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Sanitized History?- The Un-Disclosed Niels Bohr
I came across a startling set of documents as I was perusing source material at the Cold War International History project web site. Under the link “Intelligence Operations in the Cold War” was something entitled “The Interrogation of Niels Bohr.”

The Cold War International History Project is part of the “Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars” and purports to support “…the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War, … integrating new sources, materials and perspectives from the former ‘Communist bloc’ with the historiography of the Cold War which has been written over the past few decades largely by Western scholars reliant on Western archival sources.”

The documents in question have neither contextual information nor provenance attached to them, but are dated November 28, 1945 and document a series of interviews Bohr gave to Soviet officials visiting him in Copenhagen. The subject was details about the U.S. development of the atomic bomb.

Interrogation Transcript

Cover Memo to Stalin about the interviews
Evaluation by the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear project, Igor Kurchatov, of the interview with Niels Bohr[/URL]

Now to be visiting with the Soviet Union a few months after war’s end answering questions about the Atomic Bomb seems well, rather a surprise to me, and I immediately went to web based biographies about Bohr to see what else I could find about this incident. Result… nothing.

I found plenty of references about Bohr’s desire, after the war, to see all atom bomb information shared; he felt the power of the atom bomb was too great to entrust to any individual nation. However all sources I found seem to stop at mentioning that Bohr’s desire went unheeded. This from the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen:

To Bohr, the existence of weapons of mass destruction necessitated an ‘Open World', in which all scientific and technical information was shared between nations in order to avoid any kind of unfounded suspicion and critical misunderstanding.
With his unstoppable determination, Bohr was able to arrange personal interviews about the matter with both Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt. However, his advice was not heeded.
Bohr continued his campaign after the war, communicating extensively with U.S. Foreign Secretary George Marshall in 1948 and writing a lengthy open letter to the United Nations in 1950 describing publicly his prior efforts which had so far been conducted with the statesmen in confidence.
Bohr's manifold efforts for an ‘Open World' continued to be his main preoccupation until the end of his life in 1962.

From Bohr’s Wikipedia entry:

Bohr believed that atomic secrets should be shared by the international scientific community. After meeting with Bohr, J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested Bohr visit President Franklin D. Roosevelt to convince him that the Manhattan Project should be shared with the Russians in the hope of speeding up its results. Roosevelt suggested Bohr return to the United Kingdom to try to win British approval. Winston Churchill disagreed with the idea of openness towards the Russians to the point that he wrote in a letter: "It seems to me Bohr ought to be confined or at any rate made to see that he is very near the edge of mortal crimes."[7]

Every other source I located provides no information about this tantalizing part of Bohr’s post-war exploits. Could it be because what he did might be thought of as treasonous? If a non-important, non-Nobel-Laureate did something similar, would this have been publicized and pursued?

I did manage to dig up a reference to this incident published in the September/October 1994 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists where one Stanley Goldberg of Washington DC wrote about it in the Letters section that contends that Bohr gave the Soviets nothing of value in these interviews.

Yet Kurchatov’s evaluation appears to indicate otherwise…It appears that Bohr was not the one directing the path of the conversation. He simply answered pre-planned Soviet questions.

I find it fascinating that something so potentially explosive as Bohr unilaterally going to the Soviets in November 1945 and sharing A-Bomb information…against the wishes of Churchill and not necessarily with the blessings of anyone else…doesn’t get any disclosure.

Was he informing the Soviets or dis-informing them? If what he was saying was as innocuous as Mr. [edit: Dr.] Goldberg contends, Bohr wouldn’t have been accomplishing his goals in any case, so why even agree to participate?

Hoping this is a door that may lead to some very interesting research.
"If you're looking for something that isn't there, you're wasting your time and the taxpayers' money."

-Michael Neuman, U.S. Government bureaucrat, on why NIST didn't address explosives in its report on the WTC collapses
Many years ago I remember reading a story of US military officers sharing Manhattan Project atomic bomb technology with the Russians during WWII, apparently for the same reason; they didn't want the power to be in the hands of one nation.

