Secrecy for Security?

The work at Los Alamos was marked by an extreme level of secrecy. The town was fenced in by a barbed-wire barricade and mail was censored (Brode, Tales of Los Alamos, 1997). Bohr commented on this philosophy with Oppenheimer. It was Bohr’s belief that the results of the Trinity Test should be shared – such that nations will understand the power of the atomic bomb, and through open communication come to the conclusion that the production of atomic weapons is foolish. He advocated against secrets.

This stands in stark contrast to the view that Truman expressed in a statement immediately after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He emphasized that, while contrary to the principles of research, scientific knowledge regarding the production and applications of atomic bombs must be kept secret, for security purposes (Statement by the President of the United States, White House Press Release, August 6, 1945).

With regards to modern-day national security, it is hard to say which view is proper. Relying on the “reasoning of men” to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction may be a naïve view of the rationality of, for example, terrorist groups. Yet, information will inevitably spread. Perhaps shared information and open discussion may be the best way to ensure the proper use of dual-use technology, and, as Bohr would assert, foster the kind of respect that emerges from open communication (Fetter-Vorm, 2012). — Mary Helen

2 thoughts on “Secrecy for Security?

  1. A balance must be struck between sharing in the wealth of knowledge that the discoveries Los Alamos produced, while also being assured of the security of our nation and all of humanity. While the motive behind Bohr’s ideal to share the results of the test may be founded in a wholesome belief that we (humanity) are a united front. The truth is that there are divisions in place that implicate an inevitable fallout.

    We can look back on this time period and evaluate the reasons behind why the president’s memo states that he is hesitant to disclose any newly discovered formation. The statement released by the executive office is one that emphasized the fears of the technology they had created as well as a fear that world had not seen the last of the world wars. Truman’s mentality to withhold secrets from the world was one borne out having witnessed the destruction this weapon had caused and the seemingly misplaced value on life that had grown as nations threw away a generation of young men for war.

    I agree with your point regarding the “reasoning of men”. Yes information may inevitably be shared, but when this information deals with the potential to harm millions of innocent lives then perhaps keeping it under a watchful eye is the best route. We are an irrational race, the reason we are able have this class is that very reason whereby often we act hastily to produce and build weapons of incredible power with the only motive being destruction. While Bohr saw the potential good for harnessing nuclear energy, perhaps he was placing too much faith in humanities ability to focus solely on positive uses for this discovery.

    If the nation that had knowledge of harnessing nuclear power planned to use this discovery for destructive intentions then it would obviously be difficult to come to the conclusions that other nations would be using the knowledge for solely safe, reliable uses. Therefore, I find it understandable how Truman saw the moral responsibility would be to withhold the information till tempers cooled across globe as his own nation still clamored “to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city” (Fetter-Vorm, 2012; Truman, 1945).

  2. I am inclined to agree with Jeremy in this instance in saying that I do not think Bohr was wise to recommend that the United States publicize its extensive knowledge of uranium enrichment techniques and nuclear weapon design after WWII. While the idea of mutually assured destruction would serve as a strong deterrent for countries considering using their nuclear arsenals, having fewer nuclear weapons available for use worldwide would certainly contribute just as much, if not more, to global security. Still combined with the deterrent of mutually assured destruction, a world with a lower number of nuclear weapons would certainly be a safer world.

    I do accept the fact that countries would eventually gain knowledge about the development and design of nuclear weapons, however, I find that it would be much better if the pace at which countries gained nuclear weapons was significantly slowed. The more time we have on our hands to come up with solutions to nuclear proliferation, the better off the world will be.

    Ultimately, I do think that Bohr was naive to recommend sharing nuclear secrets worldwide as this certainly would have been a dangerous gamble. While there was a chance that countries would realize the destructive power of these weapons and then choose to not create them, there was a much higher chance that countries would exploit these secrets in even the most noble interest of self-defense. Unfortunately, I think that at the moment, we are still far away from countries acting unilaterally together in service of global interests and security. Until that point, I believe that nuclear weapons will continue to be an existential threat to humankind.

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