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tv   Oral Histories  CSPAN  August 9, 2015 11:10am-12:39pm EDT

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voices which makes this a very rich tapestry. us experience the same event in a different way, so each of these individuals experienced the manhattan project in their own, unique way. >> cynthia kelly with the atomic heritage foundation. thank you for joining us on american history tv. cindy: thank you very much. >> something about your background, where you're born, education? weremin: my parents who russian-jewish immigrants who came to america just before and just after world war i. they met at night school, a very romantic setting.
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they lived in the lower east side. they were very poor. my father worked as a restaurant worker all of his life. bronx up mainly in the and partly in brighton beach in brooklyn. one of the great things about new york is that it had city college. college was a defining event in my life because he gave me a completely free education, the exact subject that i wanted, which is physics. that is basically my early background. we were raised, not insignificant, we were raised -- leftists, asre
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were most everybody i knew in the bronx. we lived in a sort of communist neighborhood. i was brought up as a young pioneer of america, the communist equivalent of the boy scouts. was in city college for a year or two, i would say was pretty radical. my radicalism slowly changed. i became much more interested in science and physics. graduated and ended up being hostile to the whole idea by the time i left city college. , becausefortunate otherwise i never would have lasted at los alamos. after two and half years at city college, i decided to take a job
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with the signal corps. fromed to philadelphia where i was drafted in 1942. for the next year and a half or so, i moved around. i had almost no basic training. i was shipped immediately to radio school to become a tailgunner on a b-17. my army the intent of career. b-17, notnner in a very long life expectancy of in the air force. i was also a radio operator in chicago, but they get me there as an instructor. i went to a new army
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army specialized training program, i took a course in electrical engineering at ohio state university. 1943, during the battle of the bulge when fighting was fears in europe, the army decided to give up on educating its draftees and shipping them off to battle the combat. was anain, there interview board that came to ohio state, my commanding officer told me it was something called the manhattan project, knowing that i love new york, said here is a good opportunity for you to get back to new york. i grab the opportunity. i was interviewed. they asked me some strange questions about science in my career, and the next thing i tow i was on a train going knoxville, tennessee, from which
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i shipped nearby to town called oak ridge, tennessee, and that's how i got into the manhattan project. >> that's great. aren't you glad that you were not a tailgunner? yes, i was supposed to be a tailgunner. some of my friends ended up a still gunners. >> did they survive? >> some didn't send it in. some did and some didn't. it was clear there was a major many famous43 that scientists were being assembled at los alamos and elsewhere, and low and behold, they discovered
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that you can't do anything without assistance. they realized they needed an infrastructure of machinists and engineers and the young budding in thests to assist development of the bomb. so they developed something called the special engineering detachment, and they went around the country interviewing people who they thought might fit into the project. at los alamos, there were many hundreds, almost d's ended up there. many others were machinists and engineers. things among other .ecome a breeding ground
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i guess historians of the war maybe don't understand as much as they should that this was a breeding ground for many physicists and chemists and other scientists who after the war went on to have great careers in science partly because of the start they got in the manhattan project. a really unintended consequence of the manhattan project. of course i wanted to be a physicists before i got into the matin hatton project -- the manhattan project or the experience i got it los alamos was essential to help have a career. know people are going to want to know about your career. tell us about oak ridge. benjamin: when i got to oak
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ridge, the first thing i noticed were that my feet were almost ankle deep in mud. it was a muddy place. it had this characteristic orange-red color, and you really knew you were somewhere in the mountains of tennessee. oak ridge was really thriving. there were construction machines everywhere, activity everywhere. there was clearly something going on. i said in my memoir that the most interesting things that i saw were these huge buildings that look like distillation plants. they were all over the place. my first impression of them was
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that they are distilling sour mash whiskey to drop on the germans and get them to disable them. that that couldn't possibly be true. it was only many months later that i found out that the real purpose of the distillation was 235 from the principal isotope of uranium u238. we were housed in barracks like soldiers always are. the barracks were cleaned by again itung girls, so was very clear to me that this was something going on that was very unusual, but of course we had no idea what it was. buddies that my showed up with me, they were all
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science majors from various college all over the country. so it had something to do with signs, that was clear, but what it was i did not know. at oak ridge, we were given tests. a was there for about a week. they were trying to find out where i would fit in the manhattan project. the people, particularly chemists, stayed at oak ridge. types tended to go to loss alamosa. ordersly got shipping ou to go to loss alamosa long with several of my friends, who were also physics majors. in civilian trains, iich was the first time had use a civilian trains since i was in the army, and ended up in new mexico, the place where
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people go to when they want to get to santa fe. described laney, new mexico? benjamin: it was just a junction as far as i could tell. apparently the train never gets to santa fe, even today. theas simply a junction on railroad line. it was a one horse town. that's it. now i was met thereby an army wac, a lady by a soldier, who drove me to santa fe, to the central square in santa fe, the plaza. she let me off in front of the , where -- itng 109
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was just a storefront. i went in with my papers and handed it to a lady and said, here i am. as whatthe is the same happened to everybody who came to los alamos. she look at them and said, fine. she said, sit down we will be with you in a little while. i waited for about half an hour just sitting in the storefront and chatted with this lady, turned out to be dorothy mckenna. >> mckibbin. benjamin: yes, dorothy mckibben. yet. ah. the lady i spoke to was dorothy mckibben.
