History Home | Book Catalog | International Catalog of Sources | Visual Archives | Contact Us

Oral History Transcript — Dr. Charles Herzfeld

This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.

This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.

Access form   |   Project support   |   How to cite   |   Print this page


See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection



Interview with Dr. Charles Herzfeld
By Finn Aaserud
At the townhouse of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
July 28, 1991

open tab View abstract

Charles Herzfeld; July 28, 1991

ABSTRACT: Herzfeld briefly describes his education and scientific and administrative career up to his 1961 post at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). He then describes his interaction, as an ARPA manager, with the JASON scientific advisory group.

Transcript

Aaserud:

We are in a townhouse of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and I am here with Charles Herzfeld, who I am going to talk with about JASON, but I would like to introduce the discussion with a little background about your general career to get these things a little in context. And I have pulled out the entry from The American Men and Women of Physics, probably not the most recent entry, which said that you were born in Vienna, Austria on the 29th of June, 1925.

Herzfeld:

Correct.

Aaserud:

And maybe you could just say a little bit of what happened there in your life, particularly education-wise, if that is relevant, before you came to this country.

Herzfeld:

Sure, sure. The war had effectively started in Europe, in my part of Europe, well before 1939, and so my family and I went to Hungary in 1938 change of schools, change of language, and so on. My father died in Hungary of medical causes, and my mother and I came out during the war, left Budapest in 1941, came to America in 1942 to join my uncle, Karl Herzfeld.

Aaserud:

Oh. That was your uncle.

Herzfeld:

Yes, who was the older brother of my father, and who brought us out. And when I came here after a three-month tour in a Baltimore high school, I went to Catholic University and I studied as an engineer. I got a degree in Chemical Engineering, then went to the University of Chicago, and some years later got a Ph.D. there in Physical Chemistry. Except that it was a program that very soon after I got my degree was called Chemical Physics. Because I really was not a chemist anymore, but a physicist who was interested in chemical problems.

Aaserud:

Who did you work with?

Herzfeld:

I worked with Clyde Hutchisson. Under his leadership, we were the group that proved that the uranium compounds were a second earth series with F electrons instead of D electrons, which was a big issue in those days. And when we got through, a team of three or four people, there was just no doubt about it at all.

Aaserud:

What constituted your general motivation for beginning Engineering or Physics, for doing that kind of study?

Herzfeld:

I was always interested in scientific things. How the universe works is an interesting problem. My father was an engineer, my uncle was a physicist, so it ran in the family.

Aaserud:

All in the family.

Herzfeld:

My grandfather was a physician, a rather well known one, on my father's side, and it was a very exciting time in science. Lots of things were going on.

Aaserud:

Clearly. Was your education hampered by the war to some extent?

Herzfeld:

Oh very much, because I had essentially no gymnasium or high school. It was all broken up and changed many times. I did not finish it. I came to this country with a very half completed in terms of European standards education. But I was lucky personally in that I came old enough to bring some European views with me, and young enough to change and learn new things. And I consider myself incredibly lucky because of this. I think I am one of the relatively few people who has managed to understand both cultures.

Aaserud:

Well I don't think you are much above, if at all, the average age of Ph.D.s at the time.

Herzfeld:

Oh no. I was about 25 or so, 26, when I got my Ph.D. And a Ph.D. at Chicago typically would take five or six years. About the usual.

Aaserud:

So you were actually able to begin your university education at about the same time as the average student.

Herzfeld:

That's because I went very fast through Catholic University. I did a whole Bachelor's degree in two and a half years approximately by working very hard.

Aaserud:

And then you went on at the university. You got a Ph.D. in 1951.

Herzfeld:

Yes. And then I was drafted into the Army because of the Korean War the day after I finished my Ph.D. thesis, and after thorough training as an infantryman was sent to the US Army Ballistic Research Laboratory.

Aaserud:

As a draftee.

Herzfeld:

As a draftee. And started theoretical work on the interior ballistics of guns. In fact made one contribution which is still alive, and that is I developed a fundamental theory of the bore friction of projectiles in guns, the friction the projectile has to overcome as it travels through the gun tube. The theory still works, it has no adjustable constants; it is only dependent on fundamental properties of materials involved and the dynamics of the process. Which I'm very proud of. Unpublished however.

Aaserud:

How were you able to get such a position as a draftee?

Herzfeld:

The Army for once did the right thing, and it put people with good technical background into special units that were sent to laboratories.

