Oral History Transcript — Keith Brueckner
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Interview with Keith Brueckner
Keith Brueckner; July 2, 1986
ABSTRACT: Family background; education (PhD from University of California at Berkeley in 1950); academic affiliations. Experience at University of California at San Diego, and consultantship to the weapons laboratory at Los Alamos with Kenneth Watson leading to Project 137 (John Wheeler) which later became JASON. Brueckner's reasons for leaving JASON in 1966. Organization, collaboration and policy of JASON; significance and selection of projects; technical advice; preponderance of theoretical physicists in JASON; uniqueness and impact of JASON; other consultantships and advisory involvements.
Aaserud:Maybe first—I think I asked you this the last time, but I'm asking you again, since this is a concern of our Center—what is the status of your papers, letters, notes, manuscripts. Are they taken care of? Do they exist?
Brueckner:You mean, concerning JASON?
Aaserud:No, I mean generally—your whole career now, including JASON.
Brueckner:Well, they're in my files, in my records.
Aaserud:We're concerned with retaining records on the history of physics, so we're concerned with whether they are accessible and how they are retained for historical use.
Brueckner:I've recently written the outline of a memoir which includes the details of my career to the present. So that's written, and the way the JASON group was originated is in that—my early work in physics as a consultant to the Weapons Laboratories and so forth.
Aaserud:Is that accessible now?
Brueckner:No, it's not accessible; it's a private document.
Aaserud:Is it possible to look at it?
Brueckner:Yes, I suppose so, if you want to. It's quite long.
Aaserud:That's fine. If I could have a copy—at least have a copy to look at—I would be happy. Do you have any papers on JASON in particular?
Brueckner:I have no papers on JASON except that I refer to the origin of the JASON group in my notes, my memoirs.
Aaserud:But other than that?
Brueckner:Other than that, no.
Aaserud:I'm talking to Keith Brueckner in La Jolla on the 2nd of July, 1986, and we're going to talk about essentially your JASON involvement. But if you have the time, I would appreciate a little introduction to your career before that, to put the whole thing in context. To start with the beginning: birth date and place?
Brueckner:March 19, 1924; the place is Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Aaserud:Your parents, their background and work?
Brueckner:My father was a professor of education at the University of Minnesota. My mother was a housewife. My father was German or of German origin. My mother was Irish.
Aaserud:And they were which generation respectively?
Brueckner:My father's father was born in Bavaria. He was a Lutheran minister. And my mother's mother was born in the US.
Aaserud:OK, so they were American as far as that is concerned.
Brueckner:Yes, both born in the US.
Aaserud:You stayed in Minneapolis while you were growing up?
Brueckner:Yes, I was there from my birth until the war years.
Aaserud:And what was your schooling?
Brueckner:You mean elementary school, high school?
Aaserud:Yes. Was that public schools?
Brueckner:Public schools, yes.
Aaserud:In Minneapolis. What was your first exposure to physics? How did you begin to become interested?
Brueckner:Oh, I took courses in physics in high school and college. But I trained as a meteorologist during the Second World War, and so I had a lot of exposure to physics, mathematical physics, mathematical techniques, in 1943 and 1944. I actually got my undergraduate degree in the Army by accumulation of credits, and that was in mathematics. After the war when I returned to graduate school, I decided to become a physicist.
Aaserud:So what was your education up to the war?
Brueckner:I had a year and a quarter of university training before the war, and I entered the meteorology program of the US Army in January, 1943. I had a year and a half training at the University of Wisconsin and in cadet school, and was commissioned in June 1944. Then in the Army I took one extension course from the University of Minnesota which gave me enough credits for a degree.
Aaserud:What was the nature of your war work?
Brueckner:It was meteorology. I was a weather forecaster.
Aaserud:In what kind of group? What were your superiors?
Brueckner:I was an officer. For about half the war years, I worked in charge of a detachment in Bermuda, which was gathering certain kinds of weather information. Otherwise I worked under the direction of senior officers in the US, in Washington and Virginia.
Aaserud:Was that voluntary work or were you drafted?
Brueckner:I volunteered. It was clear I would be drafted if I didn't volunteer, and so I volunteered.
Aaserud:And then after that you continued your university education.
Brueckner:Yes. I came back and spent a year at the University of Minnesota, and then I went to Berkeley in 1947 and got my PhD in 1950 in theoretical physics.
Aaserud:To Minnesota I guess you went because it was close at hand. What were the circumstances for moving to Berkeley?
Brueckner:I decided I wanted a more interesting graduate school. And I wanted to leave Minneapolis. It was too close to my parents.
Aaserud:Who did you work with and what did you work with in Berkeley?
Brueckner:Well, I worked for a year with Wilson Powell; he's an experimentalist. Then because I did so well in my theoretical courses, I decided to join Bob Serber's group as a theoretical student; and had my theoretical physics degree in two years.
Aaserud:What was your dissertation concerned with?
