Oral History Transcript — Dr. Herbert York
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Herbert York; August 24, 2008
ABSTRACT: Berkeley Radiation Laboratory; Laurence Livermore National Laboratory; Manhattan Project; classification and declassification issues; use of computers; reminiscences about colleagues, including Edward Teller, Norris Bradbury, Howard Morland, Keith Brueckner, John von Neumann, Stirling Colgate.
Notes from the interview
Started recording around 9:00am. HERBERT YORK was explaining that he had someone coming in to talk to him about renewing a clearance (person was unable to find the house and so was a bit late).
Some small talk about someone at Harvard, Herbert F. York knew but couldn’t remember his name. Discussion of secrecy culture at Berkeley Radiation Laboratory during the war. Being sent to Oak Ridge during the war by Lawrence to help get things working at Y-12. Discusses Iraq electromagnetic plant. “It’s not easy, and people who’ve never done it have no idea about the side-effects. It’s not a question of the mainstream design, it’s about the fussy little details.” “At Berkeley when I arrived, I don’t even really remember what people said, about secrecy I mean, but we always had all sorts of cover words…”
Interrupted by person from intelligence who needed to speak with him about his clearance renewal (for about half an hour). I spent the time talking with his wife in the kitchen and having a cup of coffee.
Starts up again on the code words. (Almost verbatim from his autobiography.) (Can hear his wife in the background. Intelligence person was interviewing someone else in his household on the back porch.)
“Nothing made any sense, and it was perfectly normal. Now at the same time, in regards to secrecy, us young people—I mean, we were a bunch in our early twenties, you know, recruited — we gossiped about things occasionally, and tried to guess things we weren’t supposed to know. So it wasn’t as if we were totally subservient about it, but we weren’t in any sense really malicious either. But I was able to figure out, on the basis of conversations — it shows the necessity of secrecy — I and a couple of friends, you see, we were separating uranium isotopes, we were completely cut off from the plutonium project, but we knew about plutonium before the war ended. We just managed to figure it out, from minor remarks that other people said, including one odd one, somebody, I never met Niels Bohr during the war, but somebody quoted him and said, that he said, that he was amazed to discover we were doing it the hard way. Now what was the hard way? That’s just one little bit of data I remember puzzling, gossiping with contemporary friends, why did Bohr say that? And somebody let slip the number 94, I mean 49, that’s element 94, for the 4, and atomic weight 239 for the 9, and so somebody had mentioned 49, somebody said, ‘do you know about it,’ I didn’t know what the hell 49 was, but by the time we put all this together we were pretty… and then at the end of the war, I think I’ve written this, and you’ve probably read it, the day that they dropped the bomb, a guy picked me up to go to work and he said Herb have you heard they dropped a biscuit on Japan. Even then, that day, we used [code words]. ‘A biscuit’ was a totally made-up and informal codeword, it’s just that my friend couldn’t say anything else. And that evening we saw that the newspapers had it all there, it was just, just amazing to see words like ‘uranium’ and ‘atomic bomb’ in the newspaper. And shortly after that we got a copy, a mimeographed copy of the Smyth Report, and being mimeographed, long before Xerox, mimeograph was kind of a substitute, and it was bound, you know, it was like a book like this thick, 8 1/2 by 11 sheets, and uh, sort of organized into chapters, you could take it apart by chapters, and there were so many of us that wanted to see it, that’s what we did, we took the whole thing apart, then just passed it around, just passed it back and forth, reading in a totally random sequence! The Smyth Report, with all these things, of course, there it’s all there, plutonium, and Berkeley, and everything’s there.”
Alex Wellerstein: asks who HERBERT YORK and his colleagues at the time thought they were keeping the information from during the Manhattan Project. “You know, it’s hard to say, but I would say that it was complex. The simple answer was the Germans and the Japanese, but there was always a question of the Russians. Although it wasn’t all that serious a question, except that, as you probably know, the Communists in the Bay Area did try to penetrate the laboratory, but what that word means, ‘penetrate,’ is hard to say. There were people who felt that we were obligated to tell the Russians, bring the Russians in, and were willing to take unilateral action to that effect. I mean, Oppenheimer was a, you know, there’s a huge amount of material on Oppenheimer and his relationship with all of this, and I was invited to join the Federation of Chemists, Architects, Engineers, and Technicians [sic: Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians], which was a Communist-sponsored union, connected with a guy named Steve Allen who was from the Pennsylvania Communist Party, that’s what I remember. And they invited me to join, and I was a young bachelor with no, I had one personal friend who went there before me, so I was without connections, and lonesome, and very busy, so I seriously considered it. And Frank Oppenheimer, whom I then and now greatly admired — you know, he did some strange things, some crazy things, but for good reasons — and so, I don’t remember him saying ‘you ought to join’ or anything, but I knew he was involved, and so were a bunch of others who have become famous in connection with being Red at Berkeley, David Bohm, Rossi Lomanitz, I forget, a couple of others, those are two names I remember. And I thought about it. But I was put off and very uncertain, because I come from a union family, the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, and my father was often involved in strikes and things like that, but I knew that what unions are about are shorter hours, longer vacations, and more pay, and these guys weren’t interested in any of those things! So I was bugged from the beginning, there’s something wrong with this… [FAECT]… and so I was bothered, but even so, what finally decided it, was that I got sent to Oak Ridge. If I hadn’t got sent to Oak Ridge, I might have joined! But I didn’t. And if I had known it was Communist-sponsored I wouldn’t have either, because unlike a lot of people my age, a lot of whom saw some possibilities in the Soviet Union, in Communism, I was an avid newspaper reader as a teenager, and I don’t really know why, well, my parents read newspapers instead of books, they never read books, but I read about what we now call the Gulag, and the trials. I was convinced as a teenager in the ‘30s that they were up to no good, that specifically Stalin was up to no good, so I never had any sympathy for them, I never shared the idea that many other smart young people did, that maybe that’s where the future lay. If I had understood the Communist connection I would have been turned off also.”
Wellerstein asks about Manhattan Project patents. HERBERT YORK doesn’t know much about patents. “I did one, I think only one.” (Receiver on Calutron) “I’ve never been interested in patents. I have to say that I have a sort of positive disinterest. … I couldn’t care less, I’m not the least bit interested in patents, I find them a nuisance, in that kind of work.” WELLERSTEIN offers to send him an article he has on it. HERBERT YORK mentions he never met Vannevar Bush, but was always sorry he never met, same with Albert Einstein.
