Edward Teller and the Other Martians of Science by Istvan Hargittai


>>Bill: Today, we’re here because Istvan Hargittai is
visiting for a couple days, and he’s going to
give a talk about– hmm, the flyer is not
up there anymore– Edward Teller and the
other Martians of Science, all of whom we’ve heard about during our
lives and our careers. I met Istvan at George
Washington University last year when he gave a similar
talk to the faculty at GW. And I was impressed then about
the depth of his knowledge of Edward Teller and he
was just mentioning a few of the other people
along the way. But also, his scholarship, because for a practicing
research scientist, I just couldn’t imagine
how he was able to come up with all the details
and all of the knowledge about these people and then
give a very literate talk about their, their,
their life and career. I’ve since found out how
he’s come up about this. He has put together a
six-volume set of interviews. They’re called, “Candid
Science: Conversations with Great Scientists.” Nobel laureates, Wolf
Prize winners and the like. Six volumes, 36 of these
conversations per volume. You can do the math,
there are more than 200 of these interviews. And Norman Ramsey, in fact,
was one of the interviews. So, he learned a lot about
scientists and creativity and what motivates scientists
to make their discoveries. Yesterday, some of us heard
him talk about “The Road to the Nobel Prize”
by Danny Shectman. Danny Shectman’s Nobel Prize,
whom he knows personally, and that was a little
bit about how you, how you identify a
discovery and how you run with it once you’ve
made that discovery. Today, we’re going to hear
about four or five other people who also made important impacts
in science and in society. Istvan is a research
scientist by training. Yesterday, somebody– he
said he’s not a historian, but I come to correct that. He has become a historian,
not by training but by his contributions. He’s at the Budapest Technical
University, where he’s a member of the General and Analytical
Chemistry Institute part-time. He’s also the head of the
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Department of Structural
Chemistry at Eotvos University
in Budapest. Eotvos is the largest
university in Hungary. That’s where he got
his PhD from. He’s also got a Doctor
of Science Degree from Hungarian Academy
of Sciences. He’s got a number
of honorary degrees from Moscow State University,
from the Russian Academy of Sciences and also
from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He’s also spent a lot of
time in the United States and other countries as
a visiting scientist. He’s been, for example, at Cold
Spring Harbor, the University of Connecticut, University
of North Carolina, Cambridge, and University of
Texas at Austin. But, he’s not going to talk about his research
today or even yesterday. He’s talking about this
history of science, and I’ve already mentioned
the six-volume set. From that set he’s also
parlayed another couple books. One of them is called,
“The DNA Doctor,” which is candid conversations
with James Watson. Another one is, “The
Road to Stockholm.” A third one, which just
came out and, in fact, we have not the books, but
the flyers are over here– [ Shuffling papers ]>>Bill: Yea, it’s called,
“Driving Curiosity.” “Driving Curiosity: What
Fuels the Passion of Science?” That’s a new book; you’ll
have to get that one from the local book
stores, if you can find one. And what he’s going to talk
about today is the Martians of science and, in
particular, Edward Teller. We did order some books on
those two, those two books. They’re out there, if you’d like
to look at them and have a look and maybe have them signed
afterwards by Istvan. But, we’re glad that you
could visit us again. The first visit was in
the 1970s with Dave Lide, and you’re back again
talking not about your hobby, I would say, it’s
more than a hobby now, I would say your avocation. So, would you join me in
welcoming Istvan Hargittai? [ Applause ] Istvan Hargittai:
Does this work?>>Bill: Yea. Istvan Hargittai:
Back there, okay. [ Setting up mic ] Istvan Hargittai: Thank you,
Bill, and yes, just a second. [ Setting up mic ] Istvan Hargittai: Thank you,
Bill, for the introduction, and thank you for
the invitation. Bill attended my talk at GW
University this year in April, and to me this was a good
sign that he liked the talk, when he invited me to come here. So, I was doubly
glad about that. I’m quite moved to have this
opportunity to be at NIST– famous research institution– and I’m going to talk about
truly one of my favorite topics, Edward Teller and the
other Martians of Science. This is part of history and
part of science history today. Months ago I gave a similar talk
in India and I understood there, more than anywhere else so
far, that it is also part of our present problems
to consider the fact that we are living
in a nuclear age and, and we may have to
