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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

John Manley’s Interview (1985) – Part 2

John Manley was a nuclear physicist who worked for the Manhattan Project from its early days. In this interview with Martin Sherwin, Manley recalls being impressed by George Kennan and Omar Bradley’s testimony before the Atomic Energy Commission. He also discusses the contributions to the project and personalities of General Kenneth Nichols, General Leslie Groves, and Peer de Silva. He also explains the founding of Los Alamos and and reflects on Oppenheimer’s transition into the “great administrator.”

Date of Interview:
January 9, 1985
Location of the Interview:


Martin Sherwin: In terms of the people who were invited in, I know [George] Kennan.

John Manley: That was for the Halloween meeting.

Sherwin: Yes. Do you remember anything about what Kennan said? What the impression he left was?

Manley: Let me try to be specific. I think I could give you some idea of the impression he left with me, not so much an analysis of other people. I don’t think that I was that different in impressionability on some of these things than the other people.

I can tell you one specific thing which did not occur at that time for some reason—which I don’t remember now, and I’m sure that it was after Kennan’s appearance, and it might even have been after the meeting—that Oppenheimer asked me to go and speak to him about something having to do with Kennan’s background, essentially. I can’t for the life of me remember it, except that I can remember sort of what he said, which had to do with: if you have a dangerous neighbor, there are only a certain limited number of things that can be done about it. For one thing, you can’t go out and shoot him. Just that little piece is still there, which I can extrapolate now almost any way.

But I still think it’s reasonably accurate to say that Kennan impressed me greatly, enough so that I recommended him as the first Oppenheimer Memorial Lecturer here, and he came. The reason why, I think, was his very sensible, I thought, attitude toward the problem of the Russians, and the recognition of the limitations that were imposed by—now I would say the planet, perhaps, but I wouldn’t have said that then. But it had that kind of connotation, you see, that here are people who exist on this planet. They cause us problems, but somehow we have to be able to accommodate those problems.

Another thing along the same line—these are only very vague things, you understand—was that I could not understand how it was that such an intelligent and experienced individual on Russia and on diplomacy in general. He conveyed that to me with what he had to say during the—I remember him as a person before the GAC [General Advisory Committee], and Omar Bradley was also called in. Both of those people made a very definite impression, a very favorably definite impression on me.

One of the things that puzzled me when I got into the business at [David] Lilienthal’s request of really being a member of what was called working committee to work up the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] position, essentially, on the decision. I could not understand—first of all, I assumed that both State and Defense would be doing the same thing. That just seemed sensible to me, and that’s the way a problem would be handled in a scientific club. Each university or something would maybe have a group working on that, then they would get together and discuss it and so on. I thought that was what was going to happen.

Then I found out that there was no working group in the Defense Department or in State. It was only in the AEC that there was any sort of staff considerations, as far as I ever found out. What mystified me was that after my exposure to Kennan—he was still in the State Department at that time. He had signified his intent to resign, I think, but he was still there.

Sherwin: He was still head of the policy planning.

Manley: Yes, although it’s very close. I think by the time the actual decision was made, he was no longer head.

Sherwin: I see. End of January, the end of the year was probably when—

Manley: I think probably, yeah. It would have been for Lilienthal, too, except he agreed to stay on. But anyway, how come [Dean] Acheson didn’t depend on Kennan as an advisor? That was a mystery until I talked with [R. Gordon] Arneson.

Sherwin: What did Arneson say?

Manley: Arneson said that they just didn’t get along. [Laughter] I can understand why, too.

Sherwin: Kennan knew that he was there not to talk about the hydrogen bomb, right? Or did he? Was he just called in to talk about the Soviets?

Manley: No, don’t get crossed up like a lot of people have. I’m sure you aren’t, but let me warn you anyway. So many people think that somehow the hydrogen bomb developed all by itself. In my view, it was really a very decided reaction to the Russian test.

Sherwin: It was a what?

Manley: The decided reaction to the Russian test. I mean, just no question but that was what generated the renewed interest in the hydrogen bomb.

