National Service, Presidential Memories
I have had the privilege of serving the last ten presidents of the United States --Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald W. Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. I have also met President Bill Clinton (and Herbert Hoover) and thus nearly one-third of all the presidents of the United States.
I am pleased that my knowledge and experience as a scientist (and, perhaps, as an administrator) placed me in a position to provide national service to these presidents. I am also pleased that I have also been able, through much of this period of time, to be an active researcher, teacher or university administrator.
My opportunities for national service have been interesting and instructive. The office of the President of the United States holds many pressures, and I feel privileged to have personally known so many of the men who have occupied that office, and to have observed and learned from the characteristics and values that each brought to his position. For various reasons, including among them the limited length of the following reminiscences, which focus on my work from 1946 - 1971, I have chosen not to make personal observations here comparing the effectiveness of each of these men nor will I fully elaborate on aspects of national policy, international crises and my many travels as a scientist and public servant. I have written a book which chronicles these fascinating subjects in detail and will be published soon.
My relations with each president were good, and in some cases, very close. I will not forget the merit and dedication of some of these men whose courage and conviction sustained them in the performance of their immense responsibilities.
The following material has been taken from my personal journals and in-house publications produced under the aegis of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Helen and I first encountered Harry Truman on July 21, 1944, while we were living in Chicago. We were listening on the radio to the Democratic National Convention; then, on the spur of the moment, we decided to go by streetcar from our apartment on the south side of Chicago, to the not so distant Convention Hall at the Coliseum, also located on the south side of Chicago. We simply walked into the unguarded Convention Hall, where we saw Harry Truman make his acceptance speech for the vice-presidential nomination. We found a place where we stood quite close to Truman as he gave his speech.
My first contact with Harry Truman (after he became president) came in December, 1946, soon after the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as the successor to the Manhattan Engineer District (MED). Quoting from my journal of December 3, 1946:
“While attending a meeting this morning, I received a telephone call from AEC Commissioner Robert Bacher (in Washington, D.C.), inviting me to be a member of the nine-member statutory General Advisory Committee to the AEC. I immediately accepted. Bacher informed me that there will be about six meetings a year; the stipend will be $50 per day. I reported the news of my appointment to Ernest Lawrence.”
Soon thereafter, I received a letter from President Truman acknowledging my acceptance of membership on the General Advisory Committee (GAC). The initial members of the GAC were an impressive group--J. Robert Oppenheimer (who served as Chairman), Enrico Fermi, James B. Conant, Isidor I. Rabi, Lee A. DuBridge, Cyril S. Smith, and industrialists Hood Worthington and Hartley Rowe. With such a membership, the GAC exerted tremendous influence on the initial Commissioners of the AEC--David E. Lilienthal (Chairman), Lewis L. Strauss, Robert F. Bacher, Sumner T. Pike and William W. Waymack.
The GAC held its first meeting in Washington on January 3, 1947, and on the average, we met every other month. I served on the GAC to the end of my term on August 1, 1950. We were very influential in advising the AEC on the rehabilitation of the Los Alamos Weapons Laboratory (which had become somewhat disorganized after the end of the war), the operation of the AEC facilities for the production of fissionable material, the diminishing role of secrecy in the operation of the AEC, the distribution of radioactive isotopes produced in the AEC facilities, the instigation of the AEC’s marvelous program of support of basic research in U.S. universities and colleges, the operation of the national laboratories, the direction of the emerging civilian nuclear power program, the AEC organizational structure, and many other areas where we thought our advice, sought or unsought, would be helpful.
A GAC action that gained the most publicity was the recommendation (at a meeting in October, 1949, which I missed due to a visit to Sweden) that the AEC not proceed with a high priority program to develop the hydrogen bomb. I had sent a letter to Oppenheimer saying that I had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the United States should proceed with such a program because it was certain that the Soviet Union would do so. The members of the GAC learned from President Harry Truman on January 31, 1950, of his decision that the United States should proceed with the development and production of the hydrogen bomb.
I had participated earlier in an important recommendation to President Truman that was not accepted. While at the war-time Metallurgical Laboratory, I was a member of the “Franck Committee,” which was concerned with the social and political implications of the emerging field of atomic energy in June, 1945. We were concerned especially with the frightening role of the atomic bomb which was nearly ready for use in the war with Japan. Our committee consisted of James Franck (Chairman), Donald J. Hughes, James J. Nickson, Eugene Rabinowitch, Joyce C. Stearns, and Leo Szilard. Our report, which became known as the “Franck Report,” recommended that a “demonstration of the new weapon might be made, before the eyes of representatives of all the United Nations, in the desert or a barren island.” This event would be followed by an ultimatum to Japan to surrender, with the implication that thus many Japanese lives would be saved. The indications are that neither the Franck Report nor petitions from scientists making a similar recommendation reached President Truman (who sailed by ship for Europe on July 6, to confer with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin), although he may have been briefed on the gist of the recommendations. In any case, the recommendation was not accepted.
I met Harry Truman on a number of occasions following his presidency. I recall a memorable meeting with him at a stop in Kansas City on June 25, 1965, en route to San Francisco on Air Force One with President Lyndon B. Johnson:
“President Johnson had breakfast with former President Harry Truman. I had breakfast with Senator Frank Church in the coffee shop. I participated in a motorcade to the airport. President Johnson presented me to Truman in front of the press and news and television cameras. I recalled to Truman that I had been a member, upon his appointment, of the first GAC of the AEC.”
Although my contacts with Harry Truman were not extensive, I did receive the impression that he was a decisive person and deserved his widespread characterization as a “no-nonsense” man of action. . . .Harry S. Truman Library
Dwight David Eisenhower
My first encounter with President Eisenhower came at a dinner at the White House on February 4, 1958:
“Helen and I went to a white tie dinner at the White House, first going to the East Room to assemble with the other guests, prior to passing through the receiving line to be greeted by the President and Mrs. Eisenhower. (The President was suffering from a slight cold.) We then proceeded to the west end of the White House and the State Dining Room, where Farrington Daniels escorted Helen and I accompanied Mrs. Daniels to our seats. . . .
There were about 100 guests at tonight’s dinner, three-tenths of whom were military, and the rest scientists and their spouses. Tables were decorated with red carnations in gold tureens. After dinner, the women accompanied Mrs. Eisenhower to the Red Room for coffee, liqueurs, and cigarettes while the men joined President Eisenhower in the Green Room for coffee, liqueurs, cigars, and cigarettes. The President spoke to some of us about the recent launching of our space satellite and the importance of science in today’s society; he was very personable and approachable.
We then converged in the Blue Room, and the President greeted about 150 additional guests, including members of the Atomic Energy Commission, members of the National Advisory Committee in Aeronautics, the Little Cabinet of the Defense Department, and others.
Anna Russell (International Concert Comedian) entertained the guests in the East Room with such hilarious interpretations as a lady president of a women’s club; singing a passionately sentimental song; a madrigal quartet in which she took all the parts; a skit entitled “Wind Instruments I Have Known.” In the latter she put together a bagpipe with humorous remarks and vocalizing. The Marine Band played throughout the evening, and some of the guests danced to the music.”
On January 26, 1959, James Killian, Chairman of the newly-created President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), extended to me President Eisenhower’s invitation to become a member of the Committee. He told me the Committee usually met on the third Monday and Tuesday of each month. I accepted with the understanding that my first attendance would be at the April meeting (April 20–21, 1959). Missing only a few meetings, I served on the PSAC until the end of Eisenhower’s term as president and thus, my last meeting was on December 18–20, 1960. George Kistiakowsky assumed the chairmanship of the PSAC, effective July 15, 1959, and served until the end of Eisenhower’s term.
The PSAC considered a wide range of topics, with some emphasis on military matters. Illustrative of the topics are the names of the many PSAC Panels, consisting of members of the PSAC and additional knowledgeable scientists and engineers--AICBM, Anti-Submarine Warfare, Arms Limitation and Control, Basic Research and Graduate Education, Chemicals, Continental Air Defense, Early Warning, High Energy Accelerator Physics, Life Sciences, Limited Warfare Missiles, Science and Foreign Relations, Space Science, and Ad Hoc Missiles Study.
The PSAC generally met in room 220 of the Executive Office Building, next to the White House, and the meeting was punctuated with lunch in the White House Mess. In February, 1960, we met at the Navy base at Key West, Florida, flying there in a special plane after taking off from Andrews Air Force Base in a heavy snowstorm. Occasionally, we met with President Eisenhower. I recall a meeting in the Oval Office with President Eisenhower on May 19, 1959. We discussed the growing complexity in military systems (the president commented that military establishments are, and always have been, obsolete), the importance of arms control (the president agreed emphatically), the cessation of nuclear testing in the atmosphere (the president suggested that PSAC continue to advocate this), and the strengthening of science in the free world.
Our meeting on September 15, 1959, coincided with the meeting of President Eisenhower with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, so we all visited the White House lawn that afternoon to watch Khrushchev’s arrival.
I served as Chairman of the Panel on Basic Research and Graduate Education. My panel finished our report, “Scientific Progress, the Universities and the Federal Government,” by the time of the November, 1960, meeting of the PSAC; the report later became known as “the Seaborg Report.” When the report was made available to President Eisenhower, he became so interested that he actually edited and made some changes in it. When the members of the PSAC met with the president on December 19, 1960, in the Oval Office of the White House, he took special note of my PSAC Panel Report. Perhaps the report’s most famous recommendation was the statement that the basis of general policy should be that basic research and the education of scientists go best together as inseparable functions of universities. Furthermore, the report also stated that federal support for basic research and graduate education in the sciences should be continued and flexibly increased, so as to support excellence where it already exists, and to encourage new centers of outstanding work.
Dwight Eisenhower was impressive in many ways, and I particularly admired his dedication to the achievement of an agreement to put an end to the testing of nuclear weapons. Helen and I were pleased to attend, on October 9–12, 1990, the observation of the centennial of President Eisenhower’s birth at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A description of this impressive event, including the texts of the talks and discussions, has been published as a book The Eisenhower Legacy: Discussion of Presidential Leadership. . . .
