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David Hawkins’s Interview – Part 2

David Hawkins served as an administrative aide at the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1943 and as the Manhattan Project’s historian in 1945-46. In that role, he had free access to all the top people involved, including project director J. Robert Oppenheimer and physicist Edward Teller. In this interview, he discusses the nature of Communist activity among the intellectual community in Berkeley California—a community that included a number of future Manhattan Project scientists. He describes his experiences working directly under Oppenheimer during his stint at Los Alamos, noting his charisma as well as his hubris. He describes that work; the copious and all-encompassing research that was required from his position as project historian. Finally, he concludes by discussing the years after the war, and his and his wife’s relationships with Clifford and Virginia Durr.

Date of Interview:
June 5, 1982
Location of the Interview:


Martin Sherwin: How much were the dues [to the Communist Party]?

David Hawkins: God, I don’t remember. Not very much, or I wouldn’t have been able to afford them.

Sherwin: Two bucks, five bucks?

Hawkins: Yeah, something like that.

Sherwin: A month?

Hawkins: A month, yeah. I really honestly don’t remember. Maybe five bucks a month. Professional people were supposed to be able to pay a fair amount. There were all kinds of meetings going on, some of which were party meetings, some of which were definitely not. Some of which may have been ambiguous as to, you know, you had a meeting on such and such a subject.

I would guess that if there were discussions about raising money for loyalist Spain, something like that, then that would not be a communist meeting, although it might have been organized by six Communist Party members.

Sherwin: I see.

Hawkins: They might have known who they were, but the group wasn’t a Communist Party meeting. If they raised money, it was probably money to send to Loyalist Spain or to buy something.

Sherwin: Were there actually sort of party meetings the first Monday of every month, or something like that?

Hawkins: In regular party meetings, there were, yes. I don’t remember how frequently, maybe once a week even. I remember belonging to a group in San Francesco when I was being the educational director. I met with some other group of people, most of whom I didn’t know very well, and probably met once a week.

Sherwin: For an hour an evening?

Hawkins: Yeah, an hour or two hours.

Sherwin: At somebody’s house?

Hawkins: Yeah.

Sherwin: You rotated?

Hawkins: Usually. Yeah, yeah.

Sherwin: Served coffee, had drinks?

Hawkins: Um-hmm, usually just coffee.

John S. Rosenberg: There’s an ideological dispute over the kind of Trotskyists who peeled off and then started attacking you. Or socialists. The kind of factional arguments on the left.

Hawkins: I was never involved in any groups that were directly involved in factional arguments. If there were people around that were radically different views from ours, we had very little association with them. I know in trade unions there were times when there were real knockdown, drag-out battles, not just arguments. But I was never involved with any of that.

We had rather standardized, stereotyped views about Trotskyites and so on. Later on, I discovered that some of them had been quite decent and thoughtful people, but at the time I didn’t know them. If I knew they were Trotskyites, I didn’t know them [laughter].

Sherwin: Who was the group?

Hawkins: Well, it varied a good deal. My wife for a time belonged to a group of elementary school teachers in San Francesco, which had probably eight members. They were all the teachers in San Francesco who had gone far enough to the left and decided to join the Communist Party.

I belonged to two or three groups of usually professional people; a couple of lawyers, I remember one or two doctors. They were always being very careful about the visibility of their associations. But they were nevertheless regular party members. In Stanford, I belonged to a tiny little faculty group with a couple of old-timey professors who had “gone red,” and a couple of young ones like me.

Sherwin: Do you remember the names of any people that I could talk to?

Hawkins: No, I’m afraid I don’t. I’m afraid they have all disappeared from my horizons, or else they are dead.

Sherwin: But surely, the Berkeley group—

Hawkins: Then there was the Berkeley group—

Sherwin: I mean, there’s Phil [Morrison], there’s [Joe] Weinberg. Was Weinberg in your group?

Hawkins: I think maybe at some time. It shifted around. That was the time of graduate student, that would have been the graduate student group, and I think physics was more represented than others.

Sherwin: David Bohm told me he was there.

Hawkins: One or two economists, graduate students in economics, maybe. A couple of philosophers. I mentioned one other, Stanley Moore, and myself.

Sherwin: Anybody take minutes of the meetings?