worry about that. The day before yesterday I
was at Stanford University and I attended a talk by
William Perry who used to be a defense secretary in
the United States, and he talked about making the
world nuclear free. But I think it is no longer so
simple that if the United States and the Soviet Union, which
no longer exists, would decide to become nuclear-free,
there are other forces around that may not follow suit. And I think it’s not
so unambiguous anymore that disarmament is
the only way to go. I’m, myself, surprised how
conservative I am sounding. [Laughter] But today I’m
talking about the five Martians and first, the name that many of
you, I’m sure, know that it came from a conversation between
Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard. Fermi was wondering,
how did it happen that so many Hungarians
were participant in the Manhattan Project,
so many Hungarians came out so gifted from Hungary,
and Leo Szilard said, “Well we are not
Hungarians, we are Martians. We are just camouflaging
ourselves and using the Hungarian
language.” [Laughter] But the
definition of a Martian is that these were great
scientists who were willing to risk their scientific
careers and wanted to defend the United States and
the Free World from the Nazis and then later from communism. And this is important
to give this definition because lately this label of
Martians have become diluted, and some authors have used
this label for anybody who came out of Hungary and made
a career in the West. I’m going to give just a
glimpse into these five lives and then focus more on Edward
Teller’s life and career. But, I would also like to say that these Martians
didn’t just leave Hungary because they were interested
in learning what is invest in Europe and later
in the United States. They were forced out of Hungary
because they were Jewish, and they didn’t see any
career for themselves. They may have not foreseen
what worse would later come. And then they were forced out
of Europe when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and came to the United States,
which welcomed them. And all of them, in
different ways, participated in the Manhattan Project. Theodore von Karman was
not directly involved, but he was very much involved
as advisor to the air force of the U.S. Army during
the Second World War. As you know, there was
no separate air force of the United States. It formed only after
the Second World War when he again became a
very important advisor to the U.S. Air Force
at that time. But the other four
were directly involved with the Manhattan Project. And when years ago I
visited Hiroshima, I was, I was wondering whether
the fact that I came from Hungary would color
the attitude of my hosts in Hiroshima, since it is known that so many Hungarian
physicists participated in the Manhattan Project. And I found a very, very
friendly attitude toward me, because they clearly
distinguished between science and between what war
may bring on to people. And in addition to that
very famous war memorial, there is also another
memorial in Hiroshima, which commemorates
Einstein’s equation. And that also shows that they
distinguish between the two. I am showing there, up there,
Ed Westcott’s photograph of a poster, which at
least one of the reasons for the bombing illustrates,
that it was important to– the atomic bombs were important
in finishing the war quickly and with the least
amount of sacrifice, even though it was
a heavy sacrifice. So, four of the five Martians
were very conservative. They had located a very tough
stand toward the Soviet Union, and Theodore von
Karman was one of them. Leo Szilard’s most
important act in this was that he asked Albert
Einstein to sign a letter to President Roosevelt in
1939, which eventually led to the Manhattan Project. This picture is from reenacting
the scene after the war. Eugene Vignor whom– with whom
I started correspondence back in my student years, and then
I met him in 1969 at Austin, Texas– was the world’s
first nuclear engineer. Of course, we know him as
a theoretical physicist, but he started as a
chemical engineer. In fact, almost all of the
Martians got their education, including von Neumann who was,
who is known as a mathematician, in chemical engineering. Because at the time when
they were growing up, to become a physicist or mathematician didn’t have
very good job prospects, but chemical engineering was. And also, young people
listened to their parents more than perhaps today, and the
parents wouldn’t let them study just pure physics
or mathematics, they had to study
chemical engineering, and for Vignor this
served very well, because in the Manhattan
Project, especially since he was
involved with nuclear reactors, knowing materials was a
very important ingredient in his work with engineers. Later, he promoted
civil defense. Eventually, he didn’t
play a very important role after the Second World War,
especially in later years. John von Neumann, sometimes