So the general question that was really before the AEC was what to do because of the Russian test. We have got evidence that they have tested something that looks a lot like a weapon. What do you do about it?

My recollection of Kennan’s position was an attempt to answer that question. Not specifically that, “Do you or do you not build a hydrogen bomb, or you go into a crash program with the hydrogen bomb.” Although that was certainly in the atmosphere, because if I remember correctly, that was first of all put in the AEC discussions by [Lewis] Strauss before the GAC meeting.  But you know, those, I can be shaky. [Laughter]

Sherwin: No. There were a whole series of letters between [Brien] McMahon and Strauss and Teller.

Manley: Right, yeah. I think a lot of those were before the—well, no, there were a lot afterward, because McMann’s 15,000-word whatever it was, was after the GAC, at the GAC.

Sherwin: Yes. In terms of Kennan’s view, could you characterize the position as, “Let’s not get excited?”

Manley: I think so, yeah. Sure. Because I think this is quite consistent with that little fragment of an episode of the farmer, or the neighbor, I’m not even sure what it was. You see, there are certain things that you really can’t do very much about. You learn to live them, was kind of the thing, and let’s not go off the deep end when you can’t do anything about it. I’m quite sure that’s what impressed me about Kennan.

Sherwin: Because later on he was asked by Acheson to submit a memo very, very late in the game.

Manley: After the decision?

Sherwin: No, before.

Manley: Still before.

Sherwin: Before the decision.

Manley: I knew he was working on it.

Sherwin: But it was quite late, late in the game.

Manley: See, that was part of the puzzle, because I knew—in fact, I think Kennan told me when I went to see him for Oppenheimer for some reason.

Sherwin: After the October meeting?

Manley: Yes, yeah, I’m quite sure that was after the October meeting, because it didn’t make sense to have it before. I wish I could remember what it was all about, but I really can’t. But I got the impression at that time that he was working on it. But then reading some of the State Department papers and so on later, I couldn’t be sure whether it was that or whether he was working on it for quite a long time as a kind of general foreign policy statement.

Sherwin: He has a fragment of that memo in a book of essays he put out called The Nuclear Delusion. Basically in it he says that if you start relying more and more on nuclear weapons, you are eventually going to create—

Manley: A mindset.

Sherwin: —something that will box you into a corner. I mean, he was absolutely right.

Manley: Yeah, sure. That’s the sad thing about the whole business. There were quite a few people who were really right, but nobody would listen.

Sherwin: You said [Omar] Bradley was also impressive. What did Bradley say? Can you recall?

Manley: I guess one of the things was sort of in parallel with Kennan, in the sense that it was a quiet command of himself, in the sense that he wasn’t one of the individuals who reacted by waving arms and shouting that “his would be done and all that sort of business. In that sense I  kind of have a feeling that Bradley and Kennan were of a kind, in the sense of not getting really excited, being much more realistic than many of the other people that got so uptight about the whole thing. What he actually said, I really—no, but that should be in the minutes.

Sherwin: Yes, yes. But I don’t recall sort of seeing any testimony from anybody else. The reason why I know that Kennan testified, and I didn’t know Bradley testified, is that either someone had told me or I had read it somewhere, probably in the AEC history.

Manley: Could be. Well, the way I would remember it—maybe correctly, maybe not—therer was always, not at every meeting, but whenever there was some military thing came up, there was a certain quid pro quo between GAC and the MLC, the Military Liaison Committee. You see, both agencies were created in sort of a parallel situation.

I always made contact with the Division of Military Applications, because they were right there in the building, and that was my main contact with the military. As I remember this particular situation, because of the military context and questions that came up, Bradley came probably at the behest of and with Robert LeBaron, who was the chairman of the Military Liaison Committee at that time.

Sherwin: Right.

Manley: I don’t remember whether there were any other military people. I can’t remember, for example, ever seeing—well, [General Leslie] Groves was in once or twice in the early days before he kind of faded out of the picture. But for instance, I don’t remember [General Kenneth] Nichols ever appearing before the GAC. Now, he may have begun it, because he took over the Armed Forces special weapons business, and so on. There were other military people on occasion. Even Hyman Rickover came once, on the nuclear submarine issue in part.