Aaserud:

So it was not under an ONR grant or anything like that, it was totally Army.

Herzfeld:

It was just the Army left to its own devices.

Aaserud:

And so you served there for two years I can see.

Herzfeld:

Yes, and I went to the Naval Research Laboratory and stayed for two years, and then I went to the Bureau of Standards.

Aaserud:

Was that also as a draftee?

Herzfeld:

No, no. I was a civilian. I was only two years in the military.

Aaserud:

Did you continue more or less the same thing at the Naval Research Laboratory?

Herzfeld:

No, no. I went back to research on things similar to what I did for my thesis, namely the magnetic properties of solids, but that is, at NRL, when I started my theoretical work on these things seriously, which eventually flourished. One of the things I was doing which turned out to be something useful was a group theoretic way of generating the fundamental wave functions of systems, depending on the crystal symmetry. And that was independent of computation from first principle.

Aaserud:

But that was basic science.

Herzfeld:

Oh sure. Yes. I did as much of that as I could, for as long as I could.

Aaserud:

Was your appointment at the Naval Research Laboratory in any way dependent on your Aberdeen proving ground experience?

Herzfeld:

Not at all. No. Total change. In fact they talked to me about coming to the Naval Research Lab before I went into the Army, when I was still at Chicago.

Aaserud:

So who did you work with there? Was that a well-defined group?

Herzfeld:

Yes, it was a group of people who were doing magnetic properties magnetic resonance, magnetic susceptibility and theory and the group leader was a fellow by the name of Garstens, G-a-r-s-t-e-n-s. And another fellow was the theoretician, Kikuchi, a Japanese American, and I was one of the crowd of the young folks.

Aaserud:

How did you find the environment there compared to Chicago for example?

Herzfeld:

It was an excellent laboratory and still is. It's one of the best military labs in America.

Aaserud:

Well, a friend of mine is writing a history of it.

Herzfeld:

A very worthwhile subject to do a history on.

Aaserud:

But there too you were two years.

Herzfeld:

Yes.

Aaserud:

And then you changed again.

Herzfeld:

To the Bureau of Standards. And I was there for six years.

Aaserud:

Consultant to the Chief of the Heat and Power Division it says.

Herzfeld:

Yes, yes. It started out as Heat and Power; then it became the Heat Division. It was really the Chemical Physics Division, but I could not get them to change the name.

Aaserud:

Although you tried?

Herzfeld:

Yes, yes. How do you know I tried?

Aaserud:

Well I just figured it from the way you said it.

Herzfeld:

Yes, you are right. It was too logical.

Aaserud:

So what was the background for the change? You just wanted to go someplace else or?

Herzfeld:

There was more growth potential at the Bureau of Standards. The Naval Research Lab at least my part of it was not moving, and so it was difficult to change what you were doing, if you got to get promotions, and so on. As for scientific work I was able to pick up the same fundamental science at the Bureau of Standards, and that came out in explaining the spectra of trapped free radicals and atoms, highly excited nitrogen atoms for example in a matrix of solid nitrogen, and I was able to explain the spectra, both the wavelengths and the very long time constants, the K constants, from basically first principles.

Aaserud:

So both at the Naval Research Lab and at the National Bureau of Standards you were sort of in a research environment that included the academic way of publishing in journals and attending conferences.

Herzfeld:

Yes, oh yes. And another piece of work you got into because of the Bureau of Standards was, at the Heat Division I resumed my active interest in thermodynamics. And in fact when I became Chief of the Heat Division I was personally responsible for the national temperature scale in the U.S., and published one or two things on temperature. I edited a very large book on temperature measurement, and worked to explain to non-experts the questions of local thermodynamic equilibrium how is it that it is possible to have two different temperatures in the same system. And the point of course is, if the two systems are weakly coupled to each other but strongly coupled within each system, each system will get to its own temperature before the total, the culmination, reaches its average temperature. And that's how lasers work, and just almost everything interesting works that way, in real life. And I had fun with that for a few years. I was mostly interested in the theory. I did not contribute to the theory, I did not do any original work on the theory, but I wrote a couple of expository papers which I think were helpful in explaining how this stuff works to people who are not experts in it.

Aaserud:

That was during your NBS period?

Herzfeld:

Yes, yes, late 1950s.

Aaserud:

So was it by choice that you went to nonacademic institutions, or would that have been preferable, or didn't you care?