WELLERSTEIN mentions he talked with Robert Christy in Pasadena, HERBERT YORK says he hardly knew him. WELLERSTEIN says that RC said that during the war that he never had any problem with classification issues, that they were just getting the job done. “They were also more open at Los Alamos. It was the only place where that was the case. Well, maybe at Chicago they were more open, too. … I never thought of it [secrecy] as being a problem, except in a personal sense, I had to figure out plutonium. … We even knew very little about what was going on at the related plants, you know, we were at Y-12… The only reason I knew about [K-25, gaseous diffusion plant]… I was responsible for the degree of purity, the degree of enhancement of the second stage [Beta Calutrons], I was fiddling with the receivers, that’s what I did there, with the shape of the entrance, to try and optimize the purity. And about half-way through, we started getting stuff from K-25, and so I was fully informed about what was coming out of K-25 in terms of the amounts and the isotope relationships. ... I was directly involved with the input-output relations of the second stage. The only secret, I got a secret from Los Alamos, I asked Lawrence, I said, you know, I could probably do a better job if I knew the trade-off between quantity and quality… [in autobiography], so after I told him that, he came back with just a tiny little scrap of paper, there’s just two columns of numbers, one column is 75%, 85%, and then the other is the critical mass, or something proportional to critical mass. It may have been the critical mass, I don’t have the piece of paper and I don’t really remember it. But then I took that and made a curve out of it, and I tried to judge, if we changed the size of the opening in certain ways, you know, if you make it narrower, the less stuff goes in, but if it’s better, it might be more crits, and so I learned late in the game the conversion between critical mass and then I tried — I’ve no way of knowing whether I succeeded — I tried to re-adjust the shapes of all of the entrance things, the receivers, they’re all made out of graphite, because of the tremendous energy involved, I even went down to Louisiana where they were made, to work on… And while I was in Louisiana, another secret, I’m going through this big plant where these carbon pieces are made, and there’s a V1 [rocket]. Just sitting there.”
WELLERSTEIN asks about Livermore, change of attitudes towards classification by 1950s. “It was worse. That is to say, quite literally it probably was more relaxed, but, it was very little different from the war, and it did get in the way, it was something of a nuisance. And I even fought, but not seriously, I complained about certain aspects of it, but to be specific, it was not the question of any details about bombs or anything, but we were not allowed to say what we were doing. Everybody knew that Los Alamos was designing nuclear weapons. Lots of people knew that was what we were doing, but we were never allowed to say so. And it was Lewis Strauss and others in Washington whom I thought were just much too fussy. In other words, I didn’t agree with what they had to say, because it didn’t have a direct interference, but it was part of the confusion about what’s Livermore doing and what’s their relation to Los Alamos, and as you probably know their relations were very bad at first, mainly because Teller was always bad-mouthing Los Alamos, and I wanted to clarify that by saying what it is we were doing. And I remember talking with Strauss and others, and I said, you know, we could really be making shoe-laces — I used that word — but everybody would think we were making bombs! So why don’t we just clarify who’s doing what? Because what would happen was, because it was secret, we were credited with doing things beyond what were doing. We couldn’t even deny that! They kept crediting Livermore with designing Mike and things like that. They wouldn’t even let us say no, we didn’t do it! Finally, Norris Bradbury had a big press conference that clarified all this but it was done in a sense of anger and annoyance. So it did cause me a lot of problems. The Super secrecy, but specifically that part — we couldn’t even say what we were doing. There was a great tight control of visitors and things like that but it always worked out. I don’t remember it interfering with recruiting because when we recruited, we could say it. It’s just that we couldn’t say it to the press.”
WELLERSTEIN asks whether classification caused technical difficulties. “No, well, no, I don’t think so. At least, I never thought it did. It’s always possible that if we could actually go back in time we might find something, but, because we did have very tight control of the shops, and again, I thought some of that was overdone. For example, in those days — it’s no longer true — but in those days, spherical symmetry was nearly everywhere. The primaries were always spherically symmetrical. And so anything so anything, any shell of metal that was spherical in shape, was highly classified. But of course, it’s like my discovering plutonium, this guy from Israel, from Dimona [Mordechai Vanunu], he brought out with him either the shapes or the lot of dimensions that he gave to the British and then we call got, which told us a lot, even those spheres are not classified, we learned a lot about the first Israeli bombs from just the drawings of shapes, the same thing from the Soviets. … Vanunu is still an issue, it’s amazing. And it’s a secrecy issue!”
WELLERSTEIN asks about compartmentalization at Livermore. “There was very little compartmentalization within Livermore. And it wasn’t from group to group. There were a few people, there were a few unclassified groups, and they were not in on weapons design. But anybody involved with weapons, there was no [compartmentalization], and [Divisions] A [secondaries] and B [primaries] were necessarily working together. And C, that was Chemistry. J was testing. Or was J? It was L, I guess. J Division at Los Alamos was testing, and we didn’t name ours J, we named it L, for Livermore.”
WELLERSTEIN asks HERBERT YORK to compare compartmentalization at Livermore vs. Berkeley Rad Lab. “Well, even at Berkeley there wasn’t compartmentalization within Berkeley, the compartmentalization was between Berkeley and the rest of the world. So I was accustomed to the idea of having no compartmentalization within the unit. At Oak Ridge, of course, there was, although, well, because I knew about plutonium, and the management of the company, Tennessee Eastman, they knew I knew about the input to the Beta stage, and I remember, I was surprised at the time, the president of the company, who I saw occasionally, asked me, he said, ‘You ought to talk with Lawrence about having the stuff from Hanford come through the Beta stage,’ which means he had no idea what was coming out of Hanford. But I did. Now, that’s a minor case, but that wasn’t within Y-12… but within Y-12 there was a compartmentalization in this importance sense, all of us physicists, and related scientific people, all of us knew, without being told, what the objective of the project was, I mean, an atomic bomb, which would be a huge thing. And generally speaking, 99% of the people who worked at Y-12 did not know that. So there was that restriction. They really didn’t know what it was for. Most of them were not even particularly curious. Now the management knew what it was for. But the workers, running all these Calutrons, they had no idea what it was for. Digging a hole to China, that sort of thing. Some people had enough sense to speculate, everything comes in, nothing ever goes out, what is going on here? I was one of the very few people who saw the stuff going out, what we sent off to Los Alamos was still in the form of oxide.”
WELLERSTEIN mentions that secrecy during MED was more specific than just knowing or not knowing, that there was a huge category of people who knew there was a project going on but didn’t know what it was for. “Well, everybody at Los Alamos knew, all two or three thousand, whatever it was, and the physicists knew at places like Berkeley, Columbia, K-25, the physicists knew. But at Los Alamos everybody knew, well, I guess that’s the case, I don’t know about the janitors and so on.”
