Information, Secrecy, and Atomic Energy


In many regards, it had been the greatest war in world history, and now it was coming to an end. Hostilities in Europe ceased officially in early May. Bitter conflict continued in the Pacific, however, as the Allied forces closed in on the islands of Japan. Then, unexpectedly, the United States delivered a death blow of unprecedented magnitude; it dropped two atomic bombs, one on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. Some would say that this final act of devastation was necessary; that it would save the lives of those who otherwise would be required to conquer an unremitting enemy through more conventional warfare. Others would suggest that a desire to demonstrate American destructive supremacy had prompted resort to the new weapon.

It was August 6, 1945. A statement from President Truman, en route from the Potsdam Conference, disclosed to the American people that anatomic bomb had been perfected and used for the first time. At that time few could appreciate either the enterprise or the resources which had gone into this weapon or the destructive force that it had unleashed. Perhaps even fewer could comprehend the ramifications of the President’s concluding comments.

It has never been the habit of the scientists of this country or the policy of this Government to withhold from the world scientific knowledge. Normally, therefore, everything about the work with atomic energy would be made public.

But under present circumstances it is not intended to divulge the technical processes of production or all the military applications, pending further examination of possible methods of protect-ing us and the rest of the world from the danger of sudden destruction.

I shall recommend that the Congress of the United States consider promptly the establishment of an appropriate commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. I shall give further consideration and make further recommendations to the Congress as to how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence toward the maintenance of world peace.

Today, these paragraphs from the President’s announcement suggest various points worthy of study. This article is concerned primarily with his first area of consideration—the availability of information concerning atomic power. It focuses on the evolution of atomic energy information regulation in the United States and the implications of this regulation for the American democratic polity as well as for the rights and liberties of the American people.

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