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Forging the Atomic Shield: Excerpts From the Office Diary of Gordon E. Dean

Forging the Atomic Shield: Excerpts From the Office Diary of Gordon E. Dean

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Forging the Atomic Shield: Excerpts From the Office Diary of Gordon E. Dean

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535 pagine
8 ore
Pubblicato:
Dec 15, 2017
ISBN:
9781469639758
Formato:
Libro

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Soon after his appointment as chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1950, Gordon E. Dean began an office diary composed primarily of notes from his telephone conversations. The diary contains Dean's accounts of the mobilization of atomic energy for the Korean War, the decision to conduct atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the U.S., the development and testing of the first thermonuclear device, the decisions to erect vast plants for the production of atomic weapons, the Rosenberg atom spy case, and other critical issues.

Originally published in 1987.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

Pubblicato:
Dec 15, 2017
ISBN:
9781469639758
Formato:
Libro

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Forging the Atomic Shield - The University of North Carolina Press

FORGING THE ATOMIC SHIELD

Forging the Atomic Shield

Excerpts from the Office Diary of Gordon E. Dean

Edited by Roger M. Anders

The University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, London

©1987 The University of North Carolina Press

All rights reserved

Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Dean, Gordon E., 1905–1958.

Forging the atomic shield.

Includes index.

1. Nuclear energy—Government policy—United States. 2. Dean, Gordon E., 1905–1958—Diaries. 3. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission—History. I. Anders, Roger M. II. Title.

QC773.3.U5D43    1978        333.79′24′0973        86-11385

ISBN 0-8078-5723-8

Designed by Naomi P. Slifkin

Gordon Dean in May 1949. Dean posed for this official photograph just after he joined the Atomic Energy Commission. (Department of Energy)

To the Memory of Bernard T. Weaklen

Contents

Preface

Editor’s Note

Chronology

Abbreviations and Editorial Symbols

Introduction

ONE

The Hydrogen Bomb

September 20, 1949, to January 30, 1950

TWO

The Impact of Korea

July 11, 1950, to January 12, 1951

THREE

The Rosenbergs, the Hydrogen Bomb, and Korea

January 26, 1951, to June 17, 1951

FOUR

Tactical Nuclear Weapons

June 21, 1951, to January 17, 1952

FIVE

The New Super and a New President

March 27, 1932, to January 15, 1953

SIX

The Eisenhower Budget

January 20, 1933, to June 29, 1933

Epilogue

Appendix

Notes

Index

ILLUSTRATIONS AND TABLES

Illustrations

Gordon Dean in May 1949

The commissioners of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1952

Dean with test officials

The Portsmouth gaseous diffusion plant

An aerial view of the Livermore laboratory

The Mike crater

Mike blast effects overlayed on Washington, D.C.

Tables

Table 1. The Atomic Energy Commission, 1946–1953

Table 2. Key Officials in Gordon Dean’s Washington

Table 3. Atomic Energy Commission Production Plants

PREFACE

In the early 1950s the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission was one of Washington’s most powerful policymakers. Although he worked with four other commissioners to formulate atomic energy policy, he presided over an organization vested with authority more sweeping than had ever been given to a peacetime agency. So broad, in fact, was the congressional mandate of the Atomic Energy Commission that it exercised a government monopoly of atomic energy. The chairman’s domain was thus aptly described as an island of socialism in the midst of a free enterprise economy.¹ Indeed, with the consent of his fellow commissioners, he could do virtually anything to put atomic energy to work in promoting public safety and welfare.