Hawkins: I don’t think so. We were pretty secretive. We would have lost our jobs if—

Sherwin: Oh, you knew that, even at that time?

Hawkins: Oh, yeah, yeah. You could be of the left. You could engage in some of these activities. But you couldn’t say, “I’m a Communist Party member.”

Sherwin: I see. So it was kept very close [inaudible]?

Hawkins: Yeah, yeah.

Sherwin: Even at that time at Berkeley?

Hawkins: Oh, yeah.

Sherwin: Was there as a result of this some kind—

Hawkins: Kenny May was an open member of the Communist Party. That was only after he was no longer a graduate student, however.

Sherwin: Was his father around?

Hawkins: His father was in political science, and disinherited him when he discovered that he had been a member of the Communist Party. He wrote an article in the New Masses saying why his father had denounced him.

Sherwin: I didn’t know that. I’ll have to look that up. Back in the ‘30s?

Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, ‘30s. “Why My Father Disinherited Me.” I remember it.

Sherwin: As a result of this, the fact that you had to keep this secret from general knowledge—now, I’m sure there were friends who were not members of the party who knew that you were in the party. But it was just sort of kept—

Hawkins: A few, yeah.

Sherwin: More or less [inaudible].

Hawkins: Yeah. They didn’t ask. That was understood.

Sherwin: By the way, I must say that I still have trouble asking, just because it’s hard to ask about these things.

Hawkins: The obvious ambiguities especially had to do with older people including, I mentioned a couple of MDs in San Francesco, not in Berkeley, that I knew of. In Stanford, I mentioned the young faculty members. There were some in Berkeley. But the Berkeley situation to my knowledge was always clearly ambiguous, people like [Haakon] Chevalier and so on. One simply didn’t ask, it was the reasonable way to behave.

When I was a faculty member at Berkeley, my work in the party was in San Francesco, mostly. I knew Steve Nelson and had some transactions with him, but that’s when I was busy being an educational director, writing tracts. I used to write educational outlines: “Read the following works and discuss,” this kind of thing.

Rosenberg: Did you ever run across the, the later informer, Paul Crouch, who claimed to pass through some of those circles there at one point?

Hawkins: No. I always thought he was phony, but I never knew him. I never knew anything about him, really.

Sherwin: Was Robert Oppenheimer a communist?

Hawkins: Not that I knew of. But again, I would say it wouldn’t have mattered very much. In a sense, it’s an unimportant question. He was clearly identified with many of these left-wing activities. He certainly must have known about some of his students, for example, because of the extraordinary mess—which I’ve never understood—that he got himself into and other people, over saying, “Well, you should look at—

Sherwin: Bernard Peters.

Hawkins: Bernard Peters, for example. I have no idea how all of that happened. I never understood it. My hunch would be that he was concerned getting some people in trouble, as a result of which he got other people into trouble. He must have known that so-and-so was an active Communist Party member or something like that, and felt personally, but I have no idea. I never knew him in a personal way that made it possible to talk about such things.

Sherwin: Let me ask you just a very different kind of question.

Hawkins: That really is as far as I ever knew in the domain of ambiguity. I met with him and Haakon Chevalier sometimes in some discussions, that kind of thing. But so did other people, and they were not party members.

Sherwin: I have a question that’s totally different, just about Phil Morrison. You can understand why I never asked him this question. Was his physical condition in the 1930s in the process of a deterioration?

Hawkins: Not very much. He was, of course, younger, and must have been physically stronger in some ways, as I was. But when I first knew him, he had a brace on his leg, which he’s long since discarded.

Sherwin: Is that polio?

Hawkins: Yeah. Polio when he was—gosh, I forget what age, but he was in bed for three or four years. That’s when he became an expert on military affairs, and a lot of other things. He read everything. He acquired the reading speed that is, I think, almost unequaled among anybody I know.

Sherwin: Not just the reading speed, but the retention.

Hawkins: Comprehensive, yeah.

Sherwin: [inaudible] and he reads and he reads and—

Hawkins: Yeah, I watched his eyes once. It went right down the middle of the page.

Sherwin: He’s unbelievable.

Hawkins: Five pages a minute, something like that.

Sherwin: My fingers get tired when I turn that many pages. [Laughter]

Hawkins: Right, me too. I’m a slow reader.