WELLERSTEIN asks about young staff at Livermore. “Well, it was half deliberate and half circumstantial. I mean, that period of time, was just when Berkeley had, right after the war, we had a huge influx of students, and now, the 1950s, we’d got a big output! So there they were, and Berkeley was such a wonderful place to work, and nearly everybody thought working for Lawrence was great. Some of the more senior people, the more sophisticated people, chafed under Lawrence, and then there was the oath controversy and so on. But for the graduate students those were lesser factors, Lawrence would say, I don’t know if he said it to everybody but he said it to me often, ‘There’s no better title in the world than Physicist at the Radiation Laboratory,’ when I would show some signs of restlessness. Like when I mentioned [to him] that I wanted to be on the faculty, down on the campus. … And you know, we took that in. All of the sudden, at that time, we got this big output from Berkeley, and all kinds of people looking for jobs, and the opportunity to stay working for Lawrence was attractive. So they no only were young, they were virtually all from Berkeley, you have to put those two together. Way more than half of the physics staff came from Berkeley. And they were young because they were new PhDs.”
WELLERSTEIN asks if they are skimming from the bumper crop of physics PhDs in the postwar period. “Well, we didn’t so much skim, you know, we took ‘em all! Or the ones that were willing… it couldn’t have been, all, they must have been producing forty a year, well, in those first couple of years we were probably taking forty! So the number of the people we were taking was comparable to the number being produced! I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that’s the idea, we recruited almost entirely from Berkeley, Lawrence and I. The number of people who were my contemporaries who didn’t come from Berkeley was just three or four, five, that small a number. A couple of older people, one of the most important was a man named Montgomery Johnson, came from NRL, a couple came from North American, the reactor program they had there, but even the computer… there was no such thing as coders, programmers, there were Literature majors who happened to be good at this, and we just hired them, sent them somewhere to get experience on one of the two or three computers, there were only two or three computers anywhere, so we sent our people back to Washington, National Bureau of Standards, Census Bureaus, they had two UNIVACs, they learned from people there how to code, coding and programming were sort of together, well, nowadays you don’t have coders, you just have programmers, so-called machine language is what coders worked with, the next level up was what programmers worked with, and we made that division fairly early between coders and programmers, I guess other people did too. But, uh, how’d I get on to that? Well, we even got them even from Berkeley. The guy who finally, we had trouble getting theoretical physics and computing organized, it kind of went from one person to another lurching, then finally we got a guy, one of Oppenheimer’s students, who turned out to be a sort of quiet and phlegmatic guy, who did a wonderful job at Livermore, can’t think of his name at the moment, he was well known in computing circles.”
WELLERSTEIN asks about Bryce DeWitt (for David Kaiser) “Oh yes. Was he? Not very much? You know, I remember him only from Berkeley. I don’t even remember him from Livermore. Are you sure he was there? [Yes] It could be. He was strictly a theorist, yes.” WELLERSTEIN mentions that DeWitt said (in a paper) that when he arrived Teller showed him immediately on a blackboard how an H-bomb was made, as a rite of passage, was this common? “Well, frankly, I don’t remember, I remember Bryce DeWitt, but I don’t remember him from Livermore, he wasn’t one of the people I dealt with on a regular basis, and, but the story you tell is perfectly, that’s the normal thing. That’s how, that was me, five years earlier. I was at Eniwetok, in ‘51, Teller came out, it was just within weeks of when the Teller-Ulam final device idea had come up, maybe months, but… we were in one of those all aluminum buildings, wearing shorts or whatever, Teller with a blackboard though, Teller just drew the thing on the blackboard. And since I had been at Los Alamos talking with all the people regularly, how do you make a hydrogen bomb, you know, they were, all these great men were stumbling around, and then this relatively old idea comes up, using compression and so on, in fact Teller had, one of his early contributions was to delay things by saying that compression doesn’t matter, which is just utterly wrong. That argument was before I got involved, so I don’t even remember that argument. [Probably getting this from Rhodes] I remember later phases, when Ulam, and Teller, and Fermi, and Wheeler, and Konopinski and a bunch of other guys all stumbling around, not getting it right. And then finally, they did. … But your question had to do with… [a sort of initiation, drawing on the blackboard] On the other hand, I don’t think it was very often Teller, I think, the DeWitt one would be, because DeWitt was a theorist and also especially good, he did go on to do other great things.”
(Some more small talk on DeWitt, mostly by WELLERSTEIN, because HERBERT YORK didn’t remember him from Livermore, etc., some work WELLERSTEIN is doing for Kaiser.) “We had another physicist who became famous, but especially for being opposed to all of this, named [H. Pierre] Noyes, he was very briefly at Livermore, but then he quit in a big huff and became one of the most strident and determined of the anti-nuclear people. Went to Stanford, got a job. Oddly enough I knew his much older brother [William Albert Noyes, Jr.], a professor at Rochester, he was a well-known chemist in the ‘30s. But he was the only, he was the most severe of all of our dissidents. We had the other one who was an M.D., but he had a peculiar kind of dissent, he was extremely strong about the problems created by radiation, but he didn’t say ‘don’t make nuclear weapons.’ [John] Gofman, was his name. I knew him because he was one of the very first people to make the connection between cholesterol and atherosclerosis, and onto heart attacks. So I had my cholesterol measured in the ‘50s, at Livermore, by Gofman!”
WELLERSTEIN asks how essential computers were at Livermore in the early days. “Well, they were pretty central. On the other hand, they didn’t do very well, you know. It gets back to your Bravo thing [WELLERSTEIN had asked about the Castle Bravo run-away before taping began]. We had a computer that was nowhere near as good, well, you can get a handheld computer better than what they did Bravo on. Things like Bravo, things like the computers in that day, really just, people mixed analog computing or just ordinary calculations, with computing. And so, they were central, on the other hand, they weren’t absolutely crucial. We would have gone ahead with what some people call the Edisonian way anyhow. They’ve become, as time went on and computers became more capable, we did rely on them. But they weren’t all that good. And at least part of the problems at Livermore, the fact that the two first primary shots called Ruth and Ray at Nevada, you can probably blame part of the problem on computers, because there was nothing wrong with the general design, it was just simply, we couldn’t really calculate very well what would happen. In the case of the one, Koon, at Eniwetok, that was bad design. The computer was not, what made Koon fail was not even in the computer calculations.”
