tv Oral Histories CSPAN September 26, 2015 5:15pm-6:01pm EDT
and disliked him intensely, as did i, by the way, and he asked me my opinion and i said, don't do it. this guy is nothing but trouble. but he did it anyway because he felt like a dog in the manger. well, that was the apartment where greenglass gave his secret information to his rosenberg-law, julius , and in the end, i friend had serious problems with the afterty people about that the war and it even rubbed off a little on me because i defended him, which was not the political thing to do during mccarthyism, but the consequences for me were minor, mainly because i was lucky that mccarthyism was just about over by the time that they got to me. [indiscernible]
do you know him? : very slightly and i don't think he knew me at all. you have to understand that i was a very insignificant player. man,s working for dick fein that is how i knew people at all. i was working for him at a very basic level. and i a desk calculator did that for him a lot and if he inman had thek fe kind of electronic, programmable electric calculator that you can buy today for $50, he would not all.needed me at luckily for me, he did need
that, so i had the opportunity to be with him for lots and lots of time. he was fascinating. i did not do much for him. >> tell us about dick feinman? murray: he was different than anybody else and i met many great physicists. he was a very intuitive person. he looked at everything in a different way. his way was always clearer and better than if you would've thought of something by yourself the keyword there is clearer. the moment you were told something, you could see that. to not do whatle he told you. he was my professor and you could learn physics from dick youman phenomenally, and
learned all these great insights, but you cannot learn how to do physics because only he could do that. dick feynman's idea of proof was to find an example of a mathematical proof. he had so much insight that he could pick two examples that they could test it at every week int, and mere po mortals had to actually prove it. when we grumbled, as i sometimes did, that his proofs were not rigorous, he would say, "do you know what rigor mortis means? it means died of too much rigor." one way of explaining how it was with dick feynman is that you could go to his lectures, and they were magnificent, but you could know more learn how to do physics that way then you could learn to dance by watching him be a ballerina.
it just cannot be done. exposure to neutrons. i was working on theories, so i didn't have any exposure to neutrons at all. laboratorye in the who were doing experimental work often took risks that nobody would accept except under the pressure of war. all, other young men like us were in the trenches in france, and they did experiments that today would be considered insanely dangerous. example was lou is slotin. . was in a similar group what they were doing was that they had the two halves of a
plutonium bomb. the lower half was held on a table and the upper half was being gradually lowered, and as they got closer, the neutron activity came greater and greater. the neutrons in one half were more likely to strike the other half as they came closer together. and by seeing the amount of neutron activity which they could monitor, you would hear a click every time a neutron was detected in the counter, was to see how that depended upon the distance the tween the two. two.stance between the now the war was over, and you may ask, why were they doing horriblengerously experiment? you never raised the second hemisphere because if you dropped it and the two came
together, you had not a bomb and that would make a physical explosion, but you had a bomb it would make an explosion of neutrons. for whatever reason, they were lowering it, and they dropped it. slotin -- and louis slotin had the upper hemisphere in his hand and he threw it away, but it was all over. there was a burst of neutrons, nobody heard anything. the fact that he threw it away was irrelevant, i think it just expanded enough to exterminate the reaction. they already out the door. i was told, i was not present. there was an armed guard, whenever you had to tony him, there was an armed soldier, even though we were ringed by layers of soldiers anyway, and he was standing next to the door where he was out of the way.
he was out of the room last because he didn't know anything was going on at all. 10 days later, louis slotin died. now i was asking, why were they doing such a dangerous experiment when the war was over? and the only answer i can give that makes any sense to me, i never asked any other people who had been involved, the only answer i can give, really, is that that was the momentum, this is what they did. they were accustomed to doing these experiments, they were scientifically fascinating, the information wasn't needed in such a hurry anymore, but it just would have been against the culture of the time and the place to stop and say, this is too dangerous, let's not do it. after the trinity explosion, oppenheimer said, now, the physicists have known sin. i had not earlier heard any
statements doubting that this was a good thing to do. i am sure that older and wiser people probably did have such discussions. i was a 19-year-old kid. i don't know that that was statement of oppenheimer's really contributed to the discussion afterward, but it was a bit of a shock when we heard about it. now up until the trinity, did you -- what was the atmosphere? were people confident or really nervous that this would work? did you think this kind of thing was going to work before trinity? --ray: the people i thought i talked with thought it would all work. i don't know what kind of odd, but that are that all money.
