Bush's Memo of Conference

September 22, 1944


I was called to the White House but not given a subject. Present at the conference were the President. Admiral Leahy, Lord Cherwell, and myself. The President stated that the Admiral had recently been given full information on the special project. The purpose of the conference became apparent after some preliminary general discussion which does not need to be noted.

The President stated that Mr. Justice Frankfurter had visited him a few weeks ago and expressed himself as very much worried about the future handling in the post-war period of matters pertaining to the secret project. The President apparently professed ignorance of what Frankfurter was talking about, although I do not know how far this went, and I certainly gained the impression that the President did not tell Frankfurter any more than he knew when he came. Frankfurter insisted that Bohr should see the President, as he and Bohr had discussed the future state of the world from this standpoint and Bohr had some very striking ideas. This was apparently arranged and the President had seen Bohr for a short time and listened to him. The President, however, was very much disturbed in regard to security and wished to know how far Bohr had been taken into the matter, whether he was trusted, and also how Mr. Frankfurter happened to know anything about the subject whatever. Lord Cherwell traced the history of Bohr's escape from Denmark, his introduction to this country, and so on. He stated that Bohr had similarly seen the Prime Minister after having insisted on doing so in Britain and had told him his ideas about future handling of this subject. These ideas, I believe, revolve about immediate disclosure of the subject, its use as a threat against Germany, and similar matters, and also a control by the British and Americans of the subject after the war, and I judge the maintenance of a peace by the Anglo-Americans on this basis. I then traced the way Bohr had been introduced into this country and in particular the care that had been taken to be sure that he was handled in such a manner that we became sure of his discretion before introducing him to parts of the project. Both Cherwell and I brought out the fact that he was a very important physicist who had been able to contribute and also that he had given us some ideas as to what was going on in Germany that were quite valuable. It also appeared in this discussion that Bohr had been invited by the Russians to visit Russia but had declined.

I then told the President that I thought I could recite how Mr. Frankfurter knew about the project. I reminded him of the individual whose name I could not remember who had insisted on seeing the President, and the President interrupted and said, "Yes, he saw my wife". I reminded him that at the same time this particular individual was in touch with Mr. Frankfurter and that Frankfurter undoubtedly received his knowledge of the subject in that way if not in others. I told the President that we had had a group of physicists who were somewhat disgruntled but that I believed the matter had been handled properly and adequately and that we had not recently had any evidence of further inclinations on the part of this group to talk to people outside of the project in order to attempt to enforce their own ideas. I told him that I did not know how Bohr and Frankfurter had gotten together, but I could probably find out if it was a matter of interest. Both Cherwell and I emphasized that a great deal was known about this subject all over the world from the standpoint of the general physics involved, and I also brought out that it was quite generally known in this country that the government had a good deal of activity going on since it was impossible not to have this occur with the many commercial people involved, but that the military aspects of the matter were very securely guarded and I felt sure that neither the general public, Mr. Frankfurter, nor similar people knew about this.

The President then started discussing the subject quite generally. I was very much embarrassed, for he discussed international relations on this matter after the war, and introduced parts of this that we had not discussed at any time. I was hence much embarrassed to find myself discussing this subject in the presence of a British representative before having had an opportunity to advise the President on it privately. The President was very much in favor of complete interchange with the British on this subject after the war in all phases, and in fact apparently on a basis where it would be used jointly or not at all. He told of some of his discussions with Mr. Churchill at Quebec along these lines. On this I was of course in no position whatever to state what was actually in my mind, namely that too close collaboration with the British, without considering simultaneously the entire world situation, might lead to a very undesirable relationship indeed on the subject with Russia. I did, however, get. the opportunity to say that after the war I knew there would be free and open publication of the scientific aspects of this entire subject, that there would be great progress all over the world, that the art would change rapidly, and that I hoped that this scientific discussion would be participated in also by the Russians. The President mentioned also commercial use, and both Cherwell and I pointed out the great dangers of commercial use from a safety standpoint and stated that we did not feel there would be important industrial use for perhaps ten years. The President then talked of the necessity for control in this country because of the dangers involved. I told him that Conant and I had given a considerable amount of thought to this subject, and that we had in fact only a few days before given to the Secretary of War a memorandum summarizing our thoughts on the matter and I believed that the Secretary planned to see the President on the subject shortly. to start on this matter. The President, in stated, and the President agreed, that it was not too early fact, felt that legislation should be obtained while the war was on, and we had some discussion of the possibilities I said that I felt that when the end of the war came, or when this became used, there should be a full disclosure of almost all aspects of it, and that we were doing some preliminary work so that the President would have available a basis for such a statement as would then become necessary, and the President said he was glad this was being done. I said I did not know what the Secretary's opinion was in regard to the memorandum which Conant and I had given him since we had had no opportunity to discuss the matter with him since he had had time to read it. I offered, however, to see the Secretary, tell him that the subject is very much on the President's mind, and urge him to discuss it with the President shortly. and that he would like to discuss it with us. The President replied that he thought this was very desirable I did not tell the President that, in this document to the Secretary, Conant and I had also discussed the need for a treaty with Britain, for lord Cherwell was present and I feared that the extent and nature of the matter might become discussed in a way that would be very embarrassing. The President's own statements in regard to post-war Collaboration with Britain on the subject were very general indeed, but went very far. He pointed out his belief of the necessity for maintaining the British Empire strong, and went into some of the methods by which this could be brought about, which are not pertinent to this subject. As usual there were a number of other non-pertinent matters such as statements in regard to the discussions at Quebec.

At the end of the conference I discussed what had occurred with Dr. Conant. Both he and I was much disturbed that the President has apparently been talking post-war relations with Britain at Quebec quite at length with the Prime Minister and with Lord Cherwell, without having obtained the opinions of the Secretary of War and others concerned with this matter in private consultation beforehand. It is hence very necessary that discussions occur, and I plan to speak to the Secretary of War soon. Both Conant and I feel that the very broad world-wide implications of this subject need careful evaluation, and that while good relations with Britain are certainly important in this it is certainly far from being the entire story.

Vannevar Bush