WELLERSTEIN asks about shots Ruth and Ray. “Those are my god parents. I did all of [the naming] in those days. In a way they don’t want you to do that, but we did. I named it Project Whitney. I named the nuclear weapon rocket program Rover. You could do that.” WELLERSTEIN asks about shot nomenclature, about why early shot names were often more evocative of the contents of the test than later ones appeared to be. “Well, Shrimp and Runt… except they were sort of inverse, I mean, Shrimp was huge and so was Runt, but nevertheless, they were somehow related, they were both smaller than Mike. Mike doesn’t mean anything, I guess, I don’t think it does. But you’re right, they had multiple names. We had Ramrod and Morgenstern at Livermore, and they both related in a very distant way to the design. [Did this change?] Well, yes, it’s part of the bureaucratization, and the realization, there’s always been control over code names, but it wasn’t so tight at that time. But even at the time of World War II, it was an issue of what [Operation] Overlord should be named, and there was a concern that it not be named something like Bunnyhug, you know, you had to have a name that meant serious purpose and not something, you didn’t want people dying in something with a bad name. So, Ruth and Ray were the devices, I don’t what the shots, the shots probably had some other, you see the devices had one name and the test had another name. And Ruth and Ray were my god parents.” “Ruth and Ray, I never considered to be fizzles. Because they were strictly experimental and we really didn’t, we really couldn’t calculate very well the yield. On the other hand, they weren’t good ideas. To get a little more personal about it, Teller came with two ideas, left over from his time at Los Alamos. One was Ruth and Ray, the two of them together, and the other was what became Koon. And it was not until we got rid of Teller’s ideas that we actually did anything good at Livermore. We could have, in an ordinary world, without the special status that Lawrence as well as Teller had in Washington, I don’t what would have happened with Ruth, Ray, and Koon all the first three in a row. But as far as I know nobody thought about making any readjustments, replacing me or anyone else, but in retrospect, those were ideas, we were looking for things to do, and it wasn’t hard to do those, but essentially those were the last, everything after that at Livermore, although Teller gets a lot of the credit for Polaris, he doesn’t deserve any credit for Polaris or the other things that came along, that’s Harold Brown, John Foster, and their group. And Teller was almost in the status of visitor in those days, he came quite often, like once a week, and he was a stimulus. People did like to talk with him, he had a lot of charisma, so he had a lot to do with keeping morale up and interest up and so on. But from then on none of his ideas, he introduced ideas, but none of them were any bit of good. Directed energy weapons and things like that, none of which ever worked out. So, Ruth, Ray, and Koon were Teller ideas that we did happily, but they were strictly his ideas. And they almost did us in. Because in retrospect they were not good ideas. But interestingly enough to the end of his life he kept talking about, you see Ruth and Ray were hydrides, with deuterium in them, and Teller to the end of his life, he never gave up saying that’s something we haven’t exploited properly. And it’s just not a good idea. And Koon was related to another idea, a really bad design idea, but it had a rough purpose, he had an idea on how to go on with using them for three-stage weapons.”
WELLERSTEIN asks about the name for Project Whitney, reference to Matterhorn? “No, well, yes, well probably. Because I named it after the mountain in California, there’s no doubt about that. And Matterhorn had already been named. Now I’m not, very briefly we called it, for some mysterious reason before Whitney, we called it Cotton. That’s before we even thought of putting it at Livermore. I think when we started talking about Whitney we even had it in mind that, we were thinking about Livermore as a site. Briefly we did consider another site, there was an old military base in Point Richmond, California, big urban center. I’m not sure I’d put a nuclear lab there. But anyway, we thought about it.”
WELLERSTEIN asks about Castle Bravo again, to get it on the tape. “I don’t even know what people mean when they say that [it was a run-away], it just was a big device in which you convert lithium and place tritium and it all burns, more readily than it would if you used ordinary lithium. And so it was hard to calculate, because computers were very poor in those days, they were nowhere near as powerful as handheld computers today, nowhere near, and so, I always regard Bravo yield as being at the high end but well within the predictions. Now other people may think otherwise, but the people I knew never thought there was anything peculiar about Bravo other than the fact that it worked well. And of course, the reason that Bravo is so famous is not that, it’s the fallout. With a lesser yield the fallout would have been different but it could even have been worse, you know, I mean it would have produced less, but the question of where it fell depended exactly on how high it rose, and what the winds were at those altitudes. So if Bravo had been only half of what it was, the fallout could have been worse. More likely that it could have been less, but it could have been worse. I happened to arrive in Eniwetok just after Bravo, it was at Bikini but the air service was in at Eniwetok. [What was the mood?] Confused. They knew that something had happened, but they didn’t know what. They knew by then that the fallout had gone where it shouldn’t. And I don’t know whether they knew about that boat, the Fortunate Dragon, I don’t think they knew that yet, that was weeks later. I arrived the day that Koon was exploded, and Norris Bradbury and I were in the air, on a typically cloudy day when it went, and we saw it from this airplane. And we both thought, ‘that looks a little small.’ I mean, it was about a twentieth of what we were expecting, it was that much of a fizzle. But I saw it from the air. But you couldn’t see it, there were clouds everywhere. It was my second trip out, I had been out when we were installing it, but later…”
Relations with Norris Bradbury? “My personal relations with fine. His relations with Teller were terrible. And when I say my relations were fine, what I mean is, every bit of help I asked for — I asked for a lot — he gave, with no signs of, he didn’t sweat it out or anything. On the other hand, he did, I know only from much later, he did write letters to Washington complaining about us. What he complained about, he said, was related to Teller’s badmouthing, because his letters always were ‘they said they were going to do things that were different, and they haven’t, they’re just exploring the same parameter space that we were doing anyway.’ Which wasn’t quite fair, we did pioneer a couple of things that were important, but even then he said, ‘we would have gotten around to that.’ Which is probably true. It’s probably so that nuclear weapons development would have followed almost the same course without Livermore. But it would have been a little slower. And it wouldn’t have had some of the crazy ideas that Teller, they would have never developed, that he was always pushing, like directed energy weapons and things like that. He was just dedicated to the idea that there was a whole, wide world of new inventions and new types of bombs, that we were only at the beginning. The simple fact is every hydrogen bomb there is was invented by, was based on technology fully known by 1960. There hasn’t been anything in 50 years that matters. Some of the ideas from 1960 didn’t get made until 1970, but there’s nothing new. It’s a totally mature thing. The only things that are like new are like modem refrigerators are better than they were 20 years ago, they’re still the same thing. They’ve got better hinges, more space on the door... but anyway, Teller was dedicated to the idea that there were all these ideas. And he called second, third, fourth generation…” “[Harold Agnew] on a number of occasions said to me, ‘Norris Bradbury seemed to like you and I never knew why.’ He’s a caustic, Agnew’s a very caustic guy.” (Some more on Agnew)
And Teller? “A lot of people get a bad idea and then sort of are amused by it and drop it. Teller’s bad ideas he kept persisting, for ten, twenty, thirty years, in bad ideas, it’s always bad ideas. And at least in nuclear technology he didn’t have a lot of good ideas. He’s famous for the breakthrough on the hydrogen bomb, but that’s it! It’s hard to name another idea that really mattered. And even that one, it was actually, there were a lot of people throwing things back and forth. And they had been there, and he pulled it out again. He does deserve credit for that.” (Talks about Kistiakowsky’s diary account of Ulam and Teller in the 1960s.) “I insist on calling it Teller-Ulam design, but…”
WELLERSTEIN asks if HERBERT YORK coined the term “Teller-Ulam design,” as it doesn’t really appear in the literature until HERBERT YORK’s book The Advisors, “Well, maybe, if I did I’m not aware of it.” (Talks about how he came up with the idea of the SIOP but forgot about it; same as content in autobiography).
