TRUMAN'S DECISION TO BUILD THE HYDROGEN BOMB
The Democratic candidate for President of the U.S., campaigning in California, looked out at his Oakland audience, drew a deep breath, and struck hard again last week for his proposal that the U.S. end its hydrogen-bomb tests. To Adlai Stevenson the reaction was a heady surprise: his words triggered a burst of applause and cheers in the crowd of 5,000. In a week when the Eisenhower tide was rising (see below) and Stevenson was searching determinedly for a big issue, the H-bomb argument seemed to be striking fire far more so than his proposal to end the draft. Result: a high-level Stevenson campaign decision to play the hydrogen-bomb proposal for all it was worth beginning with a national television speech this week.
Adlai had been toying with his H-bomb notions since last April when, in the midst of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, he said: "I believe we should give prompt and earnest consideration to stopping further tests of the hydrogen bomb." In subsequent speeches and statements he declared his hope that, once the U.S. set the example, the Russians might follow suit. If they refused, the U.S. could detect the violation (by-air samplings) and then "reconsider its policy."
In the Wagon. After Stevenson's first proposal, Harry S. Truman, who gave the order in 1950 for the U.S. to start H-bomb development, commented that "our power to guard the peace would be weakened" if tests were halted. Last week, in the political wilds of northwestern Pennsylvania, Truman was asked if he had come to agree with Stevenson. The old Democrat swallowed hard. "I'm in the same wagon," he said. "I can't be anywhere else."
The U.S., as both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower have made clear, cannot safely end H-bomb tests until the entire system of atomic-weapons production is placed under a workable mutual-inspection system. And although he has a few scientists in his corner, Stevenson is boldly down-facing the experts when he questions the "sense" of further hydrogen development. Even now, the U.S. and Russia are engaged in a desperate race for an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a hydrogen payload. For the U.S. to test the missile package without continuing work on its thermonuclear warhead would give the Soviets a disastrous advantage.
Moreover, said Atomic Energy Commissioner Willard Libby last week, the latest U.S. H-bomb tests have helped to develop a weapon with a lower rate of fallout contamination.
Under the Wire. The question of further thermonuclear development is new only in the sense that this is the first time it has been bandied about as a political issue in a national campaign. After World
War II, left-wing viewers-with-alarm begged Harry Truman to stow the A-bomb away in the national attic. The Russians, they said, could not possibly develop the bomb for at least a decade. Truman refused and the Soviet Union, depending heavily on Joseph Stalin's army of scientists and his very effective spies, came forth with the atomic bomb in 1949. Again, the hand-wringers pleaded with Truman not to go ahead with the H-bomb. Truman did go ahead and because he did, the U.S. got under the wire by a few short months and escaped the earth-shaking fact of a Russian H-bomb monopoly.
In both these cases, the decisions were made deliberately, quietly and completely by the man who held final responsibility for the nations strength, and indeed. Its continued existence.: the President of the U.S.
The careful decisions could be undone if in Election Year 1956, the matter were to be decided by nothing more than the appeal of a political candidate in search of an issue.
Source: National Archives and New &York Times