Oral History Transcript — Dr. Philip Morrison
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Philip Morrison; December 20, 2002
ABSTRACT: Philip Morrison had an almost unique experience during the Manhattan Project, participating in many of the central events of building and using the atomic bomb. From late 1942 to 1946 Morrison’s responsibilities took him to the University of Chicago Met Lab, Los Alamos, General Groves’ Washington Office, Oak Ridge, Trinity site, Wendover, Tinian, Hiroshima and Hanford. From these vantage points he had the opportunity to meet and observe many of the interesting persons involved in the Project and reflects about them in the interview.
Session I | Session II
Norris:Good story. Let's see. I think I came across in another interview you had done a story about Tooey Spaatz and Charlie Baker.
Norris:That's very funny really.
Morrison:That's a great story, yes.
Norris:This of course took plan on Tinian when Spaatz — I think it would had to have taken place in —
Morrison:Well, it could have taken place in Guam.
Norris:Or maybe in Guam.
Morrison:I'm trying to remember. No, I think it was right at the spot, so that was in Tinian on North Field. But it's possible that it was the afternoon, because those people flew to Guam. I went with them to help the English fly a reconnaissance plane.
Morrison:Remember I was tell you —
Norris:You said that yesterday, yeah, yeah.
Morrison:But I think it was probably right there at Tinian. And no, it couldn't have been, because he wouldn't have had the — No, but it had to be enough time for Spaatz to come to our Quonset hut. Because otherwise he wouldn't see the container. And I can't remember if that occurred when the airplane landed — which might well have been the case, because it landed in bright daylight.
Norris:The Bockscar coming back?
Morrison:The Bockscar coming back.
Norris:The Bockscar coming back after a stop in Okinawa to get refueled, and almost didn't make it. Well of course by the time it got back it no longer had the core, so [unintelligible phrase] Baker no longer had anything.
Morrison:No, but he showed them the cavity.
Norris:Showed them the cavity. Huh.
Morrison:Yeah. He said came off from — and Baker said, "Yes, all the energy came from that little ball." And Spaatz replied out of experience, a man who had dropped a million tons of bombs, "Well," he said, "you may believe that, young man, but I don't." Which is the best putdown by a general officer I've ever heard. I once heard — I was not part of this, but I just was overhearing it in a room where I was present — there was a famous commander of fighter pilots in the American Air Force, U.S. Army Air Corps. I've forgotten his name. Quesada I believe.
Norris:[Elwood R.] Quesada.
Morrison:Yeah. And General Quesada was holding forth, and then he told this wonderful story which I always thought showed the true spirit of the Air Force — an independent arm with definitely not the most conventional officers. And he said, "Well officers, gentlemen" — some you know a little conversation, a little mock politeness — "I can tell you this. Be sure that you remember when you get your pay, always go up and put a little in the bank and do that this week and do that next month and do that next month, and keep on going, and by the time you're retired you'll be amazed how little it amounts to."
Norris:Yeah. Quesada. He's a famous General there and in the war in Africa.
Norris:A kind of colorful character.
Morrison:So that's my other best general story. It's a good one.
Norris:I came across something interesting in my book that you may have noted in your reading on it that I'd like to ask you —
Morrison:All those tabs.
Norris:Yeah, all those tabs there. It's one of those tabs. It basically has to do with immediately after Trinity. Groves went back to Washington, and apparently was deliberating with the Los Alamos scientists about whether or not to use, to combine the highly enriched uranium and the plutonium and basically make a composite core and —
Morrison:After the test.
Norris:After the test. And he — to just sort of show you how urgent this contemplation was, he ordered Oppenheimer to meet him in Chicago.
Norris:And Oppenheimer and Tolman came to Chicago. Groves went to meet him in Chicago. And this was just for a few hours, in a very tense time of course. And there is a six-page memo that is still classified about this meeting, but little dribs and drabs come out, and it was apparently under consideration but I don't think supported very strongly by Oppie to use the uranium that was going to go into Little Boy. Because you could make more bombs with it.
Norris:That was the thing. So rather than this limited number that they can project of just plutonium bombs, if we scrap the Little Boy, use the uranium, we can make more in July, August, September.
Morrison:Yes, absolutely. Yes.
Morrison:If they work.
Norris:If they work. And I think the conservative Groves vetoed all of this and went with what was already in the works. But as someone who was the pit team, did you ever hear this idea brought up around there? Well, as I say, I don't think it was argued very strongly by the Los Alamos group and but still it did cause Groves — he only left Washington twice after Trinity until the end of the war, and this was one quick trip out on his private plane back and forth and he ordered Oppenheimer to come with Tolman and they talked about it for a couple of hours and then they both went back and it was over.
Morrison:Let me point out the 16th was the Trinity test.
Morrison:It couldn't have been earlier than the 17th. It probably was even the 18th. So between the 18th and the 1st — which is the time we were read with the bombs, by orders, didn't get to launch them because of bad weather, was only twelve days or thirteen [unintelligible phrase] cast these things. Got to make them fit. They are not always fit castings. It's way too risky. You know, don't need to delay it a week in order to get two more bombs or something. But you never needed that many.
