't give an inch, but be polite about it." That's exactly
what we did.
JOHNSON: So both Groves and Vannevar Bush were resistant to cooperation,
to going out of our way to cooperate with the British and the Canadians?
ARNESON: Yes. And then of course, when the Atomic Energy Act of 1946
was put into effect, it essentially precluded any exchange that really
JOHNSON: In fact, as kind of a prelude to that, when the Memorandum of
Intention was announced and the public statement was made by Truman and
Attlee after that meeting, the Senate apparently felt left out. They were
not included in these negotiations, and Tom Connally, chairman of the
Foreign Relations Committee, and Arthur Vandenberg, the ranking minority
member, walked out after Truman read this declaration. They refused to
stay for photographs. Apparently there was no prior discussion with the
ARNESON: No, as a matter of fact that was a very poorly organized operation.
The party went down the river on the President's yacht...
JOHNSON: The Williamsburg?
ARNESON: Yes. Vannevar Bush didn't go along. The next day he was told to write what had been agreed, and he did his best.
JOHNSON: But who was listening in on these?
ARNESON: I don't know.
JOHNSON: Somebody was taking notes, but you weren't on board the Williamsburg.
ARNESON: I wasn't there, and Bush wasn't there. I don't know who was
taking notes, if anybody was. Bush pulled it together; he knew pretty
well what people wanted.
JOHNSON: And that's the statement that Truman read. The Senators walked
out afterward because they hadn't been consulted.
That brings us to the establishment of the AEC, the Atomic Energy Commission,
to replace the Manhattan Project. Of course, one major concern was safeguarding
sensitive atomic information. So the Senate committee invented this category
of "Restricted Data", for instance.
ARNESON: And "Q" clearances.
JOHNSON: You are reported as concluding that the McMahon bill with amendments
provided adequate military security.
ARNESON: Yes, with the establishment of a Military Liaison
I told Secretary of War Patterson that having a Military Liaison Committee
guaranteed adequate military participation. [See Richard Hewlett and Oscar
Anderson, Jr., The New World, 1939-1946, Volume I of A History
of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1962), p. 515.]
JOHNSON: The AEC would still be under civilian control, but the Military
Liaison Committee would provide input from the military. Do you recall
your role in the rejection of the May-Johnson bill and the approval of
the McMahon bill that was signed on August 1, 1946, creating the AEC?
ARNESON: My military term was running out; I was mustered out in June
of '46. At one stage I was assigned to General Groves' office, simply
to keep track of the testimony that was going on About that time I was
finished with my military service, and I went up to join [Bernard] Baruch
in New York. So I didn't really have much to do with the legislation.
JOHNSON: Do you remember what the chief objections were to the May-Johnson
ARNESON: The general feeling was that it gave too much control to the
military. I haven't seen a copy of the May-Johnson bill for years and
years so I can't really refresh my memory of it. But that was the thrust
of the objections by the
scientific community. I think the resulting McMahon
Act was a great improvement.
There's another case of things very badly handled. Congressman [Andrew]
May and Senator [Edwin C.] Johnson held one day of hearings and that was
it. You don't get vital legislation through that way. I think the administration
was very unhappy about it; things floundered for a while. Finally, the
War Department asked the State Department to take over the burden of sponsoring
JOHNSON: The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 did retain the idea of restricting
exchange of information, that is engineering information, with the United
JOHNSON: What kind of information did they agree on exchanging? Was it
basic scientific information?
JOHNSON: The CPC, the Combined Policy Committee, was to remain in overall
charge, apparently, of this interchange.
JOHNSON: But there was a hang-up developing a new agreement in that Article
102 of the U.N. Charter required that every treaty and international agreement
be registered with the
secretariat and published. To make a special deal
with Britain and Canada would cast doubt on U.S. intentions for an international
program. There seemed to be a bit of a hang-up here as to how the U.N.
ARNESON: That's why we entered into something called a modus vivendi.
JOHNSON: A modus vivendi.
ARNESON: Not an agreement. A modus vivendi says, "Mr. A
sits here and says I would propose to act in this way." B sits there,
and he says, "Yes, I intend to work the same way." That's not an agreement;
it's a modus vivendi.
JOHNSON: That's too informal to be an agreement.
ARNESON: Yes. As a matter of fact, there's a story that some British
fellow said to Ed Gullion, my predecessor, "You know, this is hardly an
agreement among people who agree; it's an agreement among people who disagree."
Ed replied, "Yes, that's about right."
JOHNSON: But we were still determined that we would not send to them,
or exchange this engineering information with them, that what we really
wanted to obtain was the raw materials.
JOHNSON: And I suppose some suspicions were aroused because of the spy
ring in Canada?
ARNESON: Yes, and with the Fuchs case in 1950. You know, we were getting
very close to really going into bed with the British, with a new agreement.
Then the Fuchs affair hit the fan and that was the end of it. We'd go
for about two years, and finally we got to the point where we had to get
amendments to the Atomic Energy Act. We got one in 1951 which allowed
us to have further elbow room with the Canadians. We had a further amendment
in 1954 which allowed us to talk with all our NATO allies about weapons,
their general characteristics, and how they fit into war plans and so
on. In 1958, as I understand--that's way past my time in the A-bomb business--I've
heard that the act was amended in such a way that we had full cooperation
with both the British and Canadians.
JOHNSON: Well, looking back again, in 1946 John Hancock of the U.S. delegation
to the UNAEC mentioned that Truman did not know about the Quebec Agreement
when he made his new agreement that contains such general terms as "full
and effective cooperation." This was part of the statement that he and
Attlee made, a very general statement about full and effective cooperation.
Then I think the statement of intention was a little more specific and
that did perhaps
exclude this "cooperation to the extent of exchanging
engineering information." Is it true that Truman, in 1946, when he first
met with Attlee, was not aware of the Quebec Agreement as far as you know?
ARNESON: I don't know the answer to that. There's a silly story about
the Quebec Agreement. Stimson and all the rest of his advisors in 1944
didn't know anything about the existence of the Quebec Agreement. Apparently
when Roosevelt came back from Quebec via Hyde Park, he gave to a Navy
officer, who was in charge of files in the White House, a copy of the
Quebec Agreement. He said, "File this." The officer looks at it and he
sees "tube alloys," thinking that it might refer to "submarine torpedo
tubes," so he puts it in the Navy file. It was the only copy. Maybe Roosevelt
intended this result; someone has so suggested. We finally got a copy
from the British.