Brueckner:It was elementary particle physics—production of mesons by photons and by nuclear collisions.
Aaserud:Where did you go after that?
Brueckner:I went to the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, for a year, and worked on elementary particle physics again.
Aaserud:Now we're in the year?
Brueckner:1950-51. In 1951 I was appointed assistant professor at the University of Indiana. In 1956 I was appointed to an endowed chair at the University of Pennsylvania called the Mary Amanda Wood Chair. I stayed there until 1959 when I came to UCSD as the first physicist in the general campus of the University of California.
Aaserud:There you were closely associated with the building up of physics.
Brueckner:Yes, I recruited the physics department. Then after I was a year and a half in Washington, I was appointed Dean of Arts and Sciences, and I recruited in humanities, social science, history, anthropology, psychology. I recruited the first librarian. I brought the first computer to the university. I planned the colleges. There was no assistant chancellor so I was in effect the assistant chancellor for academic affairs and the provost of the first colleges, because there was no one else.
Aaserud:What was there at UCSD when you came here?
Brueckner:The Scripps Institution of Oceanography was the only existing academic center. Eckart and Lieberman were already there working as geophysicists. They were involved in my original recruitment.
Aaserud:Did you apply for the position or were you asked?
Brueckner:Oh, I was asked.
Aaserud:What was your motivation for accepting?
Brueckner:It was an incredible opportunity, and Revelle was a very persuasive man—and there was La Jolla. It was a change; it was irresistible. As I found when I recruited people, they also found it irresistible, so I was able to bring an extraordinary group of smart able people. I also recruited the engineers for the initial engineering departments.
Aaserud:That must have taken quite a toll on your work.
Brueckner:Before that—and this is related to the problem of JASON really—I and Kenneth Watson, who's still an active JASON member, were appointed consultants to the weapons laboratory in Los Alamos in 1953. Carson Mark came and recruited us, at the suggestion of Emil Konopinski who was the senior professor at Indiana, and we went to Los Alamos and became involved in the weapons work. Then in 1955 Watson organized work during the spring and summer on fusion, which was classified at the time. He thought it was a very important activity, and he recruited people; he asked people to come who later were the nucleus of the JASON group. It wasn't called JASON, but that summer and the following summers it became traditional for eight or ten or so of us to go to Los Alamos and consult. It was Watson, Chew, Goldberger, myself; Ed Frieman came at that time, Rosenbluth was still there at Los Alamos—Longmire, Francis Low. It became a habit for us to work in collaboration on classified problems. And that started in 1955.
Aaserud:That was your first exposure to that kind of work.
Brueckner:That's right; it was the first classified work where we worked as a group. And then in 1960-61—maybe 1959, I've forgotten exactly the year—Watson, Goldberger and I decided to form a corporation we called Theoretical Physics Incorporated, I think. We asked Murray Gell-Mann to join us as a member. We set up this organization, a profit-making company in Delaware. The idea was that we would not work simply as consultants; we'd work as a formal group, a little business. Various people heard of this—Marvin Stern, I think at Convair, and Charlie Townes at IDA.
Aaserud:He was just becoming the Vice President.
Brueckner:He was the Vice President or was just becoming the Vice President. He convinced us that we should become a division of IDA. At that time there had also been a Project 137, I think, run by John Wheeler; I don't believe we were involved in that. But from Wheeler had come the idea of setting up a special kind of group of theoretical physicists to work on classified problems. I've forgotten exactly what Wheeler's motivation was. You might ask him.
Aaserud:Yes, I should; I haven't interviewed him. His conception was somewhat different, right? He had a conception of a laboratory, I think.
Brueckner:I don't remember exactly, but there was the idea of a new organization that Wheeler had. The main person that persuaded us to not continue in our profit making objectives was, I think, Charlie Townes. He convinced us to become a division of IDA, and very soon after that he left to go back to Bell Laboratories? But Townes asked me to become Vice President of IDA. So I went in 1961 to Washington as the Vice President of IDA. As Vice President I did a lot of recruiting, and I had a free technical hand because Gary Norton was the President of IDA. He was going to retire and he had no technical interest, so I was able to run the place as I wished. I recruited additional people of the JASON group and the steering committee was formed, of which I was not a part because I was the Vice President of IDA. Murph Goldberger was chosen to be the head of the steering committee; the name JASON was suggested by his wife, Mildred.
Aaserud:Yes. He explained that to me. But you didn't have direct connection with Wheeler's side of these developments.
Aaserud:That was through IDA, I suppose.
Brueckner:I don't think Wheeler's ideas ever materialized in any form. It was just an idea he had.
Aaserud:But he did become a senior advisor of JASON.
Brueckner:So the JASON group was formed, and that first year or so, we recruited actively. It wasn't I alone; it was Goldberger and Watson. Gell-Mann was not actively involved then or at any later time.
Brueckner:Anyway, we collectively recruited about 20 theoretical physicists to form the JASON group.
Aaserud:In how long a time?