Sherwin: Had it started that early, on nuclear submarines?

Manley: Oh, yeah. In fact, I think there was a contract with [inaudible]. There was even a model of a submarine. I couldn’t tell whether it was nuclear powered or not, the model. It was a wooden model.

Sherwin: Let me ask you about Nichols. What role do you think he played in the Oppenheimer hearings?

Manley: Straight man. [Laughter] That’s just a facetious remark, really. Well, I think there was no real love lost between Nichols and Oppenheimer. They didn’t have a whole lot to do with one another. You know, Groves kept Nichols away from here all during the war.

Sherwin: Is that right?

Manley: Yeah. I don’t know why. I think it was maybe just compartmentalization for security reasons more than anything else. It’s just a pure guess. But I don’t think he ever visited Los Alamos, Nichols, until maybe after the war. I’m not sure about that.

Sherwin: I have the impression that he didn’t like Oppenheimer at all.

Manley: That could be.

Sherwin: Do you have any reason to know why that might be the case?

Manley: Again I’m guessing, that one of the reasons, which is obvious to you as it is to me, is that Nichols would be much more—just from his character and his nature—would be much more inclined to heavily weigh Oppenheimer’s past at Berkeley, for example, and all the things that went on there, as believing in this security risk.

I knew Peer de Silva quite well, because I was on a local committee that sort of tried to help him on security matters in the lab here. I would say that in quite a few ways that those two were similar, de Silva and Nichols.

Sherwin: Do you know if de Silva’s still alive?

Manley: I think he is, but I don’t really know.

Sherwin: He was in the Washington area. Did he ever talk to you about Oppenheimer at all?

Manley: No. No, he was very smooth. Gosh, a perfect gentleman, polished and very considerate and so on. Oh, I mean, it was almost terrible. [Laughter] That was my reaction. But you know, pleasant enough. In fact, Dave Hawkins and I were on that committee with him for a period of time. I remember going around checking safes and things, ones that [Richard] Feynman probably had opened.

I can’t give you much more about Nichols. Well, there’s a little more I could give you. I guess I would sort of be inclined to call him a horse’s ass, but that is on the record, too. But then, that’s such a common expression.

Sherwin: What would that be from? I mean, was he a kind of very stiff person who was sort of always running to the right rule to follow?

Manley: Well, some of this is a very postwar evaluation, but it’s completely consistent with my earlier impressions. It comes from this attempt by the Sloan Foundation to put together some video history. I know you mentioned it.

Sherwin: I know about it; I haven’t seen it. “The H-Bomb.”

Manley: Well, don’t bother.

Sherwin: No?

Manley: Well, I know, that’s completely another story.

But the fact is that Nichols was there. He was the military representative. The idea, I thought, was very good. The execution was poor, and I would like to ask you when I start quizzing you about Bundy.

Sherwin: McGeorge Bundy.

Manley: Yeah, he was the moderator and so and so.

Sherwin: Yeah, he had initiated it.

Manley: Well, I guess he did. Yes. But anyway, Nichols carried on at great length, far too wordy and with all of the precision of having his personal diary at hand and the dates. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? Because words can’t—really quite put it in words about sort of the showing of ego, and a military kind of ego.

Sherwin: He struck me as sort of the ultimate bureaucrat, and when you get a bureaucrat and a military mind together—

Manley: That’s right, yeah.

Sherwin: —becomes suffocating.

Manley: Yes, yes. I agree. Fine. I’m glad you supplied the words, because I quite agree.

Sherwin: You agree with that?

Manley: Absolutely, yes, yes. Of course, I knew him while I was on the GAC. There were several things. I can’t remember the exact things, but he was not at Sandia at that time.

I don’t know. I was giving Groves hell at one period. I think this is in the history, some letter I wrote him about the military not doing their job in terms of weapon components and training and whatnot. Somehow, I connect Nichols with that. I can’t be sure about the connection, so it’s probably trivial and not worth remembering anyway and recording.

Sherwin: Do you remember why Groves was sort of pushed out of the nuclear business?