JOHNSON: That was the British code name, "tube alloys."
ARNESON: Yes, we used S-1 as ours. And as for Truman's knowing, I would
think it highly unlikely that he didn't know. However, given the peculiarities
of the agreement and how it was handled, certainly the Congressional Joint
Committee didn't know until the 12th of May 1947. Whether Truman knew
or didn't know, I'm not sure. I don't think so.
JOHNSON: So the Congressional Joint Committee didn't know until '47.
ARNESON: When Acheson told them.
JOHNSON: How about knowledge of the atomic bomb? There's been some question
as to who knew about it. The standard explanation is that Truman didn't
know about the atomic bomb project until Stimson talked to him right after
the swearing-in, in '45.
ARNESON: That is right. Truman traveled around the country; you know
he was very worried about profiteering, but I'm not sure he unearthed
this one at all.
JOHNSON: But there were people on the Truman Committee that say that
there was general knowledge within the committee that there was a project
of this kind. There are a couple of people who claim that that was known
to the Truman Committee. But as far as you know, April 12th was the first
time that Truman knew?
ARNESON: Congress took Stimson at his word pretty much. He said, "I need
this money and I can't tell you why." He briefed three or four of the
leaders in the Congress. They pledged themselves to complete secrecy.
JOHNSON: Could Truman have been one of those?
JOHNSON: You mentioned modus vivendi, and this apparently
occurred in January of 1948. This involved allocation of ore and exchange
of information, and closer technical cooperation, but I guess there were
still occasional problems. In the summer of '48 the British asked for
information on plutonium metallurgy and later on some other technical
information about atomic weapons. Did we try to keep to ourselves the
information about plutonium metallurgy?
ARNESON: Yes, there was a big flap about that. Cyril Smith, one of the
fellows involved in these exchanges, had gone to England and said, among
other things, that he would be talking about the metallurgy of plutonium.
One of the commissioners--I think it was [Lewis] Strauss, who was a real
scaredy cat--said, "We can't do that. We can't allow him to exchange that
information; that's weapons information." So they rushed around frantically.
As I remember, Lilienthal was away and the commissioner from New England,
Sumner Pike, was in charge; they got to Cyril Smith. They found him hunting
grouse in Scotland, and he hadn't talked to the British about anything,
let alone plutonium. We'd kept the British away from plutonium altogether.
Among their 24 scientists who were sent over
here, none ever got to Hanford
at all, and that was deliberate. We didn't want them to know much about
JOHNSON: Well, of course, you can make bombs with either U-235 or plutonium,
so why were we so secretive about plutonium?
ARNESON: Actually, plutonium is a much more efficient medium. The advantage
of uranium-235 is that you can use it in a gun type weapon, bang one piece
into another. You can't do plutonium that way for fear of pre-detonation;
that's where they get that very complicated implosion system. We thought
that was very precious knowledge that we better keep to ourselves.
JOHNSON: It seems so complicated compared to the gun method, which I
think was used in the Hiroshima bomb.
ARNESON: We were so sure it would work that we never tested it. The plutonium
JOHNSON: Oh, you mean the one in Alamagordo? That was an implosion bomb,
on the tower?
JOHNSON: There was a meeting in January of 1949 hosted by J. Robert Oppenheimer.
The conclusion of the meeting was that there should be closer coordination
of work between the
United States, U.K., and Canada, and the nuclear weapon
components would be stockpiled in Britain. The production of atomic weapons
would be reserved primarily to the United States and Canada. Truman got
this policy paper in March of '49, and apparently he or the committee
began working with Senator McMahon in the Congress. On July 14, 1949 you
attended a meeting in Blair House with Truman and representatives of Congress.
You had prepared notes for Truman to read in opening the meeting. Eisenhower
at this time was supporting Truman on closer cooperation with Britain.
It appears that in '49 we were ready for closer cooperation on the development
of atomic weapons and that, of course, we had this modus vivendi
which you have explained. Then, there was a meeting with Senator McMahon
on June 30th and there were some Senatorial reactions on July 14. Apparently
you were in this meeting with Senator McMahon on June 30th. What do you
recollect of these meetings in Blair House and with Senator McMahon in
ARNESON: Considerable progress had been made. We were about ready to
come out with an agreement with the British and the Canadians that made
sense. I think the committee, the Congressional committee, was of mixed
mind. Most of them seemed to be in favor. We had made it very plain that
any agreement, however minor or major, would be subject to Senatorial
approval, the committee's approval, so we weren't
going to go off half-cocked.
That was quite reassuring to many of them, but some were still pretty
violently opposed. The committee did agree we should go ahead and negotiate,
subject to their concurrence, on whatever came out of the negotiations.
Then the Fuchs case hit.
JOHNSON: Yes, I noticed you visited Britain in November of '49 to view
their atomic energy facilities.
ARNESON: Yes, General [Kenneth] Nichols and George Weil and I went; George
got much that he wanted about the physics of their program; Nichols got
information on their weapons program.
JOHNSON: Apparently you recommended that the British stop construction
of a third reactor and go no further with gaseous diffusion. Was that
because we were going to be sharing plutonium information with them?
ARNESON: As I look back on this, I think we were pretty unrealistic in
trying to hold them back in any sphere. They weren't going to be held
back by anybody. We wanted them to build most of their bombs in Canada
rather than in the UK, and they said, "Nuts to that; we'll build them
wherever we like." So I think we were being quite unrealistic. Although
we were making progress, I think we were stumbling over our own feet.
JOHNSON: The attitude of McMahon and some of these Senators apparently
had changed; that is, before the Fuchs thing.
JOHNSON: What was the climate that was causing that change in attitude?
Why were they feeling a little more willing to cooperate now with Britain
and Canada, in '49?
ARNESON: They were willing to have us negotiate, subject to their approval.
Thus they had a veto.
JOHNSON: But they were a little bit more open minded now, right?
ARNESON: I think so, yes.
JOHNSON: This follows NATO. Does this have something to do, do you think,
with the NATO treaty in which we were now going to be a part of the defense
of Western Europe.
JOHNSON: There was a need for more cooperation with Western Europe, for
JOHNSON: That might have been a factor.