Herzfeld:

I did not think that I had to go to a university to be a success. I realized there were other ways to be a good scientist, and I had a certain amount of financial pressure on me because I had to take care of my mother financially as soon as I could, and so that all added up to getting a well-paid job. In those days academic jobs were hopeless.

Aaserud:

Well, you were able to do science.

Herzfeld:

Yes, and I was able to do science most of the time. But at the Bureau of Standards I got caught by management and became a manager.

Aaserud:

Yes, well it sort of can be read out of here. You were consultant to the Chief of the Heat and Power Division the first year.

Herzfeld:

Yes, and I was doing science then, yes.

Aaserud:

And then you were acting Assistant Chief the next year, 1956 and 1957.

Herzfeld:

Yes, and I was still doing science, yes.

Aaserud:

And then you were Chief of the Heat Division.

Herzfeld:

Yes. And I was still trying to do science, but it got less and less.

Aaserud:

And Associated Director.

Herzfeld:

That's when it stopped, the science.

Aaserud:

There is a semicolon after that. That was in 1961.

Herzfeld:

Yes.

Aaserud:

Did you dislike administration, or did you come easily to it?

Herzfeld:

Difficult question. This is turning into an interview of me instead of about the JASONs, but that's alright. I understand your technique, and I have no problems with it at all. I found that I was relatively better at management than at basic science. One thing I learned at Chicago was that there were a number of scientists who were clearly very much better than I was. And so I discovered that I was, to use a musical analogy perhaps, a better orchestra conductor than I was a composer. And I learned to live with that, and acted accordingly.

Aaserud:

Because your next job was directly into management I suppose.

Herzfeld:

Oh yeah. Yes.

Aaserud:

That's when you go to ARPA. In 1961.

Herzfeld:

Right.

Aaserud:

So maybe we should start getting a little more detailed when we get into that, so I would like you to tell me a little about what was the background for changing, both in terms of persons and interests, and how that came about.

Herzfeld:

Yes. Well, I had been interested in arms control issues for a number of years before 1961, because they were important.

Aaserud:

Just personally or also in the institutional context?

Herzfeld:

Personally. No, there was nothing having to do anything with my job; it was just that it was important, and challenging, and complicated. And I spent a growing amount of time on that. So people contacted me from the Pentagon, in particular Jack Ruina, in approximately May of 1961, whether I would come to the Pentagon.

Aaserud:

What was his position then?

Herzfeld:

He was Director of ARPA.

Aaserud:

He was already then.

Herzfeld:

Oh yes. Oh yes. To run the ballistic missile defense program.

Aaserud:

Did you know him from before?

Herzfeld:

No. He approached me, and we spent some time talking, and I got to know the people, met some of the main people at ARPA, and at that time decided not to do it. I had just been made Associate Director of the Bureau of Standards for planning and so on, and wanted to do that job for a while.

Aaserud:

Could you date that approach?

Herzfeld:

May of 1961 roughly. I can get an exact date if that's important. I've got tons of paper. Too much paper. And also what I think Ruina was interested in was that I had a reputation for being a good scientist and a good manager, and the problems he had required a combination of those two things. I said, "No, I really want to do the other." Then I went to Europe on a kind of grand tour of European Standards Laboratories, and was in Europe when the Berlin Wall went up, and I decided that it was really war, and I had to do something serious about it. So when I came back I called him up and said, "Is the offer still open?" He said, "Yes," and the rest is history, as they say.

Aaserud:

That was —

Herzfeld:

In summer, it was in August 1961, the wall went up in August 1961 or thereabouts. In September of 1961, as soon as I came back from Europe I called him. I was working there at the end of September.

Aaserud:

Okay. That was quick.

Herzfeld:

Oh yeah. Right away.

Aaserud:

So you became head of the so-called Defender Program then.

Herzfeld:

Yes. Well, it was complicated. First there were two packages and I was head of one, and the other one was not part of my empire.

Aaserud:

Was that Rubinstein?

Herzfeld:

Yes, yes. And so but that took a while to evolve, but I was de facto, but not de jure, head. Complicated. My life is full of these clever complications. The devil indeed is in the details.

Aaserud:

Well I hope we can get some of those too. Of course at that time when you started in ARPA, in August of 1961, then the JASON group had existed already for almost two years.

Herzfeld:

Yes.

Aaserud:

Let's try to go chronologically back and forth between your general experience at ARPA and however much that involved JASON at the time.