Manley: Of course. The way he acted is the same description I just applied to Nichols.

Let me preface this by a comment that Groves and I always got along very well, actually. I think the chief reason we did is that I didn’t have any hesitation telling him what I thought. In fact, the first time I met him, we got into an argument about ROTC in universities. I think, correctly or incorrectly, that he respected that I had opinions of my own. He was willing to listen, and so on. He welcomed me, actually. Oppenheimer picked me to be a liaison at the time of the drop, and I was sent to Groves’ office in Washington, since the communications all went through Washington to our people on Tinian. So I sat in Groves’ office for nearly two weeks, I guess, something like that.

One of the very amusing things was that he never could say anything right, it was just almost fantastic. If he tried to make a speech, even with the best will, he always put his foot in his mouth about something. I can’t remember the exact expression, but the occasion was a little session. He got his Washington staff together just after the drop, and was trying to express his thanks for their loyalty and cooperation and so on. He said something, which was—I just said, “Oh, my God, this is so Groves.” But I can’t remember, unfortunately, what it was. But he was almost continually doing that.

Anyway, I think that the reason was that he could not let loose of it. He was the bigshot for that period of time, and he had a good strong ego to match his body and size. Yet he was a thorn in the flesh of the AEC, because he was always nosing into things. He thought he knew better about it. He really was a very capable guy, there’s just no question about that, especially in picking people.

One of the things I wish that you historians would analyze—I have spoken to Alice Kimball Smith about—is some evidence as to how on earth he was responsible for picking Oppenheimer. It’s almost a complete mystery, and I asked Nichols that when I saw him a couple of years ago. He said, “Oh, we always took the advice of the scientists.”

Sherwin: Well, I don’t know if it was first, but at some point he offered it to [Ernest] Lawrence.

Manley: Did he actually offer it to Lawrence?

Sherwin: I mean, he wanted Lawrence.

Manley: He wanted Lawrence, but I thought that he himself realized, probably even before he approached Lawrence, that this would be impossible if he wanted the electromagnetic business to go at all.

Sherwin: That could be. I mean, somewhere I have got all this, but my understanding is that Lawrence was the one who recommended Oppenheimer.

Manley: That’s remarkable.

Sherwin: After actually going through several other people, or at least one other person, his name I forget at the moment.

Manley: You have a tape or something?

Sherwin: Yes. He decided that it had to be Oppenheimer, for whatever reason. Oppenheimer kind of grew on him, for a variety of reasons. One was that more qualified but more conventional people were not available, and he began to appreciate the kinds of things that Oppenheimer could do. What his real genius was, was betting that Oppenheimer would be a good administrator.

Manley: Oh sure, absolutely. That’s why it was such a mystery to me. Because Oppenheimer was one of the worst administrators before Los Alamos, I could imagine, and I was really worried. In fact, I even told [Arthur] Compton, when he asked me to work with Oppenheimer, that I didn’t know whether I would do it, but I would be willing to try it. I had met Oppenheimer. I had given a talk in Berkeley and met Oppenheimer there, and he was really pretty snotty.

Sherwin: When was that?

Manley: 1935. I was talking on some of the work that I had done with [Isidor] Rabi at Columbia. Oppenheimer was just kind of nasty, so I didn’t think much of him. He had completely reversed since I had seen him; we got along fine.

Let me give you what I thought was a version, which may be slightly different. Compton took Oppenheimer to an S-1 Committee meeting in Schenectady in, must have been, ’41. I am not sure that was the first time that they really had personal contact, but it might well have been. Although physicists, you know, always together somehow or other. But I know that he was very impressed at Oppenheimer’s command of a subject, of English and so on, in the discussions on critical mass, essentially the amount of material, which was a vital issue. Before this S-1 Committee meeting—I think it was in Schenectady, because [Frank] Jewett was head of the S-1.

Sherwin: Yeah, Jewett was—Briggs?

Manley: No, [Lyman] Briggs was originally the head of S-1. But then I think because Briggs wasn’t doing anything, the National Academy [of Sciences], of which Jewett was president, got him into the S-1 business to sort of counter—

Sherwin: Got who into?