Norris:Surely that was Groves's thinking here, that this would maybe slow things down, too risky, and yeah, there is a more firm position.
Morrison:If it was just a question of adding another existing sphere or metal or something, I could have believed it. But you had to do something to get that same thing into some kind of a tamper, and get it fitting; we were looking for shock disorders occurring from discontinuities the size of paper; a few mils thick, we would never have been happy about that.
Norris:Right, right. But I don't know, I came across this, and then of course after the war the scientists did develop composite cores.
Norris:And I was just struck with the — that they had already thought of this idea this early, and even some considered going forward with it in these very first weapons. But so that was kind of new to me then and I thought interesting, and it never got pursued. We — I've tried to ask you your observations of different people who were associated, and we sort of skipped over three of the big ones here that I think you had some opportunity to observe over time. Let's start maybe with Arthur Compton in Chicago who was the head of Met Lab. You were there for quite a while, and what were your observations about Compton?
Morrison:I had little to do with Compton. I saw him a few times. I don't think I ever spoke to him. Maybe I did. Certainly he was present at the meetings which he addressed, but as one of ten or twenty auditories. I knew his history pretty well because he was such a famous physicist.
Norris:He had won a Nobel Prize already.
Morrison:That's right. And I knew the experiments. And it was the thing that I had read about in school and all that, but I never liked very much his whole style of doing things.
Norris:Okay. What about any dealings with Ernest Lawrence?
Morrison:Yes. I had a completely different feeling about Ernest Lawrence. Undoubtedly Compton was a brilliant scientist in the old mold, but Lawrence was really quite striking. He had a wonderful intuitive understanding of electricity and magnetism, because he had studied that really well and worked with a lot of stuff. So when he said something and gave you a metaphor to help you understand it, it really was good. It worked. I had a very high opinion of him in that, just in that sense. And of course he was a famous operator, so that increased my opinion of him so much. He managed to run things on the– But yes, in fact he was a lecturer in electrodynamics in the course that I took as a first year graduate student. A required course at Berkeley. And he was a very good person except for one small but important difficulty: he never came to class! When he did come it was fine, but it was very rare. "Who is that man?" He was the instructor of record but he didn't come, so somebody who wasn't [unintelligible word] would have to come and lecture to us. But when he did come it was fun. So that's what I learned about Lawrence.
Norris:And then the third one — so these were heads of university laboratories.
Norris:That was a kind of a foundation of the project itself which was incorporated into it. And a third person there would be Harold Urey at Columbia and had very little to do with —
Morrison:Little to do with Urey. I just maybe have formally listened to him once or twice. But Lawrence I became quite — reasonably friendly with. He wanted to hire me at the end of the war. That is when I came through San Francisco, coming home from Japan I saw him of course, just to report and tell the mysteries of Japan and the tragedies to the local people, about Alvarez and so on. And it was already there talking about — He said, "Why don't you come work in the Berkeley Lab?" And I said, "Well, it's too noisy a place for me," and he sort of understood what that meant. And I said, "I'm going to go back to Cornell with [Hans] Bethe, and Bethe is very good to me and I [unintelligible phrase] learned a great deal from him. Cornell is not in a metropolitan center. There's going to be all kinds of newspapers. You might understand that too." And so we parted friends, but he didn't impress persuade me. I was pleased at that because I didn't think — I didn't think he could easily overlook what he must have known, was my difficulties related to Robert's difficulties. Not such an important case, but in my case you know not so much on the other side either. So he knew about that.
Norris:Right, right. You just brought up the fact that returning from Japan — sorry, and that was something that we didn't get to yesterday, that in addition to all of the other many things you did you were a member of a team that visited Hiroshima.
Morrison:I think Serber too.
Norris:And Serber as well.
Norris:Yes. These also had some medical personnel here, Stafford Warren.
Norris:Groves's chief of the medical section. And Lieutenant Colonel Hymer Friedell.
Morrison:Friedell. Yes, I knew Friedell better.
Norris:And I think he might have led your team.
Morrison:Yes. And he was more helpful than his senior person. And I went around just as Bob Serber did, and tried to look for significant clues, shadows cast by the flash on the wall which I found and a few things like that. Samples I discovered — I guess I discovered the man called Kimura [spelling?]. That's my biggest memory. There's a whole book by him which is [unintelligible word] up to all this. You know what the Riken [Institute for Physical and Chemical Research] is?
Norris:Riken was the Japanese laboratory.
Morrison:[Yoshio] Nishina’s laboratory.
Norris:Nishina's Laboratory which —
Morrison:That's right. But so to speak was our opposite number to Manhattan District. It wasn't much involved in it, but it would have been. And Kimura was one of those people way down at the operating level, and he lived outside the lab in a little one-room shelter and in the garden he grew his own sweet potatoes, which he liked. And he had a very nice electrometer and a stopwatch and a slide rule and many, many foils that he had collected with phosphorus on them from the bones of the victims of, actually getting them from Hiroshima. And he had measured these radiation doses, and done the right calculations all over the city had a map and everything like that.