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she was very nice and try to make me feel comfortable. clue of whathad no was going on, and i had no clue where i was going to end up. but she just chatted and made me feel comfortable and finally introduce me to a wac. we got into a car. i believe -- i can't rarely remember -- really remember exactly -- if i was in the car alone. it was another drab olive army sedan. that was my experience in santa fe. of course later on i found out that this is exactly the place were all of the famous camecists and scientists and we were greeted the same way dorothy mckibben.
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they ended up at los alamos the same way i did. i probably was the lowest ranking scientists in the entire project. but i was treated pretty well, nonetheless. i should say that it got pretty scary, because after we drove for a while, we started driving up the side of a cliff. it was just a road with no guard rails. cliff up andg this up and up until finally we reach plateau which is where los alamos was planted. it was scary, but we finally got there. andassed a bunch of guards i reported to somebody. i don't remember to whom i
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reported, but they sent me to the barracks and that my gear in the barracks and i believe i went to sleep. roommates.about your you recall who was living in the barracks with you? >> yes, the barracks was a very typical army barracks. i said in my memoir that there .ere 50 kids -- soldiers that there were three coal stoves place in the barracks to keep us from freezing. bunks linede double in a row -- in two rows actually stoves ine coal
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between. there may have been 15 bunks on .ach side unk just at random and stayed there for a couple of somebody cameally up to me and introduce themselves as a friend of a friend. spindel. williams be he was from brooklyn and had a similar background from mine in new some people that i knew. s. decided to become bunkmate' we shared a double bunk for the entire time that i was at los alamos, almost two years.
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i don't know exactly why, but i ottom bunk. that was considered quite a coup to get the bottom bunk. us were to new yorkers. it was very enjoyable to have new yorkers next to us. -- no, theychinist were both machinists. they came from the lower east side. it turned out later that one of them happen to be david green glass. andas in the lower bunk too we happen to be next to each other. greenspan, whon became a very good friend of trained in mathematics at
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brooklyn college. unfortunately he died recently. later there was richard bellman, who became a famous mathematician and system analyst working for the rand corporation. he is a legend there now. he also died some years ago. aere was peter, who became highly distinguished mathematician working in new york. eshkin, val fitch, who wanted nobel prize. these were all my buddies, somebodies, strange. unique atvison was
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los alamos. endedame a legend when he up at the university of washington. he became famous after the war at the university of washington because he never finished his phd, but nevertheless was an invaluable member of the physics department because he was so smart. of appened to be the son man who won a nobel prize for discovering the wavelike nature of the electron. he was the son of a nobel prize winner. he and i spent a lot of our time trying to avoid army duties and saluting -- we hated saluting. it didn't make any sense. here we were working on this fantastic project and we still had to salute, still had to go in formation, still had to
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undergo saturday morning inspection, things of that sort. his way of dealing with it was he made his bed and he never slept in it. he slept on top of his bed for the entire two years that he was at los alamos. that he hadto brag never made his bed in the army. awayy, davison also passed . he was an unusually brilliant special guy, a friend of mine. of course people like that i never would have met in the regular army if i had ended up as a tail gunner. i haven't talked about my work yet.
