President Truman Announces Development of H-bomb

President Truman Announces Development of H-bomb


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U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.

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Truman announces development of H-bomb

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.


Jan 31, 1950: Truman Announces Development of H-Bomb

U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.


Sekcastillohistory20

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.


The Hydrogen Bomb

After the Soviet atomic bomb success, the idea of building a hydrogen bomb received new impetus in the United States. In this type of bomb, deuterium and tritium (hydrogen isotopes) are fused into helium, thereby releasing energy. There is no limit on the yield of this weapon.

The scientific community split over the issue of building a hydrogen bomb. Edward Teller, who had explored the idea of a 'super' during the Manhattan Project, supported its development.

Edward Teller

Men like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and I.I. Rabi opposed its development. Fermi and Rabi wrote, "Since no limit exists to the destructiveness of this weapon, its existence and knowledge of its construction is a danger to humanity as a whole."

However the Cold War was beginning to escalate. A group of scientists led by Edward Teller supported its development. They made direct approaches to the military and the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

In 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced work on the hydrogen bomb was to continue. Savannah River, South Carolina, became the site for the nation's hydrogen bomb production facility the following year. The facility produced tritium for the nation's nuclear arsenal until safety concerns halted production in 1990.


President Truman's Statement Announcing the First Soviet A-Bomb

I believe the American people, to the fullest extent consistent with national security, are entitled to be informed of all developments in the field of atomic energy. That is my reason for making public the following information.

We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R.

Ever since atomic energy was first released by man, the eventual development of this new force by other nations was to be expected. This probability has always been taken into account by us.

Nearly 4 years ago I pointed out that "scientific opinion appears to be practically unanimous that the essential theoretical knowledge upon which the discovery is based is already widely known. There is also substantial agreement that foreign research can come abreast of our present theoretical knowledge in time." And, in the Three-Nation Declaration of the President of the United States and the Prime Ministers of United Kingdom and of Canada, dated November 15, 1945, it was emphasized that no single nation could in fact have a monopoly of atomic weapons.

This recent development emphasizes once again, if indeed such emphasis were needed, the necessity for that truly effective enforceable international control of atomic energy which this Government and the large majority of the members of the United Nations support.


The H-Bomb Decision

In September 1949, the first Russian bomb created a changed situation.

The debate among the scientists centered, largely, around the opinions of two men, Edward Teller and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Teller had championed the development of a super bomb since its theoretic proposal almost a decade hence. In 1949 had Teller returned as a visitor to Los Alamos with the main purpose to continue the improvement of the fission bomb. Teller stressed the need to remain ahead of the Soviets in the arms race, recognizing the ominous shadow Stalin's empire cast over Western Europe and beyond. Only a few years before, American scientists had raced to develop an atomic bomb before Hitler's Germany could accomplish the feat. To Teller, Stalin and his ideology were no less dangerous, and Soviet power could only be checked by American science.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) influential General Advisory Committee (GAC), felt much differently on the issue. Oppenheimer consistently demonstrated his approval of various types of fission bombs. However, he and several colleagues considered the hydrogen bomb a very different type of weapon. In the closing days of October 1949, the GAC prepared a report outlining its recommendations for H-bomb development. The report included an addendum, written by Harvard University President James B. Conant and signed by Oppenheimer, which stated, in part: "We believe a super bomb should never be produced. In determining not to proceed to develop the super bomb, we see a unique opportunity of providing by example some limitations on the totality of war and thus of limiting the fear and arousing the hopes of mankind."

While the scientists debated the ethics of the hydrogen bomb, another debate raged over its military value. Conant's GAC addendum declared "the bomb might become a weapon of genocide," because "Its use would involve a decision to slaughter a vast number of civilians" and "there is no inherent limit in the destructive power that may be attained with them." Robert Bacher, a Project Y physicist and former AEC commissioner, also questioned how useful a hydrogen bomb might be. In a May, 1950 Scientific-American article, he argued: "From the point of military effectiveness, there seems to be little reason to attach such great significance to the hydrogen bomb. While it is a terrible weapon, its military importance seems to have been grossly overrated in the mind of the layman."

Bacher added, "The most tragic part is that the hydrogen bomb will not save us and is not even a very good addition to our military potential." However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), chaired by General Omar Bradley, unanimously recommended proceeding with the development project. In a November 1949 report, JCS stated: "possession of a thermonuclear weapon by the USSR without such possession by the United States would be intolerable." It became clear, certainly within military circles, that the hydrogen bomb's value came not in its tactical effectiveness but in its awesome power to deter.

The debate eventually reached Capitol Hill, where Senator Brien McMahon (D-Connecticut), chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, energetically called for the H-bomb's immediate development. Many Democrats, Republicans, and soldiers agreed that further negotiations with the Soviets were hopeless. McMahon's broad coalition enjoyed overwhelming support from the public, but met determined opposition from within the federal government. McMahon's chief opponent was David E. Lilienthal, chairman of the AEC. Lilienthal's position, shared by most of his fellow commissioners and the GAC, stated the H-bomb "would not further the common defense, and it might harm us, by making the prospects of the other course - toward peace - even less good than they are now."