Dwight D. Eisenhower Library
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
A telephone call that changed my life came on the afternoon of January 9, 1961. I was in the HILAC Building of the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley. My habit each Monday was to take refuge there from my administrative duties as chancellor of the Berkeley campus in order to follow progress in my own academic field, nuclear chemistry. The call came from President-elect John F. Kennedy. He asked me to accept the job of Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. When I asked him how much time I had to make up my mind, he said, “Take your time. You don’t have to let me know until tomorrow morning.”
That evening I discussed Kennedy’s offer of the chairmanship of the AEC with my wife Helen, and our six children. It was a big decision because we would be taking all five of our school-age children out of their schools and away from their friends. The kids did not like the idea of moving from Lafayette, California, to Washington, D.C. and during dinner, demanded a vote on this issue. The vote was seven to one against moving (with Helen and the six kids, including one-year-old Dianne, voting against.) However, I exercised the veto power inherent in the head of a democratic institution and said, “I think we should make the move.”
Within a few days I accepted the offer, and I met John Kennedy on Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961. I arrived in Washington to take over my duties on January 31, 1961, and my family joined me at the end of the school year in June, 1961. I accepted the position with the understanding that I would serve for the remainder of retiring AEC Chairman John McCone’s term--i.e., for two-and-a-half years, until August 1, 1963. Little did I know that I would remain in this post for ten-and-a-half years, throughout the presidential terms of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and two-and-a-half years into the term of Richard M. Nixon. Copies of my journals are available in the three presidential libraries--in Boston, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; and Whittier, California. These journals (AEC journals) cover for each president, the respective relevant periods of time--six volumes for February 1, 1961–November 22, 1963; eleven volumes for November 23, 1963–January 19, 1969; and eight volumes for January 20, 1969–November 6, 1971. Copies of the 25 volumes (plus three appendix volumes) of the AEC journals are deposited at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the Library of Congress, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles Main Library, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the National Archives, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Energy History Division. Also in the Kennedy Library are interviews of me, conducted in 1964 by AEC historian Richard G. Hewlett on movie film. The three presidential libraries contain many records pertaining to my service as AEC Chairman.
As AEC Chairman, I was a member of a number of inter-agency committees that existed for all or part of my tenure. Foremost of these was the Committee of Principals, which advised the president on arms control policy. Established by President Eisenhower, this group expanded and achieved new prominence under President Kennedy, continued to be important in the Johnson Administration, and then abandoned by President Nixon in favor of more closely held White House control. Other committees whose meetings I or my designated representative attended included the Federal Council of Science and Technology (FCST, 1961-1971, composed of scientific representatives of federal agencies that had a science component in their operations); the U.S. Intelligence Board; the Federal Radiation Council (1961-1969); the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (1961-1965); the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), as an observer and as an alumnus of this committee; the National Aeronautics and Space Council (1961-1971); and the National Council on Marine Resources and Engineering Development (1966-1971). Vice Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Spiro Agnew served as chairmen of the Space Council, and Humphrey and Agnew of the Marine Council--I first became well acquainted with Lyndon Johnson because of his service as chairman of the Space Council.
President Kennedy had an especially close relationship with his Science and Technology Advisor, Jerome Wiesner, whom he had known since before he became president. I met with Kennedy many times in my role as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission--during some periods, on an almost daily basis, when such items as nuclear weapons testing and the question of a test ban were paramount issues. My contacts were on an individual basis, but more often, during meetings of the Cabinet or the National Security Council (or one of its subcommittees) whenever some item of interest to the AEC was discussed. I had a good deal of success in my contacts with President Kennedy whenever I requested the inclusion of items of special interest to me in the AEC’s budget. I recall an early meeting with him (on March 9, 1961) at which Wiesner and I convinced him to retain funds in the AEC budget for the construction of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).
Shortly after the inauguration, President Kennedy very soon made an historic visit to the AEC’s Germantown headquarters on February 16, 1961, traveling from the White House by helicopter. On the way, I told him a little about the AEC program. He had coffee with me in my office before meeting with the AEC staff. Following this, I gave him a short introductory briefing on the fundamentals of atomic and nuclear structure.
Quoting from my journal of February 16, 1961:
“After this, we proceeded to the Commission meeting room where all present rose to their feet. I introduced Dwight Ink, the person nearest at hand, to the President, and Bob Hollingsworth, then introduced in turn the staff members occupying front row seats as the President proceeded down the row. These included Colonel Allan Anderson, Brigadier General Austin Betts, Dr. Frank Pittman, Dr. Paul McDaniel, John Hall, Dr. Charles Dunham and Hugo Eskildson....As I escorted the President over to his seat at the far side of the oval table, the members of the President’s staff, General Clifton, Dr. Wiesner and Mr. Bundy, passed down the front row introducing themselves and shaking hands with each person in that row.
All persons promptly took their places. The President’s chair was in the middle of the far side of the oval table, directly opposite the lectern to be used by the speakers. Eight other officials occupied places at the table. Viewed from the lectern we were seated, left to right, as follows: General Luedecke, General Clifton, Commissioner Olson, Acting Chairman Graham, the President, myself, Commissioner Wilson, Dr. Wiesner and Mr. Bundy.
On the left side of the lectern and facing the President was the easel for charts; on the right side was a translucent screen for the projection of slides and transparencies. A cut-away model of a Polaris submarine, about two feet long, was on the table to the right of the lectern. Speakers and watchers were seated in three rows on the opposite side of the room from the President and behind the lectern, easel, and screen which served to obstruct their view and render them less conspicuous.
I opened the discussion at 10 a.m. with a few brief remarks on fundamental physics. I contrasted chemical energy, released through rearrangement of planetary electrons, and nuclear energy, derived from rearrangement of particles within the nucleus. By way of explaining both I then contrasted fission reactions and fusion reactions and described in the simplest terms the uses, potential and actual, which man makes of these reactions with weapons, reactors, and thermonuclear devices. I pointed out that the limit to the usefulness of nuclear energy is man himself because of the effects of radiation and in this connection emphasized the Commission’s concern for greater understanding of radiation effects and for protecting public health and safety. I brought out that the fission process is self-initiating and self-perpetuating at normal temperatures while the fusion process requires the creation of an environment of extremely high temperature which can be maintained only with great difficulty. I also pointed out that a very great potential advantage of the fusion reaction is the absence of residual radioactivity such as is created by fission products.
I then gave a broad-brush picture of the principal AEC activities covering: military weapons, propulsion for ships and aircraft, peaceful uses, civilian power reactors, nuclear propulsion and auxiliary power for rockets, production and use of radioactive isotopes, research program in physics, chemistry, materials and biology and medicine, the regulatory role of the Commission, the operating budget, the value of capital plant, the number of employees, etc.”
Next, AEC staff members provided briefings which took until about 11:15 a.m. I then presented to the president a number of policy questions. This took until about 12:10 p.m., much longer than planned. The president seemed to be very interested throughout, and asked many questions in the course of the briefings and policy discussions. We returned by helicopter to the White House, where we arrived at about 12:40 p.m.
With the Soviets breaking the moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons by their resumption of atmospheric nuclear testing on September 1, 1961, I had many meetings with Kennedy to consider what our course of action should be. Kennedy decided that the United States would resume underground testing, and the timetable for these tests had to be worked out. Our first nuclear test took place in Nevada on September 15, 1961. We also held discussions on whether or not we (the U.S.) should resume atmospheric testing. I appeared on the NBC television program, “Meet The Press,” on October 29, 1961, for which the president briefed me on an answer that I might give to the inevitable question concerning whether the United States had decided to resume atmospheric testing. The president told me “to be very forthcoming, but not to reveal anything of substance.”
The opening of the program (in which I used the guidance from President Kennedy) was as follows:
“SPIVAK: Dr. Seaborg, I know it hasn’t been announced, but can you tell us--has a final decision been made yet as to whether or not the U.S. will test in the atmosphere?
SEABORG: The final decision has not been made yet, Mr. Spivak.
SPIVAK: Can you tell us when it will be made?
SEABORG: No, I can’t tell you when it will be made--if it will be made.
SPIVAK: Can you tell us what the final decision will be based on?
SEABORG: Well, the final decision will be made by the President, of course, and I suppose that he would want to base it in large part on the result of the analysis of the Soviet tests. I would also suppose that he would never take this decision to test in the atmosphere on the basis of political or terroristic considerations, such has been at least part of the reason for the Russian testing, but would base his decision entirely on the technical need for the information in the interests of our national security.”
I spent a very interesting half-hour responding to the persistent questions of Lawrence Spivak (the permanent member of the “Meet the Press” panel), Marquis Childs (a widely syndicated newspaper columnist), John Finney (the aggressive New York Times reporter), and Peter Hackes (NBC News).
One of the most important sessions on nuclear weapons and related security matters was held at the presidential summer home in Palm Beach, Florida, just before Christmas, on December 20, 1961. On this occasion, we ate dinner in the family dining room where I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jacqueline Kennedy, whom I found to be a very interesting conversationalist. The next day I flew with the president and his party to Bermuda for a two-day meeting in Bermuda with United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Macmillian and his advisors, including Sir William Penny (Chairman of the United Kingdom’s Atomic Energy Authority). My memory of the Kennedy in these early meetings, an image strengthened and reinforced as time went on, is of a man remarkable for his immediate grasp of ideas, his ability to arrive at the gist of a discussion, and his eloquence in summarizing the main points at issue.
He was the first president to make a personal presentation of the Atomic Energy Commission’s highest honor, the Enrico Fermi Award; he made these presentations in 1961 and 1962, and had planned to do so again on December 2, 1963. On the first of these occasions--the presentation of the Fermi Award to Hans Bethe in the White House in 1961--the camera caught all of us smiling when I somewhat tardily handed over the $50,000 check for the president to present to Dr. Bethe--the president having just read the citation in tones of convincing finality.
