tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN September 4, 2015 2:00am-4:01am EDT
much. we invited phil moon and his wife to our concerts. it was interesting. the room couldn't have been more than seven feet square, and the three of us plus the -- professor and mrs. moon listening to -- i forget what we were listening to. it was an experience. little embarrassing but, nevertheless, it was great. >> that's great. did you know claude? >> i did not know claude. no, no. >> that we know. >> that's enough, yeah. >> that's a lot. okay. i actually -- one thing i thought was very charming was when you forget to remove the shutter. >> yes. we had the final test, when these markup switches were going
to be -- oh, no, no. i'm sorry. they were not the mockups. they were the real switches. the real switches had arrived, and they were kind of bulky. they were nothing like the little pins we were using. they were professionally manufactured, and we had them lined up. donald hornick was there, because it was a very important test. we lined them up, and it took me probably five hours to wire everything up properly. it was probably 3:00 in the morning when the thing went off. the switch, the thing went off. don hornick said to me, wouldn't it be funny if you forget to remove the shutter?
very much like any camera, it had a shutter in front of the film, though it was five feet along and you had to pull it all the way out. he said, wouldn't it be funny if you forgot to remove the shutter? at that point, i realized i had forgotten to remove the shutter. so i almost -- almost crawled away, and i told him i forgot to remove the shutter. he laughed, because i'm sure it happens to everybody. he was very reassuring and said, well, we'll do it over again. so we did it again the next night. i'll always have a very soft spot in my heart for him, for not having killed me for ruining the first experiment. it turned out okay, only a day later. >> now, let's go to wendoval. tell us about the role of the
509 and what it was like when you went there. >> yeah. wendoval, of course, was the staging airfield for tof the 50 bombardment squadron that was to drop the bomb. a few of the people from los alamos were told to work with the bomb crews to show them how to throw the switches and how to, in general, prepare to drop -- to trigger the bomb. you can be sure the bomb was not armed while it was -- while they were not over a target. they had to arm it. i was one of the people who was chosen to instruct them on how to throw the switches and arm it. they were all captains,
lieutenants and majors. i was supposed to instruct them. now, you know the army is a very hierarchical organization. you cannot have a pfc or corporal instructing a captain on how to do anything. they realized that would never do, so some genius decided to make me a civilian artificially. they gave me $200. that was an experience in itself. they said, go to santa fe and buy civilian clothes. i went to santa fe and, sure enough, i bought civilian clothes. i put on a sharp jacket, pants and a shirt, tie. reported back to the barracks. i wore them, and everybody was really thrilled to watch me. everybody was making enormous jokes.
but i could not buy shoes because shoes were rationed. i only had army shoes, which are inside out. you see the rough parts of the shoe, and they go up to the ankle. so i needed a shoe ration certificate. i had to go to the security officer and explain to him -- and i had to get a note from my commanding officer who, by the way, my commander officer didn't know anything about the atomic bomb. they were all -- there was always a certain tension among the seds. because we knew. our bosses didn't know what we were doing. we felt very important, and we were probably pretty smarky about it. they didn't care for our
attitude too much, i'm sure. anyway, i got written permission, which i have in my records here. i do have some records. i got written permission to -- probably the only secret document in the army which permits a person to buy a pair of shoes. i got permission, and i bought a pair of civilian shoes. then i masqueraded as a civilian in my periodic dr iic trips to a wendover. we'd go to albuquerque, fly over the desert and i'd stay as a civilian in a hotel. it was a luxury. private room. i would work with them during the day time, and at night, it
was right near nevada, i would gamble at night in the gambling casinos, having a ball playing blackjack. then fly back. change out of my civilian into a lowly gi, and then i was a gi for a while. the next time i would go as a civilian. it was really a skichizophrenic life i was leading for a while there. >> can you describe your civilian jacket? it was something -- >> well, it was a very sharp jacket. i thought about that for a long time, and i said, this is my only chance i'm ever going to have to have a sharp -- i'm not going to buy a conservatory jacket. i bought a -- i can't remember to this day whether it was blue or green. i think it was green, but it may have been -- red or green. i think it was green. it may have been red, but it was a very sharp jacket. that's what caused hilarity in
the barracks. i realized there was no reason why i couldn't do it. nobody could stop me. that was my way of showing my independence from the army. >> that's great. okay. let's see, so then, should we go to taking the green hornet? >> yeah. it was clear that -- i forget, that must have been probably june. you probably know better than i do. may -- late may or early june, before trinity. that was in july, right? july 12th, if i'm not mistaken.