Sherwin: How does the story continue, in terms of its relationship with Oppenheimer?  Was it ’43 that he was—

Hawkins: I continued to know him. He disappeared rather noticeably early in ’43. I can’t remember the date, maybe January, something like that. As you have learned from that film if you didn’t already know it, there had been a lot of work going on there in his office or some parts of the physics building with [Edward] Teller and so on. That must have been ’42, right?

Sherwin: Well, it started actually in ’41.

Hawkins: Okay. He disappeared from sight. I saw him on the street one day, maybe sometime in April, and said “Hello” and that was all. But obviously, he had been conspicuously absent from Berkeley.

Sherwin: That was interesting. I wonder if that’s the time he went back and visited Jean Tatlock.

Hawkins: I don’t know. It may have been. I never knew anything Jean Tatlock until much later. I never met her or anything. 

The next thing I knew, I had a telephone call. That was early May. Could I come to Los Alamos the next day? This was the style. I spoke to him very briefly, but mainly to the man who invited me to come, who had been the chairman, who was the chairman of the philosophy department. Will Dennes was his name.

Sherwin: Will Dennes?

Hawkins: D-E-N-N-E-S, yes. He talked to me and told me there was a job and they wanted me to come.

Sherwin: Dennes was out at Los Alamos?

Hawkins: Yeah, he had gone to Los Alamos.

Sherwin: A friend of Robert’s?

Hawkins: Not, as far as I know, a very close one. But Robert had, I guess, respected him and liked him from faculty meetings and thought he was a careful and judicious person, which he certainly was. He had gone and I think had been there for four or five weeks and decided not to stay, because he had teenage kids who were going to be locked up for the duration and that kind of thing.

Also, I suspect temperamentally he and Robert would never have gotten along, because Robert was quick to make snap decisions often, and Dennes was the sort who would carefully examine all possibilities and talk about them before he made a decision. I think the tempi were just wrong. But anyway, he decided not to stay and I was invited partly to do some of the things that he had. He had a higher rank than I ever got. I think he was called an assistant director.

Sherwin: Did he take [Ed] Condon?

Hawkins: Condon left the day before I got there, and I never inquired into what had happened. I’ve heard stories about it. You probably have, too.

Sherwin: Yes. There was an interesting exposition of that on one of the parts that you missed.

Hawkins: I heard that Condon had blown up at [General Leslie] Groves and gotten out of the car, something like that. That would be entirely possible. Condon was a very powerful, unfrightened kind of character. If he wanted to say something, he said it. But I don’t know. I know that I moved into the office that he had just vacated when I got there. I was a young punk. I was just thirty, and very inexperienced. I had no idea what I was getting in for. I had no administrative experience.

But Robert had a curious—this is another characteristic of his—he always seemed to have a very high opinion of my intelligence. That was what he always said, “He’s a very intelligent young man.” I don’t know where he got this, really. I suppose maybe I was. I wasn’t a very high IQ type. I was slow to learn physics and things like that. But he had great respect for me, and great personal support, as I found out later. He certainly never got me into any trouble, and I don’t really know how much he knew about my politics. He probably did. I think he did.

Sherwin: Did you have any clearance problems?

Hawkins: I got to Los Alamos. Everything was decided on the spur of the moment. Groves had decided to support Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer’s recommendations Grove generally accepted. They were very much in agreement about a lot of things, in spite of all kinds of temperamental and other obvious political differences.

Oppenheimer at that point was able to just telephone people and say, “Come,” and they would come. Then the clearance would take place later. Shortly after I got to Los Alamos, the man who has figured in a lot of these discussions of Oppenheimer—

Sherwin: Boris Pash?

Hawkins: No, no.

Sherwin: John Lansdale?

Hawkins: Lansdale, who was, I think, a Cleveland lawyer in uniform, came to see me. He let me know quite explicitly that they were not concerned about former political party membership, but they were concerned about primary loyalties. I assured him that my primary loyalty was the United States. I didn’t say, “I won’t betray, I won’t give away any secrets,” but it was understood. That was all I ever heard, until after the war when Groves’s files leaked to the Un-American Activities Committee, and my fat was in the fire. But they obviously knew all about me.