Herzfeld:

Sure. Sure.

Aaserud:

Of course JASON was then formally a branch of IDA and was funded by ARPA.

Herzfeld:

Yes, that is correct.

Aaserud:

Which may mean that you learned to know about JASON fairly early.

Herzfeld:

Yes, because it came out of my budget, and I said, "What is this?" And they said, "Oh, these are very interesting people, you should meet them." So I said, "Please arrange it." And so I met them I think in the fall of 1961 for the first time.

Aaserud:

Okay. So this was your first knowledge of the group.

Herzfeld:

My first introduction. Yes, yes, I had not heard of them before, but as soon as I came to the Pentagon I did, and then when I saw a substantial amount of money going there, I said, "I really need to understand what this is for," and got to know them.

Aaserud:

So that was quite separate from your other tasks, I suppose. Or did you see JASON then as part of your main task?

Herzfeld:

As I recall, that part of IDA was funded out of the Defender program. And that was as I recall because perhaps half of the studies were related to Defender, and the other things were all over the place, so that was the easiest place to put it. And since one of my tasks given to me by Ruina was to make sense out of the R&D program, that was important to get straight. Because the Defender program when I met it was a mixture of basic and applied things very basic to very applied. And the intellectual structure of that was not clear to anyone, and my top job, my top assignment was to get an intellectual structure that would make sense: Why are we doing this? How does Part A relate to Part B? Why is Part A twice as big as Part B? And so on. There were a large number of questions that logically arise.

Aaserud:

Was that the assignment that Ruina explicitly gave to you on this?

Herzfeld:

Oh yeah, absolutely. No, no, it was very clear, but it was also —

Aaserud:

Also your way of thinking about things.

Herzfeld:

Oh yes. Absolutely. So it was a perfect match. I was very happy working with him, and I think he still considers me as one of his success stories.

Aaserud:

I will see him in Cambridge in a few days.

Herzfeld:

Yes. Give him my very best regards. Give him my very best regards warmest regards.

Aaserud:

Certainly.

Herzfeld:

And tell him to give a call, give me a telephone call, if you would be so kind.

Aaserud:

Okay, I'll do that. Yes, of course.

Herzfeld:

And tell him that you found me well in spite of all the vicissitudes of fate.

Aaserud:

To make sure he keeps track.

Herzfeld:

Yes. I haven't seen him in a year or so. Anyway, so there were many large R&D programs in the Defender program, and there was a lot of money. It was of the order of $120 million a year of 1961 dollars that would be about five or six times as big in today's dollars, about $6-700 million.

Aaserud:

It was the largest program.

Herzfeld:

Yes, it was half of the ARPA budget.

Aaserud:

Was the space phased out then?

Herzfeld:

The space was out then. It was out. Totally out. Except that one piece which was in Vela, which was the space nuclear detection program, was still in.

Aaserud:

But that remained.

Herzfeld:

That remained, and also in Defender there were some space parts that had to do with early warning and missile detection and so on. And they remained for quite a while too. But the big space things were out by then.

Aaserud:

Yes. Into NASA.

Herzfeld:

And so we looked at all of this, and getting to know the JASONs was a very important part. Now, part of the story was that a number of the JASONs came to see me to try and tell me what they were doing: Keith Brueckner, Nick Christofilos, and so on, came to tell me about the ideas. And so I saw them both as a problem and as an opportunity. And I found out very quickly that they were incredibly bright and very active.

Aaserud:

How did you see them as a problem?

Herzfeld:

I had to explain why I was spending it was then about $440,000 a year on something that, as far as anyone could see, had no clear-cut purpose. And, after a year of study or so, what I came to understand was that they produced a major change in defense technology every year or so. And I went on the offensive with that information and understanding and said that, "Do you know anywhere else where I could buy a major revolution in defense technology every year for $450,000? I would buy that too." And that began to shut up some of the critics.

Aaserud:

But your predecessors, or whoever had responsibility for JASON before must also have had that problem in some way or other.

Herzfeld:

Of course.

Aaserud:

So it was a continuous concern.

Herzfeld:

I came to the conclusion that the problem was kind of an upside-down problem; it was mostly an opportunity. You had to explain why it was an opportunity, and you had to be clear why it was an opportunity, and you should take the offensive. Say baloney, nonsense, and this is great stuff, stop beating me about it. I should do more, but, I don't know how.