Norris:This was quite a find.
Morrison:Quite a character, yes.
Norris:And did you take that knowledge from him or use that or —?
Morrison:Yeah, I gave — he gave me the Japanese manuscript and I turned it in through channels and I tried hard to get the authorities to be good to these obviously friendly Japanese scientists who were so relieved to have the war over and the Americans there instead of the Japanese military who had ruined the country.
Norris:I guess it's always often said here, I mean here all of a sudden the war is over and Americans are there and soldiers are there, and but no real sense of danger or fear that you were going to be — there would be snipers [unintelligible word] killing you know like — And I guess it has something to do with the Japanese being told by the emperor that the war is over, and —
Morrison:That it's over. And some people — in fact they had a terrible war. We burnt the hell out of them. Now I should say a little more about that, because that was very striking to me too. I was frightened. I had — What was my situation? Yes. Because I was at Groves's, actually in Farrell's palm, Groves had gotten — this is funny — Admiral Byrd to become friendly to Farrell. I don't know how he did that, by writing a letter or calling him up. But anyway, Farrell was a very smooth operator. Now did Admiral Byrd commit to this? Well, we were all staying together in the good hotel in Yokahama where I had a very nice room, until they got the authorities in and they threw us all out. But all right, we went to a good second-class hotel. But the first was very nice. And at the dining room, which I think used Occupation supplies in part, they served meals and so on. If you looked around this room it was a frying pan full of celebrities. One of them was Admiral Byrd, another was Tokyo Rose.
Morrison:And somebody on General MacArthur's staff and so on. All these people. This was not the top dining room. I don't think then Bush was there or anybody like that, certainly not MacArthur, but everybody at a working level, sort of well treated people. So that was quite striking. And seeing Tokyo Rose, who was as you know perhaps part Japanese, part Portuguese lady, who had some kind of American connection. I'm not sure if she was a citizen. Probably she was. And she read the deal to the troops.
Norris:Right. In English, yeah.
Morrison:Yeah. So she was quite scared, because she was fearful she'd be badly punished. But it turned out she had done nothing that she could ever avoid. And so that was nice in the course of that I was sitting there and had to do something, so I tried to make contact and tell people like Kimura that I'd be glad to talk to other Japanese who might have some information. We should face this phenomenon. And sure enough a long — maybe I even looked him up, I don't remember that well — I got the chief radiologist of the Tokyo Hospital community to come and talk, and he was especially interesting. Because he brought along — he was an ironic, angry man, beautifully concealed though his anger was. And when he came to see me, he said the following (I'll never forget) in a beautiful ironic tone, very polite, quite good English, "Ah," he said, "Dr. Morrison." "Yes." "I have some experience in radiation, whole-body radiation, but mine was only a few dogs. You Americans conducted a human experiment." That's — that's pretty hard to begin with. But I had to respect him. He was a radiologist. He did it in a curative sense. Yes, he sacrificed dogs. (Actually I think it turns out it was rabbits, but I remember it as dogs always.) He published a long paper, maybe five years before, on total gamma ray radiation of these animals. Details, the half, 50 percent, mortality dose and so on. He brought me a copy of the paper, which was from the Journal of Roentgenology, some Philadelphia [?] medical journal, standard in the field. So that was quite striking. And then that was typical. His was the most explicit criticism, which wasn't all that explicit — it was hidden as irony — of anybody I met.
Norris:So had you had some fear about, before you got there, that —? I mean it was really —
Morrison:I was really afraid. I was especially afraid because we went ahead of the Occupation troops, and we were staying in a Japanese camp near Kobe, which name I've forgotten at the moment. Everybody knows it. There was an offshore temple, a very beautiful place, and we had some place to stay there. And there were guards, armed guards. And we went there and nodded and people introduced us. We couldn't understand them very well. And they agreed yes, so you stay there. I did, but I felt, "It's very strange to be here if somebody decides that we are the very culprits that blew up their cities."
Morrison:They might do something about it. But nothing. Not a voice was ever raised. Then I started going around with Bernie O'Keefe.
Morrison:Yes. And a man called John Congleton, who was from the triple cities of Illinois. I've forgotten what they're called — Peoria, something and something.
Morrison:Rock Island, that's it. Rock Island. His father was a car dealer in Rock Island and he spent the war working very hard at Monterrey Language School.
Norris:Oh, in Japanese.
Morrison:In Japanese. He had never been to Japan. He had some ability at languages. He had four years of hard study, and he was wonderful. He went around with us on the train. O'Keefe was the guard, you know, armed. Congleton and I were definitely unarmed and simple minded — not Congleton so much. But on the railroad train it looked just fine, meet all the physicists we could, and to find the uranium sources and that stuff.
Norris:I think Furman was on this trip too.
Morrison:Not on our train.
Morrison:No. He might have been in Japan, but he wasn't with us.
Norris:Right. I think there were three teams as it worked out.