Congress, however, gave the commission such sweeping authority in order to expedite the production of nuclear weapons—then a novel, experimental, complex, esoteric, and very mysterious activity both to the layman and to the lay member of Congress. Also a highly secret activity, nuclear weapons production required some of the largest factories ever built, absorbed the creative genius of some of America’s best scientists and engineers, required testing grounds hundreds of square miles in area, and necessitated the development of some of the most delicate and sensitive scientific instruments ever devised. In 1950 such activities demanded the efforts of five thousand government employees and sixty-eight thousand contractor employees working on programs greater in scope and complexity than those of any individual private corporation. Although the atom promised one day to deliver its share of peaceful technological marvels, the primary task of the chairman and the commission was to build, improve, and increase the atomic arsenal. The atomic bomb, an experimental product of hastily built facilities, had suddenly brought the largest and most devastating war in history to an end; now the commission was required to forge it into a weapon that would help to guarantee America’s freedom from Communist aggression.

The aura and power invested in the commission and its chairman were even reflected in some of the more routine provisions of the agency’s legislative mandate, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. To attract the best talent to the commission, the chairman was not bound by Civil Service regulations or pay scales. Because the commission and its activities were regarded as an experiment, the chairman could shift appropriated funds among programs. He had powers to issue subpoenas, conduct investigations, and hold formal hearings similar to those of congressional committees.

How, we might wonder, did a person act when occupying such a powerful but potentially daunting position? How did events and personalities look from the chairman’s perspective? How did he solve the brand-new problems of atomic energy while having to grapple with the more enduring problems of human nature? Fortunately we do not have to base answers to such questions upon speculation or inferences from bland official texts. While he was chairman of the commission during the Korean War, Gordon E. Dean kept an office diary composed largely of notes of his telephone calls. His contemporaneous record of his world provides a unique view of the early days of atomic energy.

The diary allows us to relive events as they unfolded over Dean’s telephone. To open the diary is to enter the world of atomic energy during the second Truman administration, a world largely hidden from contemporary America. Through the diary we can follow Dean as he mobilized atomic energy for the Korean War, oversaw the development of the hydrogen bomb, fought political battles, prosecuted atom spies, dealt with the powerful personalities of the day, and, at one point, believed the world had come to the verge of World War III. Few documents give us a similar opportunity for developing empathy with the past.

Dean’s diary captures atomic energy at a crucial time. The world was in transition from nuclear warfare to thermonuclear warfare. The Atomic Energy Commission was building a vast complex of plants to produce fissionable materials that would soon bring the stockpile from atomic scarcity to atomic plenty. The deployment of nuclear weapons was becoming global in scope. America’s leaders saw themselves as locked in a bitter, endless struggle with godless Communists—both at home and abroad. Their fervor as well as Dean’s was fueled by a moral certainty about the righteousness of their cause.

A glimpse of history as it was being made, an inside look at the Atomic Energy Commission when the military atom was paramount, a view of atomic energy at a transitional period, an intimate portrait of a staunch anti-Communist during the McCarthy era—these are the images that we get from Dean’s diary.

I have been editing the Dean diary in my spare time for the last six years. A largely classified document when I began the task, now virtually the entire diary has been declassified. Because it was a highly classified document pertaining solely to the official business of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dean left the diary with the Atomic Energy Commission when he left the chairmanship. Now it is preserved by the History Division of the Department of Energy. Most of the diary, including portions not included here, is now available to the public. Access to unedited portions of the diary, as well as to portions used for this work, may be obtained by writing to the History Division, Department of Energy, Washington, D.C.

I owe thanks to many for aid during the preparation of this edition of Gordon Dean’s office diary. William V. Vitale, director of the Executive Secretariat of the department, of whose organization the History Division is a part, approved the nonofficial publication of the diary. Jack M. Holl, the chief historian of the department, encouraged me to edit the diary and advised me on how to obtain departmental review and approval for a nonofficial project. Alice L. Buck, Philip L. Cantelon, Francis Duncan, Jack Holl, George T. Mazuzan, and J. Samuel Walker read drafts of the manuscript and gave valuable suggestions for improving it. Good friends as well as colleagues, Mazuzan and Walker also gave constant encouragement and advice during the department’s review of the project. David F. Trask gave essential advice at a crucial point during the departmental review. Richard G. Hewlett shared with me his knowledge of former Atomic Energy Commission employees and his evaluations of former chairmen. Susan R. Falb, now historian with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, smoothed access to Dean records at the National Archives. Benedict K. Zobrist, Dennis Bilger, and the staff of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, cheerfully fielded inquiries and directed me to pertinent materials in various collections. Annette Barnes quickly and accurately typed portions of the draft manuscript.