Aaserud:

But, coming back to your first experience of JASON, would you remember enough to describe your first meeting with the group or with individuals?

Herzfeld:

A little bit. They struck me as being very intelligent, as I say, very knowledgeable. They were not kind to people who were less smart than they. And after a while I decided that that was perfectly alright. They're smart enough that they can be unkind sometimes. In fact I turned that around too in the following sense, which some of my people complained about them, and I said, "Well, if you want to play in the big league, that's the big league, and you have to learn how to take the heat. If you can't do that, don't play in the big league." And some of my people chose not to, but some did and did well. You have to really know what you are talking about when you work with these people. Now they are not perfect. They make mistakes, and there are lots of things they don't know. And if you know what it is that they don't know, they will listen to you. So I think we got along pretty well. It was a challenge; it was an intellectual challenge and a human challenge, and a management challenge. But I enjoyed almost all of it.

Aaserud:

So you brought the group together very early in your tenure.

Herzfeld:

No, they had a style of meeting of their own which still carries on more or less, and I did not change that.

Aaserud:

You came to them.

Herzfeld:

Oh yeah. I mean, they had meetings two or three times a year in Washington, usually over a weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then they had an extended summer study of six weeks or so. And they still do that, and they worked on task forces that they set up to help on this or that problem. And I have always considered them, and still do consider them, the best, the most highly skilled, brightest scientific talent that the Defense Department has available.

Aaserud:

How did they fit into ARPA, generally speaking? I mean, to what extent were their projects defined by Defender or also other ARPA problems?

Herzfeld:

Only very broadly. Only very broadly. And one thing I tried to make sure, was that they did not get too narrow definitions of problems. And I still think that's the right way to handle people like that and get the best contributions. Tell them what your problem is in some detail, and then let them think about it.

Aaserud:

But there is always a balance of course, because I mean they can't do anything.

Herzfeld:

No, but you tell them what the real problems are, and what the important problems are, and that you really need answers, and leave 'em alone, except when they want to come talk to you. And that's what I picked up a year ago, and I'm continuing that; I'm going out there next week for two days.

Aaserud:

To La Jolla?

Herzfeld:

Yeah.

Aaserud:

Oh, okay. I was there.

Herzfeld:

Well, I will be in at the end and get the summaries. They've invited me, and I am very pleased to be working with them. And they are a big help. I know when I called on them a few months ago to help me with a project we were working on, I got instant help of very high quality, and that was just very, very helpful. And I'm sure if something like that came up now, I would get the same kind of help. They are just very serious people, and very good. And can't do better than that.

Aaserud:

During these very early times with Defender, were there particular contributions of JASON that you would point to?

Herzfeld:

Some people worked on the hydrodynamics of wakes of missile re-entry vehicles, which was a big problem then; some people worked on some discrimination technology; others worked on particle beam technology, using particle accelerators; others worked on laser weapons; still others worked on problems that were not Defender related but they knew about, such as ASW, and made very important contributions, very important contributions there. There was some work on materials. One wonderful thing that they're very happy to help with is this: if a questionable idea comes along, which may be bad science, they are very good and quick at showing whether it is bad science and we should forget about it, or whether it is simply unknown and there may be something there. And I can think of very few things that are more important than that to get help with. And they've helped me stop worrying about all kinds of things that were clearly nonsense, except they were the first ones to show, to prove, that it was nonsense.

Aaserud:

And you could come to them.

Herzfeld:

And you can come, be pretty comfortable. I mean, the probability of their being wrong is not zero, but it is pretty small.

Aaserud:

I have been told about their trying to convince an admiral that Maxwell's equations even work at sea, you know, things like that.

Herzfeld:

Oh yes. Occasionally some basic questions come up. We are still doing fine on time. I will leave a message. The problem is my office is totally uncovered. I am the only one there. And I have somebody coming in. I don't know what we'll do, but we'll do something. Maybe you can come back, if we're not done.

Aaserud:

You mean come back today?

Herzfeld:

No, some other time.

Aaserud:

Some other time. Yeah, well, maybe you can come to Copenhagen and visit.

Herzfeld:

Yes. That's also a possibility.

Aaserud:

So, I think I'll turn over the tape now.

Aaserud:

To the extent that you are still able to distinguish between the time periods within ARPA. You started out as the Director for Ballistic Missile Defense.

Herzfeld:

Yes.