Helen and I flew with President Kennedy and his entourage on Air Force One to California on March 23, 1962, when he gave the University of California’s Charter Day address in Memorial Stadium.
We flew from Andrews Air Force Base to Alameda Naval Air Station, leaving at 8:50 a.m. and arriving at 10:55 a.m. Others in the party included California Senator Clair Engle and Congressmen George Miller and Jeffrey Cohelan. I participated in a parade (with the president, Ed Pauley, and Governor Pat Brown in the lead car) through Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley. The presidential party then proceeded to the Radiation Laboratory where, in Building 70A, we briefed the president using a display of model weapons and command-and-control devices. Robert McNamara, Harold Brown, Norris Bradbury, John Foster, Edwin McMillan, Edward Teller, Roger Batzel, Carl Haussman, Marvin Martin, Ted Merkle, Duane Sewell, Duncan McDougall, Robert Frohn, and Michael May were present.
We then went to University House on campus, where Kennedy met U.C. President Clark Kerr, the Regents, chancellors from other campuses, deans and so forth, and their wives. After lunch, we went to Memorial Stadium, where after the inauguration of Ed Strong as Chancellor (of U.C. Berkeley), the president spoke to a crowd of 85,000 to 90,000 people, occupying all the seats and covering the floor of the stadium. He gave an inspiring address, speaking largely extemporaneously, though he had a prepared text to which he could refer. He opened with personal references to a number of the Berkeley people in his administration about whom I had briefed him during the airplane ride on the way out in the morning.
Helen and I were privileged to attend the famous dinner for Nobel Prize winners held in the White House the evening of April 29, 1962. There were 49 Nobel Prize winners, most with their wives and including one woman Nobelist, Pearl Buck among the 175 guests at this black tie dinner. The winners of the Nobel Prize the previous year were the featured guests--Melvin Calvin (Chemistry), Robert Hofstadter and Rudolf Mossbauer (Physics), and Georg von Bekesy (Physiology or Medicine). The assembled group of 49 Nobel Prize winners had our pictures taken with President and Mrs. Kennedy, and including such people as Mrs. Ernest Hemingway and Mrs. George C. Marshall.
The president spoke in the State Dining Room where he was seated at one of 14 festively decorated tables, where I was also seated. A loudspeaker beamed his words to the neighboring Blue Room where First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy presided over five additional tables, and where Helen was seated.
It is on this occasion that Kennedy made his famous extemporaneous remark, “I think this is the most extraordinary talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Among the 175 people present, including in many cases, spouses, were Lester Pearson, Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy, astronaut John Glenn, John Dos Passos (writer), Robert Frost (poet), Lee DuBridge, James Killian, George Kistiakowsky, Robert Oppenheimer, Alan Waterman, Jerome Wiesner, Clark Kerr (President of the University of California), Nathan Pusey (President of Harvard University), and Norman Cousins (writer). Gold cloths covered the tables in the State Dining Room and the Truman China with green and gold borders was used. In the Blue Room, the cloths continued the blue theme while the Harrison China with blue and gold bands was used there.
In a conversation with Robert Oppenheimer, I asked if he would accept the Fermi Award if offered, and he replied that he would. In reply to another question, he indicated that he wouldn’t want to go through another hearing process to get his security clearance renewed.
After dinner, when we had assembled in the East Room, we were privileged to hear Frederic March perform. He read three works by past Nobel Prize winners. One was a short foreword by the late novelist Sinclair Lewis. March followed this by reading the stirring words spoken by General George C. Marshall when, as Secretary of State, he spoke at Harvard University upon the inception of the Marshall Plan. Lastly, March recited a moving chapter from an unpublished novel of the sea by the late Ernest Hemingway.
In December, 1962, I visited the Los Alamos Laboratory, the Sandia Laboratory, and the Nevada Test Site with President Kennedy. I recall flying over the Sedan Crater with him and remember his fascination with the size of the hole (1500 feet in diameter and 400 feet deep). He wanted his helicopter pilot to land on the crater’s edge for a closer look. When the pilot, after some difficulty, persuaded the president that the dust might be deep and cause a problem in taking off, he asked that a low-level flight be made around the crater and this was done.
In May, 1963, I led a ten-man delegation to the Soviet Union for a tour of nuclear facilities. The president made Air Force One available to our delegation, and we arrived in Moscow on May 19, after a record-breaking eight hours and 39 minutes non-stop flight from Washington, D.C. Our tour of facilities, some not shown before to Western scientists, and the cordial treatment we received, helped to affirm my belief that science can successfully serve as a common meeting ground and a common language between the East and West. I met and had a long talk, at this time, with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev. I believe that my visit played a role in setting the stage for the successful negotiations that led to an agreement on the Limited Test Ban Treaty during Averell Harriman’s “Twelve Days in Moscow” some two months later.
In August, 1963, I flew on Air Force One with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and his delegation to be present in Moscow on August 5 for the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. This historic signing (by Dean Rusk, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and British Foreign Secretary Lord Home) took place at 4:30 p.m. in the Kremlin in Catherine’s Hall. A meeting with Premier Nikita Khrushchev in his office that morning preceded the signing and a reception in the Georgian Hall followed the signing ceremony:
“From 11 a.m. to 12 noon the U.S. delegation visited Nikita Khrushchev in his Kremlin office, which is long and narrow. We sat at a table with a green felt top, like a pool table. There were windows on the west side, pictures of Lenin and Marx, an electric clock on Khrushchev’s desk, bookcases, and two telephones at the conference table. (I saw only one telephone at Khrushchev’s desk.) Gromyko, Kuznetsov, Smirnovsky, and Dobrynin were present. After greetings by Khrushchev and Rusk, Khrushchev said the Test Ban Treaty was only a first step and that the main problem is the German problem. He said liquidation of the Government of the German Democratic Peoples’ Republic would not be a victory for the United States, nor would a Communist win (i.e., liquidation of the Federal Republic) be a victory for the Soviets, and that a common solution was needed. Rusk recognized that the German solution is fundamental, and he will discuss it with members of the Soviet Government. Rusk said we understand the historical reasons why it is important to the Soviet Union--we, too, went through two World Wars--but the German people need an opportunity for peace so as not to give them reason to start trouble again. There has been a relaxation of tensions in East Europe in the last year.
Khrushchev observed that Rusk doesn’t use the term Socialist country but says “the East.” Rusk said that “some people in the United States call us Socialist.” Khrushchev said “such a man to say that.” Rusk said that the Yugoslav Government is less involved in its country’s economy than the U.S. Government is in the American economy. Khrushchev said, “capitalism gave birth to communism, let’s compete in culture instead of rockets.” Rusk said that Glenn Seaborg, Stewart Udall and Orville Freeman have visited the Soviet Union and advancement of relations continues; let’s cooperate in the peaceful uses of atomic energy, education, etc.
Rusk then called on Senator Fulbright, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright recalled Khrushchev’s pleasant meeting with his Committee four years ago. He referred to U.S. internal trouble of 100 years ago, which has been overcome and now the South gets along with “the damn Yankees.” Similarly the United States and the Soviets can get along. The United States is capitalistic, but actually, a mixed economy. Someone has said the Soviet Union is promoting capitalism. Also, the U.S. Democratic Party has been accused of promoting socialism. The differences are less than we think. He recalled that someone said Khrushchev would be a good member of Congress and that Khrushchev replied, “You don’t get to be Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers by being stupid.” Khrushchev agreed on our common goals.
Khrushchev said, “You (U.S.) go forward on private property; we (USSR) on common property. We are for everyone; you are for ‘every man for himself.’” Udall paid eulogy to the USSR achievement in power plants. “The Soviet Union will solve problems in agriculture drastically in seven years, and completely by the 1980’s.” Khrushchev said they are putting billions of rubles into chemical industry, agriculture, etc. He showed a sample of some plastics and a plastic cup. Khrushchev invited Rusk to come down to the Black Sea for a dip because his vacation begins tomorrow; whereupon Gromyko said Rusk shouldn’t swim toward Turkey. On the way out of his office I talked to Khrushchev and he referred to me as “my old friend.”
The U.S. delegation then toured the Kremlin Arms Chamber Museum and rooms in the large Kremlin Palace. We had lunch in the oldest room of the Kremlin (built 500 years ago), at a large U-shaped table with about 100 guests. Khrushchev, Rusk, Home and U Thant spoke--all along lines of a test ban as a symbolic step. We retired to an anteroom for coffee and brandy. At lunch I sat next to Ilychev (Secretary for Ideology of the Central Committee, an historian and speech writer) and Ya. V. Peive (Chairman, Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet, a biochemist from Riga), and near Petrosyants and K. N. Rudnev (Deputy Chairman, Council of Ministers, and Chairman, State Committee for Coordination of Scientific Research Work, a mechanical engineer).
At 4:30 p.m. we attended the historic signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, in Catherine’s Hall, by Rusk, Gromyko and Home simultaneously, followed by speeches by Gromyko, Rusk, Home and U Thant. I stood just behind Khrushchev and he and I tipped our champagne glasses together for toasts at least five times. About 50–60 press representatives and photographers were present.
At about 5:15 p.m. we attended a huge reception in Georgian Hall (magnificent!) where Khrushchev pulled a prepared speech out of his pocket, and delivered it. I took a picture of him with my Minox camera (which was perhaps a risky endeavor). I had a chance to talk to Brezhnev, Petrosyants, Gromyko, Kuznetsov, Dobrynin, Zorin, Tsarapkin, and Voroshilov (of the military).
That evening I went to the circus and walked through Gorky Park with Senator Pastore.
A glorious day.”
I have described in my book, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Test Ban (written with my colleague Benjamin S. Loeb), Kennedy’s central role in the achievement of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. (Visits to the John F. Kennedy Library, in Boston, Massachusetts, were helpful in the writing of the book.) On April 11, 1988, accompanied by Helen, I participated, along with numerous other members of the Kennedy Administration, in the commemoration (which was videotaped) of the 25th anniversary of the Limited Test Ban Treaty at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.