I owe my deepest and most devoted thanks, however, to my wife Mitsuko and my daughter Ginger whose spontaneity and creativity have inspired my work and are a continuing source of insight and challenge.

Needless to say, all the opinions and conclusions expressed in the Editor’s Note, the introductory essays, and the Epilogue are my own and not those of the Department of Energy. The responsibility for any errors in this book is mine alone.

EDITOR’S NOTE

Gordon Dean’s unfortunate early death and the subsequent passing of his close associates on the Atomic Energy Commission have insured that the origins of his diary will be shrouded in mystery. The diary itself contains no hint of Dean’s motives in keeping an office diary. Perhaps Dean simply expanded a habit of keeping a personal diary. He may have merely followed the practice of General Manager Carroll Wilson and Deputy General Manager Carleton Shugg, who both kept somewhat similar office diaries. He surely wanted his own record to defend him from hostile critics and members of Congress. Most likely a mixture of motives led to his keeping a diary.

Gordon Dean’s diary is not, of course, the traditional record of the diarist’s innermost thoughts, beliefs, and prejudices. Rather it is a record primarily of telephone conversations and of Dean’s actions as he conducted the business of the Atomic Energy Commission. Interspersed throughout the diary are memoranda; letters; summaries of meetings, events, and actions taken; draft speeches; copies of press releases; and notes from Dean’s secretary and his administrative assistants. The original consists of 1,394 single-spaced typewritten pages. Dean probably intended to create a record of all official calls, but his staff fell short of this ideal.

Like the origins of the diary, the comprehensiveness of the diary must be left to speculation. There is ample evidence in the diary that Dean excluded all personal calls and matters. A comparison with Marion Boyer’s office diary reveals calls not recorded in Dean’s diary. There are surprisingly few calls to President Truman in the diary. Perhaps some calls simply escaped a busy staff. Perhaps there are other reasons, now lost to the historian, for absences from the diary.

Dean’s secretary, Jean MacFetridge, recorded most of the conversations by listening to his calls on her desk phone, making notes during the conversations, and later typing her notes as diary entries. A few entries were typed from Dean’s own notes. There is some evidence that occasionally other secretaries recorded and typed diary entries. Dean usually reviewed each day’s calls and used the diary as a management tool as well as a record of conversations. He did not tell callers that his secretary made a record of conversations. Making notes of calls, however, is a common practice in Washington and few officials would have been surprised that Dean kept such a diary. They may have been surprised, though, by the completeness of his record. Those commission officials who kept diaries or were close to Dean probably were aware of his practice. Brien McMahon and a few other close friends outside of the commission very likely knew Dean kept the diary.

When he became chairman in July 1953 Lewis L. Strauss discovered a tape recorder hidden in the chairman’s office, self-righteously ripped it out, and implied that Dean had used the machine to capture telephone conversations. Actually Dean had installed the machine to record conferences held in his office, not telephone calls, and to defend the commission from a powerful congressman who insisted that a particular company get a lucrative contract before the congressman would vote for the commission’s budget. Dean wanted to record his threat and play it back to him rather than knuckle under to unethical behavior. Dean got the budget passed without having to resort to the tape recorder and never used the machine.¹

There is evidence in the diary that it was compiled without the use of a tape recorder. A conversation between Dean and Congressman Melvin Price on July 26, 1951, ends abruptly with the note from Jean MacFetridge that GD then asked me to get a chart showing percentages of personnel in various divisions, so I did not hear the rest of the conversation. MacFetridge could not get an accurate transcript of a September 19, 1951, call from Ernest Lawrence because Dean took the call at her desk. An April 8, 1952, conversation concluded sharply with the note that MacFetridge did not hear rest of call; had to take another phone. She could not record a May 21, 1952, call to the secretary of commerce because Dean took the call in another office. A March 10, 1953, conversation with Gordon Arneson ended with the note that MacFetridge didn’t hear the rest of call; had to go off the phone.² Only a person listening in on calls in order to record them could have left such notes.