Morrison:I think so. See, we were there already, so they didn't have to get anything done, shots or papers. So Farrell or somebody said, "Why don't you guys go to Japan? We can fix it up faster." So we did. And we went in on the first day of the American troops, with the First Cavalry Division, in the same aircraft. But when we got there we had our own jeep and our own driver, which was Groves (or Farrell's) doing, so we were pretty rich. And so we met Admiral Byrd and so I mean it was all golden PR because Admiral Byrd was a name that would get you in anywhere. Everybody in the world had heard of Admiral Byrd. So I wouldn't mind, I'd like to come over — and express some interest in seeing your establishment, "We have Admiral Byrd here," "Oh yes, the Admiral Byrd. He's coming. Would like to?" "Oh yes." American Generals and Japanese professors equally knew about Admiral Byrd. Celebrity!
Norris:You mentioned the Japanese laboratory before, and of course this led eventually to an incident that truly embarrassed Groves and led further to his early demise, and that was ordering the destruction of the Japanese cyclotrons.
Morrison:But he clearly didn't do it. Isn't that true? He denies it. I don't think he would have done it.
Norris:I think he did it.
Morrison:You think he did it. That's the kind of a guy he is.
Norris:Yeah. He — in his own memoir there he has a kind of garbled rendition where he sort of blames it on himself not communicating to his subordinate in clear enough terms.
Morrison:I see. Yes.
Norris:But when you actually look at what he told the guy to do, it was clear as a bell to destroy them.
Norris:There could be no confusion about it.
Norris:And then the order went out, and it was implemented and but nobody checked off on it and it just happened and then word came back and it — I've always been, I always wondered a little bit why the American scientists were sort of so up in arms about this as a kind of outrageous thing to have happened. The cyclotrons were — I mean, you can't make a bomb with a cyclotron.
Norris:These are experimental instruments, and I don't know, I guess they just used it as a stick to beat Groves, just to show his —
Morrison:Well, I think that was the idea. Here was the enemy showing itself in full form. Groves knew better. You can't make cyclotrons for producing bombs. He'd tried hard to do that after all. He employed the ends — what was it? The Purdue cyclotron night and day for two years or something just like a little tritium and so on. In fact you can use them to make a little bit of a bomb. And but that especially hit me, because I had written recommendations. I was on the spot. I talked to Yukawa, I talked to Nishina, I talked to Kimura, I talked to several other people, and every one I said, "Look, these are our friends, try to treat them well, don't close their laboratories, don't make trouble for them. Let them go back to civil life. They'll be strong support for the American Occupation."
Norris:Go back to their work and come back to their experiments. Right. And then all of a sudden —
Morrison:And suddenly the news comes from Washington, "Destroy the cyclotrons." It made no sense at all. So I was quite mad at Groves too. But I always felt he probably didn't really do it. Because I had written him so clearly. Maybe that was my own defect. I don't think he cared.
Norris:I wrestled with this, and I concluded that I think that there was a larger order issued by MacArthur I believe to destroy a lot of sort of direct military equipment, and I think – I don't know, this kind of slipped through the cracks and got —
Morrison:Some Brigadier General stretched it a bit.
Norris:Stretched it, and then all of a sudden it applied to these experimental instruments.
Morrison:Well, he knew he'd get publicity in the New York papers too. So I [unintelligible phrase], but even if it was, it certainly wasn't my fault. But I felt hard, badly that I had lied to these people in the since I said, "This will take care of it. Don't worry." And this was reinforced by the — you have probably not heard this. It might be worth your while to visit if you feel like excursions. Do you know about the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute? Oh, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole?
Norris:I know something about it. One of our board members is George Woodwell [spelling?]. He's on our board and he's at Woods Hole.
Morrison:But you haven't been there.
Norris:I have not been there.
Well let me tell you something about it. It's called the MBL of course, and it's privately supported, I think Carnegie Institution of Washington as an independent free-standing laboratory. And around it is the WH Oceanographic Institution, which I think is federally supported and comes under the Department of Fisheries or whatever it is, and there's a bigger laboratory. But Woods Hole is full of these places, and MBL is the most scientific — it doesn't have many ships, it has one or two, but you know there's maybe another couple of ships, and everybody knows about it. It's a famous place for biologists. But the library is extremely interesting. In the first place it's the best library anywhere around, and even working here I had occasion more than once to go down to the MBL at Woods Hole and get something at their library that I couldn't get in Boston or Cambridge.
Not very much, for example one thing that I really had to get was the complete 1885 volume set of the reports of the Challenger expedition. You would expect they would have it, and probably nobody in Boston would. Maybe not. I didn't perhaps try hard enough at the Widener but I don't think they had it. They might have had a few volumes with the best pictures in them but not the whole thing. Woods Hole had everything. And it also was an extremely informally run library. You could go there after hours and if you signed your name and if the guard didn't think you were going to steal anything they would let you in, unlock the door, you signed your name — believe it or not, I had the experience — I'd get in there, find an article and write down my name and my account number at MIT or something like that and ask them to mail it. It was all printed out what you had to do. They would mail me a Xerox of the article I chose, and it duly arrived. You know there's no library like that anymore.
Norris:That's wonderful. Nice places to work at.