we certainly hoped it would work. we never really thought about the consequences. >> you know, after the -- murray: you know, let me supplement that a little. you know, we were fighting -- the war against germany ended pretty early. we were fighting japan. the hatred of japan and of the purvey says,really it was stoked continually by the newspapers and by the government pervasive, itly was stoked continually by the newspapers and by the government. i would like to think it wasn't racial, but it probably was. when the bomb exploded over hiroshima, we just interrupted we justhe rep did -- errupted in cheers, you know? the more people dead, the better. >> how did you feel about the
decision to drop the second bomb? murray: i questioned it at the time. i'm sorry, the decision to drop the second bomb on nagasaki, even after such a short time, even i had my doubts about that. it seemed -- it seemed unnecessary. we had not given them time to organize themselves to surrender. person, even the emperor, does not successfully surrender. he has to get the generals to agree to stop fighting. >> now you didn't participate in the trinity tests, right? murray: no, the only people who went to trinity were people who had something to do there or who were leaders of the project and could hardly be denied the opportunity. >> and what -- did you know what was going on? murray: oh sure. sure.
>> at the keyword he talked -- -- i think you already know and you talked about that -- murray: yes, i did know what was going on. and so forth, but the whole getting down to the [indiscernible] alamos well, life at los was not just work. waye was fun and a peculiar , being in a war tends to be fun if you are not seeing danger and the terrible destruction and all of that stuff because everybody knows what he has to do and there are no doubts about what you will do in the long-term future. it is an easy life if you are or if your loved ones are not really victims of the war. one of the things that happened to me was almost a comic opera.
after the trinity test, a few weeks later, well, almost immediately after the test, a few people went in to measure the radiation. they went into the crater which it had left. this is a crater of about 10 feet deep and about 100 feet in diameter, i don't know exactly. needed tonteers were go in and dig out some a blast gauges so one could figure out how strong the blast had been. and i and the other members of my group, there were five of us altogether, volunteered. did it partly out of curiosity but partly because we had a feeling that a lot of the experimenters had already been exposed to a lot of radioactivity and we had not. so the idea is that we would drive across the desert to that
spot and then we would go in and dig out those blast gauges. we know, we had a map that showed where they were before the explosion, and in the end, they did not move very much. so we did that. there,e in their -- in and we got out and we walked on this famous green glass that was all over the place and we dug out those gauges. we had radiation gauges on us, very primitive ones, but we never reached the level of radiation that would've cost us to retreat, in those days, today, i suppose we would. we were all covered with radioactive dust, so we stripped clothesof our close -- and we threw them in the trunk of the car and there were these five naked men driving in a
sedan across the desert, nobody wore shoes except me, i was driving the sedan and we were in the desert and the pedals and then wel were hot and got back to the base and we showered and we went home. it was very funny. next thing i the would love to have you talk was in your notes as well and it is about philip morrison. tell us about him. murray: phil morrison. after the war ended, my group is operated -- group evaporated. i was left alone in it. that was very useless. philip morrison was working on a very novel type of reactor. i went to go see him and sure, he always had use for hands.
so we worked on building this reactor in a canyon that was next to the mesa where the technical area was. it was surrounded by its own gate, and it had its own card and machine gun -- its own guards and its own machine gun. i had a scary experience there. i went to work on something, and i was alone in this concrete building that we had to build this reactor. the guards were very nervous because there had been alleged to be an invasion. i am sure there had not. but a guard doing the rounds to see that the windows were closed happily, just checking things out -- were closed properly.
he had been found unconscious on the floor. he claimed that and intruder had slugged him. phil morris, in charge of the project, speculated he was swinging on one of the hooks the ceiling and crashed into something. however that may be, there i was alone, these guards were terribly nervous. they told me to stay away from the windows. half-hourbeen there a i was so nervous, there was no use my staying. i toldwanted to leave, them i was about to come out the door. by that time i figured it out. said,ed them, and they just come out the door. i said, nothing doing, you come out and get me. i tell you this story to illustrate the level of tension around the place. phil was a remarkable man.
he was a theoretical physicist, but he was one of the people who armed the bomb. he was leaving this project, building this reactor. he was very versatile. working with him was really quite inspiring. foras also a man who worked the cane and cannot stand straight. he was a victim of polio as a child. he stood at eight feet tall. after the war, he was one of my professors at los alamos. phil had been one of the first few people to go into japan after the bombing and to talk with people. he was so horrified by what he saw that he became a tireless crusader against the use of nuclear weapons. he tried, in many ways, to get this thing under control. he was a person who had a lot of
trouble during mccarthyism because his generation didn't find communism so threatening in the days before. you really found out what it's base was like. he was persecuted by one of the congressional committees. i am not quite sure. the reason they were after him was interesting. they were really after oppenheimer. but they didn't have a handle on him yet. they were going after his former students. phil was one. they were trying to frighten them into implicating oppenheimer, seeing that he had been a member of the communist party, which he may well have been. it was very interesting that phil, like many of his fellows in that class, was furious with oppenheimer.