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shortly after i arrived there, they assigned me to a project. jumbo.ject was called there was a huge container, ,teel container, huge in size 15-20 feet high, maybe eight-10 feet in diameter. had senior scientists assigned to some project. there were always senior physicists and chemists who they work with. the particular person i was moon.ned to was philip b he was british. arrived atrently
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almost the same time i did. we came in together. his assignment, and therefore my assignment, was to study the contain anjumbo to atomic bomb. did nottomic bomb actually work properly, the radioactive material would still all over the landscape. it would've been a disaster of enormous proportions, so the idea was to put the bomb inside fizzled,ainer if it then the container would hold it and prevented from spreading around and destroying los alamos. so that was what was called jumbo. experience -- i
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should say a few words about the british. of course were also working on the atomic bomb. sometime in late 1942, their audject, called the m project, by arrangements to winston churchill decided to join forces with the americans. so the british were shipped to los alamos is a group. there were maybe 6-8 of the same , the most famous physicists in england at the -- i have aing list here. , marcus olison
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-- now, itip moon p.b. was athat student of rutherford's, not chadwicks. he did his work at cambridge and did his work with rutherford, and then ended up at birmingham oliphant, who is another nuclear physicist. he was assigned jumbo too. i worked for him. actual my research consisted of blowing up containers to see how strong
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they were. so i became an expert in for two reasons, we did not do the work on the los alamos pace. the first reason was that they did not want us going up anything at los alamos because it was pretty dangerous. was that iteason was too disruptive, too many wires and electrical sparks all over the place, so we were really destroying some delicate work going on at los alamos, so they put us on two-mile mesa. i worked at two-mile mesa with philip moon and one or two other
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seds blowing up things. study theuges to actual distortion of the metal by the explosive. we would install small explosives inside small gauges on thet outside of the containers, blow them up, and measure the distortion of the steel by the explosions. wasn't given the job of actually deciding how strong they were. that. moon was doing i was giving him the data. , alongasically his hands with another sed, who incidentally did have an accident right next to me. he blew up one of these s by accident and
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he was badly injured by that, but he recovered. so we worked on that. i should have mentioned that i was not allowed to work in the main part of los alamos because i have not been cleared yet. a second class tentative badge called a blue badge. i did not know at the time they were investigating me back in new york. ,his clearance in new york city apparently i passed and was given a white badge, which was an entrée into the actual technical area of los alamos
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where all the important work was going on. so at that point, that was two or three months after i started on jumbo, i got the white badge and just at that time they decided to forget about jumbo because at that time their confidence was such that they were pretty sure that the bomb would work and decided that jumbo was a waste of time. cindyrhaps you know , jumbo is still there, isn't it? is right at trinity. trinity.right at they going to keep it there? >> yeah. benjamin: have you been inside? >> yeah. benjamin: that's wonderful. my jumbos the end of
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adventure. >> that's interesting, because at two-mile mesa a jumbo. benjamin: that was made. -- that was me. >> maybe a little artifact. good. benjamin: so philip moon and i were reassigned. however, we remained good friends. i love to look moon. philip moon. he was highly entertaining, cultured, very british, had a very british wife. the two of them were just like the arthur rank movies i
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watched all the time. i love them very much. in touch for a number of years after the war. after work with him -- maybe you could tell us about the mushroom society? benjamin: that was a little later. >> what was next? benjamin: what was next as i got a new assignment. donald horw boss ning. i think he is still alive. he is almost hitting 100. only two years older than me. he is in his 90's now. he was a professor of chemistry
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at princeton university. war, he became a science advisor to lyndon b. johnson. when i knew him, his assignment at los alamos was to design the ignition switches which operated , which in turn caused an implosion. , theu have switches igniters on top of the cones of the explosive lenses, and then you have the implosion. our job at the beginning was to build switches. the important thing to know is that the bomb consisted of a
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purpose of the whole the implosion was to compress that itsnium metal so density caused it to become a nuclearnd to cause chain reaction. in order to cause this explosion, implosion, you need to have the entire sphere compress at the same time. if the left side explodes before the right side, then it will abort. so you need to know that these at precisely the same time. there were 32 such lenses around -- on the sphere. had an explosive