13? >> 16th. >> 16th, oh. so i was given orders to go for the -- to go to the assembly place, where the bomb was being assembled, for the very reason that i knew how to wire the switches. so i, along with a few dozen others, altogether, probably 40 or 50, took this military plane. it was a -- not a comfortable plane. very much like most military passenger planes. it was called the greenhorn ho. the green hornet flew me and another civilian, and stevenson,
a universiprofessor at the univf virginia, and a few woothers. we flew to l.a. and then to hawa hawaii. we stayed in hawaii overnight, and then flew to johnson island. finally to guam. then, finally, from guam to tinian. they're a part of the marietta group, which were actually japanese protectorates and captured by the americans a few months earlier. it was convert sboed into an airfield which, for a while, was the largest airfield in the world. b-29s shuttling back and forth to japan from there. that's where we set up shop. we set up shop.
we had a living hut and a laboratory -- working hut. civilians had another one. the thing i loved about being overseas was once you got away from the u.s., the -- this artificial barrier between officers and enlisted men and civilians was completely gone. civilians and officers were living exactly the way we were. that made me feel much better. i never really liked the idea that officers had better quarters than i did. >> let's see, okay. i'm interested in the books that you -- >> you know, i forgot -- >> you can get up. >> i'll get up. >> there is a loose leaf notebook there on my desk.
>> blue one? >> it says army on it. this is my various materials, which we might want to look at later. here is my pocketbook of verse. can you see that? this is the cover from the pocketbook of verse, which i carried with me everywhere. i was spending online much of my daylight hours, as everybody else did, and i would read poems for months at a time. i learned to love some of these poems. this is the cover. it broke up the cover -- the original cover broke up early on, and i made an artificial cover. it says, the pocketbook of
verse, or wily away the idle hours on tinian. general grove decembs decided i time to meet some of the gis. in his autobiography, he never mentioned the seds. we were invisible to some -- to many of these big brass. but anyway, he decided that it was time that he met some. he called a few of us together. it was probably early december of 1945 -- 1944. he said -- he gave us a lecture, but the lecture had nothing to do with the atomic bomb. it was a lecture telling us to write home to our parents on christmas because they needed -- they need to hear from us, because they're very worried about it. so please write home to your parents.
interestingly enough, looking at some of the information that i saw on cindy kelly's website, the american -- the atomic heritage foundation, i saw some sort of a note from somebody at oak ridge. he said he talked about having met general groves. he mentioned that general groves told him to be sure to write home to his parents. i realized that general groves was going around to all of the manhattan project sites, telling all of the seds to write home to their parents. that was my inter action with general groves. since i was a good boy, i wrote home to my parents anyway. i didn't need him to tell me that. one of these true ironies of history, who could have ever imagined this, that the island of tinian was laid out something
like the island of manhattan? the soldiers who -- the cvs, whoever made the airfield, it was a flat island, roughly looking something like manhattan. they laid it out with the streets -- with these streets and avenues lake 46th street, 5th avenue, broadway, 9th avenue. tinian was laid out like manhattan. to think of this as the culmination of the manhattan project was something that nobody could have ever invented. it happened by pure chance. who would believe it? unless there is some guiding light up there, and it really is telling us what to do. it makes you think about that.