Whether this story has any basis in fact I really can't say.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
Following is an excerpt from:
that fleshes out more detail of Bohr's attempt to get official blessing for informing the Soviets about A-Bomb details.

...again, no mention that he actually followed through with it.

Let's take a moment to list some of Bohr's key points from 1944:

  • Russia probably already knew about the Manhattan Project.
  • Russia should be told soon that the west was working on the atomic bomb. The longer the west hid their a-bomb work from Russia, the more it would appear to Russia that the west intended to threaten them with the weapon.
  • If Russia felt threatened by the atomic bomb, they would hurry to build their own. The result would be the "terrifying prospect" of a nuclear arms race.
  • A nuclear arms race combined with fear and suspicion could lead to a disastrous nuclear war.
  • But the nuclear threat could be turned into a blessing: the need to prevent nuclear war could provide the basis for nations to overcome their differences and work together in the post-WWII world.
  • Discussions with Russia should begin by telling them of the atomic bomb project and of the need for international control of the weapon. Arrangements should be made to share scientific information. But no technical details about the a-bomb should be given until international control was guaranteed. (J. Robert Oppenheimer papers, Box 34, Felix Frankfurter/Niels Bohr folder, Library of Congress).
Among Bohr's friends was Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter was so convinced by Bohr's ideas that he relayed them to his friend, President Roosevelt. Roosevelt appeared to agree with Bohr's views and asked to have Bohr, in Frankfurter's words, "tell our friends in London that the President was anxious to explore ways for achieving safeguards in relation to X" [the atomic bomb] (J. Robert Oppenheimer papers, Box 34, Felix Frankfurter memorandum to Sec. of War Stimson, April 26, 1945, Library of Congress).

Bohr had already convinced some high level British officials that international control of nuclear weapons was essential for world security. Now they set up an appointment for him with the Brit whose opinion mattered most - Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
On May 16, 1944 Bohr met with Churchill and Lord Cherwell, Churchill's closest advisor. But when Bohr returned from the meeting he told a friend that Churchill had "scolded us like two schoolboys!" (R.V. Jones in French and Kennedy, pg. 284-285).

Churchill apparently felt the purpose of the meeting was to criticize how he had dealt with Roosevelt on nuclear matters, and he lit into Bohr and Cherwell before Bohr could explain his views. Churchill's tirade took up most of Bohr's allotted time, and it did not help matters that Bohr was a notoriously poor speaker. Plus, when it came to Russia, Churchill was interested in nuclear coercion, not nuclear cooperation.

After the meeting Churchill distrusted Bohr, fearing he might tell other nations of the Manhattan Project (Aage Bohr in Rozental, pg. 204; Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed, pg. 107-108, 110).

Bohr returned to the U.S. in June and told Frankfurter of his failed meeting with Churchill. Frankfurter in turn spoke to FDR. Now the President asked to meet with Bohr.

Bohr's Aug. 26, 1944 meeting with Roosevelt was just the opposite of his meeting with Churchill. According to Bohr's son,

  • "Roosevelt agreed that an approach to the Soviet Union of the kind suggested [by Bohr] must be tried... Roosevelt said [in regard to Churchill's disagreement with Bohr's ideas] ...he thought that Churchill would eventually come around to sharing his point of view in this matter. He would discuss the problems with Churchill at their forthcoming meeting and hoped to see my father soon afterwards" (Aage Bohr in Rozental, pg. 206-207).
But when Roosevelt and Churchill met on Sept. 18, it was Roosevelt who agreed to Churchill's views on the matter. And to top that off, they decided that Bohr should be investigated and "steps taken to ensure that he is responsible for no leakage of information, particularly to the Russians". (Sherwin, pg. 109-110, 284).

Bohr eventually surmised that nothing good had come of his meeting with Roosevelt. He made one final attempt, via letter, to influence FDR. But before the letter could be delivered, Roosevelt died. Bohr gave the letter to Vannevar Bush, who had been Roosevelt's main science advisor. In June 1945 Bohr left the United States (Aage Bohr in Rozental, pg. 209-210).