ARNESON: I think so. Vandenberg was always a fly in the ointment. He
and Acheson had quite a time together, and he
finally came around to endorsing
NATO. He's the one who came up with the Vandenberg Amendment to the Atomic
Energy Act of 1946, which provided for the Military Liaison Committee.
Vandenberg had a way of wandering around the landscape for days and then
finally coming down on the right side of the issue.
JOHNSON: Okay. There is pretty good coverage in the Foreign Relations
series on the efforts to get the Soviet Union into co-sponsoring the Atomic
Energy Commission within the United Nations. That's a rather involved
story and we don't have to repeat what's already in the record, but what
comments do you have generally on this long, drawn-out effort to get the
United Nations Atomic Energy Commission established?
ARNESON: That was easy, compared with trying to get some agreement on
substance afterwards. As I remember, when we met with Stalin at the very
end of the session, he said, "Oh, yes, sure, we'll have this U.N. Atomic
Energy Commission, no problem at all." The difficulty came in negotiating
anything in the U.N. [Bernard] Baruch was a great mistake as a leader
of our efforts; he was much too arrogant. I have a story about that I'll
come to later on his no veto proposal.
We presented to the U.N. the essence of the Acheson-Lilienthal report
which called for ownership, operation and management of all dangerous
facilities by an international
agency. Baruch took this and he added his
nefarious "no veto" proviso, which got everybody excited. Ironically,
we were the ones at San Francisco who insisted on giving the veto to the
great powers--the permanent members of the Security Council. Gromyko said
on the 12th of July, 1946, about two months after the Baruch proposal
was advanced: "It is unacceptable to the Soviet Union as a whole and in
its separate parts." They never changed their attitude in the two years
I was with our delegation. Someone was always coming along saying, "Well,
maybe if we changed this or changed that, the Soviet Union would agree."
That's just plain nonsense; they would not agree to anything that required
their opening up their territory.
JOHNSON: They were in the process, of course, of developing their own
ARNESON: In his memoirs, you get another clue from old Khrushchev later
on, who said, "I couldn't agree to this disarmament proposal because it
involved inspection and it would reveal how weak we are." In other words,
the Soviet Union was the biggest third-world country in the world, and
they were very self-conscious about being so.
JOHNSON: Well, we sure got worried about their power. When we first heard
about their atomic bomb test, we...
ARNESON: And then Sputnik too. That terrified the whole
know, if you spend 20-25 percent of your gross national product on the
military, you can do pretty well. We spend 5-6 percent.
JOHNSON: J. Robert Oppenheimer in February of '46 prepared a long memorandum,
part of a workbook of papers prepared by the members of the Board of Consultants.
He proposed that the international authority "have a monopoly on the study,
development and exploitation of uranium," because he thought this would
make detection of violators much easier. Apparently this was adopted;
this idea was adopted by the U.N. AEC proposal committee, which you were
on. What were your impressions of Oppenheimer and his understanding of
the control of atomic energy?
ARNESON: I think his understanding was complete. He was the chief teacher
for the Acheson-Lilienthal group, which produced the original proposal
on which Baruch's plan was based. Oppie knew exactly what he was talking
about. On the matter of ore, for example, one of the things we did after
Baruch left and Fred Osborn took over--I served as Osborn's chief of staff--we
decided what we had to do. We obviously weren't going to get any agreement
from the Russians, but we ought to try to bring our friends together with
us, to work with us and to expand and elaborate our proposals. We nominated
General [Andrew G.L.] McNaughton of Canada to chair a committee, a working
group, on mining and
Canada happens to have some uranium in the Great Bear Lake area, and
McNaughton said, "Well, I don't think you need any ownership, operation,
and management here; leave that to the nations." After about three weeks
as chairman of this committee, he changed his mind. He said, "Yes, you
have to have ownership, operation, and management at the very start and
take it right on through."
JOHNSON: It would be too easy to conceal, otherwise?
ARNESON: Oh, yes. You could begin a process of concealment that could
lead to God knows wherever else. I thought that was a very interesting
example of facts proving themselves. He was a very solid fellow.
JOHNSON: Was it true that you could hide the manufacture of a bomb behind
the walls of another type of factory, that it was fairly easy to conceal
the actual production or manufacture of a bomb?
ARNESON: The U-235 that we used in the first weapon over Hiroshima was
produced at Oak Ridge by three different methods, each complementing the
other. Gaseous diffusion involved a huge plant about the size of about
four football fields. The electromagnetic-separation process required
huge equipment. The plutonium-producing plants in Hanford were also huge
things. Maybe you could use smaller
facilities that would produce less,
and eventually you might get enough for a bomb. After all the bomb isn't
any bigger than your fist.
JOHNSON: A few pounds, or whatever it is.
ARNESON: Ten kilograms. It would be awfully hard to do what India is
doing, or Pakistan is doing now, or Iraq if you have very intrusive inspection.
JOHNSON: You'd have to have on-site inspection, right, to make this work?
ARNESON: Free access; no bars.
JOHNSON: Of course, another question came up about biological warfare.
Did you stay out of that?
ARNESON: No, I was involved in that too. I was the secretary of the Merck
committee. This is amusing--we decided Merck better write a report to
the Secretary of War about biological warfare; they had a committee that
had been working for a couple of years. So Commander Searls, a bacteriologist
from the University of Wisconsin, and I wrote the report. He made sure
that we got all of the technical stuff straight. It was prepared, and
it was issued, and then withdrawn from public service. Nobody knows where
it is. I used to have a copy of the darn thing; I lost it years ago. That
never amounted to anything; nobody had in
mind that we would have any
use of bacteriological weapons in war, but it was something that ought
to be looked at in the future.
JOHNSON: You knew Alger Hiss?
ARNESON: I met him once in 1947 at some conference at Princeton. I was
JOHNSON: But wasn't he involved in some of these UN AEC meetings?
ARNESON: No, not at all as far as I know. If he was, it was with some
JOHNSON: You apparently were present, with Baruch and others, on September
19, 1946, when Baruch was on the phone with Henry Wallace.
JOHNSON: He chastised Wallace for writing a letter to the paper without
consulting with Baruch. He said it misstated the facts. Wallace said he
would meet with Baruch. Truman fired Wallace the next day, on September
20; and on September 27 you reported on a meeting with Wallace and his
aide, Mr. Houser. One of the arguments was over the meaning of stages.
