The discovery of nuclear fission just before the outbreak of World War II spread fear among some of the worst-case scenarios, which is that Adolf Hitler, then German chancellor, succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapon, according to an article in the American National Interest.
An article by Alexandra B. Hall of the Plowshares Fund, which supports initiatives to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, said the fear that the science that produced the weapons could cause disaster was the excuse used to keep them secret.
Hall stated that scientific historian Alex Wellerste in addressed the controversy surrounding the need to impose secrecy on the atomic bomb, in a book he published under the title “Forbidden Information: The History of Nuclear Secrets in the United States.”
A coup against principles
With the establishment of the “Manhattan Project” in the United States during World War II – which specialized in research and development for the production of nuclear weapons for the first time – the project to produce a nuclear bomb was considered so important that it was hidden from the eyes of Congress, in a reversal of one of the fundamental principles that stipulate It is subject to the US Constitution, and the country’s then President Franklin Roosevelt did not inform his Vice President Harry Truman of it.
And paradoxically – historian Alex Wellerstein says in his book – Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was aware of the bomb project before Truman knew about it thanks to his spies.
According to the scientific historian, the Soviet spies inside the “Manhattan Project” did not pose a threat to the continuation of the project, as they had no desire to intervene, but rather the greatest fear was that those in charge of the project would lose the funding needed to complete it.
Wellerstein explained that Congress was able to stop the entire project, which made this top legislature in the United States represent – to some extent – a greater threat to the desired goal, which is to produce and use a nuclear bomb within a shorter period before the Germans, the Japanese, or the Soviet Union.
He continues in his book, saying that “the Germans and the Japanese did not believe that making a nuclear bomb was possible in the context of a world war, so they did not seek it, and as soon as the bomb was used in 1945, the secret came out into the open.”
After the end of World War II, the existential threat of the Nazis having nuclear weapons turned into a fear that China, then North Korea, and now Iran would possess such weapons.
Fear and exploitation
As Wellerstein noted, this fear quickly became a pattern “to use those threats as an excuse to do things that are not really consistent with our core values as a country.”
When asked whether secrecy is a tool for curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, Wellerstein replied, “It is not clear that secrecy can do more than slow things down a bit, and it is unclear if it is effective at that as well.”
“The best way to prevent nuclear proliferation is not to conceal information or keep people ignorant, but to allow restrictions to be placed that limit the development of nuclear weapons,” he added.
The writer concludes that it is easy for politicians and officials today to jump on the questions that the public asks them about nuclear policy by telling them that the topic is very sensitive, or that information should be kept secret, but the fundamental questions about whether it is necessary for countries to possess nuclear weapons or not And who has to control its use remain questions worthy of active and open discussion.