Morrison:Right. But the reason I tell you this is that in front of that library it has an extremely affecting display when I was there rather recently, maybe three years ago, and I think it was still there, if not so prominent as it was when I first saw it. It was a statement written in broken English and with characters that show the hand that wrote it was not too used to writing Roman, but he wrote all the text out, and it said, "Dear" — something like this — "To the American officers who enter this place, this is not a laboratory for war. We have nothing to do with that. We are a research institution of life in the ocean. If you come from the West Coast you might know Scripps in San Diego. If you come from the East Coast you might know Woods Holes. We are a laboratory like that. Please do not destroy this place." When I read all these things nowadays about terrorists and loyal Islamicists and so on and what they decide to do, I raise the question to myself, "How come I could freely blow up a Japanese city?" I had a lot of help, but I certainly played a role in it. And I didn't feel any great pride — I was, when I saw a picture of that, I was horrified, but I knew I was going to do it. I mean there was no doubt.
Morrison:And then they ask how these people could do it. And here we were, soon as the social pressure went away and the conviction that we had won the war entered, we were as magnanimous as the next one. But not 'til then. So human beings have this duality. They can change right from lion to lamb to suit their rational and not too compassionate feelings. So I don't know. I don't know of a solution to that except the one avoiding war, and I've never been able to do that, because it seems to me it is not workable in the present world. Maybe we can produce one, but not yet.
Norris:Well, we seem to be about on the eve of another war of some sort here that is —
Morrison:It's all too close.
Norris:All too close. Well, let me go a little bit further here, Phil.
Norris:We're going to wrap the questions up here. Having entered as much as I could at the research level here of the Manhattan Project, do you think — what aspects of it do you think might need further research? I mean this is a topic that continues to be of interest, learn lessons, great personalities, an important time. Hundreds of books have been written, and of course there's always room to say new things, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts about where — what projects might be interesting to look at that you haven't seen covered.
Morrison:I'm trying to think about it, but I would begin by saying in all earnestness that I think that what was needed was a good book on General Groves, and by God you produced one.
Norris:Well, thank you.
Morrison:Which was not the usual quotation of Szilard.
Morrison:Who knew nothing about it and had every reason to be antagonizing to General Groves as he was [unintelligible word] mutually antagonistic.
Norris:No. There was a bad chemistry between them.
Morrison:There sure was.
Norris:And it just happened that way, that —
Morrison:So I feel that really redressed the — And it also gave me a feeling, which I somewhat had, was a reinforcement in your admirable book that Groves really made all the decisions that could be made and spent the money himself and lied to the Treasury about it. And, I don't know — he didn't get the silver. I think somebody else invented the silver, and I don't know who that was.
Norris:Yeah. The silver I think, the silver took — you know, that was early.
Norris:It was very early. It was actually Nichols who was involved there.
Morrison:Nichols had that idea.
Norris:You know, I think — I'm not sure who had it. It could have been Lawrence.
Morrison:I see. Very possible.
Norris:Yeah. Because I have heard a phrase used, "Why not use silver?"
Morrison:That's a perfect idea.
Norris:Why not use silver?
Morrison:Keeps it safe.
Norris:And then, because this initiative I think was underway prior to Groves getting there actually. It must have been in August of 1942 and he didn't get the job until September. And you know it's one of the great stories of the Manhattan Project.
Norris:And the Treasury man tells —
Morrison:We measure silver by Troy ounces! We never had requests for tons before. "Could we have eighteen thousand tons of silver?"
Norris:Please. And he took it and we returned it with just a couple of Troy ounces lost. So that's another one of these remarkable stories. Well —
Morrison:Let me try to think of something more unusual of interest.
Norris:Okay. Well, and along those same lines here, I think you probably agree with me that it continues to be fascinating to people sixty years later here.
Morrison:I think it does. Yes.
Norris:And you know, when I speak as, people who don't know about it are sort of – and people who do know about it — are interested in all of the many aspects of it and [unintelligible word] got the wartime situation and scientific breakthroughs and moral issues and things that happened that sort of began the world we live in now, the Cold War and all the rest of it, and living with the bomb.
Norris:Which is not going away anytime soon.
Morrison:Not at all. Well, you know, that was Groves's victory, as I wrote in my review. We still live by his views, which was not the best part of that man.
Morrison:And that's too bad, but it's very important, and naturally I'm antagonistic to that, so I don't know what to say. In some sense maybe if Groves had been treated better he wouldn't have been so firm on just — I don't think so. He was sure to win the war with the best legal weapons at hand.
Norris:Right. And he was just too much the military figure here to – and suspicious, and it was not in the cards. I mean he was on this.....
Norris:And provided some information, but he never held out much hope for those things ever happening.
Norris:And you know, and then well, I guess you could say that the actual history of what did happen was some sort of middle way, where the two nations did find ways.
Norris:It wasn't an all-out arms race with no checks on it. There were some rules to the road and hotlines and some treaties here and there and —
Morrison:And there were plenty of proponents on both sides for changing that too who were beaten back by the general tone of things.