The Soviets wanted to outlaw atomic weapons, but without inspection. Apparently
Wallace wanted some concession to Soviet distrust, but admitted that he
had all the facts. Do you recall what the culmination of this
meeting was? Did anything come out of that meeting with Henry Wallace?
ARNESON: I was in on all of that. I remember it was a tempest in a teapot.
Nothing concrete came out of it.
JOHNSON: The Soviet Union rejected the Baruch plan, mainly because of
the inspection provisions?
ARNESON: Well, and the ownership, operation and management provisions
JOHNSON: Of the ore.
ARNESON: Of everything--all dangerous facilities, mines, plants, everything.
JOHNSON: Okay. When you said "dangerous facilities," did you mean facilities
producing atomic bombs?
ARNESON: Producing nuclear fuel.
JOHNSON: Okay, nuclear fuel, which could be used for either weapons or
JOHNSON: Would that have been practical? I mean if they had said yes
to this Baruch plan, would it have worked in practice?
ARNESON: It would have been very difficult, I'm sure of that. We, ourselves,
would find difficulties with it.
JOHNSON: Yes, we were more advanced; we had more secrets to worry about,
ARNESON: And we would have given up bombs that nobody else had. It was
an idealistic idea, no doubt about that, but it also was realistic in
the sense if you really wanted to do this job, you had to do it this way.
Let me divert for a moment on Baruch. When he left, he came around to
all of us and said he was sorry, and wondered if he could be of any help.
I wanted to do some writing, and he said he'd be glad to subsidize me.
I decided not to take that offer, because I thought the new man ought
to have some people around that knew what had gone on. But Baruch and
I kept in touch over the years.
Between 1946 and '61, he would call me up, with no particular thing in
mind. We would just chat a bit. One day he called me, in '61 or '62, I'm
not sure, when I was Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs in the
State Department. I was in talking with our Executive Officer about a
budget matter. My secretary came in all aflutter; she said, "Mr. Baruch's
on the phone." I said, "Oh, fine, I'll go talk to him." I had hardly picked
up the receiver when he said, "Arneson, who is that fella who wrote that
memorandum disagreeing with me on the veto?" I thought, "By God, this
isn't going to be any fun at all." And I stalled. I said, "Well, you see
I can't remember his name; he worked
for the Marshall plan, and then he
was president of Johns Hopkins for several years." I was trying to build
him up, you see. Then, I noted that Kennedy made him our Ambassador to
Brazil. "Oh, yes, his name is Lincoln Gordon," I said. And Baruch said,
"You know, he was right." I nearly fainted. After all these years, he
finally realized that the veto was a big mistake, which of course, it
was. It just loused up everything. But it didn't make any difference really--the
Soviet Union didn't give a damn about the veto one way or the other.
JOHNSON: Would you explain the veto provision?
ARNESON: If there were a violation of the treaty, no permanent member
(United States, United Kingdom, USSR, France, China) of the Security Council
could veto action by the Security Council to punish the violator. Now,
the original idea of the Acheson-Lilienthal report, on which the Baruch
plan was based, was that you didn't have to worry about the veto; you
relied on Article 51 of the Charter which says you have an inherent right
of self-defense. The Russians weren't going to buy any part of the plan.
But the difficulty with the veto was that they seized on it as a major
aspect, and beat us over the head with it. A lot of people thought that
this was the only thing they were objecting to.
JOHNSON: You mentioned his arrogance, Baruch's. Of course,
came to dislike Bernard Baruch.
ARNESON: And Jimmy Byrnes said it was the worst appointment he had ever
made. Baruch had had his day; he was quite a big guy in World War I. He
wasn't the fellow that he had been then. Incidentally, one of his cohorts--John
Hancock, whom you mentioned earlier--one of his senior advisors, was a
fellow North Dakotan. I got to know him pretty well.
JOHNSON: Well, we can pick that up later. Of course, this got into the
general problem of reduction of armaments, and inspection, in general,
of armaments. In June of '47, another issue arose when the British challenged
the U.S. position on operational and developmental functions for the proposed
Atomic Development Authority. There was a decision to send you to London
to brief Ambassador [Lewis] Douglas. You were delegated in June of '47
to visit London and brief the American Embassy and the British Foreign
Office in regard to specific issues such as commercial use of atomic energy,
that is the nuclear power reactors; the U.N. International Authority;
the ownership of fuels and nuclear reactors; and an atomic energy court
to settle disputes. Apparently, the British, through Roger Makins, referred
to our approach as perfectionist. They thought we were not realistic,
and we were too far-reaching in our attempt to transcend nationalism.
Do you think they were correct on that?
ARNESON: I've just been writing about this visit. I've been doing some
writing which I call "Fission Fragments," just bits and pieces, like this
Baruch veto episode. The British kept talking to me about how nations
ought to be free to go ahead and produce as much nuclear power as they
want. I pointed out that under the plan, no nation would be inhibited,
subject to approval by the ADA, the Atomic Development Authority, and
development would be uneven among various countries. Now, what they didn't
tell me, and hadn't told anybody yet, was that they had already embarked
on a weapons program. Donald Maclean was our liaison with the British
Embassy in those days. On March 19, 1948 Maclean came in to report to
Ed Gullion, my predecessor, that, yes, they had started in late 1946 on
a weapons program. Public announcement came on May 12, 1948 in Parliament.
JOHNSON: Isn't he the one that defected to Moscow?
ARNESON: Yes. Of course, the British didn't want anyone standing in the
way of their weapons program. Under the U.N. plan atomic weapons production
would not have been allowed anywhere.
JOHNSON: What year was it they detonated their first atomic bomb?
ARNESON: In '52. We had tried to accommodate them, and have them do their
test in Nevada, but we and they found it was
just too complicated. We
couldn't do it. So they went to Montebello, out in the Pacific.
JOHNSON: I see they had a member named Charles Darwin, who didn't think
he was being kept up on things.
JOHNSON: Was he a direct descendant, do you think, of Charles Darwin?
ARNESON: Yes, I think he was a grandson probably. He was a scientist
in his own right. He was the chairman of the committee we set up on the
research and development powers of the agency, and I was a member of that
committee. We used almost verbatim the Acheson-Lilienthal report in this
regard, including the fact that the agency should have the right to do
research on weapons so that we would keep in the forefront of knowledge.
JOHNSON: How about this idea that after you've detected violations, how
do you handle the violators? That was another complication, wasn't it;
that is, what kind of a court do you have to try them?