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igniter on top, and then there were 32 switches is somewhere else. what iswitches, that was was supposed to help him with. atget the switches to ignite precisely the same time. well, that's not a trivial thing to do. -- the requirements on timing were microseconds. these switches needed to close within a few microseconds of each other. this,4, when i was doing a microsecond was a very short time. it is not a short time anymore. who uses computers, they were a much shorter times these days. , a microsecondys
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was a very short time and so we had to develop the switches and test them to make sure that they were igniting within a few microseconds of each other, so that's what we did. .e had a laboratory we didn't have the switches because the switches hadn't been designed yet, but we had a testing system to test the switches when they were designed. so, horning, what he did is figure out how to test the switches to within a microsecond of each other. now i am not sure i got this exactly right, but i think what he did was is he remembered that
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achelson at caltech had camera to measure the speed of light, and that was a pretty good way to start, because we know the speed of light is very high, and therefore you are making measurements of the speed of light, they have to be precise within a short time. the action got the camera, or something like that camera, he brought it to los alamos and gave it to me. he said, here is your camera, go to it ver. the camera was conceptually very simple, a rotating six sided mirror which was rotated by a going on it with
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propellers. it went very fast. light would come in on the mirrors and the light would be scattered by the mirrors like this and then there would be a film that was maybe five feet in length that would be stretched along the circle. then the signal from the light would hit somewhere -- you wouldn't know where -- but one of the sides of the mirror would surely hit the film. somewhere along the five feet of length. so what we would do -- i take about the switches in a minute -- we would line up eight switches and ignite them. the light from the sparks would hit a bunch of lenses, go to the camera, the spinning wheel would scatter the light around the film and then i would take the film, go to the darkroom,
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develop it and see how simultaneous the eight sparks were of these switches. the sparks -- that was interesting -- the sparks were developed by -- i forget exactly ramsey,ybe me, margaret my coworker at the laboratory -- it was just pins and the spark would go between the two p ins. it was a mockup for the real switches that would occur later. so that was my job, put in all expose the film, run to the darkroom, and show the final result to ho
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rning, and he would decide how and makehes would be recommendations from that. so that was my job. job itan interesting involved a lot of physics, and for a kid with only two and a half years of college, i was thrilled with the idea of being there. i was working in a laboratory doing real science. it was a wonderful experience. about -- andlk since there aren't that many women scientists -- a little introduction about margaret? margaret had a bachelor's degree in chemistry from boston. she is from boston. we work together as a team. inswired these little p
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classics,ed them with made forms to press them together, and so we work -- iher very happily for forget -- it must've been 4-5 months. fineret was a really scientist, and she was the first person i work with is a colleague. she ended up marrying james keck . they still live in the boston area. he was another fine fellow. the two of them have been married ever since. >> ok. that was great.
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when did you -- [inaudible] while i was still on jumbo, they didn't let me know anything, but i got my white thereafter --tly he couldn't have been more than a week or 2 -- i was told that we would have a little meeting with the head of what was called the explosives division, of which i was now part of. so i heard there was a meeting and was invited to the meeting. there were maybe half a dozen ,eds and a couple of civilians
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and since i had my white badge, i was cleared. it was perfectly legitimate to get the information. he simply told us what we were doing. that was probably three months after i got to los alamos, 2-3 months afterwards. that was a memorable moment in my life, of course, because he laid out the whole history of fissionic bomb, nuclear , and the entire history of the manhattan project and of the entire goal of los alamos. he told it to us. i knowe to understand -- people have mixed feelings about the use of the atomic bomb, many people do not feel good about the use of the atomic bomb -- you have to understand about when and where i came from. i came from a jewish family. my jewish relatives and russia
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were being killed. i knew about that already. the world in 1944 was a horrible place. there were thousands of americans being killed every day . the only thing we could think of and to end the war as in this possible the killing in both europe and the far east. when i heard that we were working on something to end the war, it was really hard to describe how i felt. how happy, thrilled, and honored i was to be working on something that would into the war, and i knew it would into the war. we all knew it would into the war if it works. the way history works. history never follows your europe so the war in
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ended before the atomic bomb was it did play aut role in ending the war in japan. name --ou just give the [indiscernible] thin lookingwas a man and he spoke with a heavy russian accent. i thought, my god, what is he doing here. he was a professor chemistry at harvard university. givingso honest and so that it is hard to describe. i don't know whether he was authorized to do all that. we here are the stories about need to know and everything at loss almost, that was nonsense.
