Air University Review, January-February 1984

America Faces the Atomic Age:

Dr. Lloyd J. Graybar
Ruth Flint Graybar

IN July 1946, two atomic bombs of the Nagasaki type were tested at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in a widely publicized military exercise known as Operation Crossroads. Representatives of the broadcast and print media were invited to attend. For all except William Laurence of the New York Times, this would be the first chance to witness an atomic explosion. Under the circumstances, ballyhoo was inevitable (one million words were sent back about the first test) and belied the solemnity of the event. The first of the two bombs to be used in the two separate tests––an air drop on 1 July and an underwater explosion on the twenty-fifth––was adorned with a picture of Rita Hayworth; the filming of Rendezvous 24, a so-called atomic-bomb drama featuring a typically buxom Hollywood starlet, had been announced some weeks before; at least one baby (Atomic Victory Trotter) and dozens of horses were named for the atom: Atom Buster, Cosmic Bomb, Sir Atom, to name a few. A French political cartoonist displayed considerable insight into the American penchant for hoopla when, shortly after the initial test, he drew a cartoon that depicted the heroes of Bikini––some pigs that had been among the numerous test animals studied there––receiving a ticker-tape parade on Broadway after their imagined return from the Marshall Islands test site.1

However, the Bikini pigs were soon found to have radiation sickness, additional victims of the way of death unique to the atomic age. Many observers began to recognize that Bikini was not an occasion for levity, and much serious discussion took place about the tests among the American people and in the media. As a new phenomenon––one for which history offered no precedent––there was a wide variety of opinion about the tests and the A-bomb itself. This article, examining both polls and journalistic impressions, will discuss the spectrum of this opinion.

These tests were not the only news of 1946 that centered on the nuclear question. Two related issues were being considered. One, which would take nearly a year to resolve, involved discussions being held in Congress about the domestic control of atomic energy. The Manhattan Engineer District, which had ected wartime nuclear development, would be terminated, its functions to be taken over by a new body. Two bills outlining the nature and duties of this agency had been introduced: the May-Johnson bill in September 1945 and the McMahon bill two months later.2

The second issue was the presentation in June 1946 of an American plan to the United Nations to establish international controls on atomic energy, Named the Baruch Plan after the chief U.S. negotiator Bernard Baruch, the plan called for the establishment of a United Nations commission that would have the right to conduct inspections of nuclear facilities throughout the world. Discussions continued throughout the remainder of 1946, with various proposals and counterproposals made by the United States, by the Soviet Union, and, on occasion, by other members of the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission. In particular, two measures dear to Mr. Baruch seemed to create controversy: waiver of the Security Council veto on questions having to do with violations of any forthcoming nuclear treaty and open inspection of the raw materials necessary for nuclear development.3

In the midst of these ongoing matters, atom bomb tests were scheduled to take place at Bikini. The decision to hold the tests had been made late in 1945, following the announcement of rival Army Air Forces and Navy plans to conduct nuclear weapon tests on warships. The AAF proposed using only surviving Japanese warships as targets; the Navy's plan was broader and included both German and Japanese vessels but also an unspecified number (eventually almost six dozen) of U.S. ships of various types from battleship and aircraft carrier to submarine and landing craft. With some adjustments that took into account both air and ground force requirements and the recommendations of civilian consultants, the tests would be conducted as a joint exercise along lines envisioned by the Navy to be under the command of Vice Admiral William Henry Purnell Blandy, the U.S. Navy's ranking expert on the development of missiles and nuclear weapons.4

Originally slated for May 1946, the planned tests were criticized by several members of Congress (most conspicuously, Senators James Huffman and Scott Lucas and Representatives Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas, all Democrats). The Federation of American Scientists, an organization with chapters in major universities and nuclear research centers, was also active in criticizing the upcoming tests and in mobilizing opposition to them. Both groups raised the question: could the tests be construed as a crude flexing of America's nuclear muscle to the detriment of already tense Soviet-American relations? 5

To many opponents of the atomic tests, it seemed obvious that there was a high probability that the tests would indeed jeopardize U.S.-Soviet relations in the United Nations and elsewhere and would prejudice chances for enactment of the McMahon bill whose backers were striving to ensure civilian control of America's atomic energy development. But how did the American public view these issues? In particular, how did the public perceive the power of the bomb in this first postwar year, and was there any widespread awareness that the atomic testing program seemed to work at cross-purposes with the other two nuclear questions, both of which implied restrictions on the development of atomic energy for military purposes.6