because oppenheimer was visibly throwing these people to the wolves in order to protect himself. angry as they were at him, they were willing to take horrible risks rather than help bring him down because of his symbolic value. -- i have it only from him, but it is absolutely certainly true -- phil, in being questioned by this committee, refused to testify on some untried constitutional grounds that could well have landed him in jail. his good luck was that this was an executive session. if he had defied them that way in an open session, they could not have let him off the hook. phil morrison was a professor at cornell after the war, where i remained closely associated with him. time this -- or during the
congressional committee was after him, the fbi was trailing him. we had many humorous incidents of things that they did. it was pretty darn serious for him. there was, of course, pressure from the trustees at cornell to have him fired. tenure, luckily, otherwise they would have fired him. any of those things stop him in his campaign to get nuclear energy under control. tireless in his efforts also to fight mccarthyism, not only for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others. person to whom this country is enormously in debt. about the you think
degree, the emphasis on secrecy? murray: yeah, secrecy. that's a very hard question. we had david green class-- greenglass. perhaps there were other leaks too that i did know about. general groves would have liked to treat the place as well we might've thought of as a prison camp. but it wasn't that way. oppenheimer felt we would make much better progress if people could share of problems and solutions. i am sure that if they had clamped down, if none of us was ever allowed to leave the mesa, if the external phone lines had , if they had monitored closely whom we spoke to him when, instead of relying on us to use discretion, i am sure that the leaks would have been
slower. claus knewr hand, the only important secret before he came to los alamos. the only important secret was we thought we could do it and were working on it. lped ae rest, eh, it he little to know these things, but that was when stalin knew that he had to get his guys working on. >> was that secret available? murray: they knew about it, perhaps from others. he provided them with technical information, i am sure. i spoke to someone in moscow at the time, the russian equivalent of los alamos and oak ridge.
in 1980-something, earlier, 1970-something, long after the war was over. that could shut off had this wonderful intuition about nuclear cross-sections, nuclear reaction rates. they made measurements of various kinds. he would say, this one looks f unny, maybe you better do that when again. now we know why. he had information outside. i should add to that, that i know nothing about these things directly, only what i have read. but from everything that i have read and also from knowing him very slightly, i do not believe
that greenglass could have given them anything usual -- anything useful. he was a machinist. david greenglass was a machinist. he was in the army, as i was. luckily for me i do not associate with him because i didn't like him. >> did you know ted hall? murray: no, i did not know ted hall. well, i probably met him. when he became famous later, i barely remembered him. >> the bomb, and the race with the germany [indiscernible]
murray: should we have built that bomb? and having built it, should we have used it? which are justs the reflections of a person who has been thinking about it for many years. it has little to do with my experience directly at los alamos. i was not part of any of these decision processes. it was known, not by us, that the germans had given up, i think,- around 1942, i certainly around 1934 -- 1944. racing against the germans was some powerful incentive to work on it.
we certainly knew when the war ended that we were no longer in a race with germany. we continued work on it at the same pace, taking the experimenters, taking the same deadly risks without giving it a moment's thought, most of us. there was one person that left the project, and others who had grave doubts. i did not. we were working on it. we were still at war with japan. the war with japan was won, but if we appreciated it, we didn't pay much attention to it. i think we even relished the idea of using this weapon on the japanese, at least many of us did. i am afraid i did. well, should we have built that bomb? in retrospect, i think that the answer is yes, but for a totally different reason than the ones i just mentioned.
norman ramsey, who was on the plane that accompanied the hirshoma bombing, said in a public speech in answer to a "if we had notn, used to the bomb to end that war, it is highly probable that it would have been used to start the next war. more than likely, by us." that's a very interesting statement. we would not have done the experiment that showed us how horrible the consequences were. we would have had a lot more of them. and others would have used them on us. it does not speak to the question, should we have built the bomb? but it's related to it.