Sherwin: Your impression of Lansdale?

Hawkins: Oh, a straightforward G2 intelligence type. Hard-boiled, but perfectly straightforward with me. I think he was a very smart cookie. I have read some of the record about his interrogations of Robert Oppenheimer and so on. I had no acquaintance with any of that, personally.

Sherwin: Did Oppenheimer ever talk to you about the security issues at Los Alamos? You handled that whole spectrum of—

Hawkins: No. There was a committee. He turned it over to three of us, one of whom was a trusted junior physicist, well, a person that had been involved in the creation of Los Alamos with him, John Manley.

Sherwin: Yes. A very good friend who stayed with him for the GAC [General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission].

Hawkins: Yeah, and clearly in no wise politically of the left, although not at all right-wing. A standard academic, liberal-minded character. And Joe Kennedy, who was head of chemistry, who was a tall, gangly Texan.

We were a security committee. But that was security; that had to do with holes in the fence and people locking their files. We had nothing whatever to do with clearance or with any concern about espionage or counterespionage or anything like that.

It was just material security, and we had people working for us who went around checking things, because we didn’t the U.S. engineers or the MPs [Military Police] who were supposed to guard the place. In fact, they weren’t allowed in. But it was amusing and ironic, in a sense. The head of the G2 was sort of an honorary member of this group, local head. Peer De Silva.

Sherwin: Yes, yes.

Hawkins: He was an extraordinary character. He was the only West Point graduate there. Yeah, he was profoundly suspicious, I think, of everyone, and in fact, was writing a book about Oppenheimer when he died in an accident.

Sherwin: I didn’t know that he was dead.

Hawkins: You know, there was a guy—oh, I wish I could remember names better. There was a guy who was writing—

Sherwin: In Texas?

Hawkins: A book about Oppenheimer.

Sherwin: Yes. He’s the person who did that “city” book, City of Fire.

Hawkins: Remember his name? Well, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, he told me that his publisher had been about to publish this book of De Silva, which claimed that Oppenheimer was a spy and all. I mean at this point, De Silva was a real paranoid.

Sherwin: Yes.

Hawkins: He was always being put down by Oppenheimer. By the way, you have heard the stories about Lewis Strauss being put down by Oppenheimer?

Sherwin: Yes.

Hawkins: It’s the same kind of thing. De Silva came into a council meeting one day, a Friday afternoon meeting of group leaders, and said, “I have a complaint,” at some point. Item on the agenda said anybody gets up who wants to say anything. He got and said he had a complaint that a GI had come in to talk to him and had sat on the corner of his desk without asking his permission. He said, “I didn’t appreciate it.”

Robert Oppenheimer said, “In this laboratory, anybody can sit on anybody’s desk.” [Laughter] Boy, if you want to make enemies!

Sherwin: A West Point ringknocker.

Hawkins: Boy, yeah. Then I became the historian, and I was around for almost a year after Hiroshima. Then I finished that work in Washington, D.C., and I had access there to some parts of the files and so on.

Sherwin: Did you get that job, assignment, as historian during the war?

Hawkins: Yeah.

Sherwin: Or did that come after?

Hawkins: No, that was during the war. I started in ’44.

Sherwin: Remember whose idea it was?

Hawkins: Robert Oppenheimer’s.

Sherwin: It was.

Hawkins: I think he had asked—

Sherwin: Do you remember discussing it with him?

Hawkins: Yeah. He asked at least one more senior person, who said he couldn’t do it. That was a person not there at all at the time, and that was Ernest Hilgard, the psychologist. Quite an imminent psychologist that was, from an earlier time, a friend of Robert’s.

Sherwin: Interesting. He went around asking anybody, “Want to historian?”

Hawkins: Oh, naturally.  

Sherwin: Did he ever say that “I’m not a historian. Why don’t you get a historian?” Or what did he say? I mean, considering his views—

Hawkins: I doubt if he knew any historians. In his own mind, he was perfectly competent to be an historian himself.

Sherwin: In his own mind, he was perfectly competent to be anything [laughter].

Hawkins: Yeah, yeah. And probably would have been.

Sherwin: Sure.

Hawkins: But no, I didn’t object. I was delighted with the opportunity. I said, “Do you think I can do it?”