Manley: Got Jewett.

Sherwin: Jewett.

Manley: Who was the Schenectady man at GE, and, I think at that time president of the Academy. They were beginning to get worried about the lack of action of the S-1 Committee under Briggs.

Anyway, my postulate, at least, is that Compton was so impressed with Oppenheimer at that particular time, then it followed that he, first of all, came very naturally to mind when [Gregory] Breit quit in a huff. Breit had been in charge of rapid rupture. In May of ’42—in fact, I was sort of in part the cause of that thing, because it was a battle. We will skip the details.

Sherwin: No, let me hear that. No, it’s good.

Manley: Well, I was essentially working, more or less, for Sam Allison. In fact, my laboratory was Sam’s old laboratory, and I inherited a group at Chicago and his accelerators, Cockcroft-Walton in Eckhart Hall. Sam was busy on problems of procurement and stuff for Compton, and Gregory Breit was in charge of a colloquium or something.

Allison had asked me to do something, and Breit wanted me to do something about a colloquium, and I obviously couldn’t do both. I essentially told Breit that I would had to cancel out. Well, then he got mad at both me and Allison. I think that there had been other reasons. He was a high-minded security buff, in a way, and he sort of made a lot of people irritated. He has the reputation all along his career. He’s now dead, so at least I can talk about it, of being hard to deal with personally and so on.

So he pulled out and Compton, who had the responsibility in this reorganization of the beginnings of the Manhattan District almost, the business of concentrating things from Columbia and Princeton and so on at Chicago under Compton. He had the rapid rupture program to do, but he also had all of the pile stuff to do with [Enrico] Fermi. He wanted somebody to replace Breit, and then he picked Oppenheimer to do that.

Sherwin: I see.

Manley: Then I got in, because Oppenheimer said that he wanted an experimentalist. He was a theorist, and he didn’t think he could look after all of these contracts. There were about seven OSRD [Office of Scientific Research and Development] contracts out, Wisconsin and [inaudible] accelerator, DTM [Department of Terrestrial Magnetism] in Washington, Rice, I don’t know, Stanford, a whole bunch of them.

Sherwin: Princeton?

Manley: Princeton, yeah. No, wait a minute, Princeton wasn’t. Cornell was, but not Princeton, I think.

Sherwin: Not Princeton. Princeton was doing something else?

Manley: No. Well, it may have been an OSRD thing, but I don’t think it was under the S-1 Committee. I don’t know really where that thing was. It was Bob Wilson’s isotope separation business. I don’t know where that was.

Anyway, that was the way I got associated with Oppenheimer. He and I were essentially running the rapid rupture business from May.

Sherwin: May ’42?

Manley: May ’42, right.

Sherwin: So that’s a year before Los Alamos really gets going.

Manley: Right, yes. We realized very quickly that was no way to run a railroad, and so we were pushing. We pushed both Compton and Groves, after he was appointed, for a laboratory, separate laboratory, to carry on that work, the only way you could get anywhere.

Sherwin: How do you tell the story about the founding of Los Alamos? Did he ever talk to you about it?

Manley: I tell one story about it. He told me it was in the Jemez Mountains, and I looked all over the New Mexico map for H-A-M-O-S. I never had any Spanish, you see. I couldn’t find it. It was near Santa Fe.

Sherwin: He was heading right for this spot.

Manley: I don’t know. I don’t know. You see, it doesn’t sound that way, because why was there all of the fumbling before that, and the recommendation of [John] Dudley for Jemez Springs? It sounds like Oppenheimer did not really push it. But he’s so clever. He was clever that you can’t be sure, because what they did was to come by here after looking at Jemez Springs. Jemez Springs would have been a lousy place for many reasons. It’s too closed in. It’s in a valley near this mesa.

Sherwin: I drove up through that.

Manley: Oh, you came that way. Good, very sensible. It’s a good thing you didn’t try to do it today. The road’s been closed, fifteen inches of snow.

Sherwin: Is that right?

Manley: Yes.

Sherwin: That’s another good reason it wasn’t [inaudible].