ARNESON: Such a special international tribunal should have been devised.
JOHNSON: In 1947 the newly formed State Department Policy Planning Staff
also entered the picture. In August of '47
they recommended on the atomic
energy issue to continue negotiations for agreement on a United Nations
AEC, and before this work broke down, "United States representatives should
be sent to Moscow to give a true and complete picture of this Government's
objectives with respect to the international control of atomic energy."
So we could put the onus for any breakdown on the USSR. Was this visit
ever made, a visit ever made, for that purpose?
ARNESON: No. And it would have been absolutely futile. I think we can
sum up this stuff very quickly. As long as the Soviet Union was represented
by a stonewall Stalin and any of his successors, any agreement that had
any teeth in it was hopeless; it would not be agreed to. With "glasnost"
and [Mikhail] Gorbechev, we may be able to get somewhere.
JOHNSON: Well, we've already got inspectors, on site.
ARNESON: Yes, and we are saying that any agreement now involving, say
a 50 percent reduction, has got to be preceded by a thorough-going inspection.
I'm all for that. We are now in a different world altogether. We ought
to be very careful not to miss any bets.
JOHNSON: Niels Bohr in 1948 presented a paper to John McCloy, proposing
a broad offer to the Soviet Union to exchange scientific and technical
information on a reciprocal basis. Of course, he was going for openness
too. I think we've
kept knocking on the door, waiting for it to be opened.
ARNESON: Yes. I knew Niels Bohr. In fact, one of the first things I had
to deal with when I came down from New York--Marshall was Secretary of
State--was Bohr's "memorandum on an open world." Marshall turned to me
and said, "What do we do with this?" I didn't know what we should do with
it. Anyway, Ed Gullion was still around, and between the two of us we
decided we'd interview a dozen people who were knowledgeable about this.
Finally, Oppie [J. Robert Oppenheimer], whom I accosted, said, "Why don't
you go up and talk to Bohr? That's the thing to do. Don't talk to me;
don't talk to [Edward] Teller." So I took the plane and went to see Bohr;
he was staying with some friends on Long Island. It was a bitterly cold
day. After a nice lunch, he and I sat out on the porch, a screened-in
porch, cold and dank. I was sitting in a wicker settee, a table in front
of me, with Bohr on the other side. On his side were matches, tobacco,
and pipes. He lectured me for two hours while smoking matches and very
little tobacco. Finally, I said, "Dr. Bohr, there really is one simple
question that has to be asked from all that you've said; 'What are the
chances the Soviet Union will accept?"' He said, "There isn't a chance
in the world."
JOHNSON: You mean inspection.
ARNESON: His "open world" idea. I said, "Well, then why should
it forward." He replied, "Because if they turn it down, they'll be in
terrible shape in the eyes of the world." I said, "Dr. Bohr, they don't
give a damn what the attitudes, the feelings, of the world are, they'll
just do as they please." You will find the account of all this in my report
to Marshall in Foreign Relations of the United States (1948, Volume
I, pages 388-399).
JOHNSON: Yes, I noticed that.
ARNESON: In fact, as I look back on it, I spent too much time in that
memo suggesting there ought to be further study. I think it was dead on
arrival. Here's Bohr off talking about an open world, and here you've
got an international control plan for atomic energy, which now requires
an open world, and Bohr barely mentioned it.
JOHNSON: Baruch, in a letter to John Foster Dulles, in October of '48,
implied that [Warren] Austin, [Frederick] Osborn and perhaps you, were
being too slow in countering Soviet propaganda. Was there any validity
in his complaint that we sometimes seemed to be a little slow countering
Soviet propaganda on this issue? They kept blaming us, didn't they, for
the lack of progress, of course, on UN-AEC? What could you do as far as
counter-propaganda was concerned?
ARNESON: Well, I regret very much that I've lost the file of speeches
I made, or wrote for other people, but I'm sure we
slugged it pretty hard
all the way.
JOHNSON: Was it a feeling you were spinning your wheels?
ARNESON: That's right.
JOHNSON: In 1949 you were counseling firmness, I think, as you had done
before. What happened to this idea of international control through the
U.N., after the Soviets set off their first atomic bomb?
ARNESON: Well, first of all, there's a peculiar psychology here. The
UN-AEC produced a third report--and by the way the author of which was
a Frenchman, not an American--and it concluded that unless and until the
Soviet Union decided to become a cooperative member in the community of
nations, there was no prospect for international control of atomic energy.
We thought we could carry that through with the General Assembly in Paris
in 1948. Our messenger of choice was General [Andrew] McNaughton; he said
he would introduce the resolution, if I came over to help him. So I came
over to help. I'll never forget. I got to Paris in late afternoon and
I was dog tired. It was about 17 hours on the plane, in those days, you
know. I was ready to go to bed, but Mrs. Osborn, who had spotted me in
the dining room of the Hotel Crillon, said, "You can't do that; Fred's
up at headquarters waiting for you." I got to bed the next morning about
2 o'clock. We got McNaughton the resolution
we wanted. He introduced it.
Australia, which had nothing whatever to do with the subject, said, "Oh,
no, the permanent members of the Security Council will have to meet again
and see whether there is a basis for agreement." Nobody wants to say "no"
or give up, especially if the other guys will do it for you. But it was
crazy. So the resolution passed by the General Assembly called for the
permanent members of the U.N. to meet again to seek agreement. They did.
No agreement was forthcoming.
Then in 1954--by that time the permanent members were meeting in a disarmament
subcommittee--I went over with Morehead Patterson who was our chief, and
Bechhoefer from U.N. Affairs in the State Department. We were getting
nowhere at all in the negotiations and I knew we wouldn't. Bechhoefer
said to me, "Is there anything we can do to seem more flexible?" That's
the key word in diplomacy--you've got to be flexible. "Oh, hell," I said,
"sure we can. We can say, 'We support the U.N. plan or any other no less
effective plan."' He was delighted with that statement. Truth to tell,
I don't know of any "no less effective plan." Neither did anybody else.
No, after a couple of years, we were just beating our gums at the U.N.
And as I say, with the kind of people in charge in the Soviet Union, you
couldn't expect anything else.