He said, “Of course.”

Rosenberg: He showed the good sense of asking two people with Stanford degrees.

Sherwin: Right [laughter].

Hawkins: Actually, if I had been a historian I would have done a different job than what I did, because he gave me absolute guarantees of perfect freedom in what I wrote. He had gotten these from Groves. Groves said, “All right, you’re the boss. If you approve that history, that’s it.” Groves was very clear, would never have interfered, even if it had damned him. He was a man who would keep his word on things.

If I had really felt that, I would have been more of a chronicler; willing to venture my own opinions about things and tell colorful anecdotes about people, even if I couldn’t confirm them from the text. But this was an official military history, and I was over-impressed with that role. I don’t know what a guy like you would have done if you had been in that position.

Sherwin: I would have collapsed [laughter].

Hawkins: There was almost no documentary evidence. That place had been built so quickly, everything was word of mouth. I’d find one memorandum, which would be in the middle of some exchange, with no indication of what the precedents had been or what the sequel was. It would be almost useless.

I finally took to interviewing people, but I didn’t have tape recorders. I interviewed them and listened and made notes, but the notes were not useful. So there was almost no record. I had to say, “Well, this document itself is its own record. This primary, primary source.”

But I’m not happy with it [Project Y: The Los Alamos Story], because it’s a bit wooden. [Richard] Hewlett liked it. He said he found it very useful, and I think a lot of people have read it with interest. But to me it’s dull, and it doesn’t reveal the characters. I think I have a few words of praise for Oppenheimer’s administrative abilities, a page at the end which talks about political attitudes.

Sherwin: Did you do other jobs once you started the history of Los Alamos?

Hawkins: No. I had been doing various other jobs. I was an assistant personnel director, or associate, something or other. I was under the old man who was at the time—when I first went there, nobody was over me except Robert Oppenheimer, because there was almost no administrative staff. But then, as it began to become more bureaucratic, I sort of went down a level or two.

Rosenberg: Let me start with one area where Marty’s and my project overlap.

Hawkins: Overlap.

Rosenberg: Which is the connection with Frank [Oppenheimer]. I should sort of back up and say that I knew Cliff [Durr]. I had been close to him, and of course I have heard a lot of this orally before I started writing.

Hawkins: I see.

Rosenberg: So I have the advantage of remembering his stories. Plus now going back through various documentary sources. He’s got an oral history interview at Columbia and his papers and whatnot.

The story that he tells—and it’s not just orally, it’s in a couple of other places—about how he came to represent Frank, his initial connection with Robert at Princeton. Robert had asked him [Durr] to do a study of the loyalty issue, which he was to take up as soon as got off the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and was commuting to Princeton.

Hawkins: I see. I never knew that.

Rosenberg: He was commuting to Princeton to teach a course once a week his last few months on the FCC. He decided, as you may remember, to refuse reappointment to the FCC.

Hawkins: Yeah.

Rosenberg: Because of the loyalty issue and Robert, he had become sort of a prominent critic of the loyalty program while he was still in the government. Robert had asked him to direct some study through the Institute [for Advanced Study] on the effect of the loyalty programs. So when he was teaching his course at Princeton, he would also talk to Robert, who had, in one of these meetings, brought up the personal issue. Frank had just been subpoenaed, and asked him if he would represent him, which he agreed to do.

Again, I wanted to check this. As Cliff told us, in effect—I’ll cut through a lot of it to the bottom line very quickly—because of his representing Frank at HUAC [the House Un-American Committee hearing], he then dropped this project at the Institute. Again according to Cliff, Robert sort of, after Frank was subpoenaed, went out of his avoid him. Whereas people like Ed Condon would go out of their way to identify—

Hawkins: To embrace him, yes.

Rosenberg: That after Frank wound up in Colorado, he had virtually nothing to do with him, and cut him off, I mean psychologically cut him off in some sense. Since you knew all of these people, I just wondered, is that overstated? This is not directly relevant to me as much as it is to Marty, I suppose.

Hawkins: Yeah. I can’t say for sure. I’m quite sure that there was not much, if any, personal contact during that period. Robert may have visited him at his ranch. I don’t know. But it certainly wasn’t in evidence in any of our conversations. I didn’t know about this Princeton connection with Cliff.