One day in June, 1963, I received a telegram at home from President Kennedy expressing delight that I had consented to re-appointment as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. This was later confirmed by a letter on June 27, 1963Although I couldn’t remember ever discussing this with him, it seemed to me that I couldn’t turn down the President of the United States, so I accepted the re-appointment.
As I have indicated, I accompanied Kennedy on a remarkable number of visits to AEC installations--the AEC headquarters at Germantown, Maryland; the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley; the Los Alamos Laboratory and the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico; and the Nuclear Weapons Test Site in Nevada. He also visited the Hanford Plant in Washington, accompanied by Commissioner Gerald Tape on September 26, 1963 (while I was in Europe attending the IAEA General Conference). Even before he became president, while he was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, he and his wife Jacqueline visited the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
I last saw President Kennedy on a question concerning the production of fissionable materials. The day was November 8, 1963. At that time, he was, as always, cordial and attentive, and quickly grasped the problem. He displayed his usual quick wit and friendly humor.
There was a tragic irony in the circumstances in which the news of President Kennedy’s assassination reached me. As on January 9, 1961, when he called to invite me to assume the position as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, again, I was in the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory of the University of California, and again, I was in the HILAC Building, this time, participating in the reciprocal visit of Soviet scientists. I was called aside, because of some very important news. I stepped away and was told that the president and Texas Governor John Connally had been shot.
I was devastated to learn of the death of this vital and vibrant young man, John Kennedy, who had brought such a new air of optimism to Washington with his exciting “New Frontier.” He had an almost unique appreciation and understanding of the important role of science and scientists in modern society. I particularly appreciated his complete dedication to the attainment of a treaty to end the testing of nuclear weapons. . . .
John F. Kennedy Library
Lyndon Baines Johnson
The presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson is perhaps remembered chiefly for his extraordinarily successful promotion of his concept of The Great Society and, unfortunately, his role as a leader in the Vietnam War. As Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, I didn’t play any important role in the achievement of the former, but I did watch (as a result of my attendance at numerous meetings) with awe and admiration, his complete dedication to and success in initiating this ambitious social program. I was also in a position to see how the over-optimistic advice and urgings of his military advisors led inevitably to our ensnarement into the Vietnam War. I recall that I was visiting the San Francisco Bay Area with my administrative assistant, Arnold Fritsch, when we saw and heard on March 31, 1968, the televised speech by President Johnson, in which he announced the de-escalation of the Vietnam War and the cessation of bombing on North Vietnam, and, surprisingly, his decision not to seek or accept the Democratic nomination for president.
I have recounted in detail in my book, Stemming the Tide—Arms Control in the Johnson Years (written with my colleague Benjamin S. Loeb), Johnson’s important role in the final achievement of the Nonproliferation Treaty. (Visits to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, were helpful for the writing of this book.) Success came only as he turned his attention seriously to the attainment of this objective. He also was well on the road toward the achievement of the SALT treaty when he was thwarted in this objective by the untimely Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Johnson had perhaps the strongest and most overwhelming personality of any person that I have ever known. His ability to bring key members of Congress around to his way of thinking and to support of his legislative program was something to behold. I watched in amazement as he pursued his successful methods of persuasion. My wife Helen characterized his presence, on the basis of her personal experience, as literally “surrounding” the person to whom he was talking. However, during such conversations, Helen also felt that he had a genuine interest in her activities.
When Johnson wanted information or advice, he wanted it right away. For this reason, one had to be prepared to present the full story on the spot. If you did not manage to make all your points the first time around, it was unlikely that you would be allowed a second opportunity. I remember one time when I was swimming at the University Club after work, as was my custom at that time. The University Club is a men’s club (or was, at that time), and so members generally swam in the nude. As I completed a lap, an excited pool attendant informed me that the President of the United States wished to speak with me on the phone. Dripping wet, I took the call and marshaled all of my arguments against a proposition which I did not support. I remember feeling rather foolish, debating an issue with the president in that pose; however, I knew that the president might not wait until I grabbed a towel to bolster my sense of dignity.
It has been said that Johnson tended to place people in two categories--those he liked and trusted, and those whom he did not. Clearly, on the basis of his relations with me, he placed me in the favorable category. He apparently was convinced that I was straightforward, without a hidden agenda, in my dealings with him.
As during the Kennedy Administration, I attended meetings of the Cabinet and the National Security Council whenever some item of interest to the AEC was discussed. An especially interesting and important meeting of the Cabinet took place on October 20, 1964. The main topics of discussion were three unsettling events that had taken place at distant places during the preceding few days. These were the first nuclear weapons test in the People’s Republic of China; the unexpected ouster of Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev who was replaced by Leonid I. Brezhnev (and A.N. Kosygin); and the electoral loss of the incumbent Conservatives in Great Britain to the Labour party led by Harold Wilson (thought to be less friendly to U.S. policy).
Johnson himself was not one to worry much about appearances. In fact, he cultivated his folksy image and was in his element at his ranch. Both LBJ and Lady Bird took obvious pleasure in showing guests their ranch in Texas, and on one occasion, Johnson presented Bureau of the Budget (BOB) Director Charles Schultze and me with the challenge of continuing the debate on major items in the AEC budget while he drove us around the ranch in his white Chrysler station wagon. In addition to other guests, passengers in the car included his six-year-old grandson Patrick Nugent and his dog Yuki, who both competed with us for his attention.
LBJ was very proud of his ranch, particularly of his collection of wild animals. On tours of the ranch, I saw lots of deer, including the native white-tailed Texas deer, English deer, Japanese deer, Axis deer, nilgai (a species of Cambodian antelope), and other antelope. On one tour, the president stopped his car, got out, and with considerable difficulty, chased some quail, back into an enclosure from which they had escaped. I commented that this was probably “as high-priced help as had ever chased quail”--which seemed to tickle him no end.
My meetings with President Johnson, at the LBJ Ranch in Texas in December of each year, to debate with the Director of the Bureau of the Budget disputed items in the AEC budget were uniformly successful. Following are some excerpts from my journal for Friday, December 10, 1965:
“I flew to Texas on a Jet Star, leaving National Airport at 7:30 a.m., with Commerce Secretary John Connor, Jim Webb, Don Hornig, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Krim, General Green (Commandant of the Marine Corps), and General H. K. Johnson (Chief of Staff of the Army). We arrived at the LBJ Ranch landing strip about 10 a.m. and were met by President and Mrs. Johnson. The President drove some of the group in one car and Mrs. Johnson drove another part of the group, including me and Jim Webb, in another car to the Ranch itself, which is just a few hundred yards from the landing strip. The President then went into a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary McNamara and Deputy Secretary Vance to
discuss budget matters and decisions concerning the Department of Defense...
...Later in the afternoon, after the President had seen Jim Webb and before he had seen Secretary John Connor and Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, I met with the President, along with BOB Director Charles Schultze, Don Hornig and Joe Califano to discuss the AEC budget issues....
...We then discussed the four so-called “A” items at issue in the FY 67 budget. The first item was the BOB suggestion that one of the ten presently operating plutonium production reactors be closed down. I resisted this strongly, emphasizing that a study is under way for the whole requirements picture, that this will be due in May, and that it would be unfortunate to prejudge the outcome of this. I pointed out the nonweapons needs for reactor products, such as radioisotopes, and emphasized the need for isotopes like Pu-238 to power an artificial heart. This seemed to impress the President, despite the fact, as pointed out by Hornig, that the cost of such a power source would be about $10,000 for each artificial heart. However, the President pointed out that such a cost would not be prohibitive and that the project might be worthwhile even if only one such artificial heart were available. I also mentioned the need for continued high neutron flux reactor operation and our suggestion that we should stockpile tritium. I also mentioned the political problems with the JCAE and other congressional committees attendant with shutting down another reactor. The President ruled in my favor, and said that we shouldn’t shut down a reactor.
The second “A” item issue involved the BOB recommendation that $4 million be cut from the weapons research and development budget, which would mean that it would be necessary to reduce rather substantially the personnel in the weapons laboratories. I made the argument that this would be contrary to the safeguards which had been endorsed by the President, and that it would have a great adverse effect on the morale of the laboratory people and on the ability of the laboratories to recruit. The President ruled in my favor that this cut should not be made.
We then discussed the item of $4 million for A&E on the 200 BeV Accelerator. I pointed out the need to have such a line item in the budget in order to be consistent with our actions to date, and to assure the scientific community that we are serious and to keep the design scientists on the job. Schultze pointed out the high cost of building the accelerator and the high operating cost. He pointed out that the construction cost would be $308 million, and by the time you add equipment needed at the accelerator site and at the universities for the users groups, the total cost would be about $400 million. He also pointed out that the operating cost would be about $60 million per year at the site and by the time you add the operating costs for the users at the universities, this would amount to $90–$100 million per year. He said he wanted to emphasize the tremendous cost that any commitment to build would entail. I described the status of the process for selecting the site for the 200 BeV Accelerator and mentioned some of the beneficial side effects of this site selection process, such as the awakening of various parts of the country to the value of educational institutions, scientific research and cultural activities. I said that some universities had obtained from their state legislatures money earmarked for research for the first time, as a result of the competition for the 200 BeV Accelerator. I also mentioned the time scale for the selection. The President ruled in favor of including the A&E money, but with the understanding that there would be no commitment at this time for building this very expensive facility.
The final “A” item was the $2.9 million for research and development and the $3 million for A&E for the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF). Schultze pointed out that we do have in the “A” budget a $45 million project to convert the AGS to higher intensities. He said that this AGS conversion, plus the 200 BeV Accelerator, is a very expensive program, and he doubted that we could add LAMPF to it. I emphasized the great scientific need for this project. I said it is a matter of making up our mind one way or the other, that is, either kill the project or add the requested funds to the budget, because the work has gone on in a state of indecision so long that it would not be possible to retain the scientists for another year without a decision. I also pointed out the strong support from Senator Clinton Anderson and the strong (essentially unanimous) support of the JCAE. The President said he would like to think about this further. (Just before I left the Ranch, at about 5 p.m., I learned that the President had decided to include this in the FY 67 budget.)