Norris:That's right. Yeah, I think there were internal battles on each side to go in which direction were we to go in.
Norris:And so we muddled through to this point, but I suppose only to be confronted with another set of problems which are equally — or almost equally — as severe. You know, these newer countries, India and Pakistan and —
Norris:Can be quite troubling in terms of —
Morrison:What they might cause.
Norris:What they might cause.
Morrison:I think they are getting over it too a little bit.
Morrison:Yeah. Well I don't know, I think that the immunization of the Cold War, in spite of the fact that the stockpiles grew ever bigger until quite recently, and they were frightening. As I told you, I was naive enough to believe it would happen. Scared stiff all the time, from '60 to '85. And so I'm not a very good judge. I feel that it's just not going to happen. And even if there is — and I suppose there will be — one person, one dictator that appears or another who might try it in a suicidal way, because the Americans will evaporate them, it won't do much. I think it's not acceptable popularly, you know, it's not going to be crossing the line and opening everybody up to doing that.
Morrison:I think it's —
Norris:No. I think the — you know, this most dangerous period where these two superpowers faced each other with thousands, that was really it.
Morrison:Yeah. That's got to be gradually dismantled.
Morrison:I don't know how that could happen, but —
Norris:Well, we've made a stab at doing some of that and the spring is unwound a bit and —
Morrison:Yeah. In ten years we should do much more. We are down to two thousand or something like that. So they say. Strategic, but they haven't done all the —
Norris:Right, right. Well, Phil, is there anything else that you might think of here that you would want to cover?
Morrison:Let's see. I mentioned my connection with the Canadians a little bit.
Morrison:It wasn't very close, but I did meet Carson [Mark] and talked about diffusion, and I met the people at the Montreal place. I don't recall if they really had a reactor. I don't think they did.
Norris:In Montreal? I don't know myself. I don't know.
Morrison:Chalk River is not that far away I think [unintelligible word].
Norris:No, because they use that.
Morrison:Yeah. They built that and used it from the beginning. And now of course they also made heavy water out in B.C. [British Columbia]
Norris:Trail. I'm sorry. Trail, British Columbia.
Morrison:Exactly. And they used that as a basis of what they thought might be an economically viable reactor system, and I think it almost is, but the lower capital cost of the Westinghouse people sort of done them in. Though they have sold a few.
Norris:But [unintelligible word] throughout they did take and they did sell a few. I mean to the Indians I believe.
Norris:Yeah. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Morrison:Now just to talk about that sort of post-war world, as I said, I stayed at Los Alamos, because I didn't get back until October. And then there was the flap with Congress, so I spent a lot of time in Washington. So I really was knocked out of that term, and then I didn't want to go back at mid-term, so I stayed at Los Alamos to do something.
Norris:This is the end of '46 now.
Morrison:'46. And I had this terrible disaster of the death of two friends. One when I was in Japan, and one in May 21 when I was quite there in New Mexico who were in our group. So it was a pretty painful experience, but just the same I organized again with several people, including David and Jane Hall, the construction of a fast reactor using plutonium. And a metal moderator [correct word?] instead of the hydrogenic water, or instead of a light element moderator. We built that thing over two or three years, and it even worked though it wasn't as safe as I thought it would be, so after a while it was dismantled. At least they stopped assembling critical assemblies after the death of Slotin. Started automating it, doing it by remote control — which is what Fermi said should be done in the first place.
Norris:So then that next academic year —
Morrison:I stayed at Los Alamos in '46, all through it.
Norris:All through it.
Morrison:And even '47-'48 I visited quite often.
Norris:Oh you did.
Morrison:So it wasn't until the Cold War set in, in full force with Senator McCarthy and all that, that I stayed away and they stayed away, and everybody was pretty happy. So but —
Norris:And there was some question as to, you know, what would happen to all of these facilities in the immediate aftermath.
Norris:And Oppenheimer left very quickly in October, and Bradbury became the director. I guess most people wanted to get back to civilian life in the university and it took some time for the laboratory to sort of stabilize itself I guess.
Morrison:And but eventually it did of course and–
Morrison:And of course the industry is not a tiny one. It still exists, and Westinghouse maybe no longer Allis-Chalmers, but both GE and Westinghouse still make and sell them. And it's worldwide. Quite useful.
Norris:And that arrangement of having a government-owned contractor-operated facility was a Groves —
Morrison:Well that's of course the Corps of Engineers, too.
Norris:Yeah. Right. And he just brought that Corps model.
Norris:Which is strongly decentralized.
Morrison:Yes. And even his favorite, his favorite partners in the private sector, like DuPont and the construction.
Norris:DuPont, Stone and Webster.
Norris:J. A. Jones, Tennessee Eastman.
Norris:And again, it was a revelation to me to see that he knew all of these people, because he had just been building munitions plants and army camps and airfields and factories — and so he already had a super Rolodex here, and when it came time he signed them up again for these jobs, and they were all quite effective. I met Phil Abelson a couple of months ago, and he's pretty good. He's about 92 or 93 I think, and actually he still goes to the office.