I remember Frances [Hawkins’s wife] and Virginia Durr being followed by the FBI.

Rosenberg: Oh, I remember something about that. It might have been San Francesco.

Hawkins: Maybe it was.

Rosenberg: It was one time when Virginia made a trip out there. I got their FBI file, so it’s interesting to—

Hawkins: Oh, I see.

Rosenberg: Or at least what was not excised from them, in any event.

Hawkins: Virginia had a funny story about somebody greeting her and saying, “Hello, Mrs. Durr.” She didn’t know who he was, and it turned out to be the guy who had been tailing her [laughter].

Rosenberg: When you were spending some time with him in Denver—

Hawkins: This was in Denver. That was right. The guy that greeted her had been tailing her in Denver and talked in a very friendly, open way about it and didn’t apologize. “Yeah, I was assigned to follow you and Mrs. Hawkins.”

Rosenberg: That’s very interesting, that’s very interesting. Did you get into any of the sort of conversations you had at Berkeley with Cliff when you were meeting him in Denver? Were there any of these sort of like bull session stuff about what was going on with [inaudible] or was it more focused on—

Hawkins: What was going with what?

Rosenberg:  His travail with the Farmer’s Union.

Hawkins: Oh, he told me about that, yes. He told us about that. I remember the first time he told us, very angry at the Farmer’s Union for the bad behavior of—what was his name, the boss man?

Rosenberg: Jim Patton.

Hawkins: Yeah. For telling him that he had to tell Virginia to cease and desist from some of her peace activities. He let Patton know in no uncertain terms that he was not about to tell his wife what she should and shouldn’t do.

Rosenberg: Well, there was a lot of them, and that was an extremely difficult period for them. I think Virginia felt guilty in some level that they were in Denver—

Hawkins: I’m sure she must have.

Rosenberg: In the first place, because of her political—

Hawkins: I doubt very much if she would have let on to us or anything like that about that. She was always very stalwart in her views about everything.

Rosenberg: Right, yes. She never had a problem of not being—

Hawkins: I never heard her say, “I feel guilty” about anything. She was always very ironic and humorous and powerful in her convictions.

Rosenberg: She vowed when they went after Denver that she was going to keep her mouth shut.

Hawkins: I see.

Rosenberg: Anybody who knew her would have known it would have been an impossible vow to fulfill. But she really did, I think, severely curtail her—

Hawkins: I’m sure she did.

Rosenberg: Political activities. The only thing that she did, which got them in trouble, was signing this petition, which seemed to a respectable thing to do at the time and turned out not to be.

I’m interested in the perception of someone who would have known them when the pressure in the Farmer’s Union thing was going. Were they sort of both united against this? Was there actual pressure in the household? They had very different styles.

Hawkins: Yes.

Rosenberg: A lot of people who knew them were—I mean, this, this sort of standard line, especially from Cliff’s family and from his friends, that he was the saintly character whose life was ruined by being married to this battleax, which in some sense is totally wrong. They had complementary styles.

Hawkins: Oh, absolutely.

Rosenberg: I mean, he used to glory in what she was—

Hawkins: His style was very genteel and quiet, but his views were very strong. I don’t think he thought of himself as being particularly radical.

Rosenberg: Well, he was not radical.

Hawkins: He was a principled constitutional lawyer, who I think thought of himself as fairly conservative. But when it came to things like loyalty security, he couldn’t stomach it and he would go out of his way to help people that were in trouble. I recall a story that he protected people in his own department as best he could, and protested when they were in trouble.

Rosenberg: [inaudible] that Watson-Dodd business when he first came to the FCC.

Hawkins: Yeah, yeah.

Rosenberg: He had been there and been very active.

Hawkins: He was obviously a man that wouldn’t go along with that kind of program. In a sense, he was radical. Going to the roots, that kind of radical. He wanted me to take a position which I was too timid to take, for example.

Rosenberg: This is the demur?

Hawkins: Yeah, yeah.

Rosenberg: That’s not necessarily a—

Hawkins: It might have been—

Rosenberg: More radical—

Hawkins: Shrewd.