Aaserud:

And did that mean that you worked more closely with JASON on a project basis than later when you got higher up in the ARPA structure?

Herzfeld:

Yes, I think so, yes. But that's very subtle shading, and I don't perceive it as very important.

Aaserud:

But you did maintain close contact all the way through with the group.

Herzfeld:

Yes. Oh yes. The horizon expanded, and so the threshold had to go up as I went on, and the kinds of problems I got involved in with JASON changed.

Aaserud:

See, I am asking you this in part because, while having interviewed some 40 JASONs, I have talked to very few people who experienced JASON from the outside.

Herzfeld:

I see.

Aaserud:

I need to know a little more about the impact of JASON in terms of how their ideas fit into the national security decision process so to speak.

Herzfeld:

Yes, of course.

Aaserud:

And that's why I'm interviewing you and others who had that experience from that side. And there are different experiences, there are people who had a bird's-eye view of JASON, so to speak, but not a hands-on contact.

Herzfeld:

Yes, yes.

Aaserud:

And then there are people who worked with JASON on specific projects and sort of continued

Herzfeld:

Good point.

Aaserud:

the process of implementing them, and saw their fate in the decision process. And I would think that perhaps you represent both those kinds of experiences.

Herzfeld:

A little bit of both. Yes, I think so. That's fair.

Aaserud:

I would love to have you tell me about any example of a project, you know, from the beginning to end if you experienced such a thing at one point.

Herzfeld:

I understand what you are driving at.

Aaserud:

That might require more preparation on your part.

Herzfeld:

Yes. My files are still in boxes at the moment because of my recent moves, but we'll get that sorted out. I have a lot of papers. One of my troubles is I do not throw paper away easily, and so I have too many papers.

Aaserud:

Well, very good. Historians are happy about that of course.

Herzfeld:

That is helpful to people like you. It drives other people crazy, but that's alright. The specifics are hard to remember, but for example in the lasers we were really working on national investment priorities for high-energy lasers, and it got clear pretty early, and the JASONs helped make it clear, that shooting down re-entry vehicles was harder than shooting down missiles in the launch phase, which was harder than shooting down airplanes. So that had some very powerful impact on where the overall efforts should go in terms of what time frame we were concerned about. Another example, I was a little bit involved with the JASONs when they worked on the Vietnam War on the sensor line and so on.

Aaserud:

The barrier, yes.

Herzfeld:

The barrier thing. And I think my own view is that they were enormously helpful and that the implementation was not adequate and had it been better it would have made a bigger difference, potentially a major difference. Now that's something that people like to forget about nowadays, because it was not a popular war. But I was very much involved intellectually and emotionally and went to Southeast Asia many times to see what was really going on, and I thought that that group made some very large contributions. Not really appreciated adequately.

Aaserud:

Well of course it's a very difficult question, and it's a question of whether it can be answered at all, because, you know, all their advice fits into a larger picture, and perhaps it's combined with all kinds of other things when it comes to the decision stage.

Herzfeld:

Yes, of course, absolutely. And it has to be, and needs to be, and one of the things that I personally have tried to provide the JASONs with now for almost 30 years is access to high-level people and how they see their problems. And I think that's helpful; I think it's good for the decision makers also to see what a group of very smart and very dedicated scientists think about these matters. But you have to warn them and say, "Look, you are going to hear some things that will sound crazy, but please listen, because they are not crazy. They may be wrong, but they're not crazy. Or they may be undo-able or impractical, but listen anyway." And conversely, one has to sensitize the JASONs when one brings someone in, that please don't think the person is an idiot because he cannot integrate a simple differential equation, or doesn't know the solution to a classical problem; he's working a different part of the universe. And it's sort of a mutual education thing, and that's always very hard, particularly if teachers and students are both very good, but very different. It's very hard. That's all.

Aaserud:

Well I mean I think the fantastic thing is that the communities communicate at all. I think you don't find that kind of communication anywhere else.

Herzfeld:

Not much. Not much. I think that's one of the interesting things about the American national security establishment. I think there is relatively a large amount of interaction of quite disparate types of people, and I find that very fascinating, and have found it enjoyable for most of my professional life.

Aaserud:

Just in short, do you have any theory of why that is?

Herzfeld:

Why in America?

Aaserud:

Yes. And why not other places.