Manley: Well, there weren’t—not in Jemez Springs, I think, but in the high area.

Sherwin: When you first started working with Oppenheimer and setting up the laboratory, what was your impression of sort of the transition of this man from someone who—

Manley: Not fast enough.

Sherwin: Not fast enough in terms of what?

Manley: In terms of getting on with all the things that had to be done in order to set it up. He didn’t have the foggiest notion, and for good reason. He had never had any experience with experimental laboratory. In fact, he says someplace, I’m sure, he certainly told me, that they finally pushed him out of the laboratory, because he always broke any glassware that was there when he tried to do an experiment.

Sherwin: Yeah, well, he had that problem with [James] Chadwick, his first year he went to Chadwick’s lab after Harvard.

Manley: Yeah, yeah, right.

Sherwin: It was a disaster.

Manley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s one thing I’m not clear about. But I was so concerned about this that I took one of the best guys I knew in Chicago at that time, Al Graves. His wife [Elizabeth] was in my group, as a matter of fact. She was a physicist, too. I sent him to Berkeley, because he was good at organization and so on. He later became the head of J Division, ran I don’t know how many tests at Los Alamos. He was killed in a radiation accident—no, he survived the radiation accident and died of a heart attack later, I’m sorry about that. That was the accident in which [Louis] Slotin was killed.

Sherwin: Slotin, yes. 

Manley: Anyway, then Oppie finally got—and I don’t know the timing on this—finally got Ed McMillan, who was an experimentalist as well as a pretty good theorist, too, but primarily knew his way around laboratories and so on. He and Graves got worrying about all of the nuts and bolts of stockroom.

Incidentally, there’s one of the strokes of genius, and it might have been Rabi, was to get an unsung hero—the name goes. He was an assistant professor at Columbia. Dana Mitchell. You probably never heard of him. He was on the faculty of Columbia. He ran the shop and stockroom at Columbia. He was brought out here willingly, I think, maybe at Rabi’s suggestion, I’m not sure.

Sherwin: In ’43?

Manley: Yeah.

Sherwin: Right at the beginning?

Manley: Right at the beginning. He set up a sensible stockroom, and that contribution—you have just no idea how important such things are, unless you are an experimental physicist and know what it is to be able to go and get the right size bolt when you need it. That was a wonderful stroke for speed.

Sherwin: At what point does Oppenheimer really become Oppenheimer the great administrator?

Manley: Well, I had a fight with him for I don’t know how many months. I’m foggy. I think I pinned it down in the archives here. I thought the episode occurred in January, January of ’43, right. The Goodchild movie, TV thing, has a story about it, about Bob Wilson and me at a cocktail party accosting Oppie about the bad situation in Los Alamos. It might have been March, and I think it was. From the letters that I just looked at, I think it must have been March. I thought it was January, but anyway, somewhere along in that period.

March makes it even worse, because I had been bugging Oppie for two or three months, certainly almost immediately after the beginning of the decision to get this place and start a laboratory here, about an organization chart. Who is going to be responsible for what, and where were we going to get people, how many people, and all that sort of stuff. It was pretty easy to do some recruiting, because I could approach the groups that were working on these contracts and find out whether they wanted to go. That was the way we got people from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Sherwin: Princeton.

Manley: Princeton, right. So the thing that I remember most about this meeting is I had a miserable flight from Chicago to Berkeley to see Oppenheimer about organization details. I climbed the stairs—he was at the top floor of LeConte Hall—after practically airsick.

We couldn’t land in Salt Lake City because of a snowstorm, and they took us up, it was a DC-3. It didn’t give us any oxygen. It went up to 14,000 feet or more, higher, 15,000, right out of Denver, because of the storm. They wanted to get above the 14,000-foot mountains, and they didn’t give us—you had little things where you plugged in a nose tube, and they didn’t turn that on. I was sick and it was miserable.

The first thing that happened when I got there, as I remember it, Ed Condon was in Oppie’s office. Now, that was a pretty good stroke on Oppie’s part, because Ed had experience with the Bureaus of Standards and the Corning [Glass Works] and so on. Oppie got a piece of paper and he threw it down on the desk and he said, “Here’s your damned organization chart.”