Brueckner:Oh, a year or a year and a half, probably. The JASON group was criticized at the time by people like Fred Seitz, and probably Wigner and Bethe, because they thought it was wrong for such a collection of outstanding theoretical physicists to remove themselves from the normal contacts; they shouldn't form an elite club. I think Bethe said, "In Los Alamos it wasn't the best people who came and worked by themselves as an elite group; they worked in the direction of many younger people." He thought it was wrong for JASON members to isolate themselves from multiple contacts with other people and other organizations. And I know Seitz and Bethe felt that way—maybe Wigner.
Aaserud:Where did that debate take place?
Brueckner:It wasn't a debate; it was just sort of informal comments from people. Several of us were aware of it; Murph Goldberger is probably aware of it; I remember—it's a long time ago. Anyway, the JASON group grew and started to do regular studies in the summer. Then I left IDA in 1963 over conflicts with Dick Bissell, who'd been brought in as President to replace Garry Norton; Bissell had just been kicked out of the CIA for goofing the Bay of Pigs operation. Bissell was a very dominant man, and I didn't get along with him because he wanted to run everything, being Bissell-like. So I left in 1963 and came back to UCSD. During the first two years, I ran a series of summer studies for the government. I think the first in 1963 was on the use of lasers for missile weapons. It was initiated by an observation by Bloembergen of Harvard who pointed out that if the energy stored in a cubic meter of material were released in a controlled way, you could shoot down a missile. So we looked at [it] in the summer study. I think the summer study was at Woods Hole. Then the next year I ran another study on the use of X- rays against re-entry vehicles—X-rays coming from nuclear weapons. Those were not JASON studies, although there may have been some JASON involvement. By 1965 or 1966 I left the JASON group over a disagreement on the involvement in activities outside JASON. I felt I should be free in my choice to work for the national labs or industry. Some of the people in JASON—Goldberger—or some of the administrative people of IDA thought that I should not. And so I left the JASON group in 1965.
Aaserud:How common were such advisory activities by physicists at the establishment of JASON?
Brueckner:You mean, to what extent did JASON people do it?
Aaserud:No. To what extent did physicists generally involve themselves in such things?
Brueckner:Well, I think it was to a limited extent. I had the background of Los Alamos work. In fact, one of the problems was, I wanted to work at Los Alamos, and the IDA people thought I should not. It wasn't so widespread, really. The people who had been active during the Second World War were growing older and they were becoming less active themselves. The number of people like myself, or like Watson and Goldberger, who really did extensive industrial consulting, was not so large. In physics, think there were very few people as active as I was in it then—maybe one or two dozen people. I think it was not such a widespread activity because I was myself unusually involved in the weapons laboratories and industry. Then in the sixties I was a member of a number of committees that advised ARPA and DOD on various tactics. So the number of people like myself—professors—was not so large. I don't really know the numbers, but it wasn't typical.
Aaserud:What was your own background for becoming involved in such questions anyway?
Brueckner:Well, I think it started in Los Alamos. That's where my first exposure was. Then I found I had a talent for it, and I also enjoyed it. It's been true to the present day. I still do a lot of consulting and technical and military work.
Aaserud:How did you find recruitment of people for JASON to be? Was it easy or hard to recruit people?
Brueckner:It was very easy. At least three-fourths of the people I asked or Goldberger asked agreed. It was a very elite operation. It was an honor to be asked.
Aaserud:What has your own tenure in JASON been?
Brueckner:I left in 1965 or 1966. I've been peripherally involved as an occasional invitee, but rarely for more than a few days at a time, since that time, 20 years ago.
Aaserud:What was the background for your departure?
Brueckner:Disagreement over my desire to do active work at the national labs and industry. And it was felt that JASON members should be exclusively tied to JASON.
Aaserud:For contracted work?
Brueckner:The work that was arranged for the JASON group. The JASON group members, it was felt, should do their work through JASON. And I didn't think then—nor do I think now—that's a good idea. In fact, that policy has never really lasted. A number of the JASON people, I think, do a variety of other work. Also there was another disagreement between myself and the JASON group. I thought they should recruit younger members and probably also have a continuing operation during the full year. It's a bad idea to take the work, work for a month in the summer time, and then drop it until the next summer. So I thought that the JASON group should be modified in its basic structure. It should probably have a number of centers around the country to which the local JASON members could go and work during the year, where they would direct work with younger and less reputable people. They would direct the work during the year, and that would give a continuity to the JASON operation. And the JASON members didn't agree with that. So that was another disagreement between myself and the JASON-ites.
Aaserud:To what extent was the origin of JASON seen as a vehicle for introducing a new generation of physicists to that kind of work?
Brueckner:Well, quite a few of the JASON members who were recruited in the early sixties had already worked with that before in Los Alamos and other activities. But some of them were new. So for them it was an introduction via JASON to new activities. And the past ten years, I have noticed from my visits to JASON that they have brought in quite a few new young people. So the group has become more diversified with time, much as I thought it should be back in the first years of formation.
