Oral History Transcript — Dr. Henry Kendall
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|Interview with Dr. Henry Kendall
By Finn Aaserud
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
November 25, 1986
Session I | Session II
Aaserud:We are in Henry Kendall's office at MIT, on the 25th of November 1986. We should start briefly with your family background, youth and schooling. We can go quickly through that, and then deal very briefly with your early career and research to get the main dates. Then we'll turn in more detail to your science policy interests, including where those relate to your physics career. We'll start with your science policy involvement, especially in JASON, and then turn to the Union of Concerned Scientists when that comes up. You're welcome to add any topic that you find of relevance to the general set of questions. Let me start by asking where and when you were born.
Kendall:Well, I was born in Boston on the 9th of December 1926.
Aaserud:Your parents' background, what was that?
Kendall:My father was a New Englander. He was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1878, and was a businessman in Boston. My mother was Canadian, and became a naturalized American citizen quite late in life.
Aaserud:After being married to your father?
Kendall:Yes, many years later.
Aaserud:But your father's family goes back for a long while in New England.
Kendall:Yes. Father's family lived in New England basically since they came from Europe a good many years ago.
Aaserud:What was their education?
Kendall:Father was a graduate of Amherst College, and then went into business. Mother was not a college graduate. My own education was also at Amherst College (major in mathematics, and a sort of smaller subemphasis on physics. Then I graduated in 1950, and came to MIT to graduate school, where I worked in atomic and nuclear physics. I finished my Ph.D. work in September of 1954, although the degree record indicates 1955. I held off and went to the June 1955 commencement, but in September of 1954 I was awarded the first of two National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowships, which I used here at MIT and at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Aaserud:Do you have any sisters or brothers?
Kendall:Yes, I have one younger brother who is a businessman and one sister.
Aaserud:You were the only one who got into physics?
Kendall:Yes, I am with one single exception, a much older man named Edwin Adams who was a cousin of my father's and in fact his age. He's long since passed away, but he was at one point chairman of the Princeton physics department. He was a classical mathematical physicist.
Aaserud:While we're on family, I have decided to ask whether there is any relationship with the Kendall, in Kendall Square.
Kendall:Not so far as I know. Father at one point did some research to see to whom we were related, and it turns out we're not related to any other Kendalls in the United States so far as we know. So we're not related to Kendall Square, or other Kendalls.
Aaserud:So there are quite a few Kendalls.
Kendall:Oh, I wouldn't say there are quite a few. There are probably six or eight in the Boston Telephone Book, out of 700,000 names.
Aaserud:What was it that guided you toward physics?
Kendall:Well, I really don't know the answer to that. I was apparently interested in technical things as a very young child, and just grew into it, always being interested in physics and chemistry and those sorts of things, so I have no origin which is particularly identifiable by me. It's simply a lifelong interest.
Aaserud:No teacher, or family member was particularly influential.
Kendall:No, it wasn't either teaching or family that got my interest up. It much antedated any formal education in science or anything.
Aaserud:Once the interest was there, was it supported by the family?
Kendall:Yes. My father was quite supportive of it.
Aaserud:You were born in Boston?
Kendall:Yes, that's correct.
Aaserud:You went to high school here?
Kendall:Well, I didn't go to high school, I went to a preparatory school for a few years in Deadham, a school called Noble & Greenough and then, before finishing there, I left and went to Deerfield Academy in the fall of 1941, the year of Pearl Harbor; I graduated from there in 1945. Then I entered the Navy as an inactive reservist and went to the Merchant Marine Academy in 1945. I was there when the war ended in the Pacific, and I continued on for another year and a quarter into the fall of 1946. When I had enough time to be free of the draft, I resigned and went to Amherst, coming into the freshman year a little late that fall, of 1946.
Aaserud:What specifically did you do in the draft?
Kendall:In the Merchant Marine Academy. I was not drafted because I was in what was then regarded as a service academy. It was the Merchant Marine equivalent of West Point or Annapolis, and was run by the Navy during the war to prepare people for service in the Merchant Marine. But that was not anything I had any interest in pursuing as a career, and as soon as I was able to leave, I left.
Aaserud:Even if you can't point to any specific influences towards science, were there any teachers in school that had some impact on your direction?
Kendall:Well, I remember one teacher at Noble & Greenough who was, I think, quite gifted and out of the ordinary at that level of science. He was fairly interesting, but not particularly interested in teaching, as I recall, so I never found it as fruitful as it might have been. I think I did not flourish too well in the academic environment, at least in science. The courses were really not adapted to somebody who was really extremely interested in the subject.
Aaserud:But somehow or other the interest had to get some expression; there must have been some correlation between what you wanted and what opportunities there were.
Kendall:Well, I was interested, and that's the best I can say. When I got to college, I was able to take formal course`s in mathematics and chemistry and some in physics, although I did not major in physics. That was my first really useful formal education in the sciences. Beyond that, I was just a home tinkerer, which I think is quite common among physicists, particularly experimental physicists.
Aaserud:That was Amherst.
Kendall:That was at Amherst, yes.
Aaserud:Was there any teacher there that you would point to? Any fellow students?
Kendall:No, I don't think so there, either. The physics department was really fairly weak. I was interested primarily in physics, but I majored in mathematics simply because I did not wish to take the routine courses in physics which were really boring, tedious and not very stimulating, so I sidestepped most of them. I did an honors thesis in the physics department, but beyond that I was a mathematics major.
Aaserud:The choice of college, did that come naturally?
Kendall:Well, many people in the family had been to Amherst, including my father. It seemed quite a reasonable place to go, and I was very happy to go there.
Aaserud:The source of support when going there; was that from the family?
Kendall:Yes, that was from the family.
Aaserud:Were you actually more interested in mathematics then?
Kendall:No, I was not.
Aaserud:You were not, so already then you were thinking of going into physics?
Kendall:Yes, I was clearly going into physics.
Aaserud:So you'd made a career choice already.
Kendall:Yes, very early; oh yes, it was quite clear. I had the opportunity to get sort of continuing advice on a career, even as a young child, from Karl Compton, who was then president of MIT. He was a close friend of my father's, and they were among a handful of people who owned a fishing camp together. Father would spend a couple of weeks in the spring every year with Compton and other people, and I would see him off and on. I was able to get advice as to how to proceed, so I didn't have any problems about what school to go to. It was probably that that led me to end up at MIT in graduate school. I only applied to one graduate school when I left college.
Aaserud:You have stayed rather close to home for most of your career.
Kendall:More or less at MIT, right, although I spent 5 years at Stanford after my NSF fellowship ran out.
Aaserud:Could you describe any particular lures of physics at the time? Why was it that physics was a big thing? Can that be put in words?
Kendall:Well, I'm not really sure, except that I was able to deal reasonably well with equipment. It was a discipline very much in the headlines as I was moving from grade school and high school level work into college. It was physics that permeated the war effort, in many many different aspects. I think probably a good part was simply the advice of Karl Compton.
Aaserud:Was that a well defined group around Compton? Did it circle around that cottage or was it part of an academic group within Cambridge? Were your father and Compton part of a small group of a more general environment?
Kendall:Well, no. It just turned out that my father and Compton were friends. Father lived in Boston, he had many friends here, and Karl Compton was among them.
Aaserud:Did you find that he was eager to attract you?