Morrison:Now are you sure that's the name? Ebersoll [spelling?] maybe?
Morrison:No, no, no. I'm talking about Abelson.
Norris:The thermal diffusion.
Norris:He was a former president of AAAS.
Norris:And had a —
Morrison:He's a physical chemist by profession?
Norris:I believe so. I mean he — didn't he discover the thermal diffusion process for uranium enrichment with the Naval Research Laboratory?
Morrison:Yes, yes, thermal diffusion. Yes. With fluids.
Norris:Which — yeah. They built the plant at Oak Ridge, the S-50 plant?
Norris:And then they coordinated all of these together.
Morrison:It was very clever to do that.
Norris:It was clever. So Phil had kind of a peripheral role in the Manhattan Project, and he told a story that he was told to go to the Warner Theater in Washington and go up in the balcony and he would be met by some Navy person. And so he did. And he was to relay to this person his knowledge about thermal diffusion. And the person who came to see him was Parsons.
Norris:And I wish I had known that to put in the book, but I didn't, and it was sorted at that juncture that Parsons becomes convinced that yes, this is a viable thing that we should do and we should tie it in with the others. So he goes back and reports that to Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer says to Groves, "I think we better do it," and they built S-50 overnight.
Morrison:Yeah. It's wonderful.
Norris:And get a better enrichment level — quicker and higher, faster. But here Phil is up in the balcony of the Warner Theater. So, well —
Morrison:Well that reminds me a little bit of what you're asking. I don't — there's a lift over problem which may be utterly resistant to historic change, and that is the people as a whole, at least in the United States, hate nuclear energy. Of course they have some good reasons. And they do it largely on the erroneous grounds, I think, that the big problem is this residual radioactivity and that's no good and anything that's even labeled radioactive, people drive around it. And this is something that would be a worthwhile study. I don't think it has a lot to do with the project itself. It has a lot to do with what happened on the project and what happened afterwards. Three Mile Island had something to do with it, I guess. The Russian one was probably still worse.
Morrison:Chernobyl, yes. Was certainly frightful. Those are the only two big accidents. So I don't know. I don't know why it's so ceased. Fermi, I heard him say always an insightful person, "I suspect," he said, or some such word, "I think, I conjecture, that there is something about having a large facility visible to the people that is filled with radioactive material in unprecedented amounts — much greater than any radium or mine or anything like that — and people just don't like that. And they never will be content with having these dotting the landscape coming into their position every fifty years." And I think that's true.
Norris:I think so. And of course they don't last forever. There's a finite lifetime.
Morrison:Every fifty years they must be taken away.
Norris:And what do you do with them and — I was just in Oak Ridge a little while ago and there are these vast, vast — K-25 is still there. What to do with it. They don't really know. So it sits there with barrels laced in the radioactive things. And so it's a legacy that comes with doing this that we've handled in a fashion — and the Russians did far worse in their responsibility.
Norris:But I think you're right here. That's something that will never be very attractive on a widespread basis.
Morrison:Well, there's a book by a British anthropologist. I've forgotten her name, (Mary Douglas (?)). She was a very famous author in those domains perhaps twenty or thirty years ago. She says, if I remember, if I reduce it, condense it not too badly, "Every mother tells her children that not everything is good to eat, and sometimes even things that look good to eat – well, if they don't look good to eat and they don't smell good to eat, don't eat them. 'And there are a few things which I will tell you about', the mother says, 'which are not good to eat even if they do taste okay'," and that's if somebody puts the wrong thing in it or there's a mistake, and don't worry, be careful, don't just do it indiscriminately. And this is — and you can't tell, I mean I can't tell that it's poisonous? No, you can't really tell. That's what everybody remembers in the subconscious when they —
Morrison:It's invisible. You can't —
Norris:It doesn't show itself.
Morrison:Unless you have a meter you can't know you're there. And I think that's the fundamental argument. You don't know the book I'm alluding to?
Norris:No, I don't, but it does call to mind another book Spencer Weart of course, the head of the —
Morrison:Yes. Oh, I know Spencer, yeah.
Norris:You know Spencer. He wrote a book called Nuclear Fear.
Morrison:I see. I didn't read that book.
Norris:Which kind of tries to tap into all of these sort of subconscious fears we have of radiation and the bomb itself and all of the anxiety I suppose you could say that we have been living with for some time.
Morrison:Yeah. I know quite well the simpler person, the psychotherapist, the psychiatrist —
Morrison:Lifton. Robert Lifton. Who is living around here now.
Norris:Oh is he?
Morrison:Yeah. He came to visit me only a couple of months ago.
Norris:Yeah. He was at Princeton. Was it Princeton? Or Yale.
Norris:Yale. And how he's here.
Morrison:Now he's here.
Norris:And he's retired.
Morrison:And he lives somewhere in Cambridge, and he's still writing, and he runs a seminar with many health people and political science people on the general problems of violence in our time, and he has a lot to say about that. I'm not sure I believe him. Their method does not conduce to persuasion. But they know a lot. I'm not saying they don't know something. But it's hard to infer the generalities what they know. And he is quite, quite interested in that. It seems to me that's a thing which – the trouble is it's hard to see what you could do about it looking at the Manhattan District, but that certainly is the – it's a very important and negative legacy of the way it all played out, even though we only had a tiny atomic war with two bombs in it, we made ten thousand times more. I'm sure it's unprecedented.