he’s called the father of the computer– which
is not quite accurate– he was the father of the
stored program computer. And, of course, that was
important and that was used both for the atomic bomb project and
for the hydrogen bomb project. And then we come
to Edward Teller. Now, I wrote the book about
the Martians of Science, which appeared first in 2006 and then was published
in paperback in 2007. It has been very successful,
but I also got the experience, not just an impression,
that out of the five, Teller was extremely
controversial. I grew up in a society where
things were either black or white– very contrasted– and whenever I came to the United States it always
attracted me how tolerant people were in the United States. And this is true
except when Teller came up into the conversation. [Laughter] People either
hated, hate him or adore him, and I thought that I would try to produce an objective
biography of Edward Teller and this is, this is
the result of this. So, when we talk about Teller, it’s a question whether
he’s a savior or a villain. And I think he, he was both. We cannot say he was
neither, he was both. He was an important scientist. He did a lot of very useful
things for reactor safety. He was the father of the
American hydrogen bomb. See, I’m hesitating a little bit
whether to say he was the father of the hydrogen bomb or
the American hydrogen bomb. To this day this is not 100
percent clear whether the American hydrogen
bomb had an influence on how the Soviets produced
their hydrogen bomb. Whether there was intelligence
involved like in the case of the atomic bomb or not,
he initiated Livermore, he was an adversary
of Robert Oppenheimer. That could be a whole
other topic. He opposed the test bans,
and then he promoted SDI, and I’m going to discuss some of these questions,
not all of them. First, I’d like to show you
Teller as a young student, and he was a student of the same
university where I am from– Budapest Technical University, which is called Budapest
University of Technology and Economics– and he was a
student of chemical engineering, but he took, in addition,
subjects that were unusual for a chemical engineering
student,like vector analysis and theory of relativity. Teller started his
studies in Budapest because there was a
debate in his family. His mother didn’t want
him to leave Hungary, and his father was convinced
that he had to leave Hungary if he wanted to make a career. And, of course, he was
right, but the compromise was that Teller would be
staying in Hungary until he reached
18 years of age. He graduated from his high
school when he was 17, so he started his university
studies in Budapest, and then in January
when he became 18, he left this university and left
Hungary and went to Karlsruhe, and then from Karlsruhe
to Munich, and then from Munich to Leipzig. And in Leipzig he did
his doctoral studies under Werner Heisenberg. At that time, you
could do the doctorate without a master’s degree, which over there is
called a diploma work– not in chemistry,
but in physics. Because again, physics was
not official profession at that time, not only
in Germany or in Europe, but in the United States either. Charles Townes writes
about this, and he came a few years later,
that he didn’t know in his youth that physics was a profession. So, this is what happened. He prepared his doctoral thesis
under Heisenberg, defended it, and got his doctorate in 1930,
which means that he was 22– a young doctor– and he
really made it his way into the top circle of
scientists in Europe. And this I’m telling for the
younger generation that at that time, German was the most
important language in science, and American scientists, if they
wanted to become really part of the elite circle of
scientists, went to study in Germany, had to
learn German language. This all– was all over in 1933, but in 1930 this was the
macro[?] of physics– Leipzig, and G ttingen,
and Berlin. So, first Teller
stayed in Leipzig as Friedrich Hund’s assistant,
and then he moved to G ttingen, where he was invited, we would
call this today as a postdoc, but he just worked
as an assistant for other famous
physicists like Max Born and James Frank,
and others, also. He was already very active
in building up cooperations with other scientists. But then he had to
leave Germany in 1933. Technically, he didn’t
have to leave because he had a Hungarian
passport and, for example, Lise Meitner, who had
an Austrian passport, stayed in Germany. Later she regretted it very
much, but she left only after the Anschluss, after 1938. But Teller left at once, and
all the other Hungarians, all of them first went
to Germany left Germany, in 1933 or even before. So Teller went to Copenhagen for
roughly a year, then to London for roughly another
year, and then in 1935, he got an invitation–
in 1935 he was 27– to become full professor
of physics at George Washington
University in Washington, D.C. And this invitation