Kendall:Yes, he seemed to be. He was always very helpful.
Aaserud:What kind of physics did you have in mind (experimental, theoretical, did you want to teach?
Kendall:No, I was basically never a potential theoretical physicist. I simply was attracted to basic research and teaching and the university environment, so I drifted into that without any great internal struggles.
Aaserud:But you wanted to do research.
Aaserud:And your family continued to be supportive of that.
Kendall:Yes, very much.
Aaserud:You graduated from Amherst in 1950.
Kendall:Yes, in the spring of 1950.
Aaserud:And then you went to MIT immediately after.
Kendall:Yes, that's correct, I went that fall. I was in graduate school almost four calendar years to the day.
Aaserud:Is there anything specific you would say about your graduate training?
Kendall:Well, I don't think it was any more than a standard graduate school curriculum. I enjoyed it enormously because it was the first contact I had had with high quality people, and I found it a great deal of pleasure.
Aaserud:You went into MIT without considering other choices.
Aaserud:Why was that? Was that also Compton to some extent?
Kendall:Yes, I think so, yes.
Aaserud:Any particular faculty members that you had a lot of interaction with, or fellow students?
Kendall:Well, as soon as I was prepared I did a special research problem. I tried theoretical physics briefly, as many graduate students do, but I knew even before I tried it that it would not be successful. But I worked for a semester with Lazslo Tisza on a problem in irreversible thermodynamics, but that confirmed my opinion of my skills in that area. Then I went to work with Martin Deutsch who was an experimentalist here (he still is, in fact (and did a special problem with him on positron annihilation in flight. I continued on with him and did a thesis. I can't remember now how long the special problem took, but it was probably a year. I did a thesis on positronium; an attempt to measure the Lamb shift. That also took a calendar year. Everything seemed to take a year or integral multiples of a year.
Aaserud:What was the relationship between following courses and doing independent research?
Kendall:Well, the normal graduate school curriculum is to take courses initially and then taper off as one works into a special problem. I followed more or less that sequence. I recall spending all my summers here taking a variety of courses in physics and EE. I did some teaching in my later summers in graduate school, and I took many courses that were sort of not required for anything in particular. I'd have to look at the record, but I took a number of courses in the electrical engineering department in mathematics of circuit theory and things of that sort.
Aaserud:You continued to be supported by your family during the first years?
Kendall:Of graduate school, that's correct.
Aaserud:Are there other teachers other than Deutsch that you would single out as being important?
Kendall:Well, there were people who taught courses that I very much enjoyed. Philip Morse did, Herman Feshbach did; methods of mathematical physics and partial differential equations was a much more important part of physics then than it is now, and I took those courses taught by them and enjoyed them. I took a number of courses in thermodynamics, low temperature physics and things of that sort that I also enjoyed.
Aaserud:But it was more enjoying it as a good course than having a close personal relationship with the teacher.
Kendall:Yes, that tended not to happen at the graduate school level, not in formal courses.
Aaserud:How big were the classes?
Kendall:Well, they varied in size from 30 or 40 people to 12 or 15, as I recall (as they still do, in fact; that's still the same range of sizes.
Aaserud:Was the Ph.D. your first research project?
Kendall:No, not the Ph.D.. The first research that I had done was the special problem in positron annihilation, and that was not a thesis subject. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 1943 I worked for the Brown Paper Co. in northern New Hampshire, in their research division, but I did not do serious research. It was, you know, at high school level, but I did see something of industrial research at that time. But the first research that I actually carried out of any sort, which resulted in the first paper that I had my name on, was the one on positron annihilation, about 1953.
Aaserud:That did not develop into your thesis?
Aaserud:It was entirely separate.
Aaserud:Was that kind of extra Ph.D. research encouraged?
Kendall:Well, I think many students normally will do a special problem before they do a Ph.D. thesis subject. That's quite standard. It's quite appropriate, you know, to start in with a smaller special problem.
Aaserud:Did you travel any during these early years before you took your Ph.D. (travel for research? Did you go to any other place?
Kendall:Well, no. I was not doing research when I was in college, obviously, and by the time I was in graduate school, I simply stayed in graduate school right through 12 months and took summer courses. By the time I started research, I worked on that through the summers also. No, I did not travel. The first traveling that I did was when I had a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship. Then I spent a good deal of time at Brookhaven.
Aaserud:But that was after.
Kendall:That was post-Ph.D..
Aaserud:What was the relationship between your first research project and your Ph.D., if any?
Kendall:Well, just that they were in the area of positron physics. Martin Deutsch had just a few years before discovered positronium, and had also had a former student work on positron annihilation in flight which was my special problem. The student had not done it correctly, it turns out, and Martin had left the project hanging, unpublished. I came along, and he simply asked me to do it again. It turned out that we were able to identify the mistakes in the earlier work. We published that, and then I went on to do a thesis. It turned out to be a quite difficult problem, which actually has not yet been solved by the approach that we took; it was not really solved until 20 years later, and then by quite different methods. It was an attempt to measure the Lamb shift in the first excited states of positronium, and it was very difficult. I made enough of an advance in it to be able to get a thesis out of it, although we did not succeed in actually measuring the Lamb shift. As I say, that was not done for another 20 years or so, and then by quite a different solid state technique.
Aaserud:It was essentially a thesis discussing the problems involved?
Kendall:Oh, I made some inroads on the technology, and succeeded in inducing and identifying the first excited state in positronium, which had not been done before; the project was not empty. But measuring the Lamb shift was way beyond anything that the technology would let anyone do at that time. That was clear in retrospect. It was not clear in foresight when we started.
Aaserud:Did that work involve a relationship with other students?
Kendall:No, I did that myself. I did it totally myself, in fact, because shortly after the thesis subject was agreed on, Martin Deutsch went to Europe for a year on sabbatical leave, and we had no communication in that time. When he came back I presented him with a written thesis, so I basically worked totally alone, really without a thesis advisor either.
Aaserud:There was not even a substitute teacher? Kendall; Well, Jerrold Zacharias was identified as thesis advisor pro tem, but he had no interaction with the experiment, never came and visited, and didn't know what was going on. Basically, I had no scientific or technical help on that project.
Aaserud:Certainly today experimental physics is very much a collaborative process.
Kendall:Oh, I understand. I'm deep in collaboration.
Aaserud:But it wasn't like that; that wasn't your earliest experience.
Kendall:No, it was not. And I did not shift into high-energy physics until I had reached the end of the postdoctoral fellowship. The postdoctoral fellowship was spent on nuclear physics. I spent a little time doing some more work on positronium, and then at Brookhaven joined Maurice Goldhaber's group and did some work on angular correlations in nuclear decay schemes.
Aaserud:So are there any fellow students you would mention in terms of their subsequent careers?
Kendall:Well, one of the students that I met was from Montreal, named Kurt Gottfried. We became friends and roomed together as graduate students for a couple of years, as I recall, and then for another year or two afterward shared an apartment in Cambridge. He became a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows. He's a theoretical physicist who was working with Professor Weisskopf at the time. Later in the 1960s, having been in a variety of places, he was at Cornell. Then, in the late sixties he visited MIT for a year. He was one of the people who helped found the Union of Concerned Scientists. We've had a close collaboration on many things over the years, so he's remained a close friend.