JOHNSON: In late '49, Truman asked [Dean] Acheson to concentrate
question of should the United States develop the H-bomb. Acheson, David
Lilienthal and Defense Secretary Louis Johnson formed a working group
under NSC executive secretary Sidney Souers for assistance, along with
you, Paul Nitze and Adrian Fisher, the State Department's legal adviser.
ARNESON: Yes, he had been the legal adviser at the AEC before coming
to the State Department and was very knowledgeable about atomic energy
JOHNSON: Okay. Kennan was known to oppose the H-bomb. Oppenheimer was
critical of going ahead on the H-bomb too, wasn't he?
JOHNSON: Kennan was not invited. You have an article in the Foreign
Service Journal, May 1969, which we've ordered. Is there anything
that you would want to add to what is in it?
ARNESON: The only thing I have to add is an afterthought. The four principals
in the State Department were Acheson, Nitze, Fisher and myself. I don't
think it was necessary for any one of us to persuade anybody else; we
all were of a mind that there really wasn't any choice. Acheson, I think,
showed more flexibility than any of us. He talked to Dr. Conant at length;
he talked to Oppenheimer at length; he talked to Lilienthal at length.
They were all opposed, and he was not persuaded. He did try. I don't see
how we could
say we're not going to do this thing, that we will put it
in a bushel basket somewhere; because if we didn't do it, certainly the
Russians would, the British would, maybe even Pakistan, certainly the
JOHNSON: Did you have any input on NSC-68, the rather famous paper of
the NSC on U.S. policy?
ARNESON: Yes. In fact, the decision on the H-bomb called for that study.
JOHNSON: And this did picture the Soviet Union as an expansionist, and
ARNESON: The decision on the H-bomb called exactly for what would happen
in NSC-68. That was one of the things that was required we do, if we went
ahead. Nobody had any problem with that either. Kennan was no longer in
JOHNSON: I think he had gone to Princeton. We pictured the Soviet Union
as a very powerful and dangerous adversary; but in hindsight, were they
as powerful as we seemed to believe in 1950?
ARNESON: One of the reasons the Russians didn't want inspection was that
they were afraid that we would find that how weak they were overall. But
they could amass a terrific military power, not nuclear, but manpower.
I think they were probably spending three or four times as much as we
JOHNSON: But that was certainly going to have a negative effect on their
economy, since it was so...
ARNESON: Exactly, and that's what they were afraid we might learn about.
Their economy was in bad shape; they were way behind in technology. They
couldn't feed themselves. Khrushchev himself said, "We don't want you
guys coming in to find out what terrible shape we're in."
JOHNSON: In other words, they were spending too much of their resources
JOHNSON: I notice in June of '50--this would be at the time the Korean
war broke out--that you were concerned about Western Europe selling strategic
materials to the Soviet bloc. Did that ever become a serious problem?
ARNESON: No, I don't think so. We kept a close watch on it. I doubt if
there was any major difficulty.
JOHNSON: The State-Defense Policy Review Group, was that in effect an
extension of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff? It apparently
included Defense Department as well as State Department people.
JOHNSON: Apparently after the war started in Korea, we decided to go
to South Africa for uranium ore. How did we get started with that?
ARNESON: We had been working with South Africa for several years; and
I thought too slowly, actually. Finally, we got to the point where we
could negotiate and get some agreement.
JOHNSON: Wasn't there a deal with Belgium, that in return for getting
the ore from the Belgian Congo, we had to share some atomic energy information
with Belgium? And did we have to do that then with South Africa as well?
ARNESON: I don't know. This came after my time. Actually, the Belgian
case is sort of amusing. The Belgians wanted more out of the deal than
we were willing to give. The trouble was that the Belgians had little
scientific capability. They couldn't use the scientific information we
gave them, but kept insisting, "You're going to have to help us build
nuclear reactors." We couldn't do that under the Atomic Energy Act of
1946. I understand now that Belgium has a very large nuclear energy program
probably with help from France.
JOHNSON: Do you think what information we did give them was helpful to
ARNESON: It must have been, yes.
JOHNSON: When [Clement] Attlee came over in December 1950 to talk to
Truman about his statement on the use of atomic weapons, that their use
should not be ruled out in Korea, were you involved in those discussions?
ARNESON: I certainly was.
JOHNSON: Okay, this is from the Foreign Relations series. This
is the 1950 series, volume 7, page 1462.
ARNESON: This is what really happened, as against what didn't happen,
in Acheson's book.
JOHNSON: Okay, it's Memorandum for the Record by Ambassador at Large
Philip Jessup; this is the one you're referring to, an excerpt from a
meeting between the President and the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Room
of the White House, Thursday, December 7, 1950. (This information is not
incorporated in the official account of meetings.) [Parentheses in the
original text.] What is significant about that?
ARNESON: The President said, "I will consult with you, Mr. Attlee, if
we want to use the bomb."
JOHNSON: What was it he didn't say? There was something about a veto.
He didn't say that he was going to allow them to veto his decisions on
ARNESON: No, no.
JOHNSON: He would have prior consultation.
ARNESON: He would not consider using the bomb without consulting. Well,
we weren't prepared to agree to that.
JOHNSON: We weren't?
ARNESON: And so what we agreed to is what I wrote, what appears in the
joint communique in the next to the last paragraph.
JOHNSON: I have some sheets with me, but I'm not sure I have that one.
Okay, what was the substance of it?
ARNESON: The substance of it was that the President said that he hoped
that world conditions would never call for the use of atomic weapons.
"The President told the Prime Minister that it was also his desire to
keep the Prime Minister at all times informed of developments which might
bring about a change in the situation."
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, this is Foreign Relations, 1950, Volume 3, United
ARNESON: That's the joint communique that came out of that meeting. That
doesn't say anything about veto, or about consult. Now, the amusing thing
is that one of the British types prepared a Memorandum of Conversation
parallel to that of Jessup's. The British used to come to me and say,
which is the controlling statement, the President's statement or
the communique statement?" And I would say, "Get it through your heads,
fellows, the controlling statement is the joint communique. It follows
after the first, and it has been agreed to by the President, by Acheson,
by Sir Oliver Franks, and by Attlee.
JOHNSON: You were assistant to James Webb at this time; you were working
with James Webb for a while.
ARNESON: Yes, I worked with Webb for a while and then I became a special
assistant to Acheson, which was good because he knew more about the subject
than Webb did.