...During these discussions, the President sat in a reclining chair in a very relaxed fashion and at times had his eyes closed during the discussions. The room in which we met was rather dimly lit so that it was not possible to use the extensive backup material that I had brought along; however, this didn’t turn out to be necessary because I had studied the material thoroughly the night before and earlier in the week and on the plane coming down to the Ranch. At one point during the course of the discussion I mentioned that I thought Secretary McNamara is making a mistake in not including nuclear power for an aircraft carrier and a frigate in his budget.
Connor, Freeman, Webb, Hornig, Califano and I then went by helicopter to Austin, landing at the Civic Center, and we went on to the mezzanine of the Driskill Hotel where we participated in a press conference conducted by Bill Moyers, speaking individually and answering questions. I spoke about the President’s interest in the peaceful uses of atomic energy, particularly desalting, advanced reactors and breeders, and the use of radioisotopes in medicine, such as to power an artificial heart. One question put to me was about the time scale for choosing a site for the 200 BeV Accelerator. I replied that the NAS Committee will give us their recommendations in a few weeks and the Commission will make the choice of a site no sooner that a few months after that.”
On this occasion, I was able to “rescue” the 200 BeV Accelerator and the Los Alamos Meson Facility, and similar success in December meetings in subsequent years made possible the successful construction of these important accelerators. Many other AEC projects, nearly all that I presented for review to President Johnson at these yearly December meetings at the LBJ ranch, were similarly approved. He rescued many smaller projects from the understandable money-saving efforts of the Bureau of Budget and supported the development of civilian nuclear power. In the overall budgetary process, however, he was very conscious of the need for prudence and had no qualms about the elimination of some projects from the scientific arena, such as the Midwest Universities Research Association (MURA) Accelerator, nor about the curtailment of unneeded production facilities. In the latter category when he assumed office in 1963, he was completely unafraid to cut back drastically on the production of fissionable material despite the anticipated vigorous opposition from powerful elements in the Congress.
As an example of our interactions, I recall a meeting I had with the president in the Oval Office, lasting nearly all afternoon (2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on June 27, 1965). I had the impression that here was a man who suffered periods of lonesomeness in his position of exalted isolation and thus, longed to spend some time in conversation with a friend. The flavor of this meeting is captured in the following extract from my journal:
“The President had his lunch--a bowl of soup--during this conference, since his schedule in greeting astronauts McDivitt and White caused him to be running late. He also took numerous phone calls and placed a number of calls to people like McNamara, etc., during the conference. At the end of the appointment, the President asked me to stay on for the press conference that was to take place later in the afternoon. It was in the intervening period that I talked to Valenti and others at the White House about the President’s visit to the Radiation Laboratory and about his request to me to help in the preparation of the San Francisco U.N. Speech. I participated in the press conference, sitting behind his desk with the President and the Vice President. At the press conference, the President read almost verbatim from the material furnished with my letter of June 16, 1965, the sections on the IAEA safeguards system, on nonproliferation, the progress report on nuclear power, and the U.S.–USSR exchanges in atomic energy. The press conference ran until almost 6 p.m.”
(Actually, his visit to the University of California’s Radiation Laboratory did not materialize.)
Such brainstorming sessions were not uncommon with LBJ. Fortified with root beer, he jumped rapidly from one idea to the next, never limiting his notion of what one had to contribute to a particular area of expertise, and always keenly attentive to the potential public relations impact.
Even though Johnson did not worry much about how he appeared to others, he was very concerned with the image projected by his administration. His well-known habit of turning off the lights in the Oval Office, as an economy measure, approached the point of idiosyncrasy. I remember when we received instructions to give up our chauffeur-driven Cadillacs and ride in smaller, less ostentatious cars like Chevys. In the midst of an important meeting, LBJ interrupted the conversation to glare at me and demand to know why I was still riding in a Cadillac. I hastened to assure him that he had been misinformed, that I had traded in my Cadillac as soon as I received his instructions, and was already modestly riding in a more compact car.
A heartwarming event took place on August 1, 1966:
“At 4:30 p.m. Helen, Pete, Lynne, Steve, Dave, Eric, Dianne and I attended the ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Atomic Energy Act which was signed in 1946, and also the swearing-in ceremony of Commissioners Samuel Nabrit and Wilfrid Johnson. The ceremony was held in the East Room of the White House. Helen and the kids met President Johnson in the receiving line following the ceremony. The President said, “Hi, Honey Bun!” to Dianne, which thrilled her very much. The Commissioners had their picture taken with the President. The White House photographer took individual pictures of the kids and Helen with the President. There was a large crowd of atomic energy, industry, Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and academic people present at the ceremony.”
When the occasion called for it, Johnson withheld nothing in support of accomplishing his objective. At the meeting at the LBJ Ranch in December, 1966, I told him about a trip I was making to atomic energy installations in India and Pakistan, and mentioned that the State Department was strongly urging me to visit Bangkok, but that I found it difficult to do this since I felt that I had to be back in Washington by January 16. The following excerpt from my journal describes how LBJ changed my plans:
“...The President asked why I felt that I need to be back then, and I said that, among other things, I feel I should be here when Congress is back. He said he does not think this is necessary and that I make such a good envoy that he thinks it is much more important that I take this trip and stay as long as necessary, even if it takes all of January. The President then turned to [Joseph] Califano and told him to arrange to place a converted 707 (i.e., a KC–135) at my disposal so that I could take some of my staff and colleagues. This would be Secretary McNamara’s plane. The President suggested that I be given McNamara’s pilot, and if he is not available, his (the President’s) own pilot. He suggested that I give speeches on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, desalting, etc., and that I speak at universities, if possible. He suggested the inclusion of a press relations man, a steward, [our wives], and a doctor, if that would be helpful.”
As a result, we had a very successful trip around the world--visiting Australia, Thailand, India, and Pakistan--with my wife Helen and AEC Commissioner Gerald Tape and his wife Jo as members of our group.
A noteworthy occasion involving President Johnson was the 25th Anniversary Observance of the first Nuclear Chain Reaction at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1967:
“Following the warm-up session, I opened the program carried on satellite television between Italy and the United States by sending greetings to some of the group at the capitol in Rome (President Guiseppi Saragat, Minister of Industry and Commerce Giulio Andreotti, and Professor Carlo Salvetti). I made a few remarks about the significance of the Fermi experiment. I then introduced to the television audience Mrs. Fermi, the Fermi team as a group, Walter Zinn, Herbert Anderson, Mrs. Compton, Emilio Segrè, General Groves, Ambassador Ortona, Mayor Daley, and President Beadle. I then introduced President Johnson, in Washington, D.C., who spoke for 10 to 12 minutes on the significance of the Fermi experiment, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, suggested the 200 BeV Accelerator be “dedicated to Enrico Fermi” and said we would place our U.S. peaceful nuclear program under IAEA Safeguards as soon as a nonproliferation treaty was in effect. I then switched the program to Rome where President Saragat spoke from the capitol where a very impressive auditorium full of people was assembled. I then brought the program to a close by thanking President Saragat, President Johnson and the Fermi team. Although the program was not broadcast domestically, the major television networks taped it for later broadcast.”
President Johnson continued President Kennedy’s custom of presenting the AEC’s Fermi Award to the recipients. After some hesitation due to the anticipated strenuous disapproval by some members of Congress, Kennedy had approved the presentation of the $50,000 Award to J. Robert Oppenheimer. Johnson unhesitantly agreed to go ahead with the presentation on December 2, 1963:
“The presentation of the seventh Fermi Award to Robert Oppenheimer took place at the White House at 5 p.m. I presented Oppenheimer to President Johnson, who made a very moving presentation. Oppenheimer made an excellent response. Just before the ceremony Helen and I, Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer and their children, Peter and Tony, and Mrs. William S. Parsons met with President and Mrs. Johnson in his office. The ceremony, held in the Cabinet Room, was attended by a larger group than either of the two previous ceremonies held in the White House and the arrangements for this ceremony were better than for previous ones. After the ceremony Helen and I hosted a reception at the National Academy of Sciences, which was attended by about 150 people.”
I had convinced the president to make the offer to place our U.S. peaceful nuclear facilities program (i.e. our civilian nuclear power reactors) under AEC Safeguards--this was the step that broke the logjam in obtaining the Non-Proliferation Treaty the following year (1968).
The dinners in the White House were similar to those that Helen and I had attended during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. Following initial greetings in the East Room and the dinner in the State Dining Room, the guests gathered in the intervening rooms (the Red, Blue and Green Rooms) for conversation before going back to the East Room for the entertainment. For example, on November 14, 1967, Helen and I attended a White House dinner given by President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson in honor of Prime Minister and Mrs. Eisaku Sato of Japan. President and Mrs. Johnson welcomed their guests at the North Portico entrance. After the usual pre-dinner reception in the East Room, the guests proceeded to the State Dining Room and the Blue Room. I sat at a table with Mrs. Kenneth H. Burns (Washington, D.C.), Congressman Charles N. Youngblood (Michigan), Mrs. Leo Jaffe (Leo Jaffe was President of Columbia Pictures), Arnold Olsen (Montana), and Mrs. Rosel Hyde (Hyde was Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission).
Preceding his toast to Japan and its emperor, President Johnson referred to Abraham Lincoln: “Lincoln gave us a faith that no time or crisis can kill. It took time and patience, but Lincoln won peace at home. It is taking time and patience to win peace in the war.” I believe that he had in mind the war in Vietnam. Then Johnson quoted these words of Lincoln--“I am here. I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.” Pursuing this theme in his response, Prime Minister Sato praised the president for his war efforts.