Aaserud:Did you have the same kind of common interests at that early time?
Kendall:Insofar as an experimentalist and a theorist can have common interests, yes, I think so.
Aaserud:I was thinking of more general science policy questions.
Aaserud:If I read the American Men and Women of Science correctly, your only longstanding experience outside of MIT was at Stanford's High Energy Laboratory.
Kendall:Well, if we're talking about jobs elsewhere, that's correct. I was out there for five years.
Aaserud:From 1956 to 1961.
Kendall:That's correct, through 1961. I went on as a research associate in the High Energy Laboratory in Robert Hofstadter's group, doing high-energy electron scattering. That was when I switched into high-energy physics. But I was there, I think, no more than a year or so. I was asked to go on the teaching staff of the physics department, and I went on as a lecturer and then eventually was made an assistant professor. I think when I left I was an assistant professor.
Aaserud:That's what it says.
Kendall:Then I came back to MIT. But I had been involved in important collaborations in high-energy physics outside of MIT.
I spent roughly a third of my time at Stanford, in the period between 1965 and 1973 (somewhere in that period (because we were involved in a very large collaboration at Stanford. I took a sabbatical year out there, and was relieved of a great deal of my teaching duties in the whole period, spending a great deal of time at Stanford. So most of my research has in fact been done off the MIT campus.
Aaserud:Mostly at Stanford?
Kendall:No, not mostly at Stanford. A lot of it was at Stanford, but we have had a program of research at Fermi Lab since 1971 or 1972, that is still going on. We will be running again in what is our second big program out there on neutrino scattering. That's coming to an end probably within a year or two, but currently that experiment is still going on. So I have had a lot of traveling to work at Fermi Lab and at Stanford.
Aaserud:And you started out mentioning Brookhaven, even earlier.
Kendall:That was earlier, yes. After I got out of graduate school, I had a postdoctoral fellowship 1954-55 and then 1955-56, and that was taken in part at Brookhaven.
Aaserud:Maybe before we go on to specific things, you could briefly describe your main concerns in research over the years.
Kendall:Well, I switched out of nuclear physics and atomic physics because it was becoming of less and less interest in the middle fifties. I think the fundamental problems had in some measure been solved, and I found high-energy physics potentially more attractive.
Joining Hofstadter's group meant a commitment to electron physics as opposed to strong interaction physics. So, I became interested in electron scattering, which was the central theme of Hofstadter's research, and stayed with it, in fact, through the years at Stanford with Jerome Friedman, whom I met at Stanford. He had come from Chicago, and we collaborated together at Stanford when I was on the faculty and staff there. Then, later, we both came back to MIT and continued our collaboration. We were the co-leaders of a research group at MIT, as soon as we were together here in 1961. We had a research program on the electron synchrotron at CEA, the Cambridge Electron Accelerator. We did a number of experiments there in electrodynamics on muon pair production; I'm trying to think of some of the others. In 1962, I spend the summer at Orsay at the high-energy linear electronic accelerator doing nuclear physics studies with electron beams.
And then around 1964 or 1965, we asked to join a project which was just beginning and which was then known as Project M. It later became known as SLAC, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. We asked to join and were accepted as members of Group A. That was a program with which, as I said, I spent a lot of time on at Stanford. It involved the then-largest electron accelerator, and our work was totally devoted to electron scattering from the nucleon (from the proton and neutron. So that was the research interest up to that time. This was an extremely successful program: we established that these were point-like, massive constituents in the nucleon, now identified as quarks.
In 1970 that program was beginning to pinch out. The group here was a little larger by the early seventies, and we started a collaboration at Fermi Lab, doing small angle scattering of hadrons with a small angle very high energy spectrometer, and worked on that for about eight years. Around 1979 to 1981 we moved over to neutrino physics at Fermi Lab. That was a totally new collaboration, looking at weak interaction nucleon form factors; doing some charge and neutral current scattering and so forth.
Aaserud:That allows me to interject a question. The different research projects in the different places (to what extent were they a function of the places? I'm thinking in particular about the change to high-energy physics at Stanford. Was that something that you got from Stanford, and then moved here afterwards? How important were the places to the changes of interest?
Kendall:Well, if you want to do electron physics, you have to go to the places that have electron accelerators; I think there's not much ambiguity about that. I was interested in electron and positron physics and electrodynamics, which stems from the work on positrons and positroneum. So I was quite happy to go to Stanford and continue on in electron physics. Having learned the field, I found it of continuing interest, and when they built the two-mile machine, I was quite happy going to the people there and proposing a collaboration. We stayed with that field because we knew and understood it and liked it.
Aaserud:Who were your main collaborators in Stanford and Illinois, I suppose, and here? Are those the three main places?
Kendall:Here the principal collaborator for many years was Jerry Friedman, and we collaborated with Richard Taylor, who was the head of Group A at Stanford. There were a lot of people in the group, about 16 or 18 people. Caltech was a collaborator, but they were not in the mainstream of what we did. When we went to Fermi Lab, we still continued to have other Stanford collaborators. We had a number of collaborators from Fermi Lab and places of that sort. The neutrino program has collaborators from Florida State, from Fermi Lab itself, from MIT, a number from Michigan State (those are the principal ones.
Aaserud:So you would prefer to mention institutions rather than names in the collaboration?
Kendall:Well, yes, because people came and went and so forth. Yes, it's more convenient.
Aaserud:That's quite a change from the dissertation.
Kendall:Oh, yes. Oh, it's definitely a much different kind of physics.
Aaserud:Was that a difference between MIT and other places at the time?
Kendall:No, I don't think it was different. I think many of the universities that had high-energy programs found that they were in large collaborations. They also found that they were having to travel a lot, so that was quite a common denominator.
Aaserud:This is very quick of course, but this wasn't what we were mainly going to talk about. This was the general background on that. Just another general thing: What about family life? Are you married?
Aaserud:You married when?
Kendall:I married in 1972.
Aaserud:To another Bostonian?
Kendall:No, she's a woman that, in fact, had been married to one of the collaborators that we had in the early Stanford program, and who had been at Stanford on the faculty when I was there in the late fifties. They had broken up, and then some years after that, I met her again in San Francisco and we were married in 1972.
Aaserud:And you've stayed married since then.
Kendall:I've stayed married since then (somewhat unique in this society, but not totally unique.
Aaserud:I don't know how physicists figure in those statistics. I don't think they stand out at all. Do you have children?
Kendall:Well, I don't have children of my own, but my wife has one boy who is now a physician in intern training.
Aaserud:In what ways has your family been important in your career?
Kendall:Well, I don't think in any striking or novel way.
Aaserud:Then let's turn to our more specific concern. I define my concern very broadly as science policy. We can discuss of course to what extent JASON could go under that heading. If not, then I have to change the name.
Kendall:Well, I think you should think about changing the name, because I don't think JASON got into science policy very much.
Aaserud:But it certainly has to do with bringing physics to the world outside its immediate academic orientation.
Kendall:Oh yes, it certainly did.
Aaserud:My question, then, is, how and why did you come to concern yourself with that kind of broader aspects of physics?