Although Lilienthal could count on the support of Oppenheimer, Bacher, Enrico Fermi, and several other noted scientists, he faced equally resolute opponents such as Teller, Ernest Lawrence, McMahon, and fellow AEC commissioners, Gordon Dean and Lewis Strauss. Strauss, a conservative businessman, argued his case in a November 1949 letter addressed to President Truman. He reached the same conclusion as the JCS had: "The danger in the weapon does not reside in its physical nature but in human behavior. Its unilateral renunciation by the United States could very easily result in its unilateral possession by the Soviet Government. I am unable to see any satisfaction in that prospect." With a multitude of articulate opinions at his disposal, the president prepared to make a decision.

Truman formed a special committee of the National Security Council, made up of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, and the AEC chief, Lilienthal, to explore all aspects (scientific, military, political, etc.) of H-bomb development. Lilienthal, contrary to his previous stance, joined Acheson and Johnson, endorsing a plan to proceed with the "Super." With this final recommendation, the president issued a public statement on the matter.

Though his dedication to the project is unquestionable, Truman really had no other choice. Only months before, the Soviets had detonated their first atomic bomb, Joe-1. The Soviet bomb was a copy of "Fat Man," based on plans provided by Klaus Fuchs, a German expatriate who served at Los Alamos under the auspices of the British Mission. For the first time, Americans realized Soviet spies had gained access to the nation's most closely guarded secrets. The brief reign the United States had enjoyed as the world's only nuclear power was over. Joseph Stalin had claimed a share of the atom's power only the internal weakness of his own country and a few American warheads maintained the fragile parity between the two superpowers. The realities of global, Cold War politics had, in effect, necessitated an aggressive response from Truman.

On 31 January 1950, President Truman announced his decision on the hydrogen bomb, that this program should be pursued. "It is part of my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to see to it that our country is able to defend itself against any possible aggressor. Accordingly, I have directed the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or super-bomb."


Harry Truman and The Bomb

When Harry S. Truman was told on April 12, 1945, by Eleanor Roosevelt that her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was dead, Truman reacted true to form.

He asked if there was anything he could do. Her famous reply: “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

Trouble indeed. Truman would soon learn just how much FDR did not tell him about the status of the war effort.

Moments after Truman’s hastily-called swearing in ceremony, Secretary of War Henry Stimson lingered to speak with him about an “immense project.” Stimson briefly told Truman about the Manhattan Project, but Truman deferred an in-depth discussion to a later date.

The nation was in shock over the death of FDR, the only President many Americans had ever known, and World War II raged on. Germany was close to collapse, but it appeared that the war against Japan might go to the Japanese mainland and drag out into 1946. Amidst these troubles, Truman had to learn all the things FDR did not tell his newly-elected Vice President, in office only 82 days.

The issue of the “immense project”—the atomic bomb—re-surfaced April 24 when Stimson pressed for an appointment. Truman met with him the next day. The President listened intently. He already knew some sketchy details from his days in the Senate when he discovered secret War Department spending. Stimson advised Truman to appoint a committee to study the use of atomic weapons, which Truman took under consideration.

For the moment, any decisions regarding the use of the atomic bomb were put off. Elsewhere, plans for the invasion of Kyushu, Japan’s southern-most province, proceeded in earnest. Truman remained hopeful Japan might surrender, given the great damage inflicted by strategic bombing.

In May 1945, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew spoke to Truman about a plan to get Japan to surrender. Truman gave his support and presented it to the Joint Chiefs. The use of atomic weapons remained under consideration and no final decision was made. Truman sought the advice and opinions of others. He prepared himself and read voraciously.

As the Allied Powers prepared to meet in Potsdam, Germany, Truman wanted to release another surrender ultimatum at the meeting. He hoped the ultimatum would coincide with a successful test of the atomic bomb to demonstrate the resolve of the Allies to Japan.

Still, early in July 1945, no final decision was made about the bomb, but Truman knew it was a viable option and he continued to gather information. The committee formed to study this new weapon met and advised Truman to use it immediately—and without warning. No demonstration as a warning was recommended. Truman consulted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who concurred.

No doubt the weight of the world was on Truman’s shoulders, and the final decision was not easy.Finally, he concluded it was his decision, alone, if, when, and where to use the bomb. On July 24, 1945, the order was issued to U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces with operational control delegated to its commander, General Carl Spaatz.

If the recent invasion of Okinawa was any predictor, an amphibious invasion of the Japanese mainland was unthinkable. Neither were the estimated millions of American lives that would be lost if mainland Japan was invaded.

This, in part, prompted Truman to give Japan one more chance to surrender. Another warning was issued to the Japanese on July 26 from the Potsdam conference. On July 28, Japan announced its intention to continue the war. There was no alternative—Truman had to take action to end the war.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed on August 6 and August 9, respectively, and the war came to a dramatic end a few days later.

For his part, Truman never regretted his decision—nor did he ever gloat, even in the face of decades of second-guessing by those who disagreed with him.

Truman made the decision, and, as he was fond of saying, “that’s all there was to it.”

Professor Lacy drew this account from Truman’s memoirs and from the archives of the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO. Dr. Lacy can be contacted at [email protected].

To view original documents relating to the use of the A-bomb, visit the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum’s website.


Truman announces development of H-bomb

Lt Col Charlie Brown

campaign=hist-tdih-2021-0131
U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.
Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.



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