President Johnson seemed to be in unusually good spirits and spent time with nearly every one of the approximately 185 guests, paying particular attention to the leaders of the new D.C. government. Besides President and Lady Bird Johnson, Helen and I talked to, during the evening, Vice President and Mrs. Hubert Humphrey, the Ambassador of Japan and Mrs. Shimada, Florida Representative and Mrs. Claude Pepper, Tennessee Representative and Mrs. Joe Evins, Texas Representative and Mrs. Jim Wright, General and Mrs. Maxwell D. Taylor, D.C. Mayor and Mrs. Walter E. Washington, Dr. and Mrs. Leland J. Haworth (Director, National Science Foundation), Richard Adler (composer), Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Douglas (actor), Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gibson (baseball pitcher), Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stanton (President, CBS), Mr. and Mrs. Wernor P. Gallander (President, National Association of Manufacturers), Illinois Governor and Mrs. Otto Kerner, Tony Bennett (popular singer), Mr. Howard Duff (actor ) and his wife Ms. Ida Lupino (actress), General and Mrs. William D. Eckert (Commissioner of baseball, New York), and West Virginia State Representative and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller IV, and others.
After dinner we all went to the East Room, where Tony Bennett, accompanied by a five-piece orchestra, entertained everyone by singing his famous “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and many other songs, including “Country Girl,” which he dedicated to “our great President Johnson.” It was a lively and very interesting evening.
Lyndon Johnson was dedicated to the goal of equal opportunity for all Americans. As I can testify from first-hand experience, Johnson was very determined that women and minorities be represented in the appointments to the five-member Atomic Energy Commission. In effect, twenty-five years ago, Lyndon Johnson anticipated and promulgated the importance of “diversity” to our nation, which we as a nation are only now beginning to recognize and advance. I and my fellow Commissioners were ordered to help him find a woman and an African American [then called Negro] for appointment to the Commission. This commitment resulted in the appointment of Mary (Polly) Bunting (President of Radcliffe College) and Samuel Nabrit (President of Texas Southern University), both of whom served with distinction.
Although in some ways LBJ was larger than life, towering over others both physically (although I had the advantage of being close to, even exceeding, his height) and emotionally, in the sense of his exuberant personality filling the room, he was, nonetheless, very human. In the midst of the Vietnam War, it became more and more clear how much the war weighed on him, and he showed this to others. I doubt that anyone will ever forget when he went on television to announce that he would not seek re-election, a speech in which he revealed his vulnerability about what history would have to say of him. He did take pride in much that was accomplished by his administration in the domestic area. His commitment to The Great Society was very real and obviously, he had never forgotten the poverty of his youth and his desire to improve the lot of poor or disenfranchised Americans. I suspect that in the long run history will recognize these accomplishments and credit LBJ’s dedication and determination. I know that I will long remember the genuine warmth of his friendship which was based on the solidest foundation for friendship, mutual respect.
In summary, I would describe President Johnson as a master politician, the possessor of a very interesting and complex personality (indeed, the most compelling I have known), a good friend or formidable adversary, and an energetic worker and effective performer. I was pleased to be counted among his friends.Lyndon B. Johnson Library
Richard Milhous Nixon
I first met Richard M. Nixon soon after he had been elected as a U.S. Congressman from California. We met on the occasion of the banquet for the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1947, held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Quoting from my journal for January 21, 1948:
“In Chattanooga. Some of the “Ten Outstanding Young Men,” at Missionary Ridge, where an exceedingly bloody battle took place in November of 1863.
The list of the “Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1947” includes Cord Meyer, Jr. (27, President of the United World Federalists, New York), Dr. Robert A. Hingson (34, among the first to use the new invention hypospray and a developer of caudal anesthesia to eliminate childbirth pain, Memphis), De Lesseps S. Morrison (35, Mayor of New Orleans), Lavon P. Peterson (28, blind founder of an engineering school for the blind, Omaha), Glenn T. Seaborg, Glenn Robert Davis (33, congressman, Waukesha, Wisconsin), James Quigg Newton, Jr. (35, Mayor of Denver), Richard M. Nixon (34, congressman, Whittier, California), Adrian Sanford Fisher (33, Atomic Energy Commission counselor, Washington, D.C.), and Thomas R. Reid (33, human relations expert, Baltimore).
All of us, except Reid and Morrison who were absent from the ceremonies, were honored, along with Harold Stassen (Republican candidate for President and the main speaker), by a reception in the Sun Room of the Read House at 5:40 p.m. Then at 7:30 p.m. we were introduced on ABC’s Vox Pop radio program, which originated as a national broadcast from Chattanooga High School. Highlighting the Vox Pop program for me was Barbara Jo Walker of Memphis, “Miss America” for 1947. After the 8:30 p.m. banquet and Stassen’s talk, we were presented at about 10:30 p.m. with ruby-studded Distinguished Service Keys in a ceremony broadcast over the ABC radio network. John Shepperd, President of the U. S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, presented the keys individually at the center mike. We each expressed our appreciation, and then Cord Meyer gave the response from the honorees. Paramount News filmed the ceremony.
It was a full evening, but it did have its lighter moments. A high school student asked me, “When you were doing that work, did you know you were going to make that discovery?” When I said, “No,” he responded with, “Oh, you mean you were just piddling around?” I then replied, “I guess that’s about the best definition of science yet.”
Nixon suggested to me that we should remain in touch with each other and ‘stick together.’ ”
I next encountered Nixon when he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate and visited us in the Radiation Laboratory on Friday, May 26, 1950:
“As scheduled, I gave Richard Nixon and his entourage a tour through our chemistry research labs. Even Al Ghiorso was polite (but cool). When one of Nixon’s aides announced that he (Nixon) and I were going to the Claremont Hotel for a photographic session, I realized that such photographs would constitute my endorsement of Nixon’s candidacy. I promptly and ineptly refused--however, Nixon quickly and gracefully accepted my excuse.”
I then encountered Nixon at the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl game on January 1, 1951:
“Before taking our seats at the game, we visited the restrooms and, while waiting for Helen and Jeanette, I saw Senator Richard Nixon, whom I have known since 1948 when we were both honored by being chosen one of the nation’s ten most outstanding young men. For some reason whenever I think of Richard Nixon, I am reminded of Dr. James Nickson, whom I knew during my Met Lab years, so I introduced Bill to James Nixon. When Nixon moved on, Bill remarked that he thought Nixon’s first name was Richard.”
I had a number of contacts with Vice President Nixon while I was Chancellor including an exchange in March, 1959, when he sent a message of congratulation to our University of California at Berkeley’s NCAA Championship basketball team. On April 30, 1959, I met with Nixon in his vice-presidential office in the Capitol Building. We discussed a number of matters, including the student exchange program with the Soviet Union, the widespread dissatisfaction in the academic community over the Loyalty Oath demanded by the National Defense Education Act (NDEA)--and the story on the naming of mendelevium, in case this might be useful on his forthcoming trip to Russia.
Vice President Nixon made good use of the information about the naming of mendelevium. In August I received a package, containing a precious book autographed by Mendeleev from Emmanuel Tsipelzon with a translation from Russian to English by Edward L. Freers of the American Embassy in Moscow of the following message:
“During this visit to the U.S.S.R., Vice President, U.S.A., R. Nixon informed us that before his departure for the Soviet Union he was visited by his friend, professor of chemistry, Mr. Seaborg, who named the 101st element, discovered by him, of the D.I. Mendeleev Periodic Table after this great Russian chemist.
In this friendly act of the American scientist each Soviet citizen discerns a great respect toward our people and its culture, as well as one of the steps toward the liquidation of the absurd, according to Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, tense state of “cold war” between two great nations.
May I present to you, in commemoration of your remarkable discovery and your noble act, the book by Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev “Fundamentals of Chemistry” with his autograph.
The autograph read:
‘To my deeply appreciated colleague, Dr. N.I. Bistrov, in commemoration of saving my son.
This letter from Tsipelzon, who described himself as “an old Moscow second-hand book dealer,” goes on to explain that Mendeleev presented this book to Bistrov when he arrived back in Moscow, having left the meeting of the Royal London Society where he was to read a paper because he heard that his son was deathly ill, and discovered that thanks to Bistrov, his son was already on the road to recovery.
I next met with Vice President Nixon in his office in the Capitol Building on December 14, 1959, when I was in town for a President’s Science Advisory Committee meeting. We discussed the problems in pre-college education, the potential use of TV in education, the need to remove the disclaimer provision of the student loan section of the NDEA, and the prospects for the 1960 presidential race. He believed that the Republican nomination would go to either himself or Nelson Rockefeller, and he thought the Democratic nomination would go to either Stuart Symington or Adlai Stevenson.
On May 16, 1960, again in connection with my visit to Washington for a PSAC meeting, I met with Nixon, who was then a clearly identified candidate for the presidency of the United States. We discussed the future of PSAC (he said he intended to keep the same members, but would pick a new chairman), the need for federal support of private and state universities (he said that such support should extend beyond that for building programs to include faculty salary, scholarships, and so forth), and the plans for the support of the Lawrence Hall of Science (he said that he would see to it that this receives federal support and that this would be his first campaign promise).
On Sunday, July 23, 1967, I had an interesting breakfast at the Bohemian Grove with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan:
“I attended a “Gin Fizz” breakfast at the Owl’s Nest Camp as Pauley’s guest. I sat at the same table as Governor Ronald Reagan, Dick Nixon, Preston Hotchkiss, Rannes, Ed Pauley, Art Linkletter and Herb Hoover, Jr. Harry Wellman, Franklin Murphy, Ed Strong, Dan London, Eddie Carlson were among those present. I discussed my recent South American trip with Nixon. I invited Governor Reagan to visit the Livermore Laboratory.