JOHNSON: Yes. In 1951, there's a question about the use of Goose Bay
as a launching point for bombers carrying atomic bombs. Canadians were
concerned about being consulted if we were to use Goose Bay. You emphasize
that there should be consultation. You noted in a meeting with Canadians
in May '51 the decision to use atomic weapons could be made only by the
President, and he would consult beforehand with the Secretaries of Defense
and State and the chairman of the AEC, which apparently relieved the Canadians.
Was this problem resolved with the Canadians?
ARNESON: Yes, I think so. Acheson and I were talking about this one day
and he said, "You know, we can't expect the Canadians or the British to
give us carte blanche if we want
to go through their territory with atomic
bombs. We've got to figure out some way to bring them along." I said,
"Suppose we talk to them about crisis situations, or assessment of hot
spots around the world, and come to agreement on our assessments of situations
where the lid is likely to blow off." He said, "Fine, you go up to Ottawa
and talk with the Canadians, and suggest that we have frequent meetings
with them about the situation around the world, where we think things
are getting hot and where they are cooling off and see if we can come
to a meeting of the minds as to where the real dangers lie. Let that be
the way we deal with each other. And if the alarm signal goes off, we
would expect them to be with us because they agree with our analysis."
We had a whole series of meetings. The Canadians agreed that was the
way to go. They weren't trying to be difficult here. We did the same with
the British. As to a veto on our use of the atomic weapons, they, of course,
had a veto on our use of their bases, wherever they were. We couldn't
take off from there without their approval, but we might have a meeting
of the minds that would bring them to agree with us at the time to go
ahead. The same was true with the Canadians. It all worked very well.
JOHNSON: I notice that we informed them ahead of time about A-bomb and
H-bomb tests in the fifties.
JOHNSON: We better mention that on page 484 of Acheson's book, Present
At The Creation, there's a paragraph here that you say is in error.
This is the second paragraph from the bottom of page 484. Maybe you would
want to explain how that's in error.
ARNESON: This states that after some discussion, Sir Oliver Franks acted
as scribe. "The President pulled out the slide at the right of his desk.
Oliver left his chair and knelt between the President and Attlee to write
on it. 'I think this is the first time,' said the President, 'that a British
Ambassador has knelt before an American President.' Sir Oliver went right
on drafting and produced a solution, which was inserted without comment
in the communique when we returned to the Cabinet Room: The President
stated that it was his hope that world conditions would never call for
the use of the atomic bomb. The President told the Prime Minister that
it was also his desire to keep the Prime Minister at all times informed
of developments which might bring about a change in the situation."
This isn't what happened at all. Oliver Franks was not in the meeting;
Attlee was not in the meeting. The meeting consisted of the President,
Acheson, [Robert] Lovett, [W. Averell] Harriman, John Snyder, and myself.
I was the scribe and I wrote the two sentences I've just read.
JOHNSON: Which are attributed here to Franks.
JOHNSON: So he got that confused somehow.
ARNESON: Yes. The amusing thing about it, a gentleman from the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars recently called me--he was writing
a biography of Sir Oliver Franks--and he asked me if I could contribute
anything to his knowledge. I told him about this, and he said, "You know,
Sir Oliver Franks believes the Acheson version."
JOHNSON: So he does.
ARNESON: Now, how he could believe that in the face of minutes written
that same day...
JOHNSON: These minutes that you're referring to are in Foreign Relations,
1950, Volume 7, pages 1462 to 1464. And this is the memo of January 16,
1953, subject: Truman-Attlee Conversations, December 1950: Use of Atomic
JOHNSON: And this is what verifies your version?
ARNESON: Yes. Incidently, the date of the memo is wrong. It should be
January 16, 1951. Here was Truman at his huge desk, and Acheson standing
beside him saying, "Look, Mr. President, you have said time and time again
that no one can interfere with your decisions. So what do you do; you
do this. Twenty-three Republicans on the Hill are up in arms." Lovett
is standing right next to him, and he says, "One of the main reasons we
got the modus vivendi through was to kill the Quebec agreement
which had given the U.K. the veto on use of atomic weapons." John Snyder
was over by the window wondering why he had come into the meeting at all.
He had nothing to do with it. Harriman was lounging on the sofa right
next to me; I was standing at the door. When I got down on my knee and
wrote these two sentences, I passed them on to Harriman for his approval.
And he said, "Yes, that's great. But," he said, "change 'any' to 'a'"--"a
change in the situation." So I took it over to Lovett and he smiled, and
he passed it on to Acheson, and he smiled, and he passed it on to the
President. Said Acheson, "Mr. President, this is all we can say."
JOHNSON: There was no agreement on nuclear limitations, armament limitations,
until 1963, I guess--the atmospheric tests. That was the first time the
Soviet Union and the United States came to an agreement on some kind of
ARNESON: Yes. The only one that made any difference. There had been a
few other little things. There was a hot line, for example, which was
a good idea.
JOHNSON: I get the feeling that even by January 1953 the Policy Planning
Staff in the State Department was still talking about or planning for
a war that would not be nuclear.
But if a war was going to involve the
Soviet Union by this time…
ARNESON: How could it be otherwise?
JOHNSON: Yes. Was it the thinking of the Policy Planning Staff, when
you were involved with it, that the planning for a future war with the
Soviet Union would have to take into account nuclear weapons, the use
of nuclear weapons?
ARNESON: There are a couple of points here that ought to be mentioned.
You know, when the Atomic Energy Commission took over from the Manhattan
District, Dr. Robert Bacher--he was the physicist member of the commission--went
out to Los Alamos and discovered we didn't have any weapons--none. We
had bits and pieces, and we could get them together in a couple of weeks'
time, but we didn't have any complete atomic weapons. That was a source
of great alarm to everybody. But then as time progressed, and weapons
became plentiful, it came time to consider whether custody should go to
the military, rather than stay with the AEC.
Now, Lilienthal had what I would call a TVA mentality. Understandably,
he wanted nuclear power so that you could get electricity, too cheap to
meter, and all that. In fact, he got a very discouraging report from the
General Advisory Committee, to the effect that it would be twenty or thirty
years before nuclear power would be of any benefit. However, the Commission
[AEC), even after Lilienthal left,
kept resisting transfer of custody.
It didn't make any sense. And finally, in '51, a major portion of the
stockpile was transferred to the military. The Commission still had the
right to inspect, modernize, change the tritium if necessary, wherever
the weapons might be, but they would no longer have custody.
