Conrad Longmire

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ORAL HISTORIES
Image not available
Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview dates
probably 2004
Disclaimer text

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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:

Interview of Conrad Longmire by Dan

Ford on probably 2004,Audio and video interviews about the life and work of Richard Garwin, 2004-2012Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/40912-17

For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.

In this interview Conrad Longmire discusses topics such as: Richard Garwin, Edward Teller, hydrogen bomb.This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.

Transcript

[Abrupt start of recorded material]

Longmire:

… in addition, I am contemplating writing an unclassified thing, and publishing it in the New York Times. Okay?

Ford:

Okay.

Longmire:

I think Dick can tell you the truth, if he can do it in an unclassified way.

Ford:

I think what you've just said is essentially what Dick has already told me.

Longmire:

Yeah, that’s good. That’s very good.

Ford:

There's no ambiguity in his mind.

Longmire:

The other thing I wanted to say is that … this will not be a very long thing, by the way … is that Edward was totally wrong in his accusing Los Alamos of dragging their feet. When he was doing that, he was trying to persuade other people to come and join the work. And he did not know how to build the hydrogen bomb, or the Super. And he really blamed his own shortcomings on the Lab. He was the associate director for weapon development. His job was to suggest calculations or tests that could lead to the Super. But he didn't do it.

In fact, I remember a meeting, that's probably the first meeting of the Family Committee, in which Norris invited him to go to the blackboard and tell us what we could do, what tests we could do to make progress. And he had to say that, well, he was not ready to do that. So he was really blaming his own shortcomings or his own lack of knowing what to do on the Lab. Does that also agree from what you heard from Dick?

Ford:

I had a long talk with Herb York, and he was telling me that in this testament thing, that basically he said that it exaggerated Dick's role.

Longmire:

It did. I don't know why that happened, unless it might have been that he had just had a conversation with Dick the day before he did that.

Ford:

York said that it was his impression that it exaggerated Dick's role by leaving out other people.

Longmire:

Well that could be so.

Ford:

But he said it also underestimated Dick's role because Dick did lots of other things there that … telling them things … doesn’t say anything about at all.

Longmire:

Edward got mad and left, so he didn't really know who did what at that time. When he came back later, he had to do some library research, to find out who did what. But it is really true that Edward is the guy that invented the H-bomb.

Ford:

Dick said absolutely nothing to the contrary of that. I guess the main thing that I want to clarify is that Dick made these engineering sketches in July of 1951.

Longmire:

Right. There were a lot of sketches in the Lab at the time.

Ford:

The thing I wanted to find out is were those the sketches …

Longmire:

Were those the key to the …

Ford:

Well when they made MIKE, was that the basis of Mike?

Longmire:

Mike was similar to that. The main contribution in that work of Dick's, I think, was to, had to do with saying how you could do the mechanics of the cryogenic part of it. The general shape and so forth were not original to that report.

Ford:

That's what Dick said. He said the box within a box, whatever system they called it — he didn’t invent that. What he did was the engineering because he had done all of this work on cryogenics.

Longmire:

Yeah, he was making a theoretical design of the cryogenic structure. I believe what was built was close to his suggestion. It appears that he told you exactly what happened.

The important concept, as you probably know, was the radiation implosion.

Ford:

Yes. You said that Ulam did not play a big role in that.

Longmire:

No, he didn’t. Ulam did not understand radiation. Ulam was a good mathematician. If you read his book, he said in his book that he used analogies a lot; how important analogy is in mathematics. What Stan proposed in analogy to the high-explosive implosion of the fission bomb. He did not, he could not have proposed the radiation implosion. In fact, very few people knew enough about the properties of matter with respect to radiation flow to do it. Edward knew about it because he was very close to the work of the opacity calculations.

By the way, do you have a technical background?

Ford:

I'm an economist by training, but I worked for ten years with Henry Kendall at the Union of Concerned Scientists, so I have battlefield experience with physics. I wrote a book about the nuclear command and control system called The Button. I have a little bit of feel for it, but I don’t claim expertise. But one of the things that's very clear to me dealing with Garwin, which is in part what makes it difficult trying to write a biography of him, is that he is quite insistent.

Longmire:

He had a thorough understanding of the technical aspect.

Ford:

The other thing — he's quite insistent that I make clear that most of the things that he has worked on has been collaborative efforts. I'm sure he did X, Y, and Z that was pretty flashy. But it was by no means a lone superman.

Longmire:

I'm sure that he would himself like to write what happened, the history of the story. But he is restrained by the classification aspects. So he can't tell you everything. He can't tell you all the facts. In that case, it's always hard to know or to feel that what is presented will reflect the truth.

Ford:

That's why — I wrote for the New Yorker magazine for ten years. And we have a fact checking department that goes back and forth and back and forth. And that's why I want to be totally, totally clear that if he says that these engineering sketches were in fact used to build Mike, I want to have somebody else who knows confirm that. And you have, so that's very helpful.

Longmire:

I'm sure that what Dick would tell you is the truth, but it may not be the whole truth because of classification.

Ford:

I understand. And this report that you've done, this classified history — I do have your email address, and I'll drop you a note with my address. If you do hear from …

Longmire:

Do you have an email address?

Ford:

I will send it to you. I have yours. If you do hear from Los Alamos that you're able, permitted, to discuss this in more detail, I would be happy to know that.

Longmire:

Okay.

Ford:

Great. Well, thank you very much.

Longmire:

Okay. You're welcome.

Let me just tell you one more thing. There's the book, Dark Sun, which is — in general a tremendous amount of work went into that book. There's a lot of very good information in it. There's one thing that does not come out right, and that is there's the Teller/Ulam report and how important that was for the H-bomb. Well, the H-bomb was not mentioned in that report. The only thing mentioned in it was another version of the super. I guess I'd better not say anymore about it. But the H-bomb was not mentioned in that report. That came later.

Ford:

What was the name of John Wheeler's book?

Longmire:

Essentially it was his autobiography. Hold on, let me go look at it. I'll find it in just about a minute. [cuts out]

Ford:

I'm sorry, I lost you for a second. The title of the book was what?

Longmire:

Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam.

Ford:

Weapons?

Longmire:

No, those are topics in physics. You've heard of black holes?

Ford:

Black holes, yes.

Longmire:

Geons are a quantum of the gravitational field. And quantum foam has to do with quantum fluctuations that happen. But anyway, that's the title of the book. And I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding it.

Ford:

I'll go to the Harvard Library.

Longmire:

By John Archibald Wheeler. This book is about three or four years old, I believe. Okay?

Ford:

Great.

Longmire:

I forget who was the publisher. Hold on. WW Norton. New York/London. Never heard of them.

Ford:

They're a big deal.

Longmire:

Okay. Anyway, he doesn't talk at great length about this, but what he says is correct.

Ford:

Right. Okay. Excellent. Thank you very much.

Longmire:

Thank you. I'll probably talk to you again.

Ford:

Great. Bye-bye.

Longmire:

Bye-bye.