Aaserud:During your period in JASON, JASON was entirely militarily oriented, right? Was ARPA the sole contractor?
Brueckner:I think so. I don't remember anything other than DOD work being done by JASON in the years I was associated.
Aaserud:To what extent was JASON a generational thing? To what extent was it a new generation of physicists becoming exposed to that kind of problem?
Brueckner:Well, these members, as I said, had been exposed already. Most of them had been already exposed from the early fifties to work at the weapons laboratories.
Aaserud:Most of the 30 or 40, or do you mean most of the original JASON members before the recruiting effort?
Brueckner:The number I remember is about 20 that were recruited in the early and mid-sixties; most of them had been associated with the weapons laboratory work before, but not all. Some of them, maybe a third of them, were new. So in that sense it was a way of exposing people to the same kinds of problems that the original members had already seen starting in the fifties. I felt that recruiting of new people should be continued, and more young people should be added. I also wanted this different pattern of work started, in which JASON was a year round activity with research centers—not in Washington but scattered around the country—where JASON members would work as senior advisors and consultants in a continuing year round activity.
Aaserud:Did you see a different approach or attitude to such questions between the generations, between say the Los Alamos generation and the new generation of advisors?
Brueckner:No. I think the JASON group always worked on problems as being technical; the newer generation of people worked in the same style, as far as I could see. There were some older very influential people, I think—people like Freeman Dyson; he had a very distinct flavor in the way he approached problems.
Aaserud:But that wasn't generational, that-
Brueckner:—was Freeman Dyson, a very special kind of man.
Aaserud:What about the organizational structure of JASON during those early years? There was a chairman and a steering committee consisting of how many people?
Brueckner:Oh, four people, as I remember—four or five. Originally it was the four of us who formed it—Gell-Mann, Goldberger, Watson and myself. But then as Vice President of IDA I couldn't be on the steering committee. I think it was four, with a chairman who was rotated—selected informally—so it was very unstructured.
Aaserud:So you were not a member of the steering committee for a limited period during the early sixties.
Brueckner:When I was Vice President of IDA. I don't remember, but I may have been a steering committee member from 1963 to 1965 before I left the organization.
Aaserud:And during your period the steering committee was rather constant; it was those founding members throughout that period?
Brueckner:I don't remember. I think so. Certainly Goldberger was chairman, and Watson was on it, but since Gell-Mann was inactive we must have had someone else, whoever it was. Goldberger might remember or Watson might remember.
Aaserud:During that period, was selection of members, new recruitment, an ongoing thing?
Brueckner:As I said it became rather inactive after that first group had been brought in. There was a financial problem—within the contract that IDA had with ARPA, how are you going to pay for it? You couldn't make it indefinitely large, and also it was cumbersome. If you had 20 people in a room, it's OK; 40 people is not. So the question of further growth was not really much considered. Or it was turned down in the particular form I thought it should take, which was recruitment of younger people and the formation of ongoing groups, and that IDA would have had divisions in other parts of the country. IDA already had divisions outside of Washington, for example the Center for Naval Analysis in the New England area. So there could have been JASON divisions established in various parts of the country. That would have opened up the recruiting possibility and given a year round opportunity for work. It wasn't done. That was turned down.
Aaserud:That was your attitude. Regarding the discussion of JASON as a good or bad vehicle for this kind of thing—I'm thinking of the objections of Seitz and Bethe and others—are there records on that?
Brueckner:No, not that I know of.
Aaserud:It wasn't part of correspondence, wasn't part of meetings or anything?
Brueckner:No, it was informal. They weren't going to formally say this. They said it privately. I guess Goldberger was at Princeton then, with Dr. Wheeler and Wigner and--
Aaserud:So I should ask Seitz and Bethe and Wigner about—
Brueckner:—what they thought of the JASON group.
Aaserud:What were the criteria for choosing the new members?
Brueckner:Mostly our friends. They were good physicists, but people we knew personally.
Aaserud:To what extent then was the work in JASON a continuation of the kind of collaboration that took place between you physicists already? Was it the same people who got together to work?
Brueckner:Well, as I said, it started in Los Alamos with people getting together in the summer. Part of the JASON group as it formed in the sixties was that carryover from that activity. But there were new people, and the type of work was different. It was the group working in isolation, not working in contact with a laboratory, as we had at Los Alamos. There we worked with each other but during the first years there, we started to group off from the laboratory. One reason was that there were few people in the laboratories who were our peers—it was a snobbish activity. So, the JASON people started to work more in isolation from the laboratories and the Los Alamos people during the years we went there in the fifties.
Aaserud:So it was as gradual evolution in that sense.
Brueckner:Yes, in the sense of becoming more isolated from other activities.
Aaserud:The institutionalized kind of work that was already existing.
Brueckner:That's right. The pattern had already started to appear in the fifties.
Aaserud:Were the problems you worked on also a continuation of the Los Alamos work in the beginning?