Kendall:Well, I've always had some interest in the problems of society in general. My father did before me. And there was the example of Karl Compton and the war effort, which had taken physics out of academia, and has led the physics community to participate in public life in a way which has proven, I think, quite irreversible. I've always been drawn to those sorts of problems. In particular the question of nuclear weapons, and the risk of nuclear war, I gave some thought to in the 1950s. Somewhere around 1960 (the question of the nuclear risk was becoming more and more obvious to people; they saw that there was a risk and that the whole nuclear arms race were out of hand.
I went to W.K.H. Panofsky, who had been doing a lot of consulting for the government, and asked him if there was a formal way in which a physicist could participate in some of these technical matters connected with defense. He told me about JASON, which had been just formed, and got me into it. That was my entry. I did not go to the first meeting, and I think I missed the first summer, but I must have come in right after that.
Aaserud:You're an early member.
Kendall:Oh yes, I was an early member, but I was not in at the start. I think I was in within a year, I would guess.
Aaserud:You were a young member, too.
Kendall:Well, there were other young members also.
Aaserud:I guess the age was pretty much the same.
Kendall:I think to some extent, yes.
Aaserud:But you were on the young side, I would say.
Aaserud:I'm not sure about Zachariasen's age.
Kendall:Well, he's roughly my age, he may even be a slight bit younger. He was at MIT in graduate school when I was here, as I recall.
Aaserud:To backtrack a bit, you talked about Compton's involvement during the war. Was that something that you or your father or your family knew about at the time it was happening?
Kendall:Well, my father knew. Everybody knew that the scientific community was off fighting the war. But I was still essentially at the high school level. Certainly after the war was over, it was quite clear what had happened. The first nuclear weapon was detonated in the summer of the year that I was at Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy, and my college years were spent in the revelations of much of the Manhattan Project and so forth. So it was quite clear that physics was now an important component of national life and particularly of defense.
Aaserud:Yes, but in addition to that, you had that family connection.
Kendall:Well, my father apparently knew about the Manhattan Project, although he never spoke of it during the war. He had apparently found out some way or other, although he had no official clearances and no involvement in it, but he certainly had gotten wind of it.
Aaserud:So JASON was in fact your first kind of involvement with those kind of questions.
Aaserud:You were not involved in any previous summer studies or private consulting.
Aaserud:Were you simultaneously, or was JASON your only or main effort in that direction?
Kendall:Only effort for many years.
Aaserud:What about other physicists; did they approach the question differently? Did your immediate colleagues do consulting?
Kendall:Consulting, no; not to my knowledge. Very few of my contemporaries did anything similar to that. On a fractional basis, it was very small.
Aaserud:So you asked Panofsky, and Panofsky arranged an invitation, and then you were in JASON.
Kendall:That's correct. Then I was in, yes.
Aaserud:What was your motivation for that?
Kendall:Well, it was partly curiosity and partly concern. I said only partly curiosity because I was in fact at that time troubled about the nuclear war risks and was interested in knowing about it, and partly because it had already attracted some extremely intelligent people. The example is not lost on a young physicist when people of the stature of Panofsky and the other people who were then members were taking their time out to do it. And, in fact, much of the subject matter was quite interesting.
Aaserud:I suppose you became a member in the spring of 1960?
Kendall:I don't know whether it was the spring of 1960 or the fall of 1960 or the fall of 1961. I really don't remember exactly.
Aaserud:And you stayed on until (
Kendall:I stayed on until they reorganized and were moved out of IDA and found a home I believe at Stanford Research Institute. By the time they'd reconstituted there, I was no longer a member.
Aaserud:Well, we'll get to the end of it. How much time did you spend on JASON during this period in relation to other activities?
Kendall:Well, it was not a uniform commitment. Initially I spent probably less than some of the theoretical people because they simply had more time. I was running on various accelerators. I would go to the summer studies and would always go to the various meetings during the year. And I worked on a number of small projects. But I was not what you would call a major producer until the Vietnam War came along. Then JASON sponsored a 1963 study on counterinsurgency, and I was a member of that and got very interested in what later became the conflict in Southeast Asia.
The summer following the counter-insurgency study, there was a larger effort organized, but I don't think it sprang from JASON, although JASON provided support for it and I think JASON members largely populated it. It had to do with the war in Southeast Asia, and from that came a Department of Defense project. I then joined that project as well, so that for a number of years I was, in addition to JASON work, a consultant to the Department of Defense directly.
Aaserud:That was unusual for JASON, but that was part of your JASON effort.
Kendall:Well, it stemmed from the JASON effort, but as a consultant to the Department of Defense it was separate from JASON; that's what I was trying to emphasize.
Aaserud:So your formal role in that was for the Department of Defense, not for JASON.
Kendall:Finally, as the project within the Defense Department grew in size and scale, it had a group of scientific advisors, and I was one of them. I worked with George Kistiakowsky who was the chairman for several years, and did some work on explosives and things of that sort with him.
Aaserud:But in effect that came out of your JASON involvement.
Aaserud:So JASON was kind of a stepping stone.
Kendall:Yes, that's correct, but at the same time I did not give up other JASON activities, and there were other JASON groups involved in this thing also.
Aaserud:That was kind of a peak period.
Kendall:Yes, and I put quite a bit of time in on that. I did a great deal of traveling. I was out of the country several times. I was in Southeast Asia in 1968. Eventually my involvement wound down.
Aaserud:That was the first time I saw your name mentioned in the New York Times, I think, together with Garwin.
Aaserud:Before we get to that, what connection did you have with the motivations for establishing JASON?
Kendall:I didn't; I was not involved in that at all.
Aaserud:Were you involved in discussions within or outside JASON about JASON at the time as that kind of vehicle? I know that there were some discussions going on.
Kendall:Well, if there were, I was not part of it. It seemed to be a perfectly appropriate mechanism at the time for dealing with these problems. It certainly had no public notoriety.
Aaserud:At that time of course JASON was mainly doing contracting work for the military (for ARPA, I suppose, mostly.
Kendall:Well, in part ARPA. I can't tell you what the split is. I never knew exactly.
Aaserud:Right. Did you take part in the Steering Committee of JASON?
Aaserud:Which other members did you have most to do with? Panofsky got you in; were there others?
Kendall:Panofsky was not a formal member of JASON, if I recall correctly. He was associated with it in some way, perhaps as a Steering Committee member, but I don't recall that he was a member. There were Stanford members. Zachariasen I used to see. He was at Caltech I think at the time.
Aaserud:Did you collaborate with other JASONs, or did you work mostly on your own?
Kendall:Some collaboration on study groups of one sort or another.
Aaserud:Were you involved in selection of other members in any way?
Aaserud:That was also a Steering Committee activity.
Aaserud:To what extent did the JASONs you collaborated with constitute the same people that you collaborated with on physics problems?
Kendall:Not at all, essentially. Well, some of the theorists there were interested in common physics problems, but there were no other high energy physics people from my collaborations that were ever in JASON that I know of.
Aaserud:Was that because you were an experimental physicist mostly and most others were theoretical?
Kendall:Well, there were a number of experimenters, but not very many, and I think just probability would have suggested that the chance of getting two out of one group was not very big. In any event, there weren't two out of our group. I was the only one.
Aaserud:What kind of contact did you have with the agencies that you contracted for? Did you have contact all the way? Did you do a project from beginning to end, and then presented it? How was that?
Kendall:I think those depended on the nature of the project. You had what interaction you needed. If you needed interaction or cooperation, you asked for it, and you got it.