Some insight into these matters can be gained from polling data. On 13 February, the American Institute of Public Opinion (the Gallup Poll) released the results of two polls dealing with the forthcoming tests. One asked whether representatives of other nations should be allowed to observe the tests. The second inquired whether reports of the tests should be given to other nations. In both polls nearly two-thirds of the respondents answered negatively. Keeping what was naively thought of as the atomic secret was obviously the desire of these people. Only the college-educated seemed to have substantial doubts about the wisdom of keeping the secret, perhaps because, as an earlier survey had indicated, they thought it could not be kept for as long as five years, the time experts regarded as the maximum for the maintenance of America's nuclear monopoly.7

While Americans wanted to keep the secret, they also (some 70 percent) wished to see the United Nations prohibit the production of atomic bombs, according to the National Opinion Research Center. The large majority of that group also expressed a willingness for the United States to destroy the bombs already in its possession––if and when the United Nations found a way to stop the manufacture of A-bombs. Most Americans also seemed willing to have international inspection teams check on the observance of any forthcoming U.N. nuclear regulations, but only a small plurality (39 percent to 33 percent) of those who favored inspection were willing to see the secret jeopardized during the inspection process. Few would have given the secret to the United Nations.8

These polls indicate two things: that in a general way Americans were favorable to international controls on atomic energy as a weapon but that they wished to preserve the atomic secret, an indication that many regarded the A-bomb as something extraordinary. If anyone had to have the A-bomb, it should continue to be the United States. However, advocates of both views would very likely have said that their position was the best way to preserve peace. "Those who want the secret kept are more likely to feel the existence of the bomb may tend to avert war," concluded University of Michigan opinion analysts. "Those who favor turning it over to the U.N. are more likely to feel that it has made peace harder to keep."9 Since the Truman administration was trying to work through the United Nations to control the atom but also was continuing to keep the bomb in its arsenal, as the plans for Operation Crossroads testified, it is not surprising that Americans were uncertain which of these courses their government was pursuing: 35 percent indicated belief that the United States was trying to work through the United Nations to promote peace; 34 percent felt that we were trying to keep ahead in developing the bomb; 18 percent said both; and 13 percent simply admitted indecision.10

The media as well as the pollsters often turned to the nuclear theme throughout 1946. Of the major stories that dealt with atomic matters, the Bikini tests were the single biggest attention getter. In the days immediately following the tests, Bikini attracted more than 20 percent of the front-page newspaper space and more than 5 percent of the editorial space.11 The government itself recognized the importance of the story, doing its best to facilitate coverage of the two tests by providing a separate press ship and designating its own public information officer, Navy Captain Fitzhugh Lee.12

The actual tests, although the most dramatic phase of the Bikini operation, were by no means the only aspect to draw extensive coverage. Preparations for the tests continued for several months and also received attention, much of it unfortunately overblown (such as one article that compared Admiral Blandy to Buck Rogers of science fiction fame). Other analysts were more restrained. A few endeavored to assess Crossroads in its interrelationships with the two other major developments in the nuclear field––the congressional debates and maneuverings that resulted in the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and the U.N. discussions that ultimately failed to provide international control of atomic energy. The apparent connection between the Bikini tests and the McMahon bill came up in February 1946 when President Harry Truman named a civilian review board to report to him about the results of the tests. Many observers saw the link between this and the ongoing debate over establishing civilian control of atomic energy. "The President's decision to set up a civilian review board as a 'Supreme Court' on final evaluation of the forthcoming tests of the atomic bomb against naval vessels has sharpened the issue raised by the War and Navy Departments on the terms of the bill to control and develop atomic energy, sponsored by Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut," argued Arthur Krock in the New York Times. "To the Army and Navy the President's latest decision is a step farther in that ection."13

The following month Truman decided to postpone the first of the tests from 15 May until 1 July, a date Blandy regarded as the last satisfactory one for holding the initial test. As it was, postponement was something of a gamble because weather conditions in the Marshall Islands were more variable in July; clear skies and predictable wind patterns were essential for the airdrop, or Able test.14

The reason for postponement of the tests was to allow the more than 50 members of Congress who had been invited to witness the tests the time to stay in Washington to attend to needed legislative business dealing with labor matters and appropriations. However, the chance to announce a postponement, or cancellation, could have had a beneficial impact on the tense international situation. Critics of the tests certainly felt so. An important Big Four foreign ministers meeting to discuss peace treaties for Nazi Germany's European allies was scheduled to convene in Paris in May, and postponing the tests (the later the better, argued Secretary of State James F. Byrnes at a Cabinet meeting) might well improve the atmosphere at the beginning of the talks. Byrnes would have preferred canceling the tests, for he feared that holding them would make the United States seem like an "atomic dictator." The Navy and War departments demurred. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was one of the earliest advocates of the tests, and while grudgingly acquiescing in postponement, he did not wish to see them called off.15