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-- at los alamos, that was nonsense. within three months of getting in therance as a pfc. army of the time, a private in the army. i was told it was an immense .ecret without any hesitation of course, i can never forget the feeling, but he was a very interesting guy. across to these low level individuals that he spoke to. >> why don't you talk about being invited to attend the tuesday -- .enjamin: yeah
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so once i got into the tech area , you had to show your badge -- by today's criteria, it was not very much. it was just a white badge. anybody could have made it. didn't think of those kind of subtleties those days. i went into the tech area guarded by mps and immediately found out that there were these tuesday evening seminars that met in the hall in the tech area , and of course i went to them. why wouldn't i go? to, thereone i went named in ric cist enrico -- here i was thinking
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about the atomic bomb. he did not talk about the atomic bomb. he talked about the hydrogen bomb, really mind-boggling. it must've been the spring of and here he was talking about a bomb whose predecessor had not yet been built. fusion was nuclear on his mind and he was thinking ahead. he had already realized that the -- nuclear fission was going to work and it would somehow or other produce an atomic weapon. then he realized that using the fission bombs, you could actually create attempt are high ,nough to cause nuclear fusion to form helium, the way the sun does it, so he was thinking of a
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means of producing a controlled -- a fusionh a reaction into helium. 1944 -- and he was very had an italiane accent. i told you the international nature of this. america inrtune of getting these notable scientists away from hitler and getting them into the united states, i mean hitler could not have been dumber to let people
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like him go. he came here with this italian accent. the italians i knew, and i knew plenty of italians from the physiciststhey were -- were not physicists. here he was giving this lecture and it was quite an experience. gave lectures there too. >> it must've been fun. truth,n: to take you the i had mixed feelings. it was fun. the daylight time part was good. the army part i did not like. i have to admit it. -- i didn't like sleeping in the same room with 50 or 60 men all snoring, a single bathroom with no booths.
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it was undignified. >> i want to ask you something -- oh, everybody is interested in spies. one of the things you noted in your memoirs is that -- lassamin: david greeng was very political. about russiaalking and how wonderful russia was and all that, and he really was a communist, quite interesting. mind -- in crossed my --e to honestly say this
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there was something wrong with a communist being of this project. russia was an ally. the war in russia was going on very heavily. eventuallyad that glass stayed where they were. we remained friends -- friendly. he was a communist. i don't even think he would deny it if you asked him. >> did he feel comfortable talking about his views with you? benjamin: yes. there was never any constraints about that. we never talked about work,
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, i did read noticed the testimony during the trial, trial, ie greenglass read the testimony, and he mentioned my name in the trial. -- nce asked me innocently of course, the parts where the bomb. lenses.achining he says he asked me what they were for, and he says that i said something about a bomb, but i don't think -- i don't remember that. he did get into a heap of he said i was a , and the fbi actually called me in, and we
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had a couple of sessions, and it worked out fine. the fbi was very fair, they listened. they asked hard questions. it turned out that i was an innocent victim, just like many other people were of his friendship. >> tell me about ted hall. one,min: he was another very young one, 19? for some reason or another, i met him, and he got interested friend and i a love good stuff more -- gustav maure. still do. i just heard the philharmonic play him just last week.
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greenglass, who was an electronics expert, had constructed an amplifier using, forgive me, parts from the electronics store. he built the, an amplifier, it was a really good amplifier. we had a speaker somewhere, so in an office of a theorist. he had an office because he was a theorist. amplifier, the loudspeaker, and the record player set up in the office, and norman greenspan and i decided to form a society where we could listen to classical music. we called it the "mushroom society," because it go only be
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a night when there was nobody there. we would play music very loud. , all of theagner classics. hall heard about it, i guess. he invited himself to become a member. were glad to have him as a member. he would come to hear the classical music, and he became a member of the mushroom society. that is how i knew ted hall. i didn't know him outside of the russian society, and we didn't talk much because he was a very taciturn person, never really spoke much at all. we also invited phil and his wife to the conference. that was interesting. the room could not have been more than seven feet square, and the three of us, plus the
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the mrs. listening to what we were listening to. it was quite an experience. a little embarrassing, but nonetheless, great. did you know -- benjamin: no, i did not know him. >> one thing i thought was very charming was when you forgot to remove the shutter. benjamin: [laughter] whenve the final test these mockup switches were going no, i'm sorry. they were not the switches, the mockup, they were the real switches.