Brueckner:Well, there was such a recurrent problem in those first years. There was the ABM problem; the Anti-Ballistic Missile defense problem was the dominant issue for a long time in the sixties.
Aaserud:Was that a Los Alamos concern as well?
Brueckner:No, but we were involved in nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons under attack, and high altitude effects; that was the issue. Also in the sixties the JASON group became involved in the use of what are now Star Wars type weapons—particle beams for shooting down missiles. The charged particle beam, which was an idea of Christophilos and Nordsieck and Kruger, became a hobby horse of the JASON group in the sixties. We worked on it over and over again. We're still working on it.
Aaserud:These were all problems that originated as much or maybe more from the physicists than from requests for projects on the part of the defense establishment.
Brueckner:Well, I think the defense establishment was very actively interested in advanced weapons like that, as they are now. But the JASON group chose to concentrate on certain paths which were chosen because of the interests of the theoretical physicists involved; it was fun and interesting, and their talents were well matched.
Brueckner:But I think they made a mistake. I think they should have stayed more heavily involved in the weapons laboratories and the design of thermonuclear weapons. They should have pursued things which were of more fundamental interest to the military and not so much to the JASON people.
Aaserud:Could you generalize about how a project was selected?
Brueckner:Well, the way we did it in the first years, was that we had two meetings, fall and spring. We had briefers come from the Department of Defense who would give us problems that they thought were important, and then the steering committee collectively would choose which of those to respond to. Then summer studies would be defined and planned, and the participation chosen by the JASON members. I think in those years when we were doing that, it was agreed that we would have involvement of military and technical people and invite people from the labs and the government; the summer studies would have a joint participation from the JASON group and from civil labs and from the government. But that's how they were chosen—from presentations to the JASON group the briefing meetings twice a year.
Aaserud:So after all there was some contact between JASON and the customers.
Brueckner:Oh yes, of course.
Aaserud:To what extent did projects arise from the physicists themselves and to what extent were they solicited?
Brueckner:Well, physicists are not isolated. The physicists may have had personal contact with people who brought things to their attention, so it wasn't always chosen from the briefings. But the way such a community works is that there's a lot of crosstalk, a lot of contact; so the problems that were chosen were partly from the briefings, partly brought in by individuals. I think it's still true.
Aaserud:Which were the main projects that you would point to during your time in JASON?
Brueckner:I don't remember precisely. The charged particle beam program was a recurrent point of interest. So was the ABM issue. I was involved in those years in running other studies—lasers and X-rays.
Brueckner:No, outside JASON. My memory is a little mixed as to which was JASON, which was not.
Aaserud:What was the relationship with those other projects and JASON, if any?
Brueckner:I think probably I invited participation from JASON in the studies that I ran.
Aaserud:In what institutional context were those projects run?
Brueckner:I think those summer studies were probably funded through IDA. IDA had the primary contracts, so they were a convenient way to pass money on. I think that's so; I'm not sure.
Aaserud:Were those pursued in your capacity within JASON or was that something independent?
Brueckner:Even when I left JASON, I did those studies not at JASON. I did them as a study director, not as a JASON actively, although there may have been JASON people involved. I got into this pattern because I'd run big studies in Washington when I was the Vice President of IDA—big projects and ABM. And those were not JASON activities. There were a lot of industrial and government people involved in this. At IDA we ran two big studies called Intercept and Intercept X. They were multi-week studies in the middle of the year.
Aaserud:Were they the same kind of study that JASON conceivably could have done?
Brueckner:Yes. But they had a different mix of people—more industrial people and more government people.
Aaserud:Does that mean that the boundary between JASON and JASON work and other kinds of work is very blurred?
Brueckner:Of course. Oh yes. It also might have been the time. Now I see more people involved in these studies that come from different sources outside JASON. Also there is more flux of new people into JASON activity. It's a healthy change.
Aaserud:From a historian's point of view and from the point of view of access by a non-cleared person, which projects or project would you judge as most relevant to study as a case of JASON's activities during that period?
Brueckner:Which period—you mean the sixties or seventies?
Aaserud:I'm thinking of concentrating on the first ten to fifteen years, but I'm asking during your period of course in particular since that's what you know most about.
Brueckner:Well, there was a project which took a lot of attention in the sixties. It was the use of charged particle beams for weapons. But that was not a very successful activity, because the work was not too focused, and the project eventually was terminated as unfeasible. It's been reborn, but it was terminated about 1970 or 1971. So that was a point of interest. Chandrasekhar, Steve Weinberg, Watson, I, Goldberger, LeLevier worked on it. It was a special and isolated problem in mathematical physics, really. It took a lot of attention, which it shouldn't have, because it was not that important, and it was terminated. It took a lot of activity, and people spent a lot of time. It was too isolated and not very relevant. That was an example of one of the most intensive activities that I'm aware of that occurred in those years. Rosenbluth was involved in it, and Longmire—all these people.