Herzfeld:

Well first of all, during World War II, and to a lesser extent World War I, there was a certain amount of that going on in Britain as well. The role of people like R. V. Jones, and in the intelligence community the people who are actually doing the code breaking. Very important, and I think very unusual, and I think it fits both the British and the American style of working. The university environments are more open certainly in this country, and to a lesser extent in Britain, than they are in other European countries. There is a tradition of taking the amateur, the serious amateur, seriously. Whereas more or less the opposite is the case in other countries that I could mention but won't. All of that. And, if you look at the history of science in this country, there is a tradition through institutions like the Carnegie Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation and so on, beginning around 1900, of putting real resources into science in order to achieve an improvement of life in the country. And before that in fact the agricultural development in this country through the land grant colleges and so on. So this has been a preoccupation of this country. And maybe it starts with Jefferson. It's quite possible. Jefferson was a big pusher on this.

Aaserud:

You see from the JASON side, when I talk with them about their experience, especially the theoretical physicists the high-energy physicists they tell me that for them JASON is to a great extent an educational experience, because they find the academic university emphasis on high-energy physics too limiting.

Herzfeld:

Of course.

Aaserud:

And that the JASON experience exposes them to a larger picture.

Herzfeld:

The real world is bigger, yeah.

Aaserud:

Well, not just the real world of national security, but the real world of physics and Newton's equations, etc.

Herzfeld:

No, no. Everything. Science, of course. Absolutely. And I have a lot of fun, and did, and still have, watching young people who are field theorists or something fundamental particle physicists look at a solid-state physics project and say, "Aha, I know how to do this! Never done it before, but I know how!"

Aaserud:

Exactly.

Herzfeld:

"I've never tackled this problem, but I know how to do it." And out comes a new field theory approach to solid-state interaction.

Aaserud:

But okay, if we stay on this uniqueness to America for a little bit, and try to make it a little more specific. There was an attempt in the mid-1960s to involve European physicists in similar kinds of enterprises particularly British physicists and there's a letter from Gordon MacDonald to Hermann Bondi, in fact, in which he suggests this and asks about the possibilities and tells Bondi that he is going to talk to you about how to start this.

Herzfeld:

Yes, I had forgotten. I went to talk to him.

Aaserud:

And his strategy, if I remember correctly, was to define some problems which are common to both countries, involve some British physicists in an American JASON study, and perhaps that could lead to

Herzfeld:

Yes, yes, transplantation. Aaserud: an independent, yes, transplantation. Exactly. So I'm just asking you whether you can say a little more about that experience and that attempt.

Herzfeld:

I had forgotten, but you remind me, and I do remember now that I went to see Bondi, and we spent several occasions talking about it, but nothing ever happened as I recall. See, one of the things that's important, it's a really important part of the JASON success story, is that they are very fully cleared into the really sensitive secrets of the country. And that is essential for their success I believe.

Aaserud:

And broadly cleared, not just for specific problems.

Herzfeld:

Very broadly, and very deeply. And that's very hard to do with non-citizens. It's just really hard to do.

Aaserud:

Oh, so that the problem was with the American side not being willing to clear the British.

Herzfeld:

I believe so.

Aaserud:

So it stopped at the first step.

Herzfeld:

Because those interactions are deep but narrow. When they are deep they are narrow. You can be shallow and broad, but deep and broad is very hard to do with a non-citizen, for lots of reasons some of which are good reasons.

Aaserud:

But one would think that it wasn't necessarily necessary to have them introduced to this in this way. I mean if it was a potential for it in Britain, they could have done it even without this step one.

Herzfeld:

No, because you go to a meeting and it's wide open. You go to a JASON meeting and there are very few limitations on what gets discussed.

Aaserud:

But are you saying that there are those limitations within the British system too?

Herzfeld:

It is hard for the American system to clear non-U.S. citizens broadly and deeply. It happens, but rarely.

Aaserud:

Yes. I understand.

Herzfeld:

Hermann Bondi was one of those who did have good access. Usually the chief scientists of the MOD or the scientific advisers to the Prime Minister were very well informed about American matters. But that was the exception. A very small number of people, and Hermann was both, and so he had good access. But that was tough to expand.

Aaserud:

But conceivably a JASON type thing could have developed in Britain regardless of the American experience.

Herzfeld:

Of course. Of course.

Aaserud:

And that didn't happen either.

Herzfeld:

Not as far as I know. I have to start worrying about my appointment. Maybe a few more minutes.

Aaserud:

Okay.