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the real switches had arrived. ulky.were kind of b they were nothing like the little pins we were using. they were professionally manufactured. and donald mind up, was there because it was a very important test. .e lined them up it's took me probably five hours to wire everything up properly. it was probably 3:00 in the morning when the thing went off. don said to me, would it be funny if you forgot to remove , very much like any camera, it had a shutter in front of the film. feethutter was five
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long. he said, wouldn't it be funny if you forgot to remove the shutter. at that point, i remember that i forgot to move the shutter. crawled away. i told him that i forgot to remove the shutter, and he .aughed he was very reassuring and said, we will do it over again. we did it again the next night, and i will always have a soft spot in my heart for him for not killing me for having ruined the first exper experiment. >> let's go to wendover. tell us about wendover. wendover, of course, forthe staging area field
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the 509 bombarding 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 prepare to trigger it. armed while not they were not over a target. it. had two arem i was one of the people who was chosen to instruct them on how to throw the switches and are m it. they were all caps on, lieutenants, and majors -- s, lieutenants, and
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majors. i was supposed to instruct them. you know the army is a very hierarchal organization. you can not instruct the captain to do anything. they realized it would never do. some genius decided to make me a civilian artificially. $200.ave me that was an experience in itself . the set, go to santa fe, and by thes.ian clo sure enough, i bought some civilian clothes. i buy a sharp jacket, some pants, a shirt, a tie. i went back to the barracks, i wore them, and everybody was really thrilled. everybody was making enormous jokes. but, i couldn't buy shoes because shoes were rationed. i only had on me shoes, which are inside out, so you see the
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rough part of the shoe, and they go up into the ankle. i needed issue russian rationcate -- a shoe certificate. i went to the security officer to explain to him, and i had to get a note from my commanding officer, who, by the way, my commanding officer didn't know anything about the atomic bomb, so they were all very -- there was always a certain tension. of course, we knew. we felt very important. we were probably pretty snarky about it, and they didn't care for our attitude, i'm sure. permissionot written , which i have in my records. i got written permission,
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probably the only secret document in the army which permits a person to buy a pair shoes. boughtermission, and it -- i bought a pair of civilian shoes. i masqueraded as a civilian in my periodic trips to wendover. we would go to albuquerque, take a flights to wendover, flying over the desert, and lands. stay in a motel. a civilian in a motel, that was a luxury, a private room. i would work with them during the daytime, and at night. it was right near nevada, i would gamble at night in the gambling casinos, having a ball, playing blackjack. fly back --
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i would become a g.i. for a while. ae next time i would do it as civilian. a really schizophrenic life i was living there for a while. >> can you describe the jacket? benjamin: it was a very sharp jacket. i thought about that for a long time -- this is my only chance to have a sharp -- i'm not going to buy a conservative tweet d jacket. i can't remember to this day if it was blue or green. i think it was green. it may have been read. it was a very sharp jacket. that is what caused hilarity in the barracks. i realize there was no reason why i couldn't do it. no one can stop me. that was my way of showing my
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independence from the army. >> let's see. then, should we go to taking -- ienjamin: it was clear -- think that must have been june. you probably know better than i do. late may or early june. i was given orders to go to the assembly place for the very
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wiren that i knew how to the switches. along with a few dozen others, or 50ly for your 50 -- 40 , took this military plane. it was not a very comfortable most, very much like military passenger planes called the green hornet. the green hornet flew me plus another civilian, and stevenson, who is professor at the university of virginia, and a few others. a l.a. and then hawaii.
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we stayed in l.a. overnight, and guam, andfinally to .rom guam to tinian ofy were part of the group japanese protectorates, and were that by not far beyond the americans. there were hundreds of ballmer bombers nine -- shuttling back and forth between there. that is where we set up shop. ut.had a living h the thing i loved about being once you gotthat
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away from the u.s., this artificial barrier between officers, enlisted men, and civilians was completely gone. civilians and officers were living exactly how the work. that made me feel a lot better. i never liked the idea of the officers have better quarters than i did. >> let's see. books -- sted in the you can't get up. benjamin: i'm not giving up. there is a loosely notebook there on my desk. it says the army on it. this is my various materials, if
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you want to find when you want to look at later. here is my pocketbook of verse. can you see that? from the cover pocketbook of verse, which i covered everywhere -- carried everywhere. i was standing on my much of my daylight hours, and i would read poems for months at a time. i learned to love some of these poems. this is the cover. the original cover broke off early on, and i made an unofficial cover. it says "the pocketbook of the hours idling away on tinian.