Initially Gordon Dean made his own short notes of calls, simply listing the main point or points of conversations. Soon afterward Jean MacFetridge started making notes of his calls. In May 1950 notes of calls became longer and conversations more complete, gradually approaching a near verbatim account of both sides of the conversation. After Dean became chairman his phone calls captured the most pressing issues before the commission such as the Korean War, the hydrogen bomb, and the expansion programs. A few verbatim transcripts of calls and notes from Dean’s office staff started to appear in the diary. MacFetridge also began to note important dates, events, anniversaries, and appointments before typing each day’s quota of calls. She consistently used the following abbreviations in the diary: GAC (General Advisory Committee); GD (Gordon Dean); JCC (Joint Committee on Atomic Energy); MLC (Military Liaison Committee).

After Dean left the commission in 1953, he spent the next few months going through his office files, removing key documents, and forwarding them to the commission’s secretary for integration into official files. Then his subject files were destroyed. All that remains today are the diary and a few chronological or reader files. Of the extant Dean materials only the diary truly captures his activities as chairman.

Because the diary is so extensive and filled with so much that is routine, editing has been mandatory. Many entries revolve around personnel decisions, fights for budgets, selection of contractors, and congressional pressures that are an overwhelming part of the post-World War II American government. One part of the diary—the first six months of 1950—contains entries that throw some light on Dean’s career but little else. Some conversations are so obscure as to defy interpretation. Some important issues enter the diary only briefly. I have omitted the routine and the obscure conversations, only including in this volume entries that focus on events of major historical importance. Those events are the same as those described in detail in Richard Hewlett and Francis Duncan’s Atomic Shield for the Dean period.

Every part of the diary directly related to these major historical themes has been included in this volume. In addition I have included all references to Dean’s conversations or meetings with President Truman, even the bare notes that indicate that Dean had an appointment with the president. The comprehensiveness of my editorial selection may be checked by comparing these excerpts with the original.

As the notes indicate, the entire Dean diary is not all found in one place. Approximately 97 percent of the diary is preserved in eight large manila envelopes in the History Division, Department of Energy. Fifteen items, primarily Dean’s notes of meetings or the excerpts pertaining to the 1951 Korean crisis, were removed from the diary and placed in official Atomic Energy Commission files. Four other items are in a file of former Dean top secret materials. Unless otherwise noted, published excerpts come from the eight large manila envelopes of diary.

I have deleted both classified data and extraneous material from these excerpts. Classified deletions, marked by asterisks, are few and rarely are longer than two consecutive sentences. Most consist of technical words or phrases. In no instance do classified deletions obscure the meaning of the entries included here.

Far more extensive are deletions of extraneous material, which, unless otherwise noted, are marked by ellipses that I have added. Dean’s telephone conversations, like anyone else’s, at times tended to wander. Some conversations have entire paragraphs of such material edited out. Most extraneous deletions, however, amount to a paragraph or less. My judgment about extraneous material may be checked against conversations in the original diary.

Jean MacFetridge occasionally placed ellipses in the body of telephone conversations, particularly in long conversations appearing in the diary after the spring of 1951. Those ellipses probably marked pauses, interruptions, or other natural breaks in conversations and are an indication of the completeness with which MacFetridge captured conversations. Most likely the ellipses did not mark the deletion of words, phrases, or sentences from conversations. MacFetridge also used dashes to set off parts of conversations. Probably the dashes did not indicate the deletion of material from the diary.

Save for some profanity Dean was usually temperate in his telephone conversations. In one excerpt, however, Dean makes an unfair remark about a scientist who is still alive. I deleted the remark and inserted more temperate language in brackets. Less than ten words have been removed from this excerpt on grounds of fairness.