Aaserud:Did it lead to a report?
Brueckner:A lot of publications. There were some publications by Weinberg that were in an unclassified journal. There's a huge library at SRI. They have the charged particle library. A lot of those documents were authored by JASON members. It's a huge library, full of things that are right and wrong, thousands of documents.
Aaserud:Including the JASON reports, of course.
Aaserud:But also other items. That's a place I should go to. Otherwise I have understood that a lot of JASON archival material is hard to find or has even been thrown out.
Aaserud:I interviewed David Katcher on this and he had gotten a lot of material on his hands that he didn't have the capacity to keep himself, and IDA didn't want to keep it, so he threw it out.
Aaserud:Also the archival material at MITRE pertaining to JASON, has temporarily disappeared, it seems. Hopefully it will turn up again. What about the relation of JASON projects with academic physics work in your case? Was there one?
Brueckner:Yes, I set up an Institute called the Institute for Radiation Physics and Aerodynamics at UCSD, and that was funded by ARPA. And ARPA maybe DOE, Department of Energy, I've forgotten—paid for the first big computer I brought to UCSD. That related directly to the weapons work I'd done. And a lot of my teaching in nuclear physics and atomic physics and mechanics is colored by my government work, my classified work, my fusion work, my weapons work.
Aaserud:Any particular examples in terms of publications or projects?
Brueckner:A lot of publications are caused by it, yes. And also I left the university for three years in 1970 to work on a fusion project in industry. That came directly out of the weapons background I had.
Aaserud:Which industry was that?
Brueckner:It was called KMS [K.M. Siegel] Industries—in Ann Arbor, Michigan—which set up and did the first big laser experiments trying to make fusion. That was a consequence of my involvement in the weapons work, and that kind of work—the lasers and fusion and weapons and X-rays—all that was background for the fusion program that I became involved in 1969-1970.
Aaserud:Was there any connection between earlier fusion work, or attempted fusion work, and JASON at Los Alamos, for example?
Brueckner:Well, when Watson and I went there for the first summer in 1953, we were briefed on the way thermonuclear weapons worked. So we were heavily involved as consultants in that, in a lot features of the weapons design and weapons testing. Goldberger and I felt strongly enough about the way Los Alamos was being run that we tried to get the head of the theoretical division ejected in the late fifties. We thought that they were doing a poor job on weapons design. It was backward, a closed community, and we actually went to Wigner, who was on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission at that time, and he listened to Goldberger. I guess he was unwilling to carry it further, and the man involved, Carson Mark now retired from Los Alamos, was a very decent well-liked man, and probably we were wrong in what we tried to do.
Aaserud:Do you think that there has been a general relationship between that kind of military advising involvement, and the development of physics after the Second World War? That's a very broad question, of course, and I don't expect you to answer it fully. But do you have any point of view on it?
Brueckner:I don't really think so. The color of theoretical physicists is strange. We all were elementary particle physicists after the war. That's where we all started. And if anything colored us, it was that, because that was the field that was dominant in physics. Then we started drifting away in other directions—Watson to hydrodynamics, and I into nuclear theory and atomic physics. I think that there was a general coloration, yes, of the physicists involved in weapons projects because it's a very special kind of activity. It's computer oriented, it's applied, it's atomic and radiation physics. So I think it pulled people away from the elementary particle work into more applied, more numerical, more computing related work. I think that effect must have occurred.
Aaserud:Was that an effect on a small elite of high energy physicists or was it an across the board effect?
Brueckner:I think the JASON members were so well known, so important in their profession, that they affected many people.
Aaserud:So even though the numbers were small from the outset, it had broader implications.
Brueckner:Also outside of JASON there were physicists involved in government work otherwise—out of the universities, consultants—they're all colored.
Aaserud:During your period, to what extent were general policy questions taken up in JASON, and to what extent was it technical tasks only?
Brueckner:Mostly technical tasks.
Brueckner:Well, I can't say entirely, but it was mostly technical; the rather well-defined questions were technical. The JASON members are older now and probably a little wiser, and people like Dyson are not content with doing technical work only. So I think there's been more and more broadening of the kind of interest in the past decade.
Aaserud:Did political views or political discussions have any effect on choice of projects during your tenure?
Brueckner:No. I'd say no.
Aaserud:Your departure, was that discussed within JASON? Was there agreement or disagreement on your stand?
Brueckner:No, it was just between me and the administrative people at IDA. I don't know if they were reflecting the views of Goldberger. I don't think so. I think it was just an administrative level in IDA.
Aaserud:OK, so it wasn't discussed internally in the steering committee or things like that.
Brueckner:Not as far as I know.
Aaserud:What about the demand for secrecy within such work and the openness of publishing and discussing within academic physics; did that lead to any kind of conflict?
Brueckner:No conflict. It was just an accepted fact of life. If you're involved in classified work—as we were very early—you become accustomed to the fact that there are certain things you can't talk about.
Aaserud:Of course you knew it when you went into it.