Opinion was fairly closely divided about postponing the exercise. Polls revealed that there was much uncertainty about this question and, surprisingly, just a small plurality in favor of holding the tests. Major elements of the population, including women and those more than fifty years old, held no objection to cancellation. The college-educated, on the other hand, wanted to see Operation Crossroads conducted, at first glance a puzzling statistic to those who would expect the educated to be more liberal and more likely to question the uses of nuclear power. Although J. Robert Oppenheimer and several other outstanding atomic scientists argued that laboratory data could provide all the information the Navy would need about the A-bomb's effects on ships, the likeliest explanation is that the college educated simply viewed the tests––the experimental method––as a necessary way of obtaining data about the A-bomb's effect on the Navy. Some also might have had a pessimistic reading of the international situation in mind. For example, several newspapers questioned the postponement, fearing that it might lead to a decision to call off the test program altogether. The reasoning of syndicated columnist Ernest Lindley suggests why. Lindley took alarm from the fact that several congressmen opposed holding the tests at any time. "The advocates of canceling the tests," insisted Lindley, "seem to be walking along the trail which nearly led us to disaster after the First World War." Perhaps because they reasoned this way themselves or accepted the military necessity of Operation Crossroads, World War II veterans overwhelmingly favored proceeding with the tests.16

The postponement notwithstanding, preparations for the first test went ahead throughout the spring of 1946. Vessels congregated at Pearl Harbor and other major naval installations to have war damage repaired, watertight integrity checked and restored where necessary, and instrumentation installed that would measure blast pressure, heat, radioactivity, and other phenomena of a nuclear explosion. The ships then sailed to the large lagoon of Bikini Atoll where final inspections were made and the vessels were arranged in a carefully determined anchorage. As naval spokesmen stressed, the test ships were spaced so that graded damage from maximum to slight would be obtained.17

The first of the two tests was held on 1 July, the high-flying B-29 Dave's Dream dropping an A-bomb of the Nagasaki type. The battleship Nevada, a Pearl Harbor veteran, was to be the target ship, but the bomb missed by a substantial distance, several hundred feet according to press releases but in actuality by nearly a half-mile. Although one correspondent recalls hearing that the bomb had the "ballistic characteristics of a garbage can," senior AAF officers were surprised at the magnitude of the error, given the high quality of the bombing crew and the intensive training they had undertaken. At any event, no reason for the error was ascertained. While much of the hoped-for data could still be gathered from the array of instruments once the place of detonation was pinpointed, only five ships were sunk. Although a participant whose ship proceeded through the target array a few days after recalled that the voyage was like a "nautical trip through Hades," initial media impressions of the test showed disappointment. One radio broadcaster, heard on a nationwide hookup, quickly noted in apparent surprise that Bikini itself was still there as were the palm trees that fringed the lagoon. Many witnesses shared his surprise. Admiral John Hoover, a member of the Joint Chiefs evaluation board, believed that the bomb had not gone off as planned. Admiral William Parsons, the weaponeer on the Hiroshima bombing mission, felt that the able-day bomb was less powerful than either the Hiroshima or Nagasaki A-bombs. A reporter compared the sound of the nuclear explosion to that of a "discreet belch" emanating from the far end of a bar. Radio listeners were also disappointed. One Bostonian observed of the test: "There were more explosions in that first [Red Sox] game at Fenway yesterday!" A "dud-by-dud" description, complained another Bostonian, his mind also on baseball.18

In a more ominous vein, the Chicago Tribune observed editorially that the test demonstrated that the perils of the atomic bomb had been exaggerated by internationalists hoping to see the bomb outlawed. "The danger now," worried the Baltimore Sun, "is not that the experiment will be construed by other nations as an intolerable act of provocation, but that it will cause a 'great sigh of relief' both here and abroad." Taking his cue from the atomic scientists, broadcaster Raymond Gram Swing had predicted much the same months before.19

Soon, however, more sober reports began to be noted, especially about the mounting incidence of radioactivity. Many reporters began to file stories that stressed the awesome force of the bomb, apparently in an effort to counteract the misleading impression that the first of the Bikini bombs was not that devastating and that the development of the A-bomb was to TNT as TNT had been to gunpowder, the conclusion that one witness feared would be drawn. Whether the motive of these writers was to counteract a publicity letdown, as the publication Twohey's Analysis of Newspaper Opinion suggests, is not clear. Some reporters, at least, seem to have been motivated by a desire to rebut the disconcerting flippancy of such comments as "the next war's not going to be so bad after all." For example, Anne O'Hare McCormick, writing in the New York Times, declared:

In peacetime the atom bomb is more reverberant than it was as the final thunderbolt of war as a warning that war has found a way to end mankind before mankind has found a way to end war. Perhaps the chief usefulness of the macabre thriller on the atoll, which seems as unreal as it seems ill-timed, is to compel attention and give reality to the great debate in the United Nations on the control of atomic energy.20

The second test––a subsurface one––was scheduled for 25 July. In this test the bomb was to be suspended several dozen feet beneath the ocean's surface. Although fewer reporters were on hand for this test, Bikini still rated more newspaper space than most stories of the day, which included the developing cold war and, on the domestic scene, demobilization, inflation, and strikes.21

Those observers who remained seem to have been much more impressed with this test––"At first we thought that Baker had 'shot the works,' "exclaimed one excited onlooker––partly because several capital ships were sunk and partly because the lethal effects of the radioactive spray that had cascaded upon the ships were soon evident. Weeks later the Navy could still refer to many of the surviving ships as "radioactive stoves." It was now argued that the sum result of the two tests demonstrated that war could no longer be considered a legitimate instrument of national policy.22

Other journalists, however, persisted in believing that the much-heralded tests had been disappointing and felt that the public reaction to the atomic bomb now seemed to be one of apathy. William Laurence, the highly respected science reporter of the New York Times, declared that the average American "had expected one bomb to sink the entire Bikini fleet, kill all the animals aboard, make a hole in the bottom of the ocean, and create tidal waves that would be felt for thousands of miles." Since nothing of the sort had happened, he feared that the bomb had become just another weapon to the American people. Laurence was not alone in this belief. "It was hoped in some places," argued the Los Angeles Times, "that the Bikini tests would clear heads [of bomb happiness], like a strong whiff of smelling salts. But they didn't." The Nation lamented that this indeed seemed to be the case, while Norman Cousins, in the Saturday Review, said, "Then you realize that the atomic bomb is no longer a novelty on the face of the earth, no longer a phenomenon. After four bombs, the mystery dissolves into a pattern. By this time there is almost a standardization of catastrophe."23

Despite such forebodings (the New Republic to the contrary considered the atom bomb obsolete and was more worried about the use of poison gas against population centers since it did not destroy property), it is not at all clear that the Bikini tests had the consequences thoughtful journalists feared. For instance, while some might be inclined to discount the American Legion's declaration that the atomic secret should be kept, many others shared this belief. The University of Michigan Survey Research Center conducted pretest and post-test studies, asking whether the discovery of the A-bomb had made it easier to keep peace in the world and whether people were worried about the bomb. More people answered "yes" in the follow-up poll. Those who thought the United States should keep the secret actually increased after Operation Crossroads, seemingly believing, as the Arizona Republic stated, that the bomb was America's "ace in the hole." Therefore, considerable respect seems to have remained for the atomic bomb.24

After the Bikini tests were over, the other two issues that kept nuclear energy at the forefront of the news in 1946 still had to be resolved; one soon was. The McMahon bill was enacted a day after the Baker test, and the members of the new Atomic Energy Commission were appointed in October. The law provided that no military men would serve on the commission, so in principle civilian primacy in nuclear affairs was established. Nevertheless, military participation was provided for by means of a liaison and review board, and, as we all know, civilian control did not mean that the military applications of atomic energy would be denied.25

Negotiations at the United Nations continued for months. In December, hopes were raised that an agreement might be forthcoming, but they were soon dashed. Baruch resigned as chief U.S. negotiator in January 1947, by which time the talks were at an impasse. Long before, several commentators had raised the question whether the Bikini spectacle might prejudice the success of the U.N. negotiations. I. F. Stone argued in the Nation that Bikini had damaged international amity by showing that "the atom bomb is part of our active war equipment and an integral part of our future military strategy." Freda Kirchwey and former Vice President Henry Wallace made similar observations as did broadcasters Raymond Gram Swing and Alexander Gabriel.26 Speaking over the radio from Bikini, writer Norman Cousins said:

The real issue (at Bikini) is not whether an atomic bomb can sink a battleship, but whether the peoples of the world can prevent an atomic war. And so we have today two contrasting acts in the biggest drama of all time… In a way these two acts seem to symbolize the choice before us. If we go one way, the way of the American (U.N.) proposals, we make a good beginning in the struggle for world law… But if we go the other way it means that sooner or later other nations are going to have their own Bikinis.27

Whether Operation Crossroads itself made the difference these critics suggested is doubtful, given the flaws of the Baruch plan and the apparent Soviet determination to develop their own nuclear arsenal.28 Certainly the two highly publicized nuclear explosions made a poor backdrop for the resolution of international differences and for talks aimed at demilitarizing atomic energy. But some, like Anne O'Hare McCormick, could argue the opposite: that by reminding the world of the horrors of nuclear war, the tests would hasten the acceptance of controls. This was a theory the Washington Post had advanced as early as January 1946. Nevertheless, the United States and the Soviet Union were drawing farther apart, separated by ideology and by divergent interests in several areas of the world: Central Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Far East. After all, perhaps the only area of agreement in both the American and Soviet U.N. proposals was the one noted by pacifist A. J. Muste, an advocate of destroying America's nuclear stockpile. Both say to the other, he wrote, "I cannot trust you and will not take any risks, but I ask you to trust me and take the risks involved."29