WELLERSTEIN asks HERBERT YORK about George Keyworth interview with Teller (1979), how Teller mentions the “Equilibrium Super,” whether this was a common term for the Teller-Ulam design at the time. “Well, that’s just a description. I mean, the earlier one would only have worked in non-equilibrium circumstances, the original one without any compression. It’s just that compression made it possible to work under equilibrium circumstances; it not only hastened the arrival of equilibrium, but it made it possible. The old one wouldn’t have worked, that was wrong with it. It could only have worked non- equilibrium, you couldn’t keep it that way long enough for it to explode… that’s just part of nature, it wasn’t an idea. It’s just that if you take — the physics are a little complicated — if you take a volume of ordinary deuterium and you somehow made it react, so you get some percentage of it to react, the energy at first is all on the nuclear particles, then as time goes on, they transfer it to the electrons, which cools the nuclear particles — it takes energy away — but takes time to happen. And once you get a lot of electrons going at high speeds, they don’t interact more efficiently with the photons, then the equilibrium goes even further, the energy goes over to the photons. But that takes time, and in that time interval when it’s not in equilibrium, there’s a higher proportion of the energy on the nuclear particles, and that was essential to making it work when it’s not compressed. It wasn’t an invention, that’s just what happens, it’s not in equilibrium. And then later, it is — in things like Bravo, it’s probably in equilibrium from extremely early on. By that I mean, the energy of the photons are taking up all kinds of energy, holding the temperature down. When Ulam talks about, his famous remark about ‘it’s growing icicles’ or something, well that’s what he had in mind. The particles are transferring more and more energy to the photons, faster than the reaction can keep producing energy, so it cools! It’s like trying to light a piece of anthracite with a match. You hold a match against it, it gets the surface hot, but conducts the heat all through the piece of coal, so you can’t light it.”
WELLERSTEIN mentions that at the end of the Keyworth interview, Teller says he thinks the Classical Super could still work. “Oh, that would be Teller. I could have almost have written that sentences — that’s him! He just holds on to these bad ideas. That’s Ruth and Ray, except there was a shorter time interval. Bad ideas that he couldn’t let go, and that we didn’t recognize as bad ideas. We were complicit, it wasn’t that he forced it on a reluctant Livermore, we were glad to have… we took seriously the idea of doing things different, and that was one step towards difference. So I vaguely remember the Keyworth interview, but I never took it seriously, because I never took Keyworth seriously either.”
Personal relations with Teller? Especially after Limited Test Ban issue? “They were just broken. We got along well at the time of Livermore; Harold Brown says sometimes Teller chafed but I thought we got along fine. But he never, he was just really annoyed, just deeply annoyed, at the fact that I supported Eisenhower’s about nuclear disarmament, test ban, and so on. The fact is, until I got to Washington and the White House, all the people that I knew well were on the other sides of these issues. It wasn’t just the fact that the President took this position, but Bethe, Rabi, and all the other, everybody! It turns out almost everybody in the world at the top end of things, was at the other side from Teller, and I half knew that, because I had gone to several lectures by Oppenheimer about the two scorpions in the bottle, all that sort of thing. So I was very well aware that there was controversy, but the people I talked to every day were Teller and Lawrence, both of whom were senior to me and both of whom I looked up to. Especially Lawrence. I never had the same relation with Teller that I had with Lawrence. With Lawrence it was very strong mentor-student relationship all my life. At any rate, he [Teller] became very angry and somewhere, it only came up lately, during that period in the Eisenhower administration, he wrote a letter to Lewis Strauss about how I had been a traitor to Ernest Lawrence, not to him, it was ‘Herb York, traitor to Lawrence,’ and when I saw that I was really was terribly annoyed, but I wasn’t at the time. But he also told Harold Brown, and I think to his face, and Harold resented it, cause when Harold went to Washington he also became sympathetic to the ideas about, he didn’t become as enthused as I did, but he did support and genuinely support the efforts of various presidents to achieve arms control. And Teller told him to his face, he said, ‘when you go to Washington you judge adjust the coloration of the people you’re with.’ It was meant as a put-down or an insult, and I remember Harold was really annoyed by it too.”
Teller’s anti-classification campaigns? “I’ve always had a bad view of that. But maybe I’m being unfair, so I’ll introduce it in that way. I can’t get over the idea, the reason he’s against classification is he believes — and this is a serious thought — that the way to keep ahead of the Russians is to have everybody working on weapons design. Not just Los Alamos — everybody! So he wants to declassify — and he did, even way, way back when—so you can get every department of applied science in America working on nuclear weapons, and other weapons, not just nuclear. So, it’s a part of his belief that everybody should be working on weapons, instead of fooling around with the other basic stuff. So, it’s serious, but he usually doesn’t put the two together, but this is this department in Livermore which is a reflection, a very small reflection of that. He was convinced the University of California didn’t have enough people outside the labs working on weapons, and so this thing which is run out of the Davis campus, they call it Teller Tech sometimes, ‘cause it is his idea, he sure as hell is the guy who pushed it. But it’s purpose was to get more and more and more people working on nuclear weapons, he thought it was the right thing to do. It’s just like, or worse than, you get a lot of people, older military types, who say that military service makes a man out of you, everybody should do military service.” (HERBERT YORK talks about a talk he saw by Dan Yankelovich, on terrorism, military service.)
“So Teller and declassification… I think that’s another one of his bad ideas. On the other hand, he’s right that’s classification is overdone, but not so much in the question of what the secrets are, but how the whole thing’s managed. Because it’s managed bureaucratically. You know, a lot of people are making the judgment, there’s a manual, it says Secret means that it’s revelation would cause grave damage to the security, Top Secret means it’ll cost very grave damage; the people making that decision do not know whether this idea would in fact cause great damage. The reason is, there’s many hundreds of millions of secrets, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are cleared to have access, and there are tens of thousands of people, like the woman who came this morning, who are the bureaucrats who manage all this in various ways, like giving clearances, controlling classification, controlling storage, all that stuff. It’s done but an enormous bureaucracy of tens of thousands of people, and you can’t use judgment when you have that big a system. So it’s necessarily bureaucratic and at least three-quarters mindless. And so in that sense, it’s not a good system. On the other hand, I don’t know how you’d make it better. It just goes with the way we do things in modern times.”
On Howard Morland? “I never approved of what he wrote in the [Progressive], I can’t agree with his basis, that this was all out there anyway. It was out there for somebody smart like him who had the kind of access he had and the purpose he had to go find something on a library shelf that shouldn’t be there. That’s not the same as saying ‘it’s out there,’ and in fact his idea about nuclear, about two-stage design is not quite right, it’s not bad, he’s refined it over the years, but for years and years he didn’t have it right, he said ‘this is obvious,’ and of course, the biggest, Encyclopedia Americana has a drawing by Teller, that predates Morland, or it’s just about contemporary with Morland, that Morland had nothing to do with, and how it got there, nobody seems to know. I asked Teller and he didn’t know either.”