was engineered by George Gummel whom he
had known already in Europe that cooperated and they built
up a very good interaction also at George Washington University. Now, I, I’m showing
here a picture of a group of scientists. Teller is on the second
row, third from the left, very modestly, but look
at this collection. I’m showing only the first row and they are back
also scientists who became Nobel laureates. It’s just a fantastic. I’m showing this picture to indicate how much
Teller was part of this group of physicists. And some glimpses into his life,
very briefly, just that we get to know him a little bit better, I will single out
three features. One is, let’s look at
the picture on the left. There is Landau, Lev Landau,
and then George Gummel, and then Edward Teller
on the skis. And this is significant
that he is on the skis because this picture is from
1934 when he was in Copenhagen, and in 1928 in Munich, he
had an accident with a tram, which cut off his right foot. And for the rest of his
life, he used a prosthesis, and he never gave other
people any feeling that he was an invalid. He had to undergo several
operations, and he had a lot of pains during the
recuperation, and he felt that that the
pain killers were interfering with his thinking, and at
one point he decided not to take any more pain killer. He swallowed some
water and told himself “now I took a pain
killer,” which he didn’t, and he forced himself
to move the pain away. He had a very, very
strong willpower. The middle picture is Arthur
Kessler, who could be considered as an honorary Martian. He wrote probably the most
important political novel of the 20th Century, “Darkness
at Noon,” and Teller credited “Darkness at Noon” with his
having become an anticommunist. I’m not sure that
this is accurate, and in different accounts, he
mentioned other influences, but it was a very important
and very influential book. Kessler wrote about these staged
trials in the Soviet Union and why I don’t think that this
was 100 percent what made Teller into an anticommunist, because I
think Teller’s anticommunism was more political than ideological. Teller viewed the Soviet Union
not just as an alien ideology but as a threat to the
security of the United States and the Free World,
mainly this one. And eventually he also wanted
to get projects for Livermore, for Livermore Laboratory,
and that was another source of his very, very
strong anticommunist, anti-Soviet stand. And finally, I turn attention
to Maria Goeppert Mayer, who later became a Nobel
laureate physicist. Teller, for some years,
was completely infatuated with Maria Goeppert Mayer. Very few people knew about this. They had a correspondence,
and Teller begged her to destroy his letters to her. She never did, and then these
letters were discovered and it’s like a secondary school, high school student
writing to his sweetheart. Everything remained
platonic, but it shows a side of Edward Teller that we
would have never associated with his personality. [ Silence ]>>Istvan Hargittai: So, the war
happened and then after the war, there was a meeting of
theoretical physicists. He was still in the midst
of other great scientists. This was in 1947. I listed the names up there– it is just a fantastic
collection of scientists. This meeting was on
Shelter Island in an inn, and just so that we stay
on the ground of reality, I also pulled it– there
was a sign on this, on the wall of this inn
saying, “Restricted clientele,” meaning that no Jews
were welcome. And, of course, these
were war heroes because they built the atomic
bomb, so they were admitted, but even in 1947 this, see I
write about this in my book, and my editor at
Prometheus didn’t want to believe that this happened. This is so little known that such discrimination
could have still existed in the United States in 1947. It doesn’t exist
anymore, as far as I know. But, the situation
was very complex. It was also complex because,
as Albert Einstein recognized, nuclear weapons changed the
international relationships. He recognized that international
interactions will never be the same again having nuclear
weapons around, and eventually, when the policy of mutually
assured destruction came to life, Albert Einstein’s
prediction was realized, as it was valid. This is, a Hungarian
graphic artist friend of mine made this drawing, two
scorpions killing each other. One cannot kill the other
without getting killed by the other, and this is
after Robert Oppenheimer saying that the two super powers
are like such two scorpions. So, the international situation
was completely changed, and this brings us
to this famous debate in 1949 whether the United
States should develop the hydrogen bomb or not. And there was the general
advisory committee advising the U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission whether such a development
should take place or not and the general advisory
committee, which consisted of scientists primarily,