The nuclear issue was just one of several matters disputed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Like many other issues of the emerging cold war, it was one with which Americans were ill-prepared to deal on an intellectual level. As historian Ralph Levering has ably demonstrated, American wartime friendship for the Soviet Union did not have deep roots, and it quickly yielded to feelings of confusion and distrust. Both American leaders and the American people confronted postwar questions with uncertainty, and as the Survey Research Center concluded, thinking about the A-bomb was only imperfectly integrated into thinking about world affairs in general.30

Americans seemed to have moved far more swiftly toward acceptance of an internationalist stand than anyone could have anticipated at the beginning of 1946, but on the subject of the atomic bomb they remained of a divided mind. At the start of the year, Colonel Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune argued that the solution to the nuclear question was for the United States to have more and bigger atomic bombs than anyone else. There were undoubtedly others, many less conspicuously placed than McCormick, who shared this view. Nevertheless, most Americans––even so fervent an anti-Communist as Hearst columnist George Sokolsky––were prepared to pay at least lip service to the need to control this awesome weapon. Until such controls could be established on ironclad terms, they were, however, unwilling to see it dropped from the American arsenal or to see the so-called secret shared. For regardless of its merits, the fear of unilateral disarmament that worried Ernest Lindley was bound to be of concern to others. A study by sociologists Janet Besse and Harold Lasswell of a dozen syndicated columnists reveals great uncertainty about the appropriate means of dealing with the A-bomb. The columnists, these scholars argue, were "as serious, confused, and groping as any other group of citizens."31 Operation Crossroads was undoubtedly of importance to the armed services, especially to the Navy in helping to establish that ships, properly equipped, could survive nuclear attack,32 but the Bikini Atoll tests were even more significant for the extended discussion they generated on the meaning of the atom bomb.33 While this debate did not lead to the formulation of any imaginative new plans to check the development of nuclear weapons, it did show something of the profound hopes and fears, cynicism and naiveté, with which Americans confronted the nuclear era.34

Much has changed since 1946: the proliferation and the magnitude of the- weapons involved, the multiplication of delivery systems, the much more sophisticated insight into the hazards of radiation, most of all the fact that the United States has long since ceased to have a nuclear monopoly. Yet the debate occasioned by Operation Crossroads is instructive, for it makes clear that the questions that now trouble concerned Americans had their advent at the beginning of the atomic age.

Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond

The research for this article was funded by grants from the Earhart Foundation of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Faculty Research Committee of Eastern Kentucky University.


1. Kenneth Moll, "Operation Crossroads," Air Force, July 1971, pp. 62-69; Lloyd J. Graybar, "Bikini Revisited," Military Affairs, October 1980, pp. 118-23; William A. Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini: The Official Report of Operation Crossroads (New York: William Wise, 1947), pp. 36-38; Admiral Fitzhugh Lee to L. Graybar, November 22, 1980; Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 30, 1946, p. 11, July 1, pp. 8-9; July 20, p. 4; New York Times, July 3, p. 3; July 7, VI, p. 15; July 15, p. 3. The dates given in this article are Bikini local time, which are June 30 and July 24, GMT.

2. Graybar, "Bikini Revisited" p. 118; Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar Anderson, Jr., A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, 2 volumes, I, The New World, 1939-1946 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1946), pp. 428-530; Brien McMahon, radio broadcast, WRC, 9:45 p.m., June 28,1946, Papers of Brien McMahon, Box 4, Library of Congress; William R. Nelson, "Case Study of a Pressure Group: The Atomic Scientists" (unpublished dissertation, University of Colorado, 1965), pp. 185-86, 199, 279, 314-24, 334; Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America (New York: Knopf, 1978), pp., 350-51.

3. Barton J. Bernstein, "The Quest for Security: American Foreign Policy and International Control of Atomic Energy, 1942-1946," Journal of American History, March 1974, pp. 1003-44; Michael Mandelbaum, The Nuclear Question: The United States and Nuclear Weapons, 1946-1976 (Cambridge, England, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 23-41.

4. Vincent Davis, Postwar Defense Policy and the U.S. Navy, 1943-1946 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962), pp. 40-44, 255-59; Shurcliff, pp. 10-12.