WELLERSTEIN mentions Morland saw The Advisors as being a spur for his work, asks about how HERBERT YORK reacted to the Progressive case in 1979. “Well, as I said, I didn’t like what he wrote. … We actually were in touch, and I happened just by chance to see him after that, and I told him I didn’t like it, and I also didn’t like the way he disparaged Duane Sewell. Duane does take a simplistic and conservative view, but it’s on the basis of a lot of good sense. And I thought he was too harsh on him. … Duane happened to be in the Department of Energy when all this came out, so he’s the guy who had to take the action. I don’t think he otherwise would have, but Duane is very concerned about these things.” (More on Duane Sewell) Did HERBERT YORK follow the Progressive case? “Yes, but only when it came to my attention. I didn’t follow it in a serious way. I’m not a student of the case, either then or now. … I don’t think that kind of helps. That is, the Progressive case, the fact that Morland is out there fighting the system, that I do approve of, or that he’s one of the people adding fuel to the flames in the way of urging that more be done in the way of arms control, and so on. So I think Morland’s on the right side, but I don’t think the publication of what he thought were the details of the hydrogen bomb was a good thing to do. Although I don’t think it matters much. You see, my prescription for building a hydrogen bomb, if you are a country X, the way you do it is, first you get a group together, you make a total apprise of designing atomic bombs, and in the course in doing that you develop the talent, the ideas, the laboratories, the computer codes, you’ll do everything that’s necessary for a hydrogen bomb, plus the general idea that is out there, the fact that it is different, and that it is clever, and things like two-stage and so on are now out there, and Morland is only one of people who contributed to this, so I don’t think it matters very much, but I don’t think it was a positive thing.”
Would a country use the Progressive issue for their effort? “No. But it’s always possible that somebody did, or was stimulated by it, it’s possible. But I don’t think so, I have no reason to think so. The cases I know about were certainly not that. There hasn’t been a hydrogen bomb since ‘79, a new one. All the prior ones, we have some knowledge about how they did it.” (some discussions of the Russian H-bomb program, nothing not common in the literature) “Teller had the same idea [as the Sloika design], we called it the Alarm Clock. And Teller had two reasons for [the name of] the Alarm Clock. One is that it has certain characteristics of ringing. The other one was that it would wake people up.”
WELLERSTEIN asks HERBERT YORK whether he thinks he would have changed his actions at all in the 1950s if he had seen the 1949 GAC report at the time, and not in the 1970s. “Boy, that’s a, I really hadn’t thought about that. I don’t usually get brand new, a totally new question. Uh. … I don’t think I would have done anything very different, ‘cause I looked at Livermore as a way of continuing working closely with Lawrence, and associating with a lot of other very interesting people, including Teller, but Fermi, lots of others, Garwin, lots of others. And I looked at it in Cold War terms. If I had read that report, well, the main body of the report said ‘we don’t know how to do it’ — that was already obsolete by the time we started Livermore, the only thing that’s in the report that I wasn’t fully aware of, is their moralistic statements, and I don’t know, I would have taken them seriously, but they probably wouldn’t have caused me to do anything different.” (Discusses James Hijiya article on Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad-Gita, HERBERT YORK had only just read it. Also the book by Charles Thorpe, book by Sam Schweber on Oppenheimer and Einstein.)
On Ray Kidder’s statement that the AEC/DOE was always too slow to declassify and never too fast. “Well, I think that’s probably true. … At the edges, certainly. The whole question of what was Livermore doing in 1952, now that’s way the hell back, but they were much to slow on saying that, it was a couple years before they would admit what were doing there at Livermore, it did get in the way of our, it added an enormous confusion to our relations to the world and to Los Alamos, it was harmful.” Why did Strauss feel that should be secret? “Oh, it’s just in his make-up. The answer, if I was a psychologist, probably is the same as why he didn’t like Oppenheimer. He just was very conservative. In every way. He was an observant Jew, who helped to keep the temple, one of the richest temples in the world, in New York, going. And he didn’t talk much about it, but it nevertheless was always there. Although he helped Johnny, you see Johnny Von Neumann died in the arms of the church, and Strauss helped arrange his, Johnny leaned on Strauss at the end more than he leaned on anyone else, as far as I know of. And he asked Strauss to arrange a priest or something. Not so much as a simple, ritualistic sense of confession and so on, but he wanted somebody to talk to. ‘Cause he felt cheated, Johnny did. And he felt the world had been cheated, also. I went to his funeral, on the way home from there, I was with Norris Bradbury. I can’t be sure whether it was in Princeton or in Washington, it was this big huge church, big funeral, but Marina Whitman was there, his daughter, and on the way out, we crowded into a cab, and Bradbury says to me, ‘if Johnny is, where he thought he was going, there must be some very interesting conversations going on about now,’ and I immediately flashed into mind, I think I still remember, he’s there talking with Gauss and Archimedes and I never was able to decide, is he explaining it to them or are they explaining it to him?”
(About the Fermi paradox, HERBERT YORK was at the lunch.) “Whenever I read about the Drake Equation, I always get a little annoyed. I knew Drake, also, but Fermi was 10 years ahead of Drake, the very same equation, but he never published it, he just talked about it. That’s why you can’t even say if it was the same equation. I’m sure that Drake added his own, he didn’t know about the Fermi thing I think, it was an independent set of ideas…” (More on Drake, on pulsars, etc. More on Fermi’s lunchtime paradox. On Teller’s account.)
On Pure Fusion bomb: “There was always the thought that if you could really compress it, do everything right in the right sequence, get the timing right, and the perfection, get enough perfection into the, then you could do it that way, but it never worked out. And there’s no particular value in it. I mean, there’s plenty of fissile, a lot of things based on false notions of scarcity. That was Lawrence, one of his big mistakes was building what they called the Materials Testing Accelerator, Lawrence believed, and the data almost confirmed, that uranium was really rare, that we gotta find some way, that the future world of both bombs and power, you’ve got to do better than what you can do with reactors and things like that, too much waste, gotta be more efficient in using the material. It was based on ideas of scarcity that weren’t true, there’s plenty of uranium, and thorium too.”