Some of the telephone conversations reproduced in this volume appear in convoluted or confusing language. Into such conversations, where I believed that I could make a reasonably accurate interpretation, I have inserted clarifying language. I have kept these editorial intrusions to a minimum, but I believe them necessary to avoid needless confusion about the interpretation of diary entries.

Misspellings and typographical errors inevitably crept into Dean’s diary. For example, his staff often misspelled the names of Frederic DeHoffmann, Ernest O. Lawrence, Matthew Connelly, Sidney W. Souers, and Frederick Seitz. Jean MacFetridge often incorrectly placed periods or commas outside of quotation marks. Occasionally errors were struck over with capital Xs. I have silently corrected proper names, other misspellings, obvious typographical errors, misplaced quotation marks, and the X strikeovers. Errors of the original that will not confuse the reader, such as the use of alright instead of all right, have not been corrected.

Dean made handwritten corrections to many of the memoranda in the diary and occasionally to telephone conversations. Frequently MacFetridge and other secretaries added clarifying phrases or other notes in parentheses when they typed up their notes of telephone calls. MacFetridge also used parentheses to indicate that she did not hear some calls. I have explained how I treated such additions to the diary in the list of editorial symbols.

Two final comments are necessary. First, to reduce the number of document notes, I have not identified minor officials who are mentioned only once or twice in excerpts or who are sufficiently identified by the context of conversations or by MacFetridge’s parenthetical notes. Second, Dean did not divide the original diary into subdivisions—he merely kept it in chronological order. To make this volume more useful I have arranged diary excerpts into chapters preceded by short introductory essays.

Without the declassification of virtually the entire Dean diary this work would not have been possible. A gratifying by-product of editing the diary has been the declassification of the documents from the secretary of the Atomic Energy Commission’s files, which are cited AEC in the notes. A little more than half of them were declassified at my specific request for work on the diary. These declassified source documents, like the Dean diary (including excerpts not in this volume), are available to the public from the History Division, Department of Energy.

With minor exceptions the source documents used for the short chapter introductions are the same as those used for similar discussions in the longer introductory essay. The few occasions in which additional documentation was used in chapter introductions have been noted. All these documents are also unclassified and available to the public.

CHRONOLOGY

ABBREVIATIONS AND EDITORIAL SYMBOLS

ABBREVIATIONS

Abbreviations Used in the Diary

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

EDITORIAL SYMBOLS

FORGING THE ATOMIC SHIELD

Introduction

Gordon Dean served as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from July 11, 1950, to June 30, 1953. He kept an office diary consisting largely of notes of his telephone calls, and his diary presents a personal look at policymaking in Washington during the period of the Korean War and the rise of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Hardly a comprehensive view of Korean War Washington, the diary gives an inside account of the development of the hydrogen bomb, the mobilization of atomic energy for war, the erection of huge plants for the production of plutonium and enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, and the battle to establish a second nuclear weapons research laboratory. The diary captures nuclear weapons in transition from laboratory products to the mainstay of America’s defenses, for during Dean’s tenure the commission erected a significant portion of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower later characterized as the military-industrial complex.

Dean became chairman just as the Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950. Six months earlier President Harry S. Truman’s decision to develop the hydrogen bomb marked the first overt step in an emerging nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. If the armed clash in Korea and incipient arms race did not provide sufficiently vivid material for Dean’s diary, there was the intense domestic concern about communism, spies, and subversives. A Washington of crisis and tension emerges from his diary as it throws new light on one of the more controversial periods in recent American history.

Dean was not a Truman intimate or a key adviser on the Korean War; nevertheless, his diary forms an important historical record of the wartime administration. The diary illuminates informal channels of policymaking during the Truman years and gives insight into how the administration made decisions and formulated policy. Often it is our only source of private presidential conversations about atomic energy.¹ The diary captures in vivid detail the impact of the war upon a key federal agency. It lays forth details about historical events and issues, heretofore only available through official histories or public announcements. In preserving part of policy formulation conducted over the telephone, the diary captures details and insights into people and events too often lost forever.