Sherwin: Oh, he had—

Manley: He had actually done some work and put it together after months of bugging. I consider that the first sort of step in his road to becoming an administrator.

Sherwin: That’s a good story.

Manley: Maybe it was in March of ’43, see. What troubles me about some of the history, and I tried to get this straight with Bob Wilson, and between us, we couldn’t get it straight last August when Bob was out here. But what bothers me is that “Good Child” implies that both of us were at Los Alamos before this party where we appeared at Oppie’s and said how bad things are. Well, I never got to Los Alamos until October—until April 4th.

Sherwin: ’43.

Manley: ’43, right. I was very busy, because I went down to Illinois and dismantled the accelerator that I had built there, got it shipped out here. I looked after getting all the cyclotron at Harvard, the Van de Graaff’s getting shipped to the medical officer in St. Louis as a blind, before they got shipped to Santa Fe. I had to worry when I get to Santa Fe. I spent time trying to get transportation between Santa Fe for all of that junk, from Santa Fe up here. Have you seen the old road?

Sherwin: Yes.

Manley: Where you drive?

Sherwin: Unbelievable.

Manley: I drove that in a pickup truck with my accelerator tube waving around in the back. Well, those are interesting little things, but not very historically significant.

Sherwin: Well, it’s interesting, certainly, in terms of trying to see how Oppenheimer evolves. I suppose the thesis would be that he was constantly responding to the demands of the position, given who he was and what he could do and what he was capable of, sort of grew into it step-by-step.

Manley: Yeah, I think so. You see, he was a very extremely perceptive individual. I think he was very adept at using people. It sounds like a harsh way of saying it, but let me add that I felt I was being used, but it was pleasant. He had a way about him, you see, which made you feel good about being used by him.

Sherwin: Well, there are essentially two ways to use people. You can use them up, or you can use them and let them grow, too.

Manley: Creatively, sure, sure. He had that ability.

Sherwin: Yes, yeah. In my brief administrative burdens, I worked on occasion for people who used you in the worst sense, and that doesn’t get the best out of you.

Manley: No, no, that’s really destructive. 

Sherwin: But he had a way of inspiring people too, in the process.

Manley: But I think probably Condon helped him even though he was there a very short time.

Sherwin: Yes. He left in a real huff. 

Manley: Mostly with the military, I think.

Sherwin: I see.

Manley: Also the place. He was a little too civilized. One of the stories about him is that he said that he didn’t like to live in a place where you had to take your wife out in the woods in order to enjoy her, because [inaudible] [laughter]. But he was probably a contributor. David Hawkins probably was in a different, very different way.

Sherwin: How did Oppenheimer know Hawkins?

Manley: Hawkins was in Berkeley, I think.

Sherwin: Oh, he was? I see, Colorado comes after.

Manley: Oh, yes, much later. After the war, in fact, for Dave. Shane didn’t help very much. He got the astronomer [Charles Donald] Shane from Berkeley out here in charge of personnel. Then later [Arthur] Hughes from Washington University in St. Louis, who was head of the physics department there. He was a very gentle person. I think he handled a lot of the personnel things.

One has to really say that it was Oppenheimer’s ability to grow in response to his environment. The sensitivity of need and so on. Then that combined with the business that he could draw out of us a pretty frank appraisal of what we thought was needed to be done and so on. He was willing to listen and to really try to get thing done.

There were some marvelous things. The whole business of having the colloquia here, which was open to everybody and so on, much to Groves’ disgust. It was an achievement of Oppenheimer’s, which was extremely sensible from the point of view of morale of the organization.

Sherwin: I just came across a document yesterday or the day before in the archives. I have been going through these very fast and have not had time to copy, so this is just a first impression. But the idea was initially raised by [Hans] Bethe. There are some various administrative committee minutes, and I saw that in a passing glance. Whether or not that turns out on further investigation to be true, Oppenheimer then carried the ball.

Manley: What was—?

Sherwin: Bethe brought up the idea of having a colloquia.

Manley: I see. Could have been Rabi, too, I suppose. 

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.