During World War II Bohr did not argue against using the atomic bomb, unlike fellow Manhattan Project physicist Leo Szilard. Instead, he stayed focused on his message of international control and scientific openness. But after the atomic bomb was used on Japan Bohr told friends, "The frightening thing was... that it was not necessary at all" (Niels Blaedel, Harmony and Unity: The Life of Niels Bohr, pg. 233). British nuclear historian Margaret Gowing wrote that Bohr's son Aage said his father "privately deplored the spirit in which the bomb had been used" (Gowing in French and Kennedy, pg. 275).
Bohr continued to work for international control of nuclear weapons until his death in 1962.
Bohr once summarized his approach to life, in his softspoken manner, when he said:

  • "Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are..." (quoted in Nielson, pg. 27).

- Doug Long
"If you're looking for something that isn't there, you're wasting your time and the taxpayers' money."

-Michael Neuman, U.S. Government bureaucrat, on why NIST didn't address explosives in its report on the WTC collapses
...found here which goes into well researched detail and provides context. From David Holloway.

No question it happened, and Bohr's motivation appears benign. But this certainly remains a well hidden part of the public record.
"If you're looking for something that isn't there, you're wasting your time and the taxpayers' money."

-Michael Neuman, U.S. Government bureaucrat, on why NIST didn't address explosives in its report on the WTC collapses
Thanks for this Bruce. A fascinating chain of events. Good digging.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
It's not really part of the public record, Bruce. The official story is the Rosenbergs did it. From what I've gleaned, Einstein thought the Soviets should have it, Oppenheimer was close enough to work with Bohr on it, but all parties were too intelligent to pass on "the secret" to the Soviets themselves. The secret wasn't a secret anyway: chuck two hunks of uranium at each other and they will explode.

What do you make of the Port Chicago incident?
Hi, Helen,

Port Chicago is a story worth digging in to- for the civil rights issues. There's not a vapor of evidence about nukes...but there is a travesty of justice for black seamen who tried to do the right thing by not sacrificing themselves for "White Men's Follies". There is no question that the people loading arms into ships on that pier were being abused, discriminated against, and ramrodded in the name of "The War Effort." There is no question that there was no concern about safety. There is no question that the priority was "tons loaded."

We can all agree that the final months of the war were before them and the supply of munitions was critical, but that does not excuse lax safety standards and a competitive atmosphere among "divisions" of black men under the authority of white commanders who pushed for faster and faster loading of arms. And documented cases of armaments that leaked their high explosive contents...And documented cases of cranes with faulty brakes? Is it any wonder that something horribly bad happened?

"A column of smoke billowed from the pier, and fire glowed orange and yellow. Flashing like fireworks, smaller explosions went off in the cloud as it rose. Within six seconds, a deeper explosion erupted as the contents of the E.A. Bryan detonated in one massive explosion. The seismic shock wave was felt as far away as Boulder City, Nevada. The E.A. Bryan and the structures around the pier were completely disintegrated. A pillar of fire and smoke stretched over two miles into the sky above Port Chicago. The largest remaining pieces of the 7,200-ton ship were the size of a suitcase. A plane flying at 9,000 feet reported seeing chunks of white hot metal "as big as a house" flying past. The shattered Quinault Victory was spun into the air. Witnesses reported seeing a 200-foot column on which rode the bow of the ship, its mast still attached. Its remains crashed back into the bay 500 feet away."

Holy cow, 4600 tons of high explosive ordinance going off at once doesn't need a nuclear conspiracy to explain a mushroom cloud.

The reason I posted this story was not so much about whether or not the actual nuclear secerets were at stake. It seems to me that the fact that Bohr met with the Soviets unilaterally was interesting...and was not an easily uncovered part of history. And, like you pointed out, the Rosenbergs got the shaft, while the Nobel Prize winner got the pass.
"If you're looking for something that isn't there, you're wasting your time and the taxpayers' money."

-Michael Neuman, U.S. Government bureaucrat, on why NIST didn't address explosives in its report on the WTC collapses

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