took a stand that the United States should
not develop the hydrogen bomb. There were, there was a majority
opinion and a minority opinion. The majority opinion,
Oppenheimer and others, said that the United States
should set an example. The minority opinion,
Fermi and Rabi, said that the United States
should make a solemn pledge not to develop this kind
of reference. This was 1949, and we now
know that in the Soviet Union, the development of the
hydrogen bomb started in 1946, started before they had– would
have produced the atomic bomb. So, the American side was
not well informed about this, and even today, we very
often meet such opinions that the hydrogen bomb
shouldn’t have been developed, Teller was to blame. But, it shouldn’t be ignored
that for the balance of power, both sides could
have had this weapon. And Leo Szilard is usually
considered to be the opposite of all the other
Martians for his politics, but even he credited Teller. He said that U.S., the United
States might have missed out on the hydrogen bomb had
it not been for Edward Teller. And this is a very little-known
statement by Szilard, but he made this statement
in a lecture at a meeting of the Friends of
Brandeis University, and it is very well-documented. And Szilard in his usual way
he gives an interesting story, which I don’t have
time to tell now. But, the development of the
hydrogen bomb started and, of course, once President
Truman declared that it should be developed, everybody who was
involved realized that they didn’t know
how to develop it. And it fell primarily on
Teller to worry about this, because other people
like Hans Bethe hoped that it would not be
possible to develop. That might have been
a good thing also, because then neither side would
have developed the hydrogen bomb if it had proved impossible. But, if it was possible, and if they just
couldn’t find a solution, that was very much worrying
Teller and the others. And eventually, and this is what
I think is a very interesting thing again, that Teller
could stay creative under such terrible
pressure, under such tension. And building on Stanislaw Ulam’s
suggestion, Teller than came to the idea of radiation
implosion and then Richard Garwin
made the blueprint, and the first thermonuclear
explosion was executed on the first of November, 1952. It was called “Mike,”
and here is a person, and you see this whole,
this whole construction on the picture, and it was even
larger than this picture shows, was the first thermonuclear
device. And it exploded and it was
very successful and eventually, of course, there were bombs
built that could be delivered and both super powers did that. When I talked with Teller,
and then we corresponded a lot until the very end of his life, he told me that he
was more proud of having established Livermore
than the hydrogen bomb. And, of course, it was
together with Ernest Lawrence that they initiated Livermore,
and I’m showing here a picture, which was taken in
Berkley in 57. By then, Livermore
had been established, but it was for a while, it
was just as a subsidiary of the Berkley laboratory,
and again Teller is in a good company, but
it’s a small company because by this time the
Oppenheimer hearing had happened in 1954, after which he
lost the friendship of most of the scientific community. The Oppenheimer hearing was
a turning point in his life. And one of his friends, President Reagan’s science
advisor, wrote to me: “Edward understood power. He could have written,
“The Prince,” Machiavelli’s famous book. So he was a Machiavellian, even
according to one of his friends. Now imagine what his
enemies thought about him. [Laughter] So, he lost his
friends, most of the friends. He went into a third exile. First, he went into an exile
from Hungary, then from Europe, and this was the third exile, and this was the most painful
exile for him because this is– this cut off his lifeline. He, he did not create alone. He always, he was always
creative in the company of one, maybe two colleagues,
but almost never alone. And after 54, he had seldom
had opportunities to cooperate with other scientists. So, his scientific production
went down very, very sharply. Instead of scientific peers, he
became a member of the military and the political leadership,
and for him that was, that was very bad, not only
because he lost his creativity, but also because he lost the
medium, which could be critical of his lots of lots of ideas. The military leaders and the
political leaders were no match to his intellect. So, those debates,
criticism stopped, exercising their
useful function on him. But let’s go back to
the hydrogen bomb. Both super powers developed
it, and both fathers of the hydrogen bombs
had a similar reasoning. Sakharov thought
it was necessary to balance the challenge by the
United States and Teller wanted to avoid learning
the Russian language. And Ginzburg, Vitaly
Ginzburg was not, he didn’t have clearance to