On Laser Fusion: “Well, it came along at about that same time [of Pure Fusion work in the late 1950s, early 1960s], I think of that, it’s possible that there’s more connection… my story is different, but it doesn’t contradict. That it is, that Sterling Colgate was concerned about, they were already talking about test bans, and Sterling claims that he was thinking… everybody’s complaining about the fact that there’s no experimental approach, in the sense that you can build some critical masses that don’t explode and you can get implode these shells with X-rays and the like, there’s nothing like that for hydrogen bombs. Sterling, at least in Sterling’s own mind — Sterling’s a bit manic, I don’t know if you’ve met him — well he’s a manic depressive, and mostly manic, he says, and I’m inclined to believe, that he thought of it in that connection, not energy production. But as a way of modeling the secondary with these tiny little capsules, you’d feed it energy from these lasers instead of from a primary. … What Kidder’s talking about, I’m fairly sure, are big hydrodynamic systems. They went on for a long time at Livermore, that way, trying to get the, trying to trim everything, because basically it requires, I think theoretically it requires a level of perfection you just can’t get, some huge, perfect implosion, very high compression factor, it has to be nearly perfect. … The Kidder idea was before that [the laser], doing it hydrodynamically precedes the idea of the lasers, doing it with explosives.” (Some more on Sterling Colgate.)
HERBERT YORK ever push for declassification? “Oh, on certain things, but not as a general rule. … Well, I don’t remember any successes. I remember some accidental failures. I’m from Rochester, New York, so when I was working in the White House and Pentagon and in charge of all the reconnaissance programs, I went up to Rochester, they had some party for me, the Chamber of Commerce, and I was aware of the fact that Eastman Kodak was building these giant cameras, but that was secret. But at this dinner meeting in the Chamber, I thanked them for it, and I remember them afterwards coming up to me afterwards with these astonished looks, you weren’t supposed to say that. But in fact, I just got away with it, because everybody, everything was in slight turmoil, everything was new, everybody understood that it was an accident. And I don’t even remember the fallout from it. I managed to reveal some secrets by accident.”
HERBERT YORK and international representatives, communication and secrecy? “I would say that people accepted reality, it wasn’t something people griped about, but took into account. The one that I never was clear on, Harold Agnew is the only person I know who knows this thoroughly, is the relations with the French. Those took place when I wasn’t in the position to really have a good look at it. But there, there is confusion about the French. But after the Cold War ended, we started meeting with them, and it was always a question of what you could say. People told me a story about a meeting that took place, in one of the Russian labs, and they’re trying to talk about one-point safety, that was a topic that we thought was good to exchange information about. … And, one of the issues involved, particular questions about American design, and Americans were talking all around this, and finally the Russians just said, ‘is this what you mean?’ and they drew this big secret design, which was originally done at Livermore, one of the few Livermore contributions. … I was sitting right here on the porch with [German] Goncharov, a designer with one of the labs, and he showed, he said, ‘don’t you think we ought to publish this?’ And he drew George, the George shot, and it was still classified. Of course, he had a vested interest in declassifying, because at that time, we were paying the Russians to write historical papers on their program. It would have been spying, but we just paid them to write these historical papers! And that was not one of them. … And Goncharov wanted to sell this paper, and I was really quite surprised, it was, however, I later learned, they got it from the early postwar ideas, the ‘46 conference or something, I didn’t know that at the time, something very much like the George shot there, and it was curiously wrong because, it included things which we didn’t have, but which some people were talking about, but we didn’t do. The same drawing, it appears in book by [David] Albright [on Ted Hall].” (This is the Fuchs-Von Neumann idea?) “Yes. Except, that’s what in the book has got more than what we did [at George], it’s got some extra pieces. And I don’t to this day really know… The George shot was part of Teller’s inspiration, that is, what was happening at Los Alamos, the design was frozen, they were getting ready to do this, and that’s when everybody’s thinking about how to do it right, and the George shot is just one-half step shy of the Teller-Ulam invention. It involves compression of another capsule but in a different way, in a slightly different way. Just gotta change the chemistry, and it’s Teller-Ulam, except on a much smaller scale. Much different from laser fusion, which is really quite remote. So anyway, Goncharov drew this, that was a case where I couldn’t respond to him, at least, I didn’t. I then took, on my next visit to Livermore, I took the drawing, and said look, this is what Goncharov did, but by that time they were bored with it, they weren’t interested either, nobody cared, I had this big spectacular drawing from the man himself, nobody cared!”
More on the Goncharov drawing (of what Fuchs passed on to the Russians after the ‘46 Super conference) “Well, they’ve got this little capsule, with the deuterium and tritium in it, and it’s an extension off of a, there’s a big fission source here, and the energy just engulfs this capsule and flows through, the capsule walls’ made out of copper or something, filled with beryllium, and then the capsule, a lot of odd stuff, and then the energy just fills this thing including the whole capsule, and then the copper is denser than its contents, so when you get to thermal equilibrium the copper acts like a high explosive. Well, that’s not the Teller-Ulam idea. But it’s very, very close.”
Could this information have helped the Soviets to Teller-Ulam? Is George just a hop, skip, and a jump to Teller-Ulam? “No, because it’s a pretty big hop, skip, and a jump. I mean, it’s, I don’t know. They had it. … They spent more time talking about non-equilibrium, you mentioned non-equilibrium earlier, because that’s where this whole business of what’s called the reverse Compton effect comes in, and that was not known, and that was secret when I joined the program. Because it doesn’t occur in nature, the reverse Compton, at least as far as I know, maybe it does. I guess it does, in some cosmology, but at the time, everybody thought this was an important, secret idea. And that’s a major mechanism in going from non-equilibrium to equilibrium, that’s all part of that same issue. And that was what Fuchs was working on, Fuchs was one of the theorists, and Fermi too, who worked on this whole issue, I guess during the war, maybe, I’m not sure when, this whole matter of reverse Compton, inverse Compton effect, was part of this non-equilibrium question. It’s not so much invention, as much, as if a serious physicist starts to explore what will happen, and he thinks about it long enough, he think ‘ah, this is what happens!’ You don’t invent, you discover, well, you discover it on paper. But I think inverse Compton has to do with high energy electrons in space, eventually they lose their energy to quantum… The Compton effect is when a quantum hits a stationary electron and transfers energy, inverse Compton is just a fast moving electron hits a quantum and transfers energy the other way. It’s just, that we didn’t, in a laboratory on Earth, it doesn’t happen, so it was a big deal when they thought of it, it took people like Fuchs and Fermi and others, really good physicists, to realize… and that’s a large part of this early transfer to the Russians, those papers, and that’s what a lot of people thought was important, not so much the design, but all these secrets about inverse Compton effect and so on. I don’t know whether they use words like non-equilibrium, but it is the same question, it is the same problem with a different name.” (Why didn’t the US make more use of the Fuchs information, if it were as valuable as Goncharov says?) “Well, we didn’t ignore it, but we didn’t think it was the right way to go, it was thought of as a way of triggering a non-equilibrium Super, that was what was wrong with the Von Neumann — Fuchs and whatever, is that it was thought of as a step to the non-equilibrium Super, and we knew the non-equilibrium Super wouldn’t work. So that’s what, we didn’t ignore it. And then, they seized on it in desperation, and there I don’t know who said what to whom, but Teller was eager to have an experiment, and they knew they could get tritium-deuterium to burn in that, in the Von Neumann-Fuchs, that was fairly confident, such a small amount. And of course, it’s pure fusion, the secondary was pure fusion, just a tiny little thing… And my job was to measure its temperature. Which I think we did, I’m not even sure. Well, we did the experiment, we got a result, which was in the right ballpark, didn’t contribute much to the understanding, if it had failed it might have contributed something, but as a success what we did didn’t contribute anything, it was on the same course. The energy comes down, some of it comes out, we measured the radiation that came out of the capsule, in ‘51. So I think that’s the explanation of why they ignored it, it was invented in connection with the non-equilibrium Super, and the idea was that somehow — and that was the trouble, nobody was able to think this somehow through — the explosion of that little capsule that you see in the Albright pictures, or that Goncharov has, it produces a lot of energy and a lot of neutrons, somehow that energy stuck out on the end, it’s away from the primary fission, just a few inches but it’s away, that somehow you could take that, and somehow step it up, that that would get the non-equilibrium Super started, somehow. But no one was able to say what somehow was, it never got out of hand-waving. Except then, they started doing calculations, what if, what if you got some reactions, producing some energy, what happens. That’s when Matterhorn and that group, they did it at Los Alamos too, Ulam did these calculations and that’s when he said ‘it’s growing icicles,’ it’s the fact that it just didn’t warm up, you could get it started but the cooling processes were much more powerful than the heating processes. So I think that’s an explanation of why it was dead, it belonged to what people knew, most people knew was not, it was part of the ideas about non-equilibrium Supers. [George] Gamov wrote a book called ‘My Lifeline,’ I think, and in there, there’s a cartoon, because Gamov tried to summarize, in cartoon form, several different ways of getting a non-equilibrium Super started. But it’s all non-equilibrium stuff. And one of them relates to the George device. But the Albright book, when I said it has things in it that we didn’t have at the George shot, it is the beginnings of the next stage, it’s just sort of shadowy, there’s the fission, there’s a lot of confusion, the word cylinder is used in that connection with that device, often totally incorrectly, like a lot of these things, the rumors are not quite right, there’s a certain plausibility. Another one that for years I had a hard time with the unofficial literature, like the Morland stuff, because there was the word ‘trigger,’ and we used that in two quite different, it was a totally ambiguous word that we normally didn’t use, though people carelessly used it, we never had a component called a ‘trigger’ in any of our designs, at least we didn’t call them that, so I never knew for sure what they’re talking about, when the unclear people talk about the secrets in the ‘trigger,’ something like that. I never knew what they were talking about, because they didn’t either.”
General feelings about the unclassified literature on bomb design? “Well, it keeps getting better and better, it’s not bad, it’s not quite right, but it’s not bad either. It uses words like ‘reflecting’ off the walls, Morland always, I think in his very last stuff [his most recent e-mail posting] said that. Well, that’s not, we never, that’s not what we say.”
(Some small talk about Kidder, Keith Brueckner, future interviews I was going to have.) On Brueckner: “He’s a basically frustrated guy, he wanted so badly to have certain things succeed, and get rich off of them. He and I have known each other since we were graduate students, but we’ve never been friends. We worked together briefly at the beginning of this campus [UCSD], with a certain amount of tension, I should say. And his relationships with Livermore always had a certain problematic side, in which I was not sympathetic with his perspective, so we know each other, of course, and have for many other years. He was at the Institute for Advanced Studies, he was a very competent person. He’s also a mountain climber, he’s also an aggressive guy, basically. And so he did a lot of real mountain climbing. On the other hand, Brueckner, except for laser fusion, I don’t think he knows much about nuclear [weapons]. He does know, but it’s always second hand. He was very active in establishing JASON now that I think about it, and of course JASON was into nuclear issues, but they were always side issues. I mean, Brueckner spent years in laser fusion, in various forms of it, and then he also spent a lot of time on beam weapons, not powered by nuclear energy at all, particle beam weapons for intercepting missiles and so forth, and these are things that take real intense workmanship. He’s a theorist who just works hard at things, rather than just sitting back and getting a brilliant idea, he’s in there sort of hammer and tongs. But he’s been here, he came here about a year or two before I did, I came in ‘61, he came in ‘59 or ‘60, so his basic career has always been here, he would have left Berkeley about the same time I did, about ‘50, and then went to Princeton for awhile. So I know a lot about Brueckner. And he thinks he knows about me, but I don’t like some of the things he’s written about me. Well he can’t avoid, when he writes anything that has to do with memory, he can’t leave me out, he has to put me in, but I never like the way he does it. I should be frank about that.”
(Some more on Brueckner, where he lives now, etc. About Keyworth, the Teller deathbed confession/interview.) “I saw [Teller] a little bit after that, it was just after George H.W. Bush had been elected president, so it was ‘89. I was disturbed by our bad relations, and I happened to run into him at Livermore, I put my hand in his office, I raised it [gestures to V-sign], I said ‘Edward, peace!’ A rather dumb thing, but that’s what I did. And he said, ‘OK,’ but then he did, and it’s related, he said, ‘I don’t have much time, either short term or long term,’ he had a meeting coming up, and then he didn’t expect to live very long, that was ten years after ‘79, and he lived another ten from then, or more. But he did think of himself as dying, as not having much time. Well, he had colitis and he had a lot of troubles. But then he said, and this is just arch-typical Teller, he says, ‘here’s what you gotta do, peace is OK, but you’ve gotta do is, go in there, and tell George Bush why he’s gotta do Star Wars, because George Bush was waffling on Star Wars.’ Teller made it conditional: peace, but…! Well, I didn’t have any access to George Bush anyway. Early presidents I saw a lot of, but I never saw George Bush, and by that time I was over the hill myself, in ‘89. So I didn’t do it. But that was his condition. … After that, I saw Edward several times, had some long talks, but they always avoided the issue, he was just bending my ear about superconductivity one time, I spent an hour talking about things that I didn’t understand and I don’t think he did either, but I sure didn’t. He had a theory about superconductivity and he just wanted to tell me about it. He was here, visiting.”
(Some discussion of Teller and HERBERT YORK’s kids.) “And [Teller] said, my they’re so well behaved. And then he said, ‘when I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me, if you don’t behave, the Russians will get you.’ Now this, Teller told me when he was almost 50, remembering when he was ten, when he was single digits in Budapest. ‘If you don’t behave, the Russians will get you.’ Well, the timing is just right. The Russians were a threat, then he lives through, not then, of course, but later, he lives through the Bela Kun regime. So he was a fanatic about Russia both as Russians and as Communists. At one time he tried to argue with me, ‘I’m not the anti-Communist, you are!’ I don’t know why he said that.”
(Some on Teller’s children, not much. A little small talk about Samuel P. Huntingon.)