Aaserud:But what about communication between say people in the agencies who had grown up more on that assumption, and physicists; was there any kind of difficulty of communication in that respect?
Brueckner:No. I don't think so; you just come to accept it. You live with it all your life, all your technical life. And it's the way the game's played, you know. You don't have a choice. Very few people that I know of the JASON type—the theoretical physicists I knew or mathematical physicists or mathematicians—withdrew for political reasons or moral reasons. Very few refused for such reasons.
Aaserud:You're talking about the whole period now?
Brueckner:The whole period; just in general. Very few people I know are unwilling to work on classified work. There's been much more protest in past years about working on the Star Wars business, because that's one of the most ill-considered activities the US has ever ever imagined doing. We've had a lot of complaint about that.
Aaserud:I guess JASON is involved in that now.
Brueckner:As critics, as intelligent critics of that.
Aaserud:During your tenure, did projects JASON was involved in reach the public surface? Was there any public discussion of JASON work?
Brueckner:Not really, because it was generally classified and you couldn't do it.
Aaserud:That was something that occurred with Vietnam; it didn't occur before?
Brueckner:No, nothing like that. Back in the late sixties I remember there was the time of Cambodia and tremendous upset about the Vietnamese War. I was criticized at UCSD because of my consulting work, but also because I'd been involved in the formation of JASON. There were articles in the school paper attacking me. The first Vietnam-related work was started in 1964, I suppose; that was the summer study.
Brueckner:Yes. I don't know about that. I don't think I was involved in that. Maybe I was involved in some other study. Oh yes, there was a study done on putting up barriers, electronic barriers.
Aaserud:The electronic barrier, yes.
Aaserud:So the continuity of JASON makes for a very big difference.
Brueckner:Oh yes. But the government is always setting up ad hoc committees. One thing the government does—and you have to understand this, it's one of the reasons for criticizing the JASON group—is setting up ad hoc committees because it always likes to have a new collection of people. They want fresh blood.
Brueckner:These standing committees have a limited lifetime and are staffed to bring a variety of new people into government. The government does not want to get the same group of people year after year answering the questions. They want—and justifiably so—impartial review by people who are coming in without a prejudgment.
Aaserud:To what extent did JASON encounter problems in communicating with the government, not being that kind of agency?
Brueckner:Well, I think it had a problem. Their isolation has also made it, I think, less likely for them to be involved at a working level in the Star Wars activities.
Aaserud:Are there any institutions that you would compare JASON to, or that it would make sense to compare JASON to?
Brueckner:No, because there has not been any group which has such continuity of performance and staffing that I'm aware of. I don't think there are any, particularly not of the quality of the JASON group. The JASON group is after all made up of very good people, so that's unique. The closest thing, you might say, is some of the administrative structures of the weapons laboratories, which have been very stable for long periods, particularly Los Alamos. And that's a mistake. It's better to have a flux of people that come in and out of those positions. So such stable long-lived organizations are not a very good idea.
Aaserud:So you would criticize JASON on that?
Brueckner:Except they've modified themselves in the last years. The influx of new people, does make it a less isolated activity.
Aaserud:What is the significance of the early group at least consisting mainly of theoretical physicists? Would you consider a theoretical physicist particularly suited for the tasks that JASON attacked?
Brueckner:No, I think the fact that it was originally theoretical physicists was because we were friends and we were theoretical physicists and we knew each other and we'd gone to Los Alamos together. But I think the kind of staffing that's better for the activities the JASON group does would be more applied mathematicians, more engineers and perhaps some economists.
Aaserud:Of course, there were some engineers, at least one from the beginning—Al Peterson, for example.
Brueckner:Sure, that's right. Maybe there should be more mathematicians, more applied mathematicians, more computer people, engineers. Of course, in a sense the theoretical physicists of JASON became engineers, because in their constant work on applied problems—engineering problems—they picked up the style. So the JASON group, being smart competent people, did become diversified—much more diversified than the average group of theoretical physicists—because of that wide government and industrial contact.
Aaserud:To what extent would you say JASON was designed to be, and to what extent has it been, a springboard for further activities in that direction?
Brueckner:I don't think it's been a springboard, because the JASON group has chosen to concentrate its support in JASON. It wasn't a springboard to further activities. In fact, few JASON members have gone on to become head of Los Alamos or Livermore, for example, or went to the government. Garwin is not a typical JASON member at all. He was in the government, on the President's Science Advisory Committee for years. And that was before his JASON involvement. So very few of the JASON members have made that transition into government or into national lab positions.
Aaserud:Is that part of the original motivation for establishing JASON, that JASON should be such a springboard?
Brueckner:No, the idea of organizing JASON was to make the JASON work more effective, and to provide a mechanism by which people could continue working together on problems. That was the original motivation for JASON.
Aaserud:It wasn't seen as educational in that broader framework.
Aaserud:Of course, there are people on whom JASON has worked like that, but only a few. I would guess Sidney Drell might be a case in point of that.