the Soviet nuclear project, but initially he could
contribute to the project. The reason was that
his wife was in exile, ostensibly for an
anti-Stalin plot, and so he didn’t have clearance. Eventually he lost even his
access to the project at all. He couldn’t even look at
his own notes anymore. But he was– he is credited to– the Russians called
the three basic ideas of creating the hydrogen bomb. The first and the third, now
we know what those ideas were, but I’m not going
to discuss this, because it is not
our purpose today. The first and third
belong to Sakharov, and Ginzburg suggested
the second one. And he also considered, at that
time, a patriotic duty to work for the nuclear weapons
of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was just
through a terrible war against the Nazis, and there
was a widespread feeling that another attack might be
coming from the United States. Eventually, of course, Ginzburg
and everybody else understood that it would have been a
tremendous tragedy if Hitler, and then later Stalin, would have possessed
first the nuclear weapons. Few words about Sakharov, because sometimes people ask
whether Teller might have become the American Sakharov or was
Sakharov the Soviet Teller? I don’t think they, they
had very much in common. Sakharov was a devoted
Stalinist. That’s important to state because we all consider
Sakharov our hero, but I think if we
know him better, we can worship him even more,
because he had the strength to make a change in his views. So, he was a devoted Stalinist. And then he started looking
into the nuclear tests and found them very
hazardous for people’s lives and for the next generation. And after a very
successful test, when the Soviet leadership
received the Soviet scientists, he gave a toast, and
Sakharov said in the presence of Khrushchev and the
other leaders that “May our tests be successful
always on testing sites and never over cities.” And Khrushchev became
very upset, very agitated, and humiliated Sakharov
publically. He said, “Just stick
to your science and don’t interfere
with politics.” And that was a big
change for Sakharov. He understood his place and he
didn’t like it, and we know, eventually, how important
he became as a human rights activist. I don’t think Teller
would have been like that. And I can discuss that also
why I’m just saying this without elaborating,
but I have to move on. Teller was very influential in the Soviet– in
the United States. Actually he was very influential
in the Soviet Union also. I almost misspoke. But not only did
Republican Presidents but even the Democratic
presidents, not because they liked him,
but because they knew they had to take his opinion
into account. President Kennedy
especially didn’t like Teller, but couldn’t ignore him. Teller started out, as most of
the immigrants in this country as a Democrat, then he switched
and became a Republican, and here we can see not only
important government people but important scientists also: Glenn Seaborg and
Edward McMillan. And obviously Teller was
important for Kennedy, and whether Teller’s importance
is overestimated or not– I also have an opinion
about this– but I would like to move on. Teller talked about the
fallout a lot of time, and usually he belittled
the importance of fallout, the consequences of testing. He made ridiculous claims about how little
danger it represented. But then if circumstances
required, he could admit that there may be birth defects
as a consequence of testing, but he said “this is just a
small price to pay for testing.” And, this particular statement,
which is in one of his books, so this is not just a casual
statement, I think this was, in my eyes, the lowest
point in his, in his career. But there were several
low points, of course. [Laughter] President Eisenhower,
in his farewell speech in 1961, January 1961, made a very famous
statement about the influence of the military industrial
complex that is very often quoted. And I’m quoting another part of
his speech about the influence of the scientific
technologic elite. And I think this
would have been, and maybe it was directed toward
Teller, because Teller was such a person who thought
that once there is a solution by technology, we got the
solution and we should go for it, and he thought
that political and sociological
considerations would be ignored. And then the next thing I
would like to mention is SDI. Again, just in passing. But again, I’m showing the power
between the Soviet approach and the American approach, and I find them very
similar to each other. Actually, the Soviets
pioneered this approach that antimissile system is to save lives rather
than anything else. And then President Reagan
said, “Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than avenge them?” in his famous March 1983 speech
in which he declared SDI. President Regan advocated a
nuclear-free missile defense, and somehow Edward Teller could
convince the American leadership to build this X-ray laser