>> the people you laid it out had no idea? >> no, that was long before we got there. this hut, we had two resident huts where we lived, and a laboratory hut, which was conditioned. it was fancier than the living quarters. it had a darkroom, because it was necessary to test the -- to use the street camera, which i should have mentioned, of course, was shipped over, too. the camera that we used at los alamos was shipped over to test the switches, the real switches. so i was in the hut when i was told that we were going to get a visit. i was dressed in my usual tinian way. it's a very warm, humid climate.
i had my army shoes on, my boots, and a share pair of shor that's all. i didn't have a shirt. so they -- the people in charge said, this will not do, because lemay is a big shot general. he wouldn't like to see a gi dressed like you are. they said, what are we going to do? it was too late to bring me back to the -- to my barracks, to my hut. so they shoved me into the darkroom, closed the door, turned on the red light, which would inhibit him from coming in, and locked me in. i stayed there for half an hour. they finally knocked on my door and said, it's okay now. he's gone. i went out, and they were all buzzing, saying what a funny visit it was. they kept telling him how important the bomb was, and he
simply was very skeptical about the whole thing. he was sending missions over tokyo, doing it day in and day out, for months. to think that one bomb, one plane, could do the work of his entire force was just too much for him to take. he just didn't believe it. later on, he realized how important it was. when he became the head of the strategic air command, he even didn't particular ly take that use of atom bombs off the table, for the use in possible cold war. he was very much of a hook, all of his life. >> where were you, how did you learn about the dropping of the bomb? >> well, the night before, which was august 5th, we knew the bomb
was going to be dropped that night. that they were going to take off that evening. we -- now, i wasn't invited to see the takeoff. i didn't ask to see the takeoff. i think by then, i was beginning to feel a little funny about it. we stayed in our barracks, and we talked. navy photographers were there. there were photographers who were told to take pictures of the takeoff. there was william lawrence. he was the distinguished "new york times" science writer. he was there. he was interviewing us about it. so we sort of -- we knew that secrecy was about to be lost, so we were a little more open than usual, talking -- hinting about how important it was, but we couldn't, of course, say exactly
what it was. we talked sort of in circles a little bit about what was going to happen. i went to bed, must have been about 1:00, 12:00 or 1:00. i wrote up the next morning, and we have a radio. i turned op t eed on the radio, that's when i heard about the bomb. it had already been dropped. announcers were already announcing it, and los alamos was already being spoken about. the secret was out. everything was done. nagasaki was devastated, destroyed. the world had changed while i slept that night. in hi hmy hut on tinian. the world was going to change, i knew, and sure enough, it changed. i forgot to mention that i kept
a diary of all of it, most of the time that i was there. we all knew how important it was all along. >> do you have your diary? >> yes, it's right there. i bought this stenographic notebook, and i started writing in it the day i took off from los alamos. let's see if i can find august 5th. i'll just read the first paragraph of august 5th. i was sitting in my barracks that evening. i'll just read what i said here. there are 18 canvas cuts in our hut. two of them are being temporarily occupied by navy photographers who have just flown from guam to film our
setup and the takeoff. the other 16 supply the sleeping facilities for the entire enlisted membership of the first technical service attachment. that's what it's called. most of the fellows are gathered in one corner of the hut, and these -- and there's much excited talk. the navy men are completely confused by the hints and the wildest speculations. so i go on and on and on about that. let's see. then -- see if i can find august 6th. then i spend a lot of time about that. i talk about my job, about my ignition expert, the x unit.
i talk about the x unit. after i got back to los alamos, i re-read this and said, my god, what have i said? i realized that i might have said something that really i shouldn't have said in my diary. i was a smoker at the time. i have a two pack a day smoker. isn't that amazing? what i did was, i destroyed the evidence. i -- just to make sure, the thing i said about the x unit, i destroyed. i tried to make it look like an accident, but i don't think it was. oh, wait a minute, yeah.