Rosenberg: Position. I mean, in the sense denying may be more. It’s not clear to me which of those is a more radical—

Hawkins: No, all right [laughter]. Any rate, it was a more principled position than I was willing to take. I was concerned with one and only one principle in that, and that was that I was going to stick by the position I had taken with the Un-American Activities Committee.

Frances knew Virginia quite well. I didn’t know Cliff, and certainly not in any intimate way. Our conversations were those of people who trusted each other and were good friends socially, but he was not an intimate friend at all. Rudy Gilbert was much closer to being an intimate friend.

Rosenberg: Were there other friends of theirs out there?

Hawkins: I’m sure there were. I don’t think I remember any of them.

Rosenberg: I’m not sure there would have been very many.

Hawkins: No, I think there weren’t very many. I think it was with the Gilberts, because of Rudy’s church. I don’t know how they met, actually.

Rosenberg: Yeah. You were telling the story about the biblical interest that he had about the one being a tale-bearer up and down the mountain. Rudy Gilbert got published for him initially the series, he had these three biblical parables. Did you ever see see—

Hawkins: Yes, I remember them. I don’t I haven’t seen them for a long time, yeah.

Rosenberg: [inaudible] copies of those. It’s probably worth reviving them in some way.

Hawkins: Yeah.

Rosenberg: Did you have any contact with them after they left Denver and went back to Alabama at all?

Hawkins: The only time we saw them after that was when we came back through Montgomery. That was after the Un-American Activities Committee thing there, and he had had a heart attack and they were living there. We stopped and spent the day with them, and with great pleasure. I think that’s the only time after Denver when we saw them.

Rosenberg: There was another friend of theirs in Colorado. I’m trying to remember if he was involved in any of the discussions about your university case. Barney Whatley, did you ever run into him?

Hawkins: No, no. I think I remember the name, but I don’t think I ever met him.

Rosenberg: There was some negotiating going on. He was an influential Colorado Democrat. He’d come out there from Alabama—

Hawkins: I see.

Rosenberg: After World War I, and got to be bigshot of the Democratic Party out there. In that period, two of Truman’s Cabinet people were from Colorado, [Charles F.] Brannan and somebody else. Some backstage lobbying going on through Whatley to try to put the clamps on HUAC in some way, to get them to close it. But you didn’t have any real conversations?

Hawkins: No, no.

Rosenberg: Do you remember any other parts of the advice he gave when you were sort of planning strategy on your Boulder case? The one point was to demur as opposed to deny?

Hawkins: Yeah. Then if the demurral didn’t work, he said, “Of course, it won’t work, but you will have it on the record. They will not let you go just on the grounds of irrelevance, because they have declared that they are relevant.” It was that the president had formulated these charges. They were called “charges” at first and published in the newspaper, which annoyed me very much.

Rosenberg: As charges?

Hawkins: As charges. I went to the president and said, “Look, you’re charging me with something, but does that mean you’re going to appear as my adversary?”

He said, “Oh, no, no, not at all.”

I said, “Well, then don’t call them charges.” I think that was on Cliff’s advice.

He said, “Very well. I’ll call them “interrogatories.” Questions which need to be discussed.”

Cliff gave me advice about those. I don’t remember what they all were. They were foolish. One of them was that, by implication, I was still a member of the Communist Party. That wasn’t actually said, but that was one of the interrogatories, “Am I still?” Implying that I had to prove I wasn’t or something like that.

Then, that I’d been a sponsor for a Marxist discussion group, which indeed I had. Spent most of my trying to get them to read instead of being activists [laughter]. It was a discussion group that was always out campaigning, you know. That was supposed to be subversive activity on my part. That I had subverted my students, and funny little things like that. All I remember in detail was that I drafted responses and Cliff read them and criticized them, suggested strengthening them. But I don’t remember any more.

Rosenberg: He represented several of the younger scientists before HUAC. I mean, you had mentioned David Bohm, probably through Frank.

Hawkins: Did he represent Bohm? That was the time when Bohm was cited for contempt, I guess.

Rosenberg: I think so. I’m trying to remember if he had represented [Giovanni Rossi] Lomanitz as well. There’s a day or so—you could read the hearings of HUAC. They were parading through these people that they had subpoenaed before the committee. Cliff just stayed there. Usually the lawyers would get up and the new crowd would come in. They did a parade through of all these people. He had—

Hawkins: Marvelous character.