Norris:Yeah. I guess there was no possible conception that back in 1945 looking to the future you could ever envision what was going to happen. And I remember there was a — it must have been the 40th Anniversary, 40th Los Alamos Anniversary, and the scientists went back — and perhaps you were ever there and —
Morrison:I was invited but I didn't go. I didn't like the idea.
Morrison:Yeah. And it was filmed. There was a thing on PBS and Bill Moyers did it, and I remember he talked to Rabi in the car. This was very striking to me here. And you know they're just driving around Los Alamos, which is vast and all of these buildings and everything, and Rabi is sort of reflecting back on this time of the war and saying, "You know, we had no idea it would turn out this way. I mean this is truly amazing." And it was truly amazing in terms of the industrial, super-industrial scale about which we went about fourteen reactors all going at the same time at one point, and a couple of years building five, six, seven thousand bombs a year, and eventually reaching a peak of thirty-two thousand and every conceivable mission and —
Morrison:Yes. The engineers had to have one, the coast artillery had to have one.
Norris:And they did.
Morrison:They did, yes.
Norris:And they did. So —
Norris:Mm-hmm [affirmative]. So I just — again, we know how it turned out here, that it all happened, but from the, looking at it from the other end at the beginning there, it was of course inconceivable that —
Norris:And a great unknown as to where all of this was headed with its own set of fears. Well, Phil, we've done another hour and a half here.
Morrison:Well, that seems like enough.
Norris:It seems like enough. Well, I want to thank you again.
Morrison:Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
Norris:I enjoyed it, and as I said, I'll send this off to Spencer actually and the AIP and I'm not sure when it will be transcribed, but I'll try and let you know and keep you informed.
Morrison:Yeah. There's no hurry.
Norris:The other thing I mentioned, I think I am going to Xerox — I told you about Bernie O'Keefe fooling with the bomb the night before. I'll Xerox those pages for you, because he details that in his book.
Morrison:I'd love to see that. I read his book, but I skipped that somehow.
Norris:Okay. Very good.
Morrison:Are you interested in looking up Lifton at all? No.
Norris:Well, I won't be able to do it today, because I take the plane back —
Morrison:I'll ask Priscilla. She's involved.
Morrison:There is also General Sweeney out here in Newton.
Norris:The General Sweeney.
Morrison:The General Sweeney.
Norris:The pilot General Sweeney, Charles Sweeney.
Morrison:Major General Charles Sweeney, that's right.
Norris:Right. The reason why I was at Oak Ridge was to attend the reunion of the 509th.
Norris:And Sweeney had sent a message. I think he was unable to come, but he wanted the rest of his colleagues to know that he was thinking of them. There's a little controversy among that group.
Morrison:I see. I get their invitations always, but I'm no — I'm not celebrating the wonderful events. I always, when people ask me, anybody else who knows about bombs and so on, if I turn something down they say, "Well, there's Major General Sweeney who dropped one." And they're always quite interested, the reporters. They don't know that.
Norris:Aha. So he lives in Newton.
Morrison:He lives in Newton I think, yes. Maybe it's Brookline, but you could find him pretty easily.
Norris:Yeah, well there's — that Nagasaki mission internally within the 509th is quite a controversial one —
Morrison:Oh, I see. Because they fired the captain of the plane.
Norris:Well there was that, there was that, and then there was this issue of they never met up with the instrument plane.
Morrison:Oh, yes, true.
Norris:And Ashworth fired — and he delayed too long waiting for him and not following orders, so, and there was a kind of a crisis of command here about who was really in charge, was it Sweeney the pilot or was it Ashworth the weaponeer. And Ashworth always took it to mean that he was in charge, and he had the last word about how many times we were going to fly over Kokura before we went to Nagasaki.
Norris:So all of these issues sort of bubble around the 509th here and [unintelligible word] some —
Norris:The Tibbits mission went very smoothly, the first one, no problems, down to the second almost, and the Nagasaki from beginning to end was almost — almost didn't make it. So it's funny how once you kind of get inside there and talk to these people, these things kind of swirl around here. From the outside it looks entirely different. But I guess that's always the way whether it's an academic faculty meeting or —
Morrison:It's the same thing, yes.
Norris:Or the 509th composite group.
Morrison:Well, I get their materials all the time, but I'm not interested in going. There is an unhappiness about them.
Norris:There is. There is.
Morrison:Well, that's what they were paid to do and that's what they gave their lives for and [unintelligible phrase].
Norris:And I just tag along, you know —
And watch and talk and learn. And my book was finished, so they liked my book, because there's a chapter about them, “His Own Air Force,” there. And but being with them, I'll tell you, when you know you're in a hotel or a restaurant and you're going to visit and this whole group is here, and people find out who they are, there are some very moving moments of people saying–
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