system for missile defense, which was not nuclear-free but somehow it escaped
the attention of, of the political leadership. And we know that for years, this
was going on and didn’t work and then he came up with– not he, he was no longer
generating these ideas, but he was promoting them. They came up with the
Brilliant Pebble’s idea, which didn’t work either. And in this I am reminded,
and this is very devastating from my point of view, over
the Soviet charlatan scientist Lynsenko who always promised
the Soviet leadership that in a few years time the
Soviet agriculture would be lifted, if only they
would follow his advice. He never said, next year. He never said in 15
years, always a few years– three, four, five years. And this is what
Teller did also. And in this sense, he misled
the American leadership. But of course, there
had to be a leadership, which was willing to be misled. And a few words about the
scientist’s responsibilities, Teller got a lesson from
Oppenheimer in 1945. Leo Szilard engineered
a petition to the American president that the atomic bombs
should be demonstrated, should not be dropped
without warning, and various other solutions, and Teller was hesitating
whether to sign it or not. And here comes another
example of what I followed through using several examples:
that Teller, who we know as a, as a very self-assured,
very aggressive person, always sought the
approval of his superiors. So in Los Alamos, his
superior was Oppenheimer, and he went to see Oppenheimer,
and Oppenheimer talked him out of signing the petition, saying that the political
leaders know and have a broader
picture, which is true and was true in this case also. So, Teller didn’t sign
it, returned the petition to Szilard with an explanation. Later he developed this,
this version of his history that he opposed the atomic
bombs, which was not true, but many people believed
because he wrote about and spoke about it repeatedly. And Khrushchev said
the same to Sakharov. And Teller said the same to
all scientists repeatedly: “make your discoveries,
but don’t try to influence how society
would use your discoveries. Leave it to the elected
representatives” And he didn’t follow
his own maxim at all. In, this picture is from
1987, but first I would like to say a few
words about 1986. There was this famous meeting
in Reykjavik about two things: one is a nuclear disarmament
and the second about keeping, restricting SDI to
the laboratory. The Soviet President, Gorbachev
suggested nuclear disarmament, if the United States would
restrict SDI to the laboratory. And this is so vague as
anything like that can be, because nobody ever defined
what laboratory meant: Was it the building? Was it the earth? Was it the universe? We shouldn’t be surprised,
because there were plans to, to cheat on the test ban, to
send rockets on the other side of the moon and make
the explosions there, and then another record
would be monitoring things so nobody would notice. There’s all kinds of crazy
things, but it’s not so crazy. So, 1986 President
Reagan refused this, because he was enamored with
SDI and so was Gorbachev, because he was so afraid of SDI. The Soviet scientists were
not too much afraid of SDI because they knew it
couldn’t be accomplished, especially not in
such a time frame. But the Soviet leadership
was very apprehensive because they knew that by
then, by the mid- 1980s, the Soviet Union was no
match to the United States in computerization,
militarization, high-technology, and they could not have
built a similar system. So, no agreement was reached in
Reykjavikh in 1986, but in 1987, there was a small agreement
about some disarmament. That was more realistic, and President Reagan
gave a big reception in the White House
at the end of 1987. The cream of American
society was invited, and scientists were
represented by Edward Teller. There was a receiving line, and President Regan
introduced Edward Teller to President Gorbachev. This is Edward Teller; and
Teller stretched out his hand, but Gorbachev wouldn’t take it. Reagan thought that
he didn’t hear. This is the famous
Edward Teller. Gorbachev still remained
unmoved, and Teller walked away. First he felt humiliated, and
then he felt infinitely proud because if the Soviet
President recognized him by this really impolite
behavior, then he must have
been very important for the Soviet leadership. Now, there is only one problem
with this story, which is– you can read it in his
memoirs– it didn’t happen. [Laughter] The American media
reported every minutest detail about this White
House reception, couldn’t find anything. Everything, usually as
they reported the dresses, the dishes, everything. And I read everything that
I could about the reception and no mention of this
very interesting incident. Then I wrote, asking
former Secretary of State, who was the Secretary of
State at that time sitting at this reception, George