5. Congressional Record, 79th Congress, 2d Session, pp. 624, 2127-28, 2790-92, 4023-24; Nelson, "Case Study of a Pressure Group," pp., 86-88; Alice Kimball Smith, A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists' Movement in America, 1945-1947 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 357-60; John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War: 1941-1947 (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1972), pp. 282-315. Many clerics also seem to have regarded the tests as immoral. See, for example, Newsweek, June 10, 1946, p. 82, and Washington Post, July 1, l946, p. 7.

6. Joseph Lieberman, The Scorpion and the Tarantula: The Struggle to Control Atomic Weapons, 1945-1949 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), pp. 317-23; Smith, p. 360.

7. Hadley Cantril and Mildred Strunk, editors, Public Opinion, 1935-1946 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951), pp. 20-27; George Gallup, editor, The Gallup Polls: Public Opinion, 1935-71,I, 1935-1948 (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 562-613 passim; Hazel G. Erskine, "The Polls: Atomic Weapons and Nuclear Energy," Public Opinion Quarterly, Spring 1963, pp. 155-90; Melvin Small, "Historians Look at Public Opinion," in Melvin Small, editor, Public Opinion and Historians: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970), pp. 12-32; Ralph B. Levering, The Public and American Foreign Policy, 1918-1978 (New York: William Morrow, 1978), pp. 19-36; Roper Center to L. Graybar, June 30, 1978. A quantitative approach to the understanding of opinion change is presented in William R. Caspary, "United States Public Opinion during the Onset of the Cold War," Peace Research Society: Papers, 9 (1968), pp. 25-46.

8. Cantril and Strunk, p. 24.

9. "Public Reaction to the Atomic Bomb and World Affairs: A Nation-wide Survey of Attitudes and Information" (Unpublished study, University of Michigan Survey Research Center, 1947), p. 24; Cantril and Strunk, p. 25.

10. Ibid.

11. Ralph B. Levering, American Opinion and the Russian Alliance, 1939-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976), pp. 6-12, 34, 140-45; James S. Twohey Associates, Twohey Analysis of Newspaper Opinion, VIII, 1946 (Washington: Twohey, 1946), week ending July 6, p. 7, and week ending July 27, p. 7.

12. Shurcliff, pp. 34-39; L. Graybar, interview with Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr., June 28, 1980; Fitzhugh Lee to Blandy, March 18, 1946, and Bradley Dewey to James Forrestal, April 2, 1946, both in General Records of the Secretary of the Navy, Box 72, Record Group 80, National Archives Building.

13. Sidney Shalett, "The Buck Rogers of the Navy," New York Times, January 10, 1946, VI, pp. 1, 44-45; Washington Post, February 8,1946, p. 6; May 16, p. 6; Twohey Associates, Newspaper Opinion, February 23, 1946, p. 6; April 6, p. 4, Krock in New York Times, February 20, 1946, p. 8.

14. Bernstein, "Quest for Security," p. 1038; Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950 (New York: Knopf, 1980), pp. 175-76; Memorandum for President Truman from Forrestal, Forrestal Diaries, March 21, 1946, p. 942, Mudd Library, Princeton University; Patterson and Forrestal to Truman, April 6, 1946, Papers of Harry Truman, Official File, Truman Library; Washington Post, March 24,1946, p. 1; "Weather and the Atomic Bomb Test at Bikini," Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, May 1946, pp. 247-48.

15. Forrestal memo to Truman, March 21, 1946, Forrestal Diaries, p. 942, Princeton University; Forrestal to David Walsh, April 2,1946, and Edward Hidalgo to James Byrnes, April 2,1946, both in General Records of the Secretary of the Navy, Box 72; Byrnes cited in Matt Connelly Cabinet Diary, March 22,1946, Truman Library; Chicago Tribune, March 23, 25, 1946, p. 1; Los Angeles Times, March 23, I, pp. 1 and 3; San Francisco Examiner, March 24, p. 1.

16. Cantril and Strunk, p. 24; Twohey Associates, Newspaper Opinion, March 30, p. 5, April 6,1946, p. 5, April 20, p. 7, June 1, p. 5; Department of State, "Daily Summary of Opinion Development," March 25, 1946, p. 2, March 26, p. 2, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, Box 11, National Archives Building; Lindley in Atlanta Constitution, April 4, 1946, p. 9; Chicago Tribune, March 25, p. 2; San Francisco Examiner, March 23, p. 1, March 24, p. 1; transcript of radio broadcast, March 25, 1946, Box 29, Papers of Raymond Gram Swing, Library of Congress.

17. Shurcliff, pp. 28-92, 175-91; David Bradley, No Place to Hide (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), pp. 3-36.