Herzfeld:

If I had a secretary on board right now, or on duty, I could call her and say, "Take care of the man, give him a cup of coffee, keep him happy." But this fellow is going to wander around in my office and not find anybody there.

Aaserud:

So, is this a very limited time, or will this be it for today?

Herzfeld:

I need at least half an hour with the man, and I need to go back and do something else, so we are approaching the limit. I'm sorry about that, but we ought to talk some. How about a few key issues?

Aaserud:

Yes. Let me just ask you some concrete questions regarding my project, then, which are the last points here. If this is going to lead to a book which it may be I think it's important to follow one project or set of projects that JASON worked with from beginning to end, and to see how they came up, how it was pursued in JASON, how it was transferred back to your community or to the government community, and eventually what happened to them. And I have been talking to people about which project or projects would be a good thing to do, and there are problems here of course. As you know, I have problems as a foreign citizen already, and they will have to be representative of JASON for one thing, and for another I would need some good access to them, which in many cases are contradictory demands.

Herzfeld:

Hard to do. Hard to do.

Aaserud:

Yes. So I have spoken to people about this. Keith Brueckner, I spoke to him in La Jolla, was very, very eager to have me do charged particle beams. He thought that was a good thing. And you are a very natural person to ask about that, because that was one part of the Defender project, so I just wanted your reaction.

Herzfeld:

Yes, and I mentioned it. I think that's good. That's right. And I think some of the basic things are unclassified now about that. I mean, there was a time when the existence of it was pretty carefully protected.

Aaserud:

One thing that I find fascinating about that is, when I spoke to Steve Weinberg, he actually published articles in the open literature that came directly out of his JASON work on this.

Herzfeld:

Yes.

Aaserud:

So that the technical side of it is completely open.

Herzfeld:

Some parts of it. They do not discuss all of the regimes that are of interest, for example.

Aaserud:

But still, it is this interesting possibility of producing completely unclassified pure physics work out of a project that, on the base of it, is very, very classified.

Herzfeld:

That has always been the case with JASON, because the basic physics very often, but not always, was publishable. And the only time when the basic things were held up for a while, some years perhaps, was when the existence of this was a secret. But that's unusual.

Aaserud:

But my point is also that even if this is very doable on that level, it may not be very do-able on the level of for what use it was made and what was the national security motivations for doing it.

Herzfeld:

I think by now that is, in some areas, discussable. But it takes some detailed thinking about how much we can talk about. And, again, there, the more detailed it gets, the less I remember.

Aaserud:

And it's also a question of access to written contemporary material. I have done a lot of work at the JASON archives which are maintained at Mitre, outside the Beltway here.

Herzfeld:

Many of these things should be declassified now.

Aaserud:

But a lot of these things are stamped, you know well, I don't remember the exact wording "never to be declassified" or something.

Herzfeld:

Oh yeah. There are some exempt from declassification.

Aaserud:

But still some of those have been unclassified for other reasons maybe through the Freedom of Information Act or whatnot and so, that's how I've seen the stamp of course.

Herzfeld:

Yeah, yeah.

Aaserud:

So it may be quite an effort just to do this, even though it's doable. It might be a lifetime project to have all the documents cleared.

Herzfeld:

No, no. I mean because you find quickly what's doable and you give up on the others. But your challenge is an interesting one, and one that perhaps I can help with. It would be useful to get a few examples and trace them, as a lesson in the general subject of how science helps policy making.

Aaserud:

Well I would be very happy to have your help on two levels there. Of course first access to the material, but also evaluation of projects.

Herzfeld:

Yeah, sure. Well, let's both think about that. Brueckner is certainly one person to talk to. Another one would be, let me think, Sid Drell. Have you talked to Sid?

Aaserud:

Yes.

Herzfeld:

He has published a lot.

Aaserud:

But you know, for very natural reasons, when it comes down to that level of detail, it's not only memory that inhibits, but also the uncertainty of what can be talked about now.

Herzfeld:

Yeah, but there you see we can, if we work together, and I can help with that, because it may be useful to get some of this out.

Aaserud:

I would be very, very grateful. For that's a wall I will hit. And I wouldn't say I have been banging against it so far, because I've taken a general approach, but if I want to be more specific about it.

Herzfeld:

Yes, good.

Aaserud:

Okay, well you have little time.

Herzfeld:

Well, let me disengage here. I enjoyed it very much. We should continue.

Aaserud:

Well, thank you very much.