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in the general's autobiography, he doesn't really mention the d sed. we were invisible to a lot of these big brass, but he decided it was time for him to meet some. he called us together, it was probably early december 1945, 1944. he gave us a lecture. the lecture had nothing to do with atomic bombs. it was a lecture telling us to bring home to our parents on christmas because they need to hear from us because they are very worried about us, so please write home to your parents. interestingly enough, looking at some information that i saw on the kelly's website, the atomic heritage foundation, i saw some
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sort of note from somebody at oak ridge. he talked about having met general gross. he mentioned it. the general told him to be sure to write home to his parents. so, i realized that he is going run all the sites telling everyone to write home to their parents. that was my interaction with the general. since i was a good voice, i wrote home to my parents anyway. i didn't need him to tell me that. one of the true ironies of history, who could have ever imagined this. ianen was laidteen out something like the island of manhattan.
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there was sort of a front island -- flat island, looking roughly like manhattan. they laid it out with these streets names like 42nd street, fifth avenue, broadway, 19th avenue. tianen was laid out like manhattan. to think of is of the: nation of the manhattan project was something that no one could have ever invented. it happened by. chance. who would believe it? unless there is some guiding that is really telling us what to do. it makes you think about that. >> people have no idea. benjamin: no. that was long before we got there. huts, two resident
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that wasoratory hut air-conditioned, much fancier than our living quarters. it had a dark room because it use theessary to test -- street camera, which i should mention was shipped over. the camera we used at los alamos was shipped over to test the switches, the real switches. hut when i was told that someone was going to give us a visit. usual teened in my ianen way. on and shorts, and that was all. i didn't have assured.
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the people in charge said, this will not do because curtis levay , a big shot general, would not like to see a g.i. dressed like you are. so, it was too late to bring me back to my barracks, so they shove me into the dark room, close the door, and turned on the light. i stay there for about half an hour, and they finally knocked on my door and said, ok, he is finally gone. what a funnying visit it was because they kept telling curtis levay how important the bomb was, and he was very skeptical about the whole thing. he had been sending hundreds of these incendiary missions over day innd other cities
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and day out over months. to think that one bomb, one plane could do the work of his entire force was too much to take. he just didn't believe it. realized -- when he became head of the strategic air particularlyidn't take the use of atom bombs off the table in a possible cold war. of a hook allch of his life. , where were you? how did you learn about the dropping of the bomb? benjamin: the night before, august 5, we knew the bomb would be dropped that night, that it would take off that evening. i wasn't invited to see the take off.
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i didn't ask to see the take off. i think i was beginning to feel a little funny about it. we stayed in our barracks. there were photographers who were told to take pictures of he was thef writer,ished u.s. times and he was interviewing us about it. we knew the secrecy was about to be lost. we were a little more open than usual, but we couldn't say exactly when it was. we talked a little encircles a bit about what was going to happen. i went to bed, it must've been
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12:00. i wake up the next morning, and we have a radio. i turned on the radio, and that is when we heard about the bomb. .t had already been dropped announcers were already announcing it. los alamos was already being spoken about. the secret was out. everything was done. agasak was changed. i knewrld had changed, it would change, and sure enough, it changed. of course, i forgot to mention -- we all knew how important it was all along.
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>> you kept a diary? benjamin: yes, it is right there. , andbooka new book started writing in it the day i took off from los alamos. let me see if i can find august 5. i will just read the first paragraph from august august 5. , to a are 18 campus cots them are being temporarily occupied by baby photographers, who have just flown from guam to fill our set up and take off.
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most of the fellows are gathered t, one corner of the hun and there's much excited talk. the navy men are completely confused by the hints, and their wildest speculations. i go on and on about that. let's see. let's see if i can find august 6. i spend a lot of time at that. mi lk about my job, my ignition expert. then, after you back to left out alamos, ick to los
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said, my god, what have i said? may is that something that i should have said in my diaries. i was a two pack a day smoker. isn't that amazing? i destroyedas evidence. [laughter] just to make sure. the thing i said about the .-unit, i destroyed i try to make it look like an accident, by don't think it was. wait a minute. then, my next and she was august 10 -- my next entry was august 10.