Aaserud:But you asked for it; they didn't peek over your shoulder?
Kendall:Well, I don't know. That would have had to do with the leaders (whether there was oversight. I don't know the answer to that.
Aaserud:So the structure was rather that you did your work, and it was the leaders that provided that kind of link.
Kendall:I don't know. They weren't the information conduits. We had briefings. If we were working on some particular area, we needed to visit facilities or talk to people in the field. We certainly did that.
Aaserud:You did rather independent work, didn't you.
Aaserud:But you can't mention any particular examples of contact that you had with the agencies?
Kendall:Well, I don't remember names much any more, but I know that we had briefings. As I say, we had site visits, and frequently we would have site visits to military facilities or laboratories quite independent of the project. JASON people would arrange to have a meeting (with appropriate facility access. We'd simply get a red carpet tour and a number of briefings on the programs that were there and so forth, and that seemed to be always forthcoming. There was no difficulty with information flow.
Aaserud:So there was a positive attitude toward JASON by the agencies.
Aaserud:Even though JASON was mostly self constituted and independent. Well, you did criticize my use of "science policy," so I suppose you would certainly describe the JASON work as more of a technical nature.
Kendall:Yes. I think it was intended to be on the technical level and I think it was on the technical level, which is what the people were best suited to do.
Aaserud:A typical JASON meeting (a summer meeting, for example. Maybe you could say something about what took place there, and what was the structure of work?
Kendall:Well, because of my accelerator running schedules, I think I did not attend the full summer studies. I would drop-in. So I'm really not an expert on the structure. But I think it's no surprises. Simply work methods, the sorts of things that any group of physicists would do. They would organize themselves in a perfectly reasonable way to work on projects in collaboration.
Aaserud:That's significant too, of course, that you were able to just drop in.
Kendall:Oh yes. It was certainly a flexible work situation.
Aaserud:There must have been some structure to it, though.
Kendall:Oh, of course there was structure, but I think there was nothing exceptional about the structure. It was competently organized.
Aaserud:We talked a little bit about Vietnam. Maybe we could talk some about the projects you were involved in before Vietnam, to the extent you even can do that, to the extent that it's not classified.
Kendall:Well, I don't have too much to say in those areas. I did work for a while on anti-submarine warfare, and I did get involved in an unclassified JASON project working for the Department of Transportation on advanced air traffic control procedures. Richard Garwin was chairman of that sub-panel, and we spent some time reviewing that whole system. That was a period of major air traffic delays, major difficulties in the technology, very similar to today. I was interested in that, partly because it was an interesting problem, partly because it was a break with the classified work, and partly because I had some background in aviation. So I volunteered for it.
Aaserud:What was that background?
Kendall:Well, I am a pilot, and so I knew something about aircraft and how they operated.
Aaserud:How early was that?
Kendall:That was roughly 1968.
Aaserud:That was an aberration at the time from military work.
Kendall:Well, we would not infrequently be briefed on unclassified subjects. We had, I remember, briefings from the Bureau of Reclamation on some environmental problems. But the bulk of the JASON work was classified. But the air traffic control study was a fairly large effort, and it was totally unclassified.
Aaserud:And it was with Garwin.
Kendall:Garwin was the head of it. Harold Lewis, who later was head of JASON, was a member of it. I've now forgotten the other panel members. Luis Alvarez was on it.
Aaserud:I've spoken to Hal Lewis. I haven't spoke to Luis Alvarez. Was he active during that whole period in JASON?
Kendall:Yes. Well, from time to time. He was active on that panel.
Aaserud:And then it was the Navy project and projects that were classified.
Kendall:Yes, and there were other Navy projects that I was involved in too.
Aaserud:Who were the main collaborators?
Kendall:There was a rather large group. I think there was certainly nine or a dozen. I remember Walter Munk being on many of those Navy panels, his evident interest.
Aaserud:He was heading a lot of them too. He was the main contact with the Navy people.
Kendall:I don't recall whether or not that was true. I don't remember.
Aaserud:Would you have any suggestions for a study or project within JASON that would provide a good inroad for understanding the workings of JASON? I mean, if I were to write up a history of JASON's first ten or fifteen years, is there a good project that I could supply in some detail as an example?
Kendall:I think you probably ought to ask someone like Garwin that. They'd be in a better position to tell you. Garwin keeps much more accurate track of what was classified and what wasn't than I do. That's a whole sub-specialty in itself, knowing what to say and what not to say.
Aaserud:I'm not going to press you on that.
Kendall:Well, I just don't know of a good example, and I don't know where the classification bounds are. I can tell you that there is one unclassified source ("the Pentagon Papers." They were released by Daniel Ellsberg and others, and those contain some mention of JASON projects which you might look at.
Aaserud:Of course, there's the SESPA publication, or quasi-publication, criticizing JASON as well; I have that. I haven't seen the "Pentagon Papers."
Kendall:Well, the "Pentagon Papers" do have mention of that. What they mention is connected with the outgrowth of the counter-insurgency effort, which became ultimately a Department of Defense project.
Aaserud:Which you got into eventually?
Kendall:I didn't get into it eventually, I got into it at its beginning.
Aaserud:What about the relationship of JASON projects to academic work in physics?
Kendall:None whatever that I was aware of. Not so far as I personally was concerned. There was no relation whatever.
Aaserud:But still you were able to use your physics expertise.
Kendall:Yes. Oh yes. Physicists, whether correctly or incorrectly, do think they can move from field to field, and I have done that to some extent.
Aaserud:What about the political views within JASON? Were they diverse or rather similar?
Kendall:I think there was something of a spectrum in the group, as there is in any group of people, or any group of physicists, for that matter.
Aaserud:Did that affect the work in any way?
Kendall:No, I don't believe so.
Aaserud:Maybe the choice of projects?
Kendall:That I don't know. I could not tell you that.
Aaserud:Not in your case anyway.
Kendall:Not in my case. Well, no, that's not entirely true, because I certainly was aware very early that the United States' involvement in South Vietnam was unwise, and that the problems that the country faced there were not understood by our leadership. I put a great deal of time into that over a number of years, and my interest in that stemmed from the feeling that the United States' participation in that effort was going to end very badly. I think there was a near unanimous feeling in the JASON group that that was the case. I think everybody realized that things were bent out of shape in Vietnam.
Aaserud:Which of course wasn't the understanding of the people criticizing JASON for that, but that's another matter.
Kendall:Well, President Johnson was said to have gotten notably upset when the news of our trip hit the New York Times.
Aaserud:So you would say that for the JASONs involved in the Vietnam effort in that sense, that was from a critical attitude to the war, rather than the opposite.
Kendall:I think that's correct. Yes, it certainly was, and it was certainly true of George Kistiakowsky, who became the leader of the Department of Defense advisory group that I was on. It's certainly true. He was acutely aware of the defects in US position and strategy over there, and made a huge attempt to see that changed but without avail. He eventually resigned from the project, and not much later than that I resigned too, because the government was not paying any real attention to the facts.
Aaserud:What about the demand for secrecy within JASON? Did that lead to any problems in terms of say publications?
Kendall:I don't think so. I mean, things that are properly kept secret are properly kept secret, and no one proposes that they be published. At least in that era there was not too much that was troubling. I think now it's a different time, and there is more material kept secret that should not be. But I think the matters that JASON dealt with were quite properly kept secret and there was no difficulty with that.