Pauley spoke to me privately, said he is on the spot because he cannot make a choice between Reagan and Nixon as the guest speaker. He asked if I would serve as the speaker and I agreed. Pauley then introduced me, emphasizing my Watts connection. [I attended David Starr Jordan high school in Watts.] I gave about a 30 minute talk on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy--electric power, desalting, energy complexes, maritime propulsion, nuclear rocket and auxiliary electric power, artificial heart, Plowshare, applications to dating, humanities, criminology, etc. It was very well received and when Reagan was called on he only spoke briefly and humorously saying he knew better than to follow an act like mine. In my question period Reagan asked questions about the use of neutron activation analysis for analysis of baby’s disease through fingernail clippings, etc. I admonished the group that California must solve its problems of nuclear power reactor siting and promised to send Herbert Hoover, Jr., a copy of my Commonwealth Club speech. Nixon also spoke briefly and humorously, saying Reagan should become Vice President so as to be elected to the Bohemian Club without a long wait.”
After first meeting with his assistant, Robert F. Ellsworth, on January 22, I had my first meeting with President Nixon on January 28, 1969:
“From 3:40 to 4:15 p.m. I had my first appointment with President Nixon with Lee A. DuBridge, Henry A. Kissinger, Robert F. Ellsworth, and H. R. Haldeman present....
...We discussed...the AEC’s peaceful uses of atomic energy program, the problem of high yield underground nuclear testing, and the shutdown of two reactors at Hanford.
The President asked us to enter his office before his preceding appointment had ended, consisting of a group which included Senator Scoop Jackson, Henry Kissinger, General Andrew Goodpaster, and Bryce Harlow. The President introduced us to these people, and as Senator Jackson was leaving, asked him in a semi-joking way what his recommendation on the SST would be. Jackson replied lightly that he had sort of a conflict of interest there and didn’t reply directly, but the President reiterated his interest in the SST.
We sat down on the two couches facing each other, in front of the fireplace which had a crackling fire. I sat on the couch next to the President, while DuBridge, Ellsworth and Kissinger sat on the opposite couch, and Haldeman sat on a chair in between the couches.
The President began by handing me a letter, with an accompanying envelope, saying it was self-explanatory. (This was the letter asking me to stay on as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.) He jokingly said it was a close decision, but that he had the final say....
...The President then raised the question of Plowshare in the peaceful uses of nuclear explosives and said that this is a subject in which he is very interested. He said he wants this to have a high priority in his Administration; in fact, he said he has a special prejudice for this program--the way all people have special quirks and prejudices--and hopes it can go forward expeditiously. He said he has heard of the Australian project and asked whether I could describe this to him.
The President had a two-page memorandum before him, which he glanced at occasionally as we spoke. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this might not have been a memorandum written by Ellsworth covering the conversation I had with Ellsworth, Whitehead and Hofgren last Wednesday, January 22.)...
...The President reiterated his interest in the peaceful uses of atomic energy and said he thought this was something that should be accelerated. As he was speaking in broad terms beyond the Plowshare aspect, I asked whether he had in mind power reactor development, and especially breeder development, and he said he did. He thus expanded his request for information on the peaceful uses of atomic energy on a rather broader scale than just the Plowshare program.
The President said he would like to set up some kind of a briefing session in which he and others might be briefed on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. He recalled in this connection the talk I had given at the Bohemian Grove at the breakfast which he attended (this was the talk at the Owl’s Nest in July, 1967) and how impressed he was by my description of the great potential in this field. I immediately suggested that he come to our Headquarters in Germantown and meet some of the key staff and be briefed on our program. He said he would like to do this and that the briefing might cover the weapons and national security aspects as well as the peaceful uses aspects of atomic energy. At first he said he might come out in about two months, but then as the conversation continued, he suggested it might be March. When I hinted it might be useful to come even earlier, he said he could possibly do it in February. He asked Haldeman to include the Atomic Energy Commission among the departments and agencies that he was scheduling for visits. He also suggested to Haldeman that Secretary of State Rogers should be included in the briefing at Germantown...
Somebody raised the question whether I should see the press; although I indicated it would probably be best if I left in low key without doing this, the President immediately suggested that he would prefer that I meet with the press--that he was making such meetings a part of his mode of operation. He suggested I might indicate that he had asked me to stay on as Chairman, that we had discussed a number of items, especially the peaceful uses of atomic energy. He suggested I indicate his interest in this field, mentioning especially the Plowshare program and the Australian harbor experiment and the power program, such as the breeder reactors. He also suggested I mention that he was going to visit the AEC at Germantown soon in order to be briefed further about the AEC’s program.
As the meeting broke up, the President suggested that a photographer come in to take some pictures for the historical record, which was done. The President and I recalled our meeting long ago--in January, 1948--at Chattanooga, when we were both in the group of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1947, chosen by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. I said I had a photograph of us in that context and asked whether he would autograph it, and he said he would be glad to do so. I also said I had a picture of him with my kids, taken in June, 1960, and he indicated very cordially that he would be glad to autograph this also.
After my appointment with the President, Ellsworth took me to the Press Room, where we met Ron Ziegler. We waited for a few minutes outside while Interior Secretary Walter Hickel was finishing his press conference; when he came out, I met him. Ziegler then took me to the packed Press Room to a microphone.
I began by saying that I had just finished meeting with the President and that the President has asked me to tell the press about our conversation. I said we had talked about some national security matters and then had gone on to discuss the AEC’s program for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. I said the President had expressed a great interest in this program and that he had especially singled out Plowshare and the power reactor breeder program. I said he has asked that these programs receive adequate attention and be accelerated by the AEC. I said he had mentioned a special interest in the use of nuclear explosives for the building of a harbor in Australia. I also said that the President indicated he intended to visit the AEC in its Germantown Headquarters sometime in February to receive a more thorough briefing on the AEC’s program....
...In answer to a question I was asked, whether the President had asked me to continue as Chairman of the AEC, I indicated that he had. I was asked how long my term is, and I indicated that I voluntarily accepted a short term, which expires in June, 1970. I indicated that my term as Commissioner was determined by law, and that my designation as Chairman was a separate matter, done by the President.”
Actually President Nixon’s planned visit to the Germantown headquarters of the Atomic Energy Commission never materialized. I soon found that President Nixon’s modus operandi differed substantially from those of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Rather than report directly to the president, as I had with Kennedy and especially with Johnson, I reported to Nixon through a sequential series of intermediaries. Also, I attended Cabinet meetings and National Security Council meetings only on rare occasions. Nixon also eliminated The Committee of Principals that used to deal with arms control matters in the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Science Advisor Lee DuBridge had less and less authority and was soon bypassed on matters that used to be within the province of his predecessors. Although not cut off as completely as DuBridge, I soon found that I was often bypassed in the discussion of arms control matters. There appeared to be an attempt to change, as much as possible, all modes of operation used by previous administrations--as illustrated by the fact that the National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM) issued by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were replaced by National Security Study Memoranda (NSSM) and National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDM).
Illustrative of my mounting problem was the admonition I received from President Nixon at an early meeting on arms control matters (April 30, 1969). He asked me to confine my advice to scientific matters and not include matters with political implications:
“...(President Nixon) recalled that in the case of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, he thought it was a close question but decided, on balance, to come out in favor of it. He wasn’t sure whether this had been the correct decision and asked me what I thought. I said that I thought the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty had been clearly to the advantage of the United States, to the Soviet Union and to the world. I said that its main benefit had come from its beneficial effect in slowing the tempo of the arms race. Another beneficial effect was in stopping radioactive fallout from atmospheric testing, which, if atmospheric testing had continued unabated, could have reached undesirable levels.
President Nixon then asked my view on the seabed treaty, and I indicated that, on balance, I was in favor of it. I said I thought that it would be a mistake to reverse our position on this at the ENDC now, after we had come out in favor of it. The President indicated that he was most interested in my technical judgment and not my political judgment. (I believe that he was speaking here largely for the benefit of Secretary (of Defense Melvin) Laird and Vice President (Spiro) Agnew who had spoken so definitely against the seabed treaty.) I said that even in confining my judgment to the technical aspects, which is difficult to do in this case, I thought the seabed treaty is to our national advantage....”
The president’s comment, that he was more interested in my technical judgment than my political judgment, gave me much to ponder. Apparently, my possession of scientific expertise disqualified me as a source of political judgment. In my role as the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission during the Kennedy and Johnson years, I had been an active participant in all aspects of the formulation of arms control policy. President Nixon was telling me that this probably would not continue, and I later found myself in a position of being kept informed, but no longer a participant in the policy deliberations. Science Advisor Lee DuBridge later found himself cut off completely even from information about such deliberations.
In contrast to my successes with President Kennedy, and especially with President Johnson, in appealing budgetary decisions, I had essentially no success with President Nixon. My first, and last, appeal session with President Nixon was held on Tuesday, December 23, 1969:
“I then went to the White House to meet with President Nixon concerning our appeal on the FY 1971 budget. The meeting was held in his oval office and lasted from 4 to 4:30 p.m. Others present were Robert P. Mayo (Director, Bureau of the Budget), James R. Schlesinger (Deputy Director, BOB), John D. Ehrlichman (Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs) and Henry A. Kissinger (Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs). The President began the meeting at 4 p.m. by saying that this is a tight budget year, particularly due to the need to make up a shortfall of $2.5 billion as a result of recent congressional action. He then called on me to present my case. He had some briefing papers before him which he referred to as I talked. Actually it was pretty much a monologue with my presenting my arguments with very little comment from the others. Mayo and Schlesinger made essentially no comments, while Ehrlichman and Kissinger made a couple of comments. The President pretty much limited his remarks to calling for the next item as I proceeded and indicated at the end of each item that he understood the issue, making notes on his legal pad as I talked.
The meeting was brought to a conclusion by the President repeating that this is a tough budget year and that things might be better next year.
He referred again to the $2.5 billion shortfall. He indicated, somewhat enigmatically, that the AEC budget had been well prepared and [inferred] well treated. The President thanked me for my presentation and the session came to a close at exactly 4:30 p.m. This budget appeal session was in sharp contrast to my meetings with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, with their give-and-take discussions. I have the impression that President Nixon had his mind made up before I came and will rule against me on practically all of my appeal items.