Rosenberg: Sort of stayed in. But you didn’t have any conversations about the science? I think he’d gotten—probably through Frank and through Ed Condon, whom he came to know in Washington—very much interested in scientific openness. Saw more clearly than a lot of people did that if you tried to shut down discussion and classify everything and whatnot, that it would put a real clamp on science. He got more interested in that aspect of things through representing these scientists. Did you ever discuss any of that?

Hawkins: Not in terms of any specific narratives on his part. We may have had some abstract discussions about it. Probably did. I remember that I had a great feeling of agreement with him about a lot of his views, and that was probably one of them.

He reminded me, in some ways, of an old uncle of mine who was a great legal warhorse in Denver, who was a similar kind of person of principle. Great opportunist in the way he ran his defenses of criminals when he was being a criminal lawyer, but very clear about constitutional issues and so on.

Rosenberg: One of the things that was interesting about Cliff—it’s an interesting point—the combination of the commitment to principle and the question of how that relates to the opportunism. That may not be the best word—but the “whatever” of—

Hawkins: Yeah, the give and take.

Rosenberg: Being a lawyer, of lawyering and whatnot. When Cliff was in government, he was a master operator.

Hawkins: Really?

Rosenberg: The notion of him as some purist ivory tower idealist, principled person who would never dirty his skirt by compromising in the real world is totally wrong.

Hawkins: Oh, I’m sure, yeah.

Rosenberg: With regard to the way that he manipulated and operated as a bureaucratic politician. But interestingly, he couldn’t do it for himself, even to the point of charging clients. It’s certainly one of the main reasons he came out to Denver was because he couldn’t make a living in Washington, given the fact that he was willing to represent people whom other people wouldn’t. I don’t want to, in any way, minimize the economic consequences of his commitment to principle.

Having said that, that’s not enough. It was also true that he couldn’t charge the clients who could pay. There were a couple of other lawyers in Washington, and some of them managed to survive.

Hawkins: Well, my lawyer, Joe Fanelli, managed to survive because he managed the estates of some rich old ladies, including Mrs. Pinchot.

Rosenberg: Right. But it sounds like in his advice to you about how to operate with the university—

Hawkins: It was very true.

Rosenberg: He could be very shrewd when he was doing it for free, or when he was doing it for the government. If he had to operate on his own behalf, he couldn’t—

Hawkins: He couldn’t do it, yeah. I would believe that.

Rosenberg: He couldn’t at all. This picture also of Virginia as the sort of wild-eyed radical, removed. I mean, she’s the one who held them together in the sense personally, and was on that private level quite effective.

I don’t have any other specific—

Hawkins: Sometime if you have a chance, you should talk to my wife. But that’s mostly about Virginia. Frances didn’t know Clifford so well, but you would get a lot of insight about Clifford through Virginia.

Rosenberg: Well, I would love to do this, and as you can well imagine and knowing them at all, a book about Cliff is also a book about Virginia.

Hawkins: Oh, yeah.

Rosenberg: So I don’t make that kind of distinction.

They were only in Denver for such a short time. Back in the days before they had any money at all, Virginia, at least, was a prolific letter writer. She used to have an enormous correspondence, which she religiously kept up with. The letters from Denver, I mean, every other day for a year or so, are quite striking.

Hawkins: Frances has been trying to promote for Marie [Frances’s cousin] a letter that she wrote after the Democratic Convention, during which a dear friend of ours died. He had been instrumental in getting that odd delegation from Mississippi—

Rosenberg: This was the ’64 convention?

Hawkins: Yeah, seated, and he died of a heart attack the next day. Virginia wrote a marvelous letter to his wife, Millie Danielson, who’s now Millie Oppenheimer.

Rosenberg: Oh, really?

Hawkins: She just, not too long ago, married Frank after his wife died. They were close family friends, the four of them. I think she may get that letter from Millie.

Rosenberg: Oh, that would be good.

Hawkins: I think I’ve told you about everything I know. You see, I didn’t know him for long and I didn’t know him well. But I knew Rudy Gilbert quite well, and had spoken at his church and so on. 

Copyright 2005 Martin J. Sherwin. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of Martin J. Sherwin. Rights granted to Atomic Heritage Foundation.