18. L. Graybar, interview with Admiral Rivero, June 28, 1980; Admiral John T. Hayward to L. Graybar, February 6,1978; Admiral Frederick Ashworth to L. Graybar, February 27, 1979; L. and R. Graybar, interview with Lieutenant General Roscoe C. Wilson, June 4, 1983; General Curtis E. LeMay to L. Graybar, June 18, 1983; "Analysis of Able Day Bombing," report submitted to General Carl Spaatz, July 11, 1946, Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; "Joint Task Force One, Technical ector's Report, Introduction and Conclusion," pp. 45-46, submitted to members of the technical staff of Joint Task Force One, July 12,1950, Box 6, Papers of Ralph A. Sawyer, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; Major General William E. Kepner to General Carl A. Spaatz, June 15 and July 5, 1946, in Boxes 27 (Diaries) and 256, Papers of Carl A. Spaatz, Library of Congress; Don Mozley to L. Graybar, July 5, 1983; Robert L. Ellis to L. Graybar, January 17, 1983; Shurcliff, pp. 104-09, 192-94, 200-01; Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board, "Description of Test A," Manhattan Engineer District Records, Box 26, Record Group 77, National Archives Building; Forrestal Diaries, July 1, 1946, p. 1123, Princeton University; New York Times, July 2, p. 18; Boston Globe, July 1, p. 6; the "discreet belch" comment is found in Bob Considine, It's All News to Me: A Reporter's Deposition (New York: Meredith Press, 1967), p. 202. A few reporters, in their anxiety to get their stories out, wrote their accounts before the test, perhaps accounting for some of the misleading and at times contradictory information about the force of the Able-day bomb. Admiral Lee to L. Graybar, January 16, 1981.

19. Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1946, p. 12; Baltimore Sun paraphrased in Department of State, "Daily Summary of Opinion Developments," July 2, 1946, General Records, Box 11; transcript of broadcast, February 1, 1946, Swing Papers, Box 29.

20. Unnamed newspaperman quoted in Lawrence Wittner, Rebels against War: The American Peace Movement, 1941-1960 (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 167; Twohey Associates, Newspaper Opinion, July 6, p. 4; McCormick in New York Times, July 1, p. 30, July 2, p. 18; Washington Post, July 2, p. 8; Louisville Courier-Journal, July 2, p. 6: Los Angeles Times, July 4, I, p. 1; Arizona Republic, city edition, July 7, p. 12; "A for Able," Commonweal, July 26, 1946, pp. 348-49.

21. Twohey Associates, Newspaper Opinion, July 27, p. 7; Shurcliff, pp. 36,145-72; Washington Post, July 5,1946, p. 3. According to Shurcliff, 75 media representatives were present at this test; 114 had attended Test Able.

22. Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1946, II, p. 4; August 6, II, p. 4; Barnet Nover in Washington Post, July 27, p. 7; Nation, August 17, 1946, p. 170; S. D. Kirkpatrick, "A-Bomb Tests as Viewed by the Editor," Chemical Engineering, August 1946, pp. 94-96, 125-26.

23. New York Times, August 4,1946, p. 3; Nation, July 6,1946, p. 2, and August 17, p. 170; Los Angeles Times, August 6, II, p. 4; Arizona Republic, city edition, August 6, p. 12; Saturday Review of Literature, August 10, 1946, pp. 16-18. Prior to the test Norman Cousins had argued, "It may be that we have forgotten too much since Hiroshima… "The $200,000,000 Reminder," Saturday Review of Literature, June 29, 1946, pp. 20, 37.

24. Survey Research Center, "Public Reaction to the Atomic Bomb," pp. 8,14; Chicago Tribune, October 5,1946, p. 3; Louisville Courier-Journal, July 2, p. 6; Arizona Republic, city edition, December 4, p. 6; San Francisco Examiner, December 30, 31, p. 1; New Republic, "Bikini," July 8, 1946, pp. 5-6.

25. Hewlett and Anderson, The New World, pp. 530, 621-23, 648-50; Donald A. Strickland, Scientists in Politics: The Atomic Scientists Movement, 1945-46 (Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Studies, 1968), pp. 125-35; Washington Post, May 16, 1946, p. 6.

26. John W. Spanier and Joseph L. Nogee, The Politics of Disarmament: A Study in Soviet-American Gamesmanship (New York: Praeger, 1962), pp. 52-88; Nation, July 6, 1946, p. 2, and September 14, p. 281; Freda Kirchwey, "Roots of Suspicion," Nation, August 31, 1946, pp. 228-29; Henry Wallace, "The Path to Peace with Russia," New Republic, September 30, 1946, pp. 401-05; Lee DuBridge, "What about the Bikini Tests?" Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 15, 1946, pp. 7, 16; DuBridge, letter to the editor, New York Times, May 5, 1946, IV, p. 8; ibid., September 22, 1946, II, p. 5; Gaddis, p. 269; transcripts of radio broadcasts, April 5 and June 28, 1946, Swing Papers, Box 30.

