The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part V: The Atomic Bomb and American Strategy

The Interim Committee Report

On June 6 Stimson again briefed Truman on S-1. The briefing summarized the consensus of an Interim Committee meeting held on May 31. The Interim Committee was an advisory group on atomic research composed of Bush, Conant, Compton, Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph A. Bard, Assistant Secretary of State William L. Clayton, and future Secretary of State James F. Byrnes. Oppenheimer, Fermi, Compton, and Lawrence served as scientific advisors (the Scientific Panel), while Marshall represented the military. A second meeting on June 1 with Walter S. Carpenter of DuPont, James C. White of Tennessee Eastman, George H. Bucher of Westinghouse, and James A. Rafferty of Union Carbide provided input from the business side. The Interim Committee was charged with recommending the proper use of atomic weapons in wartime and developing a position for the United States on postwar atomic policy. The May 31 meeting concluded that the United States should try to retain superiority of nuclear weapons in case international relations deteriorated.45 Most present at the meeting thought that the United States should protect its monopoly for the present, though they conceded that the secrets could not be held long. It was only a matter of time before another country, presumably Russia, would be capable of producing atomic weapons.

There was some discussion of free exchange of nuclear research for peaceful purposes and the international inspection system that such an exchange would require. Lawrence's suggestion that a demonstration of the atomic bomb might possibly convince the Japanese to surrender was discussed over lunch and rejected. The bomb might be a dud, the Japanese might put American prisoners of war in the area, or shoot down the plane, and the shock value of the new weapon would be lost. These reasons and others convinced the group that the bomb should be dropped without warning on a dual target-a war plant surrounded by workers' homes. The meeting with the industrialists on June 1 further convinced the Interim Committee that the United States had a lead of three to ten years on the Soviet Union in production facilities for bomb fabrication.

On June 6 Stimson informed the President that the Interim Committee recommended keeping S-1 a secret until Japan had been bombed. The attack should take place as soon as possible and without warning. Truman and Stimson agreed that the President would stall if approached about atomic weapons in Berlin, but that it might be possible to gain concessions from Russia later in return for providing technical information. Stimson told Truman that the Interim Committee was considering domestic legislation and that its members generally held the position that international agreements should be made in which all nuclear research would be made public and a system of inspections would be devised. In case international agreements were not forthcoming, the United States should continue to produce as much fissionable material as possible to take advantage of its current position of superiority.