A grim-faced Tom Paine [administrator of NASA] was in the waiting room and was asked to enter just as I was leaving.”
I learned a few days later, that President Nixon ruled against me on practically every item. I was allowed no more appeal sessions with the president.
Another area where I did not endear myself to President Nixon was my attitude toward his planned ABM Safeguard system. I received word that the White House wanted me to make speeches promoting this program. I believed that such a program would be ineffective, excessively expensive, and dangerously provocative. Nevertheless, I regarded it as my duty, as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, to provide for the testing of any weapons adopted as part of our national program. However, I did not consider it to be my duty to make speeches in favor of a policy being debated by Congress.
Somewhat later, Nixon, to his credit, did change his mind, which led to an ABM treaty. He also negotiated the SALT treaty which, although more limited in scope than some of us wanted, was a move in the right direction.
My book, The Atomic Energy Commission Under Nixon: Adjusting to Troubled Times (again, written with the help of Benjamin S. Loeb), describes many of the issues that faced me during my tenure as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission under Nixon.
Even the White House dinners were different as illustrated by the one that Helen and I attended on May 6, 1969:
“Helen and I attended a dinner (white tie) at the White House given by President and Mrs. Nixon in honor of the Prime Minister of Australia, John Gorton, and Mrs. Gorton. The arrangements were quite different from those for corresponding events during the Johnson Administration. Upon arrival the guests mingled in the main foyer and the Green Room. Then President and Mrs. Nixon and Prime Minister and Mrs. Gorton formed a reception line in the Blue Room and the guests went through the reception line but not in a designated order as had been the custom in the past. When the President introduced me to the Prime Minister, we briefly discussed my visit to Australia and to the nuclear laboratory at Lucas Heights and mentioned the Australian interest in Plowshare projects. The President and party then emerged through the Red Room and went directly to the State Dining Room for dinner.
A new table arrangement was used--a horseshoe with a third long table bisecting the horseshoe (sort of an “E” shaped table). I sat next to Mrs. Marshall Green (he is Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern and Asian Affairs) and Mrs. Thomas Moorer (he is Chief of Naval Operations) and near Shelby C. Davis (Ambassador-designate to Switzerland). Helen sat across from me and next to David Packard and Donald Clausen (Congressman from California). Toward the end of the meal we were serenaded by the violins of an Air Force musical group. At the end of the dinner, President Nixon spoke extemporaneously in praise of the historic and fine relationship between the United States and Australia and gave a toast to that relationship, to Australia and to Prime Minister Gorton. Gorton responded in a very eloquent, in fact, impressive manner referring to the huge picture of Lincoln on the wall to his right and drawing an analogy to President Lincoln’s and President Nixon’s problems with a strong description of the extraordinary relationship between the United States and Australia.
After the dinner, the guests assembled in the Red and Blue Rooms. Helen and I had a rather long talk with Mrs. Gorton and Mrs. Nixon in the Blue Room. Mrs. Gorton told us that she had been raised in Maine, finished her schooling there and then went to Paris, where she met Mr. Gorton. Since that time she has lived in Australia. I told Mrs. Gorton about the fine nuclear laboratory at Lucas Heights that I had visited and suggested that she might like to visit it sometime. We discussed with Mrs. Nixon the new arrangements under which the dinner was carried out, and we also discussed President Nixon’s heavy schedule.
The guests then assembled in the East Room for the entertainment which consisted of a concert by Grant Johannesen, pianist, and his wife Zara Nelsova, violoncellist. Dancing in the main foyer followed the entertainment and Helen and I participated in this for a while prior to our departure.”
However, on occasion, President Nixon could be very gracious, as illustrated by the ceremony that took place in his office on February 27, 1970, when, at my suggestion, he conferred Special Atomic Pioneer Awards upon Dr. Vannevar Bush, Dr. James B. Conant, and General Leslie R. Groves:
“I then went to the President’s Oval Office in the White House to attend a ceremony for the presentation, by the President, of the Atomic Pioneer Awards to Dr. Vannevar Bush, Dr. James B. Conant and General Leslie R. Groves. Others present for the ceremony were Commissioners Ramey and Larson, Drs. John H. Bush and Richard Bush (sons of Vannevar Bush), Mrs. James B. Conant, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Conant (son and daughter-in-law), Mrs. Leslie R. Groves and Brigadier General and Mrs. Richard H. Groves (son and daughter-in-law), Senator John O. Pastore and Congressman Craig Hosmer. Among those helping with the arrangements were Will Kriegsman, Steve Bull, Major Brennan, Bruce Whelihan (White House Press attaché) and John Nidecker (White House congressional liaison). A number of movie and still photographers were present and active during the ceremony.
After we entered the Oval Office I greeted the President and then introduced him, in turn, to Dr. Bush, Dr. Conant and General Groves. I also introduced him to Commissioners Ramey and Larson who followed the awardees into the room. The President also greeted Senator Pastore and Congressman Hosmer.
The award ceremony took place in front of the President’s desk. I stood at the President’s right and the awardees at his left. I made a few introductory remarks about the achievements that had led to these awards and emphasized that they were the first and only Atomic Pioneer Awards, which could not be duplicated due to the unique nature of the recipients. The President took up this theme in his initial remarks, emphasizing that the awards were unique and especially distinguished. I read the citation for Dr. Bush following which the President presented him with a medal. The same sequence was followed for the presentations to Dr. Conant and General Groves.
At the conclusion of the presentations, I remarked to the President that these three distinguished gentlemen had been in the Oval Room many times before to confer with his predecessors, notably Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. This led the President to inquire of the recipients whether they at any time had felt any doubts about the successful outcome of their endeavors to produce the nuclear weapons. The general tenor of their responses was that they had entertained such doubts and this led to each of them reminiscing briefly. Dr. Bush recalled the story of an official who, having been queried about the possibility of failure of the initial atomic bomb test, responded that he had worried lest the calculations could have been wrong, leading to excess energy release which would have caused trouble, but he had been just as worried that the test might be a complete failure which would have caused even more trouble.
President Nixon encouraged General Groves to reminisce in a similar fashion, whereupon Groves recalled that General Madigan had rented a double house near the Capitol at about the time of the end of the war and had invited General Groves to move into the other half because it was evident that he would be testifying continuously and indefinitely before Congress in defense of the project.
The President then turned to Dr. Conant, who recalled that Under Secretary of War Patterson had asked General Somervell to make an investigation as to where all the money was going in the Manhattan project and to try to determine its chances for success. Somervell was given only a few minutes to make his report to the busy Patterson but he said this would be sufficient time because his report would be simple--should the project be a success, there would be no need for an investigation as the war would end, and, should it be a failure, there would be no need to investigate anything else.
The President then called on Senator Pastore to say a few words. Pastore spoke of the important contribution to free world security that the three recipients had made and the debt that we all owe them.
The President then called on Congressman Hosmer, who expressed the regrets of Congressman Holifield who couldn’t be present and spoke in laudatory terms concerning the contributions of the three recipients.
The President then had pictures taken, individually with each of the three recipients and their families, and with Commissioners Ramey, Larson and me and the three recipients.
The President then showed us some of the items in his office, singling out the tonged device which the Apollo 12 astronauts had used to pick up rocks on the moon and which they had mistakenly taken with them back to earth. The President said that he had kept them out of trouble by taking the device from them and displaying it in his office.
The President very graciously said individual goodbyes to those present. He was very relaxed, gracious and friendly throughout the whole ceremony.”
The timing of this award was very fortunate for General Groves; he died just a few months later, on July 13, 1970.
Since I had requested from President Johnson, at the expiration of my term as AEC Chairman in 1968, a reappointment for a two-year term, this term came to an end on August 1, 1970. Encouraged by strong endorsements by industrial and other leaders in the atomic energy community, President Nixon reappointed me as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission with the understanding that I intended to leave the position after one year, in the summer of 1971.
Lee DuBridge’s position as Science Advisor to President Nixon and Director of the Office of Science and Technology became untenable and led to his resignation in 1970. President Nixon preferred a scientist with an industrial background as DuBridge’s replacement and therefore, he appointed Edward E. David, who had been serving as the Executive Director of Research for the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. I found that I was able to establish a reasonably satisfactorily working arrangement with Ed David.
President Nixon initiated plans for the reorganization of the Executive Branch of the federal government which threatened the very existence of the Atomic Energy Commission. For this, he appointed Roy Ash (President of Litton Industries) to serve as Chairman of the President’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization. The plans, as they developed, would have had a disastrous effect on the Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC program of civilian nuclear power would be placed in a new Department of Natural Resources. The regulatory function of the AEC would be placed into something like an Energy Regulatory Agency. Still further steps would involve taking the weapons function and putting it into the Department of Defense, the research function into the National Science Foundation, and so forth.
This reorganization could have been implemented only as a result of congressional action. I participated in a series of meetings with the Ash Council and its subcommittees and was able, step-by-step, to convince the members of the Council and the decision-making members of the Nixon Administration that dismemberment of the Atomic Energy Commission was both unwise and, probably, not feasible. I persisted in making the recommendation that a more sensible reorganization would be to place all of the governmental energy functions in a single agency that might be built around the Atomic Energy Commission. In this defensive stand, I had the support of many of my friends in the Congress, including especially the members of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. The plans of the Ash Council never came to fruition. A few years later, in January, 1975, a reorganization was effected, which, incidentally, was along the lines that I had advocated. The centralized energy agency was created in the form of the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA) and the regulatory function of the AEC was placed in a new Nuclear Regulatory Council (NRC). A couple of years later, effective on October 1, 1977, the ERDA was expanded with a wider range of functions into the Department of Energy.
I knew Richard Nixon, as a U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, vice president, and president for more than forty years, Clearly, he is a man with a complex personality and many contradictions--alternately friendly and harsh. Overall, I would, nevertheless, regard him as a friend.