27. "General Reaction to the U.S. Plan for Atomic Energy Control; A Survey of Radio Opinion," June 16, 1946, pp. 138-39, Box 64, Papers of Bernard Baruch, Mudd Library, Princeton University.

28. Arnold Kramish, Atomic Energy in the Soviet Union (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1959), pp. 77-96. Media hopes for agreement on an atom-control plan plummeted in July of 1946, largely because of Soviet behavior at the United Nations. Distrust of Russia had been increasing sharply even before. Hopes again rose in late 1946 but soon fell. Articulate opinion blamed Russia for the expected failure to reach agreement. See Department of State, "Current American Attitudes toward Russia," June 12, 1946; Department of State, "U.S. Opinion of Russia in World Affairs," January 9, 1947, pp. 2-3; Department of State, "Monthly Survey of American Opinion on International Affairs," March 1947, pp. 5-6, all in General Records, Boxes 11 and 45. Hope, nevertheless, was not lost. See Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Boston Globe, January 6, 1947, p. 10.

29. Twohey Associates, Newspaper Opinion, June 1, p. 5, July 20, p. 6; M. Rubinstein, "Science and Atomic Policy," New Times, March 15, 1946, p. 10, and January 9, 1947, p. 2; New York Times, July 4, 1946, pp. 4, 6; Stewart Alsop in Atlanta Constitution, July 1, p. 8; Los Angeles Times, July 12, II, p. 4; Dorothy Thompson in Boston Globe, July 5, p. 10; Louisville Courier-Journal, June 19, p. 6; Washington Post, January 25, p. 8; Muste, letter to the editor, July 2, p. 8; July 17, p. 8, Lindley, August 3, p. 7; Winner, p. 169.

30. Walter Lippman in Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 3, 1947, p. 6; Levering, American Opinion and Russian Alliance, pp. 207-09; Alonzo L. Hamby, Beyond the New Deal: Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1971), pp. 87-119; Survey Research Center, "American Opinion on the Atomic Bomb," p. 57.

31. Janet Besse and Harold Lasswell, "Our Columnists on the A-Bomb," World Politics, October 1950, pp. 72-87; Warren I. Cohen, The Chinese Connection: Roger S. Greene, Thomas W. Lamont, George E. Sokolsky, and American-East Asian Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), pp. 71-90, 286-91; Colonel Robert McCormick in Chicago Tribune, January 6, 1946, I, p. 20. For elaboration of the appeasement analogy, see Les K. Adler and Thomas C. Paterson, "Red Fascism: The Merger of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the American Image of Totalitarianism, 1930's-1950's," American Historical Review, April 1970, pp. 1046-64.

32. The Bikini tests helped the Navy by demonstrating that fleets had not become obsolete. Prior to the tests, Walter Lippmann had even asked Secretary of the Navy Forrestal, "Will not the Bikini tests, if successful, expose the Navy to an involuntary suicide?" Modifications in ship design also began to be made in light of Bikini data to minimize the disastrous effects of radioactive spray and fallout, Graybar, "Bikini Revisited," pp. 122-23, and Admiral William H. P. Blandy, "Bikini: Guidepost of the Future," Sea Power: Magazine Of the Navy League of the United States, December 1946, pp. 7-9. Lippmann's interview with Forrestal may be found in the Forrestal Diaries, June 6, 1946, p. 1097, Princeton University.

33. In addition to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the work by Alice Kimball Smith already cited, primary source material from the various chapters of the FAS testifies to the extensive controversy the nuclear issues of 1946 engendered. This material is located, ironically, on the approximate site of Fermi's Stagg Field pile, in the collections of the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago.

34. There had been a flurry of criticism over the use of the A-bomb in the immediate aftermath of World War II, but it had come largely from a few disparate groups and individuals, rarely from the mainstream, and had been muffled by the celebration of victory. See Michael J. Yavenditti, "The American People and the Use of Atomic Bombs on Japan: The 1940s," Historian, February 1974, pp. 224-47.


Lloyd J. Graybar (A.B., Middlebury College; M.A. and Ph.D., Columbia University) is Professor of History, Eastern Kentucky University, where he has been since 1966. Dr. Graybar is author of a biography of Albert Shaw and a number of articles on military history. He is now writing a book-length study of the Bikini Atoll tests of 1946. He is a previous contributor to the Review...Ruth Flint Graybar (B.A., Eastern Kentucky University) is secretary for Natural Science at Eastern Kentucky University, where she is currently pursuing a master's degree in history.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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