On the other question that came up, I was asked by Acheson to do a draft
of how the President would decide to use atomic weapons. The obvious answer
to that is that the Joint Chiefs would so recommend directly to him, not
through anybody else. He in turn would seek whatever advice he wanted,
including the special committee, representing State, Defense, and AEC.
For some reason, the Joint Chiefs misunderstood this. They thought this
said that someone was being interposed between them and the President,
which was not the case at all. So that thing lay fallow for I don't know
how long; finally, in 1952 we got that one straight. We got it straight
that the Joint Chiefs would recommend, and the President would get advice
from anybody he wanted; he could talk to the doorman if he wanted. Certainly
the State Department and Defense would be involved, and the AEC, too.
But those two matters were not resolved until 1951-52.
JOHNSON: That sounds like rather important information to know. Are these
issues clearly stated in the records as far as you can tell?
ARNESON: It's in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-54,
Volume II, pp. 1010-1013.
JOHNSON: Okay. Let's just quickly summarize your post-Truman career.
Apparently, you stayed on as special assistant to the Secretary of State
until 1954. Did you stay on with [John Foster] Dulles?
ARNESON: Yes, briefly. It was a very chancy thing actually. I'm writing
about this, too, and I'm going to summarize it very quickly. Over the
years, I was persona non grata to Admiral Strauss.
He considered himself a "majority of one" on the Commission. My duty was
not to deal with the minority members of the Commission, but with the
Commission chairman, and the Commission majority. One time he was meeting
with Joe Volpe, who was general counsel at the time. Joe reported this
to me years later. Strauss said, "Why do I have to deal with this guy
Arneson over in the State Department? He's not a Presidential appointee;
he hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. He's just a civil servant. Why
do I have to deal with him?" Volpe came to my rescue and said, "You have
to deal with him because he's the guy that Acheson wants you to deal with.
He knows more about this subject than almost anybody." Strauss said, "I
still don't like it." And he didn't like it. In fact, we tangled several
times. For example, when the Soviets exploded their first thermonuclear
device, the State Department felt we
should announce it, as we had been
announcing all of the others. My deputy and I drafted what we thought
the President ought to say. Dulles was out of the country. Acting Secretary
Bedell Smith was at home, and I went out to his house and told him what
had happened. I showed him our draft statement. He agreed with it. I said,
"Strauss is having a meeting at 10 o'clock tonight with everybody involved;
so I'll take this over as State's position. One is that we announce, and
second is that this is what we announce." He said, "I agree."
I got to the meeting; representatives from Defense, CIA and AEC were
already there. It was pretty clear that everybody was in favor of announcing
except Strauss. So at the dramatic moment, I said, "This is what the Secretary
of State recommends." You could see Strauss' face turn red. Finally, he
went to the telephone and reached the President who was vacationing in
Colorado, and got approval for the statement. But that didn't endear me
to Strauss either. Never mind that everyone else in the meeting, including
some AEC commissioners, favored announcing. It was that guy Arneson, that
non-Presidential appointee lackey, who delivered the coup de
JOHNSON: You're talking about the Eisenhower period now?
ARNESON: Yes. This is '53. We were considering an amendment to the Atomic
Energy Act of 1946. I was chairman of the
working party. We'd all come
to an agreement that we should do two things. We should open up more possibilities
for private industry, in nuclear reactors. And we should allow greater
flow of information to other countries, particularly NATO. Everybody was
in agreement except the AEC member. I said, "Well, fellows, you go on
home and I will redraft this and take any comments you have to send to
me, and I will have to say that the AEC does not concur." We sent the
report on to Bobby Cutler and the NSC staff which promptly approved it.
Cutler turned to the AEC representative and said, "When you go back to
the AEC, damn it, you tell Admiral Strauss this is what it's going to
be, and he better get on board." Who brought that about? Arneson of course.
So, it ended up that I was doing fine with the Bedell Smith, and I had
a good session or two with Dulles. But if you're persona non
grata to the chairman of the agency, the one that you primarily
deal with, you obviously can't function.
JOHNSON: That is just because Strauss didn't feel that you had all these
credentials that he liked?
ARNESON: Right. In fact, there's one time I went over to brief him on
our monazite (the source of thorium) agreement with Brazil. When I finished,
he showed me to the door in a very courtly manner, and he said, "Arneson,
I understand from mutual friends, you don't like me." Now, if I had had
time to think about it, I would have said something quite
all I could think of on the moment was, "I guess we had better reexamine
our list of mutual friends." It was really very, very sad because I had
been in Government service for a long time, being involved in atomic energy
affairs for nearly a decade, and trained for the public service.
JOHNSON: You certainly earned your stars.
Let's see, you are U.S. delegate to some disarmament subcommittee in
London in '54.
Then in 1955 you attended the Imperial Defence College in London. In
'56-'57, you're counselor to the Embassy for Economic Affairs in Oslo.
From 1957-60 you were deputy director of the Bureau of Intelligence and
Research in the State Department. Oh, you were deputy science adviser
in the Department of State, I notice, in 1954.
ARNESON: That's the job that Bedell Smith offered me, and I refused it.
The reason I refused it was that my experience with the Science Adviser's
office was that much of the science adviser's work was atomic, and I didn't
want to get back into the atomic business in any way, shape, or form.
JOHNSON: You had had enough of that?
ARNESON: I suspected that Strauss would have caused trouble there too.
Incidently, when he later had been nominated to be Secretary of Commerce,
he was approved (9-8) by the
Senate Commerce Committee, but he was rejected
by the full Senate by a vote of 46 to 49. Time magazine, given
in those days to the telling quip wrote: "Time wounds all Heels!"
JOHNSON When did you retire from the Government?
ARNESON: In '62.
JOHNSON: You retired in '62.
ARNESON: I had been director of the Office of Cultural Affairs in the
State Department from 1960 to 1962.
JOHNSON: I certainly appreciate the time and the information that you
have given me.
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and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Appendix ]
Memorandum from AGWAR Washington (Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson)
to Tripartite Conference, Babelsburg, Germany (President Harry S. Truman),
Number: War 41011, July 30, 1945, 1 page (Truman Library Other Personal
Papers Manuscript Collection, Papers of George M. Elsey, 1941-1999: Box
71; Harry S. Truman Administration; Subject File; Japan, surrender of,
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Appendix ]