Aaserud:To what extent did the criticism against JASON (especially about the Vietnam involvement, because that was the only time that JASON really reached the surface (in the media and otherwise, affect you?
Kendall:Well, I was not affected by that criticism. I never became publicly notorious for my support of those activities. I think the people who criticized JASON did not really have a clear understanding of what the group was doing, what it was trying to do, or what its motivations were. I have certainly never felt any qualms about what I did in that, and would do it again in similar circumstances. It was clear, somewhat after the fact, that the government was not interested in the advice that was given it and didn't intend to take it and did not take it. George Kistiakowsky, with his much superior political skills, sensed this somewhat earlier than the rest of us. I think in retrospect had I known the government was going to disregard our information and advice, I would have quit earlier than I did, but probably not much earlier. Perhaps about the time Kistiakowsky stopped. I think there was certainly nothing that was done in that area that anybody involved had any reason to be ashamed of in any sense. As I say, I was not touched by the criticism. Some of the other people were.
Aaserud:It raises the question of course of what you can do from the inside.
Kendall:Well, the things you can do from the inside are very simply stated. You can give the government advice, and if the government senses that that advice is helpful, it will take it. Or they may take it. In any event you will remain friends with the system. And if the government does not like your advice, then they will not take it, and you have very little prospect of forcing it through. That's my experience, and I think that's the common experience of most people. There is a limited range of action you have from inside, and a somewhat larger one from outside.
Aaserud:Did your quitting JASON have anything to do with the reaction to that kind of involvement?
Kendall:No, not at all. In fact, I parted with JASON on more or less mutually amicable terms. They were reorganizing and just quietly dropped a lot of people, and by 1972 or 1973, when that was going on, I really had not much interest in continuing with them. By 1973 I was in fact already getting considerable public attention for my part in the nuclear reactor debate, and had very little interest in continuing in JASON. By that time, I was aware of the limitations on inside advice, and I was already involved with the Union of Concerned Scientists, as one of only one or two people keeping it going. That was why I drifted out of classified work.
Aaserud:You turned to a quite different approach.
Kendall:That's correct, and one I think which has more potential for altering the course of government and national affairs, specifically on issues which the government itself doesn't want to change.
Aaserud:As you say, it was probably difficult to do both.
Kendall:I simply didn't have the time. And I felt that the JASON projects were less rewarding than they had been, and the nuclear reactor debate was warming up, in fact was hot.
Aaserud:What did the reorganization of JASON that you spoke about consist of?
Kendall:Well, I never really knew. If I'm described as part of the blue-collar workers, it happened in the executive suite. But my scanty information suggests that there just grew to be a parting of the ways between JASON and its sponsors. It was thrown out to look for a home, and I think it looked for a while and found one at SRI for some years. It has an even different sponsor now.
Aaserud:The MITRE Corporation.
Kendall:MITRE took it over.
Aaserud:Just a few years ago, actually.
Aaserud:Did you ever have any conflict yourself between contact with media and the demand for secrecy within JASON?
Kendall:No, because my entire career at JASON was conducted totally out of the public domain. I had no contact with the media on JASON issues at all, ever, and so no possibility for any abrasion ever arose.
Aaserud:Did you have any more contact or involvement in more Union of Concerned Scientists like, operations, while you were in JASON? That could have led to such problems?
Kendall:No. No, by the time UCS was getting to be roaring along, I was out of the JASON group. They never intersected.
Aaserud:Two completely different periods of your life.
Kendall:That's right. Well, there was a chronological overlap, but it was in a period where the one was winding down and the other was winding up, and it just turned out to be no interaction.
Aaserud:So that problem just never came up.
Kendall:Never came up.
Aaserud:What about the relationship of JASON involvement with the larger physics community at the time?
Kendall:I think there was no particular intersection there. Nothing there of interest to note, I would say.
Aaserud:And again, the criticism of JASON from some physicists was not in any way a reason for your quitting.
Kendall:No, it was not. It was not.
Aaserud:Because it was a hard time for some, particularly for people at Columbia and Berkeley. I guess those were the two hottest places during that time.
Kendall:I think so, yes. But I never saw, or was the object of, any public outrage at all.
Aaserud:During that period of JASON that you were a member, how unique was it as an institution for combining basic research and government advice?
Kendall:Well, it was unique for me personally, but there were other organizations which did somewhat similar things. The whole Institute for Defense Analyses itself was based on a Rand model, and there were certainly other advisory committees to government. There were other advisory committees to components of the Defense Department, to the military services, and to pieces of the Pentagon itself.
I think the group was probably more luminous than any other, in terms of the distinguished credentials of the people on it. I mean, there was a period when they were winning a Nobel Prize a year. So that obviously set it off.
Aaserud:I guess most other bodies were either full time or more ad hoc.
Kendall:Well, there were others that were constituted somewhat differently. There was the Defense Science Board and there was the Foreign Intelligence Board and there was the President's Scientific Advisory Committee for as long as it existed. In fact, there was some commonality of membership between JASON and PSAC, and they used to work in a somewhat similar way. But obviously they reported to a different boss, and they were supported in different ways. But they were still part time physics people, and as I said, many of them were JASON group people.
Aaserud:It's another question, of course, how much sense it makes to treat JASON as a unit. There was a lot of people in JASON who were involved in other capacities too. It's a complicated thing to define the boundaries. You said before that in your case at any rate there was no relationship between physics research at the university level and advising activity at JASON.
Aaserud:Nevertheless as a physicist you seem to have been up to the task. Do you have any comment on that? Were physicists specifically suited for that task or could others have done the same kind of advice?
Kendall:Well, I don't know. First of all, JASON was not by any means wholly composed of physicists. There were geophysicists, biologists, chemists (all sorts of people.
Aaserud:Mostly physicists, though.
Kendall:Well, it was more physics than anything else. And I suppose that that weighting tended to affect the selection of topics. But on the whole, there are not terribly many biology topics in the Defense Department tasks. There are a few, and we had a few biologists. But I think the group had been started and was polarized around the physics discipline. I think many of the problems that gravitated toward it would naturally be physics problems, or involve heavy components of them. I suppose there was some selection of physics problems too because of the interests of people. So I think it's perfectly natural, not surprising at all.
Aaserud:But in some sense it's by chance, from the history of it, that it was a group of physicists.
Kendall:Well, it's not totally by chance. You look at the major weapons problems, and they all present physics problems. People who came out of the war effort as senior scientific advisors to the various large projects were almost uniformly physicists. You know, there wouldn't be very many geologists and so forth in the Manhattan Project. Some, but not many.
Aaserud:Well, we've made the distinction before (never on tape, I think, but before we started (between the white collar and the blue collar kind of JASON. Relating to that, I think it was Ruderman who divided the JASONs in a somewhat different way, that is, those who went to JASON because that was the only kind of advising activity that they could conceive of that did not interfere with their academic work, and the others who used JASON more as a springboard to get onto other kinds of science advising activities. Would you consider JASON as a springboard for further advising activities?