once this had been discovered in 1939, it had been -- once fission had been discovered in 1939, it was obvious to physicists around the world that the possibility of making a fission bomb existed. it was not obvious that it would succeed, but only a few relatively easy experiments were needed to find out. how many neutrons for fission, things like that. soviets could not have trusted each other. they would have had to go for it. and we would've had to go for it. we had the advantage of great industrial superiority. they had a ruined economy. thathey had the advantage stalin could force all the best people to work on it. we did not have that advantage. it's not obvious that we could have gotten all these people to
leave their universities and go to los alamos. one may speculate, but it's certainly a result by chelation -- certainly a reasonable speculation that they would have gotten there first. the issue of using the bomb is much more complicated. important reasons, pro and con, have been given. people have debated that for a long time. reasons pro, the most obvious reason, is that we were about to invade japan. we anticipated one million casualties, of whom 1/4th would have been dead. we anticipated that in the process we would have killed many millions, maybe tens of millions of innocent japanese civilians. we could end the war right then and there.
that was certainly a powerful reason. sorry, rhodes -- i'm richard b frank, the military historian mentioned another reason that i had not heard until i read his book. wasjapanese army, he said, killing 100,000 people a month in china and manchuria, civilians that is. every day that you waited to use that bomb, 3000 more would be killed. i'd don't know -- i don't know if that would have influenced the decision makers. what would have is that russia was ready to join the war. had jointed, -- had joined it, in fact, a few weeks after the bomb was dropped. if we had let them help us with
the invasion of japan, they would have shared in the occupation. oft leads to a kind calculus.y awful in that sense, the people of nagasaki were the first victims of the cold war. the awful thing is, that in that sense, everybody else in japan was a beneficiary of our having used the bomb. i have many japanese friends, and i have gingerly felt about. i have yet to speak with one that did not say in some way, that they were somehow relieved. though i i'm sure there are such ones. but i have yet to speak with one.
that was a reason for using it. also, we had cracked the japanese code. we knew what the emperor and the generals and admirals were saying to each other. , who has readk the translated transcripts says that they were not ready to surrender. on the other hand, martin sherwin, who was also an historian, has done that same thing. he thinks that they were ready to surrender. he thinks that the people around president truman knew that they were ready to surrender on condition that they get to keep their emperor, which was the condition on which they finally surrendered anyway. truman easily see that and the generals faced with the choice between using that bomb
or carrying out that dangerous, that dreadful invasion, might have found it a very easy decision to use the bomb. that is the discussion that one is generally hears. that really begs the issue. the question really was, why invade? the japanese were defeated. why not warn them? why not make an attempt to get them to surrender? i think the historians are all in agreement that no such attempt was made. so you ask, should we have done it? i've not quite sure. i think not. by doing it, we caused all that suffering, which you can maybe write off against the suffering that would have occurred had we not done it. you could say that we did nothing new, because on march 9,
1945, we had conducted a 1000 plane rate over tokyo and killed at least 100,000 people. but you know, it was really a qualitatively new weapon. raid is something you can mount once in a war, maybe. we lost 30 b-29s and all that stuff. this was a raid by one airplane. you could do it once a week if you could make the bombs once a week. it did something else, too. it destroyed our moral leadership in the world. whatever we had been thinking, other people in the world saw that we had used this horrible new weapon on a defenseless, u nworn, civilian population. and incidentally, that these civilians were not white, were not christian.
people had to learn a lesson from that. every country in the world had to face the fact that we might be willing to bomb them, under some circumstances. especially the third world countries. to which we do not have the same attachment that we have two europe. -- have to europe. in balance, i think that a well-meaning president made the worst decision that anybody in the world has ever made. as far as my own department is concerned, i recognized that we had to do that and i didn't have anything to do with the decision. i wish i hadn't.