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i was so excited, i don't think i wrote for three days afterwards. said, on wrote and august 10, "today, there are farmers in wisconsin talking about atomic bombs over the dinner table. there must be callous streetcorner arguments about atomic bombs in every city in the country. people around the world must be est with thesober knowledge that this thing is bigger than it appears, and though it will help in this war end this more, it might very well mean other important things. a few days ago, the best cap secret of the war is now being talked about and written about more than even i thought it would be.
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it is funny that all along i knew what this weapon meant, that there is no overestimating its importance, yet i know that the news is out, and i'm still amazed by the treatment it is getting, though i know it's destructive power, i was still awestruck and by the after photographs of hiroshima." but i nagasaki before, by meant hiroshima. is that enough? do you want more? with a gadget, there was no possibility of an anti-climax. the day after we dropped the first one, i divided my predicted duration of the war, which was one year originally,
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by two. two,ided the quotient by and the next day when russia -- red the war now, i say three months, and i'm a pessimist about these things. we are now listening to the .ourly news conference this is the one where some publicity searcher named jacobson, who none of us have aa bomb are aimed an habitable for at least 70 years. that is not true. that is enough of that. time in myot of diary after that writing about
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the consequences. i don't think you want to read about my pontificating about international control. control.nking about i said, there is no other way. it has to be international because sooner or later, someone else will get the bomb. then what will you do? there will be two countries with the bomb, then there might be for countries with the bomb, and there is no end to it. how can you live in a world filled with international -- with nuclear weapons. it has to be under international control. at the end of my pontificating, i said, i am probably all wets. and not is proliferated under international control. who knows if it ever will be.
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it is still with us and a bigger threat than ever. it was august 10 or 11th wendy war ended. when the armistice was announced. >> 14th. benjamin: wasn't the 14th? excited.t, i got so i had heard about it. i was listening to the radio. i went over to the officers tend , which was exactly the same as , and i said, wake up, the war is over. the adjusting part of that is that was an expression that all the guys, especially when we were playing handball or stickball, or whatever we were doing, and somebody was half asleep, we would say, wake up,
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the war is over. in my life, i will be able to use his expression once. so, i said, wake up, the war is over. that was a: nation of a long dream of mine. he was sort of drowsy. to realize a while what had happened. then of course, there was the aftermath. it was probably an outgrowth of my experience at los alamos and elsewhere. relatedssed science issues. of course, one of the most important issues was the atomic bomb.
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would spend part of the course talking about the atomic bomb, and the students always raise did truman make a mistake in dropping the bomb. many people think it was a mistake to drop the bomb. i did not think it was a mistake. usually i would look at the students in the class, all young people, 19-21 years old, and i would say, you know, many of your parents would have been killed if there had been an invasion of japan, and it would have been an invasion is the japanese had not surrendered. you would not be here, of course, there is no way of knowing that, but you have to realize that dropping the bomb saved american lives. it killed a lot of people, and you can never understand the horror of that, no doubt about
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that, but war is horrible. war was going on, people were getting killed all the time, and americans were getting killed. i guess the first thought was to save american lives. who can tell how many japanese lives would have been lost if invasion of japan. probably a lot. i think it was an argument that was very telling. the students, many of the students, understood that. decision, but t truman made the right decision. not many years after the atomic , and a fewopped years after there was a lot of testing of atomic weapons, the insians succeeded developing a bomb.
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the hydrogen bomb had a destructive power many times .arger than the atomic bomb now, the world is filled with in the russian arsenal, the american arsenal, and who knows. the hydrogen bomb, if it was dropped in manhattan, we destroy the entire city -- the entire island. 2-3,000,000hat people would have been killed and the entire culture of america would have been destroyed. it is 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 an international control of atomic weapons and their destruction.
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the distant future, if we still exists, the world will come to its senses, we will form a truly well policed, organized organization, part of the united nations, hopefully, and atomic weapons will be destroyed. god if i will live to see it, but maybe people in the audience will see it. it is worth looking forward to. if it happens, it won't happen for a long time, but it might happen. >> we continue now with our look back to the august 1945 atomic bombings of hiroshima and nagasaki, japan. , each week, american history


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