Aaserud:But I agree; most JASON people have been in JASON and retained their complete career within academics. Ruderman, as a case in point, told me that that was exactly why he was willing to do work with JASON, because he could also retain that full participation in academic work and basic research.
Aaserud:So you don't consider the impact of JASON very big. You think that it could have been bigger had JASON been otherwise.
Brueckner:Well, the impact was large.
Aaserud:You would say that.
Brueckner:But it could have been bigger. Well, the JASON structure—its continuity and experience—has of course led to its having a lot of effect. When it does consider a problem, it brings lots of ability to bear on it, with all that experience; and it says something. Then everyone listens. So the penalty was isolation, but the gain was force. Maybe it was narrower than it should have been, but because it was so good and so experienced it had impact.
Aaserud:So there is a positive aspect to its continuity.
Brueckner:Oh, of course. Of course. But the government doesn't like to take advice that way.
Aaserud:Has that varied in time, and to what extent? To what extent has JASON had an ear at some times and not at other times?
Brueckner:I think they've always listened, because the people are good and experienced, and the advice has usually been good—not always but usually. But the government has always worked through ad hoc committees. It doesn't like to have long term standing committees; ones that have year after year lifetime are just non-existent.
Aaserud:Well, PSAC I guess was more continuous.
Brueckner:That's true, that's true. But even there the membership is brief.
Aaserud:And there was some overlap of course between JASON members and PSAC members. And maybe that was the time when JASON had more of an ear than other times. In order to answer the question of impact or investigate it a little more closely, who would you think I should talk to from the other side—from the agency or government side?
Brueckner:Dr. Herb York. Try to talk to Bethe. Bethe was so heavily involved in government and in defense work. Talk to Edward Teller and see what he thinks.
Aaserud:Was he involved at all in the origins?
Brueckner:No, no, no, no.
Aaserud:He was an advisory member formally.
Brueckner:Well, but he was bad repute during those years, when the JASON group was formed.
Aaserud:How did he become an advisory member?
Brueckner:I wasn't aware he was. I wasn't aware he was in that position, because he was an unlikely candidate, in my opinion.
Aaserud:What about your other involvements, also later on, similar to JASON? Have you had other involvements, that satisfied the needs that you saw lacking with JASON, that you would point to?
Brueckner:Well, I did a lot of industrial consulting. That ended really with my fusion work, because I left that activity. I'm on several government committees now, so it's JASON-like, but it's different because it's more transitory.
Aaserud:Is there any particular work like that that you would point to as particularly important?
Brueckner:You mean that I'm doing? For years I was the person who had more contact with all the advanced weaponry—the Star Wars type of weaponry. And I've been chairman of committees, member of advisory committees, on all the weaponry that's going into Star Wars—charged particle beams, neutral particle beams, X-ray lasers, gamma ray lasers. And that's the most important activity I'm involved in now, trying to be technically aware and trying to give the right advice to the government on what to do. The JASON members are doing that too. So I'm involved in that.
Aaserud:But you think that kind of more temporary work, temporary involvement, has more of an effect than JASON.
Brueckner:Yes, because you get into all the meetings; where one can express one's opinions and ask questions.
Aaserud:Which fora, which committees are these?
Brueckner:Well, they just come and go. I was on committees for the Army; the Ballistic Missile Technology Center, which reviewed all the advanced weaponry. I ran committees that reviewed the first year that Star Wars was alive, committees that worked for Huntsville on that, the Ballistic Missile Defense Advanced Technology Center. I'm advising the Strategic Defense Initiative Office, on what they should do on certain parts of the program. The Star Wars activity—all that—has called for a lot of activity, a lot of advisory work, a lot of committees. Those committees are not JASON committees, and they had no JASON membership on them. The JASON group has also been asked separately to advise—I think at a different level, probably at a higher level.
Aaserud:What about the more permanent advisory structure? Your main contribution has been through
Brueckner:—all these ad hoc committees; also because I do contract work in some of these programs. So I'm a government contractor too.
Aaserud:Did you do any industrial contracting or consulting work pre-JASON?
Brueckner:I think just before JASON was formed, Goldberger, Watson and I made some visits to Convair to advise them about high altitude effects. And I did some work in the late fifties for General Electric in Philadelphia. And, of course, the work for the AEC Weapons Laboratories.
Aaserud:Was it any kind of frustration with that that made you want to put consulting into a more controllable framework?
Brueckner:What do you mean, "controllable?"
Aaserud:Like your own private company—not going from industry to industry asking for a job, but to be able to do it from the institutional framework of a private company.
Brueckner:Well, I think when we set up the original group which became the JASONS, that was in part to make more money. There was a lot of money involved, and we were doing it. We tried to organize it to make it more effective, more efficient, and more profitable.
Aaserud:JASON didn't become that, of course.
Brueckner:No, not at all. Not at all.
Aaserud:So that was another possible objection on your part.
It was just too restrictive.