>> why do you think the argument that, if we hadn't used it in a different world war, it might start the next war, and that would have been far worse? murray: that is what norman ramsey indicated. it could easily have been a true. the russians could have gotten there first and attacked us. -- but, the notion that we would not, unprovoked by what we thought was a survival problem, use that on people, is one which i think is very naive. these decisions are not made by you or me. they are made by military
people, who are used to doing things that you and i shudder to think of. they are made by presidents who are subject to amazing pressures and may not be thinking all that clearly. let me tell you, it is not only they. 38, bertrand19 russell, urged in a public speech that we should use those bombs to attack the soviet union before they got them. if bertrand russell could suggest such a thing, i think norman ramsey is right. we might have done it. it should you -- it showed you -- you remember i told you i went to clean up the lab after
an accident. was funny, there were ordinary janitorial type workers. mostly people who lived in the area, who are to go in and clean up the place. phil asked them to do that and they refused. they said all the bugs in there were dead. phil just laughed and said, i guarantee if you put new bugs in it they won't die. because they had died in the explosion or starvation in the time that the lab was closed. it doesn't take very long. but they were afraid. another person and i went in and cleaned it up. it was not dangerous. there was so little induced radioactivity it was nothing to consider. we went in and be cleaned out
this stuff. shows a sidelight on the way we continued to go on and do things. had there been any doubt, there was no hurry about cleaning up. the plutonium had already been removed. >> with live coverage of the u.s. house on c-span in the senate on c-span2, here on c-span three week of lament that coverage by showing you the most relevant congressional hearings and public affairs events. on weekends, c-span3 is the home to american history tv, with programs that tell our nation's stories, including six unique series. the civil war 150th anniversary. on american artifacts, touring museums and historic sites to discover what artifacts reveal about america's past. history bookshelf, with the best-known american history writers. the presidency, looking at the legacies of our nations mangers and chief.
lectures on history with top college professors delving into america's past. and reel america, featuring archival government and educational films through the 1930's-19 70's. created by dtv industry -- by the cable tv industry. watch us in hd, like us on facebook, or follow us on twitter. >> author christopher kolakowski talks about the experiences of citizens during the fall of richmond and the decisions by confederate leaders that led to the surrender at appomattox. he draws comparisons between appomattox in the battle of the tonic during world war ii to show how general grant and lee's actions at appomattox later influenced later military leaders. the emerging civil war blog hosted this event. it is about 50 minutes. >> our first speaker this morning comes to us from the macarthur memorial in a norfolk, virginia.
when i was there visiting this spring. it was my first opportunity to get it down and visit. he said the only thing that is equitable for the type of thing he is overseeing would be a presidential library. that stunned me a little bit. that is a significant thing. if you think about what douglas macarthur did during world war ii, afterwards in korea, he really shaped the face of the pacific in a way that no one else has. that repository of documents and memorabilia and artifacts is really a significant component of the 20th-century. chris kolakowski is the caretaker of that. it was really quite a remarkable shift for me, as i understood what chris is up to down there. but that's his day job. by night, he is still in love with the american civil war.
he got started in fredericksburg in spotsylvania. he has since gone on to perryville, where he was in charge of the battlefield out there. he has gone on to the george patton museum, that got him into world war ii, which led him at norfolk at the macarthur memorial. but he still goes to bed at night and dreams about the civil war. [laughter] so it is my great delight to introduce to you migrate polish -- my great polish brethern, chris kolakowski. [applause] murray good mr. kolakowski: good morning everybody. i have been introduced in many ways over many years. consistently the most interesting, not the most embarrassing, but some of the more chuckle-inducing introductions, from my polish -- come from my polish brother
here. i encourage you all to come down to norfork and visit the macarthur memorial. it's a fantastic place and i am proud to be leader of the team that preserves the life and times of macarthur memorial. if that gig doesn't work with you, i can probably find you a spot on the staff. i think you are doing ok up in new york. [laughter] day,you go first in the it's a bit of a responsibility. i set the pace for everybody else. it also presents a challenge for me. because i'm going first, you are still waking up. it means hopefully you won't hhs"ce any hesitations or "u or anything like that. but my history and colleagues are hoping i don't set to rigorous of the pace as well. too rigorous of a pace as well.
we are going to have a far ranging discussion and i will take questions at the end. it will set the stage for the rest of the topics of the day. we talk about the civil war. the civil war ended in 1855. it ended at appomattox. the last confederate forces hundred 50 years ago today have yet to surrender. the shenandoah will hold down the last like in 18 city five. -- 1865. what i want to do, the truism is that the war ended at appomattox, april 9, 1865 when robert e lee surrendered to u.s. grant. that's a good starting point. what i want to do is not focus on appomattox so much, although we will talk about it. but i want to pull the lens back
and look at appomattox in context. the end of the war, any war, not just the civil war, but we are passing several anniversaries of end of complex. the end of the war of 1812, the end of american involvement in vietnam with the fall of saigon, the end of the second world war, both in may of this year and in august, coming up in just a few weeks. the end of the war, any war, is the beginning of the peace. how that ending goes can reverberate for a long time. where want to do for the next 45 minutes is unpack that statement. i want to explore some of these. the way the war ended but the reverberations as well of to the present day. let's start not with appomattox. let's start with the other great ending of april, 1855, the first 10 days or so. -- 1865.