so then my next entry was august 10th. the things that followed, we were so excited that i didn't write. i don't think i wrote for three and a half days afterwards. i finally wrote and said, then on august 10th, i said, today, there are farmers in wisconsin talking about atomic bombs over the dinner table. there must be countless street corner arguments about atomic bombs at every city in the country. people throughout the world must be feeling their soberist, matching their elation over this new spectacular turn of the war with the temporary knowledge that this thing is bigger than it appears, and that though it will help end this war soon, it might well -- it might very well mean other and more important things, too.
a few days ago, the best kept secret of the war is now being talked about and written about more than even i thought it would be. it's funny that all along, i knew what this weapon meant, that here is no overestimated -- there is no overestimating its importance, yet, i know that the news is out -- that the news is out and i'm still amazed by the treatment it's getting. though i know its destructive powers, i was still awe-stricken by the after photographs of hiroshima. i said nagasaki before. i meant hiroshima. the first bomb. it was not nagasaki. that was a mistake. is that enough? >> that's great. >> you want more? with the gadget, there was no possibility of an anti-climax.
we've argued about its effect and importance, but the day after we dropped the first one, i divided my prediction of the end of the war, which was one year. i divided the quotient by two again, the next day when russia entered the war, and that may be to some extent of the gadget, which is what we called the atomic bomb. now i say three months, and i'm a pessimist about these things. we now are listening to the houring nehour i news broadcasts and separating the truth from the bunk. there was a foul sub lpublicity person said the bomb area should be uninhabitable for 70 years. that's untrue.
okay. that's enough of it. i spent a lot of time in my diary after that writing about the consequence -- i don't think you want to read about my pro pontificating. international control. i was thinking about how to control the bomb. i thought about -- and i said, there's no other way. it has to be international. because sooner or later, somebody else is going to get the bomb. what are you going to do? then two countries will have the bomb, then four countries with the bomb. there's no end to it. how can you live with the world filled with atomic weapons? it's got to be under international control. i said, that's the only way you can have it. then at the end of my pontificating about this, i said, and then, i probabthey pr all went.
i was right. the bomb has proliferated and it's not under international control. who knows if it ever will be. one doesn't know. it's still with us, and it's a bigger threat than ever. when the -- it was august 10th or 11th that the war ended? >> 13th. >> when the ait was announced? >> the 14th. >> i was so excited. i had to tell somebody. of course, i was listening to the radio. i went over to the officer's tent, which was exactly the same as ours. ed stevenson was asleep, and i shook him and said, wake up, the war is over! the interesting part of is that that was an expression that we
used all the time, especially when we were playing handball or stick ball or whatever we were doing. somebody would be half asleep and we'd go, wake up, the war is over. i said, in my life, i'm going to be able to use this expression once, and it will really mean the war is over. i woke up ed stevenson and said, wake up, the war is over. that was -- that was a culmination of a long dream of mine. >> what was his reaction? >> he was -- he was sort of drowsy. i think it took him a while to realize what had happened. then, of course, the aftermath. for many years at nyu, i taught a course called physics and society. it was probably an outgrowth of my experiences at los alamos and elsewhere. it addressed science-related societal issues.