Dean’s diary is not a memoir that reveals the diarist’s innermost thoughts about a broad range of contemporary issues or administration programs. It is a working document created as events happened and, of course, is most concerned with the official business of the Atomic Energy Commission. As the footnotes of the official history of the commission attest, the diary is a key supplement to the official files of the commission. Although the official commission files are among the most complete ever compiled by a federal agency, the diary contains details and actions that did not find their way into official records.² So crucial is the diary in capturing certain decisions that the commission’s secretary later incorporated parts of it into official commission files.

Although the diary is devoted to official business, Dean’s personality emerges forcefully from its pages. Inevitably Dean’s views of issues, problems, and personalities found their way into his telephone conversations. The diary reveals Dean’s victories, his defeats, his wisdom, and, at times, his errors or lack of vision. Gordon Dean accepted the Cold War perception of the Soviet Union as an expansionist, revolutionary power striving for world domination according to a master plan. Often, for example, he credited the Soviets with capabilities they lacked. His diary forms a rich portrait of such a personality and gives insight into Dean and his times.

In the post-Watergate era Gordon Dean stands out as a tribute to the democratic political process. His primary qualification for chairing the commission was the political support of Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut, who was then chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Yet Dean, a lawyer with no background in atomic energy, became one of the commission’s most effective chairmen. He worked hard to gain a good layman’s grasp of nuclear technology, generally maintained good relations with Congress, successfully managed large-scale technological projects, and won the respect and admiration of commission employees, of his colleagues, and of President Truman.³ If Dean’s career is a valid indication, technical background is only a minor ingredient for successfully managing a modern federal agency.

Dean was one of the major architects of the military-industrial complex, managing an enterprise larger than General Motors or United States Steel. Between 1950 and 1953 the commission began the construction of two huge gaseous diffusion plant complexes, a tritium-plutonium production plant, and a second weapons research laboratory. Existing facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington, were doubled in size. Capital investment in atomic energy jumped from $1.4 billion in 1947 to nearly $9 billion in the mid-1950s, exceeding the combined capital investment of General Motors, United States Steel, duPont, Bethlehem Steel, Alcoa, and Goodyear. One of the gaseous diffusion plants had more floor space than the Pentagon, and all three diffusion plant complexes consumed more power daily than could be produced by the Hoover, Grand Coulee, and Bonneville dams and the entire Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system. The materials that went into the tritium-plutonium factory could have filled a line of railway cars stretching from New York to St. Louis.

The hydrogen bomb program was of the same magnitude. One of the key hydrogen bomb test series, Operation Greenhouse, required the efforts of over nine thousand United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and commission personnel. The commission personnel conducted weapons performance tests with sensitive equipment that could measure phenomena occurring one millionth of a second after a nuclear explosion, devised nine hundred civil effects tests on twenty-seven structures erected on Pacific atolls, and raised mice, dogs, and pigs on the atolls for biomedical tests. To support Greenhouse the Navy had to move 250,000 tons of cargo from the West Coast to the commission’s Pacific proving grounds.

Gordon Evans Dean was born in Seattle on December 28, 1905, the son of a Baptist minister. His family moved frequently and he lived in Seattle, San Jose, Chicago, New York, and Pasadena before his college years. Dean entered the University of Redlands in Pasadena as a prelaw student in 1923, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1927 and later joining the Los Angeles firm of Meserve, Mumper, Hughes, and Robertson as a law clerk. In June 1930 he received a doctor of jurisprudence degree from the University of Southern California and, on August 9, married Adelaide Williamson, who had been a fellow student at Redlands. In a few years the Deans would be proud parents of a son and a daughter.

Soon after their marriage Dean and his bride left for the East Coast so that Dean could help Justin Miller, dean of the University of Southern

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