Schultz, and he didn’t know about such an incident. I wrote to President
Gorbachev also, but he didn’t bother to respond. [Laughter] So, and
Teller’s life was marked by these missing handshakes, because after the
Oppenheimer hearing, he went to Los Alamos next time, and people wouldn’t shake
his hand– that was real. And that signified
his third exile. So, I am also telling
you this story because if you read his memoirs,
it’s a very entertaining book, but we have to be
careful with what it says. So, I came to the
conclusion of my talk. I listed here positive
and negative things about Edward Teller, and I
didn’t discuss all of these. He was a great scientist, and
we could talk about that also. He did a lot for nuclear
safety and as I understand it, if Fukushima followed
his prescription for how safe reactor
could be built, the tragedy might
have not happened. He was instrumental in developing the
American hydrogen bomb, and this is a matter
of contention I know, but I think the fact that both
super powers possessed the hydrogen bomb contributed to
maintaining peace for decades. He initiated Livermore again. Here we cannot imagine how without Livermore the
American defense might– could have developed. We cannot make a
test experiment. And then about SDI, I
distinguish between two things. I think SDI brought a dividend, because it made the Soviet
Union uncertain and unstable– the leadership especially. But it was not feasible, so
feasibility, from the point of feasibility, it
was a negative deed, and I think that Teller, science
had mislead the leadership. And it was not the only time. President Eisenhower, who was
especially good at listening to scientists– not all
presidents have that– took Teller’s word for the
possibility of a clean bomb. I remember having read about President Eisenhower
making a statement in press conference that we
are going there, we are already at about 95 percent
clean hydrogen bomb. So, it was only 5
percent missing. But for any hydrogen bomb
an atomic bomb must be used, so it cannot be clean,
completely. And this scientist
somehow forgot to tell the American president. So, this was not the first
time that Teller behaved in such a misleading way,
and when he was accused by his colleagues, he said, “Oh,
I am an incorrigible optimist.” But that optimist,
optimism was very costly. What I find very negative
was his personal bias. His personal bias not only
when he destroyed others, but even when he praised others, his personal bias
worked very strongly. For example, he idolized
Heisenberg. Heisenberg was the head of the
German atomic bomb project, which failure, we know. And Teller said, and
wrote that “this was because Heisenberg sabotaged,
because Heisenberg didn’t want to give Hitler an atomic bomb.” And this is not what
the real story was. The Nazi leaders were not
interested in nuclear weapons because they wanted
a Blitzkrieg. They thought that the
war would be over before such bombs could be built. And they were not
pushing the scientists, and the scientists were laboring
on the atomic bomb in Germany in spite of the disinterestedness
of the Nazi leader. But for Teller, Heisenberg
was a hero. Heisenberg was no hero. Heisenberg made very
questionable visits to other countries under German
occupation, not only to Denmark, which is so well known. And he had very despicable acts, which are now very
well documented. But, Teller wouldn’t
hear of that. For Teller, Heisenberg
was a hero, and Teller didn’t see
Heisenberg, didn’t communicate with him between 1933 and 1945. So, he couldn’t do
anything about it. But he maintained this stand. He belittled fallout,
and when he didn’t, then we have seen
what he thought, as he was opposing test bans. And he misused secrecy. Now, this is another
complex matter about Teller. He wanted to eliminate secrecy, except some very
important cases, like the U.S. shouldn’t
publicize the trajectories of the submarines. But otherwise, it
should eliminate secrecy, which could probably, would
have been the right step, because many scientists
refrained from working on secret projects
in the United States. Not in the Soviet Union because
almost everything was secret there, so it didn’t matter
there, but in the U.S. it did. But then Teller was
capable of misusing secrecy, like having a public debate
with another scientist, and he had to resort to
telling the other one, “oh, you are wrong, I am
right, but I can’t tell you because it’s classified.” [Laughter] And some people even
stood up and left the podium when he said that,
because this was not a way of a meaningful debate. So, Teller was a very complex
character, and we will have to live with this very
complex memory of Teller. People have asked me at
the end of this book, now is he a hero
or is he a villain? And I maintain that he is both. Thank you very much. [ Applause ]

3 thoughts on “Edward Teller and the Other Martians of Science by Istvan Hargittai

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