of course, most important of the science-related societal issues was the atomic bomb. i would spend part of the course talking about the atomic bomb. the students would always raise the question of, did truman make a mistake in dropping the atomic bomb? many students then and now think that it was a mistake to drop the bomb. many people think it was a mistake to drop the bomb. i did not think it was a mistake. i look at the students, usually i would look at the students in the class, all young people, 19, 20, 21 years old, and i said, you know, many of your parents would have been killed if there had been an invasion of japan. there would have been an invasion of japan if the japanese had not surrendered, and you would not be here. of course, there's no way of knowing that, but you have to realize that dropping the bomb
saved lives. saved american lives. it killed a lot of people, and you can never -- never understand the horror of that. there's no doubt about it. but war is horrible, and the war was going on and people were getting killed all the time. the americans were getting killed. i guess the first thought was to save american lives. it may have saved japanese lives, too. who can tell how many japanese lives would have been lost had there been an invasion of japan. probably a lot. so i think that was an argument that was very telling. the students, many of the students, understood that. it was a tough decision, but truman made the right decision. not many years after the atomic bomb was dropped and a few years after there was a lot of testing
of atomic weapons. the russians had succeeded in developing an atomic bomb. the hydrogen bomb was successfully developed. the hydrogen bomb has destructive power many, many times larger than the atomic bomb. now, the world is filled with hydrogen bombs in a russian arsenal, the american arsenal, and who knows what other arsenals. the hydrogen bomb, if dropped in manhattan, would destroy the entire island. that means that two or three million people would have been killed. the entire culture of america would have been destroyed. it's unthinkable and, yet, it could happen. i still think that what i wrote
here is still true. the only way to solve this problem is to have international control of atomic weapons, and then their destruction. someday, some point in the distant future, if we still exist, the world will come to its senses, will form a truly well-policed, organized organization, part of the united nations, hopefully, and atomic weapons will be destroyed. i doubt if i'll live to see it, but maybe people in the audience will live to see it. it's worth looking forward to. if it happens, it will save -- it won't happen for a long time, but it might happen. a couple of live events on c-span2 to tell you about.
first, a discussion on how to bridge u.s. and russian policy on security and arms control, with the goal of limiting non-strategic nuclear weapons. from the center for strategic and international studies, that's live at 9:00 a.m. eastern. as congress prepares to vote on the iran nuclear agreement, a conversation on the deal's pros and cons, at 11:00 a.m. eastern. also on c-span2. on c-span friday night, a discussion on efforts to improve american infrastructure. including author and journalist ginger strand on cities taking control of their power grid. burlington had rested their municipal utility, and it was done because of money. the rates were too high.
not surprising. still a reason that many towns are trying to get in on it. community power can be a source of revenue for the town. with public power, actually public power consumers pay significantly less on average than private power consumers. some towns wanted to develop green power. bolder, colorado, recently didn't renew the contract with their private power producer because they were tired of the company dragging its feet on developing green power. the citizens said, great, we'll do it ourselves. another reason is to get more responsiveness from your power company. winter garden, florida, needed a series of electrical upgrades, and their private provider wouldn't do it. they said, we're not renewing your contract. they invested some money,
taxpayer dollars, in their needed updpragrades and now the paying less for power than they were before. in addition to author and journalist ginger strand, the discussion on american infrastructure will include california urban designer benjamin grant. that's at 8:00 eastern on c-span. august 1945, 70 years ago, american forces dropped two atomic bombs over japan. one in hiroshima and the other in nagasaki. up next, peggy bowditch remembers growing up next door to robert oppenheimer, director of the los alamos laboratory, who was known as the father of the atomic bomb. she talks about the parties her parent s hosted for famous scientists, as well as her family's relationship with the oppenheimers. this oral history is from the voices of the manhattan bimbo.
forces liberated the nazi concentration camps, including an interview with leslie swift, the museum's chief of film, oral history and recorded sound. then curt kline talks about escaping in the 1930s. gerta klein recalls being sent on a death march. all of this on american history tv tomorrow night, here on c-span 3. c-span cities tour continues friday night with the literary life of st. augustine, florida. we'll hear from the editor of a book about the san fris can monks. and a professor who wrote about the civil rights movement in
florida. that's all tomorrow night at 6:00 eastern on our companion network, c-span. the c-span cities tour, working with our cable affiliates and visiting cities across the country. this weekend we're joined by charter communications to learn more about the history and life of grand junction, colorado. mining had a certain importance in this part of colorado. >> all over the colorado plateau and outside of grand junction we are surrounded by morrison wrong. and -- rock. and we find a lot of dinosaur bones and fossils. the other thing we find is a rock called karnetite. it