Kendall:Well, I think it could have been for people who wanted to do it. There were some people who found that a lot of advising was congenial to them, and they may have found their advice listened to one way or another. I think some people did gravitate into a more active advising role in many other areas, and I think JASON may have provided some candidates for PSAC. I certainly didn't belong in that category. In any large organization like that you will find some people who like the work particularly and would like to do more of it and find a way to do it, so in that sense it's a springboard. That's not bad at all. I was not in that category; I had plenty to do. I used it as a springboard in one sense, to stay on with the Department of Defense (it wasn't counter-insurgency by 1967 or 1968 (the Southeast Asia operation, but I was not headed upward and onward as an advisor. So I was in your first category of people.
Aaserud:Yes. To what extent can you talk about that counter-insurgency thing in detail?
Kendall:Well, I don't really want to get into it much. I don't know what's classified and what isn't classified. What's in the "Pentagon Papers" identifies it as a barrier scheme. I was involved in the origin of that, and seeing that it was partially implemented. As I say, I don't know the status of the classification.
Aaserud:Bill Nierenberg has written some kind of history of it.
Kendall:He may have. I haven't seen it, but it would be interesting.
Aaserud:Yes. I have a copy of that.
Kendall:I'd certainly enjoy looking at it.
Aaserud:I'll make a copy and send it up to you.
Aaserud:I will have to be reminded when I listen to your tape again, but will try to remember before that. What about JASON in the context of other science policy involvements? You didn't have too many other involvements of the sort at the time.
Aaserud:So that question doesn't apply to you. But maybe you would have some comments about the impact of JASON. How important was JASON for say national policy decisions?
Kendall:Well, I have never believed that JASON had a first order impact on policy, except by the indirect route of giving good technical advice and preventing projects that were technically flawed from proceeding very far or by improving others. We sometimes did that. Its impact on Vietnam was nil or close to nil. I say this in retrospect. I didn't think so at the time. My experience was not as good as I believe it is now. But I think in retrospect it was unrealistic for anybody to think that whatever JASON could do would have deflected the course of that war. It apparently had to play itself out as it did, to exhaustion, and get a major total societal turning in the United States against it before it could be stopped. It was quite clear that President Johnson had no interest in stopping the war on any terms short of the victory he sought, and scientists who visited him (outside the JASON umbrella) got a rough reception. I recall hearing that Ed Purcell had visited Johnson along with other scientists. You might ask him about that. So, as a means to alter a national policy I think the JASON mechanism is not one of choice. That's not the right way to do it. That's not what it was set up to do and it's not coupled into policy-making levels. It gives technical advice and that may or may not be taken, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
Aaserud:But how often was there an intention on the part of JASON to have that kind of impact?
Kendall:I don't think very much. I don't think anybody misunderstood the role that JASON had all along, which was to provide superior technical advice on technical projects, and occasionally when subjects came up which involved policy matters on which JASON people felt strongly. The war in Southeast Asia was the one striking example I know of. As I said, in retrospect it was unrealistic to think they could have affected it, although many people thought so at the time.
Aaserud:It could have intended impacts and unintended impacts.
Kendall:Oh, of course, because we might have developed some ferocious new weapon. Or invented a counter to a ferocious old weapon or something of that sort. So technical developments obviously can have deep and profound and persistent impact on society, and the way society goes. But I know of no real examples on a grand level of that sort that JASON ever contributed. But that isn't to say that there were not many things done that were solid and competent.
Aaserud:What about on the educational side (both educating physicists or scientists to become broader in some respects, and also having some impact on the bureaucratic and military side.
Kendall:Well, I can only speak for myself on that issue. I found the JASON experience deeply educating. I learned an immense amount. And a lot of that has been put to good use in subsequent years with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Aaserud:We'll get back to that; that's interesting.
Kendall:I'm going to have to break off at 4.
Aaserud:OK. While we're at that impact question, would you have any suggestion for how to look that up? I mean, which people did the JASONs have contact with that could have a better feel for how JASON advice was taken up and how seriously it was considered?
Kendall:Well, I think that with respect to the Southeast Asia business, the person who would have known a great deal about that was George Kistiakowsky, but he's unfortunately not with us any more. But I think I can answer that question in part. The final impact of JASON efforts in the SE Asia conflict was essentially nil. Now, on other matters, you could ask Richard Garwin, or others, because they will know for whom JASON worked and what it accomplished (in the Navy, the Air Force and so forth.
Aaserud:So it would make sense to talk to say the chief scientist of ARPA or IDA.
Kendall:Well, I don't know who's at IDA now. I think I would have asked Marvin Goldberger or somebody like him to give you references. I just can't supply any good ones.
Aaserud:So your quitting JASON was essentially for practical reasons.
Kendall:Yes, practical reasons. I lost interest in it. They lost interest in me. And I had other fish to fry. And by that time I had discovered that being inside was not an effective way to change national policy. I learned that directly through the episode with Southeast Asia, but I had seen it in many of the other activities having to do with nuclear weapons. There had also been the episode, some time in that period, of the supersonic transport that Garwin played a heavy role in. It was a telling example to many of us. It became clear from that episode that the government would not take advice it didn't like, even when the advice was technically of superb quality. It was the upshot of that controversy that led Nixon to scrap PSAC in its entirety because it was giving him advice he didn't like. Well, none of these examples was lost on me and so by 1969, when UCS was getting started, I was a ready volunteer, and in some measure partially trained.
Aaserud:So in that sense your quitting was a matter of principle.
Kendall:It wasn't a matter of moral principle. Well, if you want to look for a deep principle, it was the principle of effectiveness, namely that continuing did not look to be effective.
Aaserud:Yes, I didn't mean anything more than that.
Kendall:No, I understand.
Aaserud:How clear was that in your mind at the time of the conception of the Union of Concerned Scientists?
Kendall:Well, it was reasonably clear. It's unfair to credit me with enormous foresight, but on the other hand, I certainly went into it with some sense that it had potential. I think no one could reasonably have expected that it would persist (and persist for so many years (and ultimately have a very substantial impact in some aspects of national affairs. I think that this is a fair statement at this point. I did not really see that, but on the other hand, I certainly sensed that it had some potential. And I stuck with it, and was in fact one of the handful of people (handful meaning as few as two (who kept it going through the years.
Aaserud:I looked at some papers of Bernard Feld today, and I noticed a letter he sent in 1970 providing advice (I don't exactly remember the context (to some MIT committee. He wrote that by now one knew that inside kind of criticism did not always work, and one would have to find some other kind of approach. So this may be part of a more general conception at the time. Did you feel that?
Kendall:Well, no, I'm not sure I felt exactly that. I reached my own conclusions, without comparing notes with terribly many other people. The Union of Concerned Scientists was largely organized (I would say almost entirely organized, with only very few exceptions (by people who did not have clearances and were not involved in inside advising. There were one or two who had been, but as I say, the bulk of them were not. And so I think the motivation for those people was largely that they had no other outlet for their concerns. I can't speak for anyone but myself among those who had clearances, but I certainly was aware that the inside effort was not very fruitful. So I was looking for other avenues too.
Aaserud:The case of the discussion over ABMs in the 1960s (
Kendall:Yes, well, UCS was born around that issue, and I went to Washington with a group from UCS, and we had a news conference and gave some testimony in Congress and so forth on ABM. That was a very live issue.
Aaserud:What I was going to say was that the discussions of ABM in the 1960s and SDI in the 1980s are similar, SDI being essentially an extended ABM, I suppose. And you have criticized the one from the inside and the other from the outside, to some extent. I don't know to what extent you were involved in the ABM issue in JASON.
Kendall:I really wasn't involved in it, certainly not very much. I heard a lot of the briefings, but I was never part of any of the working groups on the subject.
Aaserud:So that from your perspective it's not a valid comparison in that way. I was thinking that might be a good example of attacking two similar problems, one from the inside, one from the outside, but if not, then we could go on. To what extent were you involved in the very origins of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and what was the motivation for it?
Kendall:Well, the UCS sprang to life so to speak because of great unrest on the college campuses and the universities about the course of the Vietnam War, and to some extent around the ABM debate which became very lively in 1968 and 1969. The activities at MIT flowed primarily originally from students who in the fall of 1968 started the Students Action Coordinating Committee, SACC, and went to faculty in the physics department (Kurt Gottfried, Francis Low and a group of others (and asked to get faculty support and have them join this group. The faculty simply felt that the group was too radical and no doubt evanescent, so it was on that view that UCS was born, independent of SACC, and primarily a staff and faculty organization.
I was here at the time, and Kurt Gottfried was a close friend, and I so was drawn in. I was not one of the major workers in the organization, because I still held clearances and was still active in JASON. But by the time the actual public events started (when we went public, which was the week of March 4, 1969 (I decided to stand aside from the strategic questions because of my clearances, and to get involved in more the environmental end of things; I was in charge, and was the organizer, of all the non-nuclear UCS activities. I initiated the organizing meetings for them, and we formed our own steering committee for that part of the UCS effort.
We soon had 300 people on our own rolls, but it didn't last long. There was a weak echo a year later, and then by 18 months after that, everybody had lost interest except just a very small handful. All of what I would describe as the nuclear activities disappeared totally within a year and a half, and all that was left was what I was basically running.
Aaserud:In the Feld papers, your first contribution to USC was a paper from 4 March 1970 on environmental problems.
Kendall:I certainly did that for UCS still going then. But I helped draft some of the documentation for 1969 also (a statement of objectives, much of that stuff. Kurt Gottfried could tell you about that. But in 1969 I organized and ran the group concerned with environmental problems.
Aaserud:OK, yes. Of course the first March 4th activity was in part a collaboration with SACC.
Aaserud:What about SESPA, were they part of the same developments?
Kendall:What's that? My question is your answer, I think.
Aaserud:Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action.
Kendall:Whatever it is, the answer is no, as far as I know.
Aaserud:Who were the main organizers behind UCS, besides yourself and Gottfried?
Kendall:I really started putting in work as of March 4, 1969 and after, when I organized the ongoing activities in environmental pollution. I think much of the general organizing work was done by Gottfried, Low, Feshbach, and people from the chemistry department. That's all in the old literature, and I don't remember all the names and details.
Aaserud:And then of course it developed as an organization, but its origins were mainly at MIT.
Kendall:Yes. If you want to consider Gottfried an MIT-er the answer is yes, he was a visitor for a year in the MIT Physics Dept. but was on the Cornell faculty at the time. And people came in from other places and helped, and there was a national teach-in at the time organized by MIT, but it drew in a lot of people. March 4 was a national event.
Aaserud:Yes, certainly. Well, it was not subscribed to by everybody.
Kendall:Oh, absolutely not by everybody. A lot of very conservative people on the MIT faculty, many of them in the engineering departments, were bitterly opposed to it all.
Aaserud:I saw a lot of correspondence back and forth (especially relating to laying down or stopping research on the 4th of March (seeing the actions as contradicting academic freedom. It certainly was something that had an effect in some ways, and it was successful to the extent that it raised a lot of attention.
Kendall:Well, it raised attention and it set a model for the beginnings of the organization.
Aaserud:So that was the beginning of your concern, but you really got seriously into it a little later.
Kendall:I got seriously into it right then, on March 4. That's when I started organizing. There was a meeting down in Room 6-120, that I chaired, for those people who were interested in environmental matters, and I started right away. That's when I started putting in quite a bit of time.
Aaserud:For practical reasons that was the side of the work for you. Then you gradually stopped your work in JASON, and got into the more general part of it. You quit JASON in 1970?
Kendall:I don't remember. I just sort of drifted out. I think I was out by 1973, but I don't remember; it could have been 1972. I was not much active after 1971 or 1972. It was what you would call an indefinite ending.
Aaserud:The UCS then became your main activity in that area. Were there others or was it a transition mainly from JASON to UCS?
Kendall:I had plenty to do. That was all I had on my plate.
Aaserud:Like in JASON, there was little relationship between actual physics work and work for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Kendall:Yes, none whatever.
Aaserud:The Union of Concerned Scientists reflected a big change, of course, in approach to that kind of problem, especially the practice of going public with things. Did you build on any experience of other physicists in that respect? Did you have a model for how to go about it?
Kendall:No. I just simply started with an ingot and just made whatever it is we did. I'm not beholden to very many people that I can recall for examples in the area, although in my years at Stanford, I had some contact with the environmental community. I had known David Brower, who was head of the Sierra Club for many years, and everyone had read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Those were examples that were in the public domain, and certainly indicated some methods of approach. But the detailed operational procedures of the UCS were worked out as we went along.
Aaserud:So, that the environmental concern was a longstanding interest of yours.
Aaserud:It was not just something you did because you couldn't do other things; it was a real and positive concern.
Kendall:Oh yes, I was very much interested in that, controlling the destruction.
Aaserud:One particular example of entering the public sphere was the method of Congressional testimony.
Kendall:Well, that came later. We gave Congressional testimony in 1969, but it didn't amount to anything. By the time I was giving Congressional testimony on reactor safety and things of that sort, we knew what we were doing, and our approach was beginning to have teeth in it.
Aaserud:So that the use of other kinds of media precedes the Congressional testimony.
Aaserud:Well, what are examples of the first experiences of that kind of effort?
Kendall:Well, we had numerous examples. As I look back on that part of UCS that I was involved in, which continued on through many years, and as I compare that with many other citizen groups that I have seen at various stages of formation (some established, some struggling to get established, some just being organized (we made basically the right choices all along, right from the beginning. We made good choices of how we planned what we would do, how we picked topics, and how we approached them. I mean, we did not take choices that led to waste of time, or ineffective projects; we became effective right from the start. We stated close to home and organized a number of local subjects. Close to 1969 and later the working group did studies to support the implementation of the Clean Air Act, did technical studies, got other experts to support our views, and gave testimony in Massachusetts legislature. We did essentially a muckraking study of the Department of Public Health, which was in scandalous shape at the time. We got publicity from that.
And then in 1971, I got into the big issue, the reactor safety business, which basically made UCS a nationally known organization. By that time, we had already learned reasonably completely how to proceed, although we had no resources to speak of. On the safety business we did a technical study, wrote a paper, had a news conference, and we were launched.
Aaserud:Then you were really covered, on a week to week basis at any rate, it seems (not quite, but close. I looked at the New York Times during the period, and the first mention is in July 1971.
Kendall:That's right, that was our first news conference.
Aaserud:And then it goes on and on.
Oh yes, we've been cited in the New York Times an enormous number of times, over the